Iraq Bet Stirs War of Words Between FAIR Founder and Jonah Goldberg

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By: Dave Astor

A 2005 Iraq bet has stirred a war of words today between conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg and the founder of a liberal media-watchdog group.

Goldberg wrote on Feb. 8, 2005: “I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it. I’ll bet $1,000 (which I can hardly spare right now).”

The Tribune Media Services columnist/National Review Online editor at large added in the piece that the USO would receive the money if he lost the wager, which was made in the context of a dispute Goldberg and “Informed Comment” blogger Juan Cole were having at the time.

“The two-year period comes due this Thursday,” wrote Jeff Cohen, founder of the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) media-watchdog group, in an AlterNet article today. “Even Goldberg now realizes his prediction was totally wrong — with poll after poll showing most Americans do not ‘agree that the war was worth it.’ (Not to mention what Iraqis think of the war or Goldberg’s boast that ‘Iraq won’t have a civil war.’) So shouldn’t Goldberg, or somebody, pay off the $1,000?”

E&P this morning asked Goldberg for his response, and he e-mailed: “I offered the bet in a foolish fit of pique with Cole. … Cole refused to take the bet. … [Now] it seems that his fans want it both ways. They want to extol Cole as a prince for not accepting the bet, but they want me to be held accountable to it even though he never agreed to it. Countless blogs have been dishonest about this suggesting I owe Cole himself $1,000.

“Regardless, Cohen knows Cole never took the bet, but he’s trying to muddy the waters. Indeed, I’ve admitted that Cole would have won. I’ve written that the Iraq War was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about the war and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part. … For the record, I still support staying there, because even if it was a mistake to go in when and how we did, that doesn’t mean a precipitous withdrawal will make things better.”

Will Goldberg still pay the $1,000?

“I will undoubtedly give more money to the USO and to similar charities in the future, as I have done in the past,” he replied. “But I am adamantly opposed to jumping through hoops for the likes of Cohen and Co. Intellectual honesty requires that I admit that Cole would have won had he taken the bet. I have done that. … I have no obligations to him or anybody else in this regard no matter how hard some people try to claim otherwise. … When I give to charity, again, I will do it privately which is at it should be.”

Cohen also wrote in his AlterNet piece: “Since Goldberg felt compelled to tell us — as he gallantly offered the $1,000 bet — that it was money he ‘can hardly spare right now,’ you may wonder about his ability to pay. A look at his bio shows that Goldberg has had a high-flying career in mainstream media — from CNN contributor to PBS producer to USA Today board of contributors. …”

But if Goldberg still somehow can’t spare the money, “I have a solution,” wrote Cohen. “Let the Tribune media conglomerate pay the $1,000. Not only does Tribune syndicate Goldberg’s column, it was Tribune’s Los Angeles Times that added the analytically-impaired Goldberg to its columnist roster in November 2005 — at the same time it fired renowned columnist Robert Scheer, whose Iraq analysis had been breathtakingly accurate.

“Despite financial upheavals, the highly-profitable Tribune Co. has plenty of money, as it lays off journalists en masse and squeezes the life out of once-proud newspapers like the L.A. Times. … (I)t’s time to hold media corporations like Tribune responsible for elevating the Goldbergs and their reckless predictions — as they strangle newspapers and silence serious journalists like Bob Scheer.”

Goldberg’s reaction to Cohen’s piece? “I think very little of Jeff Cohen and his article,” he said. “FAIR is profoundly left-wing and he’s playing his part. Lastly, Cohen’s attempt to bully Tribune Media Services and his water-carrying for Bob Scheer is typical of his shtick.”

Cohen’s full article is here and Goldberg’s full 2005 column is here.

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