Keeping it fair and balanced at the Los Angeles Times
As the Los Angeles Times’ editor of the Op-Ed page and Sunday Opinion section, Nicholas Goldberg oversees publication of about four opinion pieces per day and eight to twelve on Sundays. The most volatile topic on those pages by far — even more than the war in Iraq, the election campaigns or immigration — is the Middle East and Israel.
Goldberg, 49, a secular Jew raised in New York who worked as a reporter for 15 years, including four based in Jerusalem covering the Middle East for Newsday, talked with The Journal about the L.A. Times’ Israel coverage, whether he would publish a piece written by Adolf Hitler or Osama bin Laden, and why in this polarized time people need to keep an open mind.
Jewish Journal: What is your mission?
Nicholas Goldberg: I think the mission of the Op-Ed page is to run the broadest possible range of opinion on a wide variety of subjects. A lot of people think that we run articles that we agree with, or that somehow the pieces that appear on the opinion pages reflect the view of the paper, the editorial board, the publisher or even the owner of the paper — but that’s not the case. We want pieces that come from all different sides of issues. We also try to run pieces that are nuanced, that are politically indeterminate and harder to categorize.
JJ: You worked for Newsday for 10 years. What has your experience as a journalist taught you and how is different from working on the opinion pages?
NG: My experience as a daily reporter has been extremely helpful to me because I can really work with people on all sides. I work day in and day out with people I disagree with and I help make their pieces stronger, and I help them make their arguments more logical, and I hope I help them make their pieces better. My experience as reporter gave me a lot of background in many of the subjects that we write about on the page.
JJ: From 1995-1998 you covered the Middle East, living in Jerusalem. Did you go in with a certain opinion?
NG: I went it with the open mind of a reporter who doesn’t know much about the subject. For four years I was engrossed in nothing but the subject. I did a lot of traveling — I was in Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Sudan and Egypt — but I spent more time in Israel and Gaza and the West Bank than I did anywhere else.
When you live in Israel, particularly when you’re a journalist you spend all day and night working on stories, you sort of live and breathe the conflict. The 1990s were the height of the peace process. I arrived just months before Rabin was killed and I was there for Peres and Netanyahu and Barak. The fates of the peace process went up and went down, there were a lot of bombings in Jerusalem when I was there, cities war given back to the Palestinians in the West Bank and retaken by the Israelis. There was all kind of change and ferment as there is now.
JJ: Living in Jerusalem, did you learn new things about the region?
NG: I emerged with a more sophisticated and nuanced viewpoint than I had when I went in. My job was to cover the place as a reporter: to go out and to interview people, to talk to people about what they think, and that meant going to Hebron and talking to settlers and going to Gaza and talking to the guys from Hamas, and it meant interviewing Shimon Peres and Bibi Netanyahu. Of course my view of the place changed, but I tried to keep as open minded as I could, and to report stories as fairly as I could.
I do feel that the way the region is covered, and especially the way the conflict is covered in the opinion pages in America, has generally been very narrow compared to what you read in Israel. If you read Ha’aretz, if you see the Arab newspapers — if you see Al Ahram in Cairo — you will be exposed to points of view that you don’t hear in the United States. One of the things I decided when I became Op-Ed editor is that I would like to bring a broader range of viewpoints on the Middle East to the page. I’ve tried to do that.
JJ: Are you Jewish? How does that affect your job, or your stance on Israel?
NG: I am Jewish. When I went to Israel as a correspondent, that was immediately an issue, people said, “Oh you’re going to go to Israel and you’re going to feel like you’ve come home, and you’re going to be a Jew in Israel and that’s going to be a moving and a powerful experience, and you’re going to learn so much about being Jewish.”
I come from a secular New York Upper-West Side Jewish background. Of course it affected me, of course I was interested in it — I had relatives there, relatives of friends -but I tried to put that aside as a journalist and cover the story as honestly and objectively as I could. I tried not to say that I come from this team or this side, that these are my people. I tried to go out as reporter and talk to everyone about what was happening and to report as honestly I could.
As an op-ed editor I do the same thing.
JJ: How would you categorize your personal viewpoints on the Middle East?