Memo To Todd Purdum

ZARQA, JORDAN
Though it's my official doctrine to buy magazines at newstands, rather than read them for free on-line, I just read Todd's new piece on Clinton because, weirdly, I can't find a copy of Vanity Fair anywhere in Zarqa. What's wrong with these Zarqawis, anyway?

Though I have to say my Internet connection isn't bad. I just watched John McCain's speech to AIPAC on my laptop, and it came through without bumps and stops. I could have waited, of course, to see McCain's speech, but I wanted to watch it in Zarqa just so I could say I watched it in Zarqa.

In any case, let me raise a question with Todd, per Jay Carson, Bill Clinton's spokesman, whose long memo attacks Todd floridly, though without the very bad words President Clinton apparently used himself. Carson argues that Todd ignored Clinton's notable accomplishments, instead focusing his story on some of Clinton's dubious friends, including one who allegedly collects "genitalia-shaped soaps," which is not something I will try to explain to my friends in Zarqa, or even in the more cosmopolitan Amman.

In his memo, Carson asks "Who didn't VF call?," and answers, in part: "The 200,000,000 people in 100 countries whose lives will be impacted by commitments made by Clinton Global Initiative members."

Todd, we're both reporters. In our depressing, post-shoe-leather age, we still adhere to the idea that interviews matter, that we can make our stories better by talking to actual people. So what happened? Phone out of service? No cell coverage? Why didn't you call those two hundred million people? Or at least one hundred million of those two hundred million people? I worked at Conde Nast not so long ago, and I happen to know that the company owns thousands of telephones, and has signed up for a very advantageous long-distance calling plan. So what's going on? Why did you limit yourself to calling dozens of ex-Clinton aides, as well as people with direct knowledge of the President's business and personal life?

Carson's memo is not limited to the nonsense like the nonsense outlined above. Perhaps the silliest bit of his memo concerns what Carson calls Vanity Fair's "penchant for libel, which has led to numerous lawsuits."

Magazines do commit libel on occasion, of course, and I don't believe, like some in journalism, that suing for libel is immoral, but to suggest that a publication is unethical because it is frequently sued for libel is akin to suggesting that a person is pro-crime because he has been frequently mugged.

I'd have to say, from my distant perch, that the arguments mustered against Todd are comprehensively unconvincing, though, Todd, really, it couldn't hurt to pick up the phone a million or two more times.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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