Michael Goldfarb—not to be confused with the British journalist of the same name—is a neoconservative pundit, activist, and consultant who serves as chairman of the Center for American Freedom, a right-wing counterpart to the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress that publishes the sensationalistic blog the Washington Free Beacon.
A member of an up-and-coming generation of Republican activists who have eschewed traditional avenues to prominence, Goldfarb's career was "spawned," according to the New York Times, "in the conservative confines of the Weekly Standard and allied organizations, namely the Project for the New American Century, which is well known for promoting the war in Iraq. He has since gone on to thrive in the influential world of outside ideological groups."
A former online editor for the Weekly Standard and blogger for John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign—where he was hired to "attack the press," as he put it—Goldfarb has also served as an adviser to advocacy groups like William Kristol's Emergency Committee for Israel and Liz Cheney's Keep America Safe.
Goldfarb has served as vice president of Orion Strategies—a lobbying firm headed by former John McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann—and was a research associate for the now-defunct Project for the New American Century, a letterhead group founded by Robert Kagan and William Kristol that helped spearhead efforts to push for the invasion of Iraq after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Described in a February 2013 New York Times profile as an "all-around anti-liberal provocateur," Goldfarb has proven adept at funneling anonymous Republican donations into high-profile advocacy efforts. According to the newspaper, "Goldfarb has been in the middle of nearly every major partisan dispute of [Barack] Obama's presidency," including "Iran, Israel, terrorism policy," and the battle over Chuck Hagel's nomination to head the Pentagon.
In the process, he has gained a reputation for leveraging petty personal attacks and for presenting sensationalistic "jokes" as journalism. In one instance, the Washington Free Beacon published personal photos of a Nation writer who had criticized the Beacon's coverage of countries for whom Orion had lobbied. The Nation writer subsequently alleged that someone working for the Washington Free Beacon had hacked a private online photo account.
In a February 2013 post, the blog ran a story under the headline "Hughes Drops Jews," which suggested that the president of The New Republic magazine was "signal[ing] the publication's continued drift away from a staunchly pro-Israel standpoint" by dropping "at least five prominent Jewish writers from its masthead." Critics pointed out that the publication's editor was Jewish and that half of the writers dropped were not. Goldfarb told the Times that story was meant to be a joke. "We're true believers, but we're also troublemakers," he said, "We get up every day and say, how do we cause trouble?"
Goldfarb's treatment of the Hughes story sparked widespread outcry in the progressive blogosphere. "That's his defense?" opined commentator Jonathan Chait. "It was a joke?… Now, maybe it was a kind of internal joke among the Free Beacon's editors, in the same sense that Glenn Beck may be playing a grand joke on an audience stupid enough to take him seriously. But there's literally nothing in the text of the piece to suggest a raised eyebrow, intentional exaggeration, satire, irony, or anything other than a straightforward accusation of anti-Semitism."
Similarly, aDaily Beast blogger called Goldfarb's story "a stunning admission." Recalling the Beacon's repeated insinuations that Chuck Hagel held anti-Semitic views, the blogger mused: "Goldfarb concedes here that his group's accusations of anti-Semitism are just for laughs." Quipping that Goldfarb "represents Bill Kristol's worst instincts," the blogger concluded, "This is what neoconservatism has become; even a critic can lament."
In his capacity as VP of Orion Strategies, Goldfarb served as an adviser to the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), a Washington-based advocacy group established in mid-2010 that claims "to provide citizens with the facts they need to be sure that their public officials are supporting a strong US-Israel relationship."ECI's first act was to run a controversial attack ad in July 2010 targeting the track record of Senate candidate Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) and insinuating that he supported Mideast terrorists.
ECI board members have included William Kristol, cofounder of the Foreign Policy Initiative; Rachel Abrams, wife of notorious Iran-Contra veteran Elliott Abrams; and Gary Bauer, a well-know Christian Zionist who leads the lobby groups American Values and Keep Israel Safe. Noah Pollack, a contributor to Commentary and former assistant editor at the Jerusalem-based Shalem Center, has served as the group's executive director.
Goldfarb confirmed his advisory position at ECI in an email to Salon.com's Justin Elliott after the Inter Press Service tracked the address on the letterhead of an ECI letter to the offices of Orion Strategies. Wrote Goldfarb, "I'm on the record as an adviser to ECI and its [sic] no secret that I work at Orion, where the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq sign is still proudly displayed on the front of the building. ECI will be opening an office next week, but given the urgency of our cause, getting an office sorted out seemed less pressing than exposing Joe Sestak's anti-Israel record."
In early 2010, reports surfaced that Goldfarb and his Orion boss, Scheunemann, were acting as advisers to Sarah Palin, possibly with a view to putting together a campaign team for the 2012 presidential election. Reported the Atlantic, "Sarah Palin is putting together a campaign team, and Washington is taking notice. … Pam Pryor, a former RNC senior adviser, leads Palin's political action committee and is orchestrating her outreach to social conservatives. Randy Scheunenmann remains her policy maestro, with informal assistance from his Orion Strategies colleague Michael Goldfarb, the former Weekly Standard writer and McCain campaign rapid responder."
Goldfarb has also worked with the neoconservative advocacy organization Keep America Safe, which was founded by Liz Cheney in 2009. In this role, Goldfarb was a part of the campaign that targeted the Justice Department lawyers who represented terrorist suspects during the Bush administration, as well as Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder. In March 2010, Politico's Ben Smith quoted Goldfarb, who said: "Holder has hired lawyers who used to represent terrorists to work in President Obama's Justice Department, and he won't tell the American people who they are. These lawyers did far more than represent criminals. They have propagandized on behalf of our enemies, engaging in a worldwide smear campaign against the CIA, the U.S. military and the United States itself while we are at war."
Blogger and Editor
As a blogger and deputy communications director for the McCain presidential campaign, Goldfarb helped lead attacks against then-Sen. Barack Obama, often calling into question Obama's personal connections and patriotism. During an October 2008 appearance on CNN, Goldfarb said, "The point is that Barack Obama has a long track record of being around anti-Semitic, anti-Israel, and anti-American rhetoric."
Asked to be specific, Goldfarb hurled the "antisemitic" label at Rashid Khalidi, a Columbia University professor who once held a fundraiser for Obama, but then refused to cite anyone else. Outcry quickly erupted over Goldfarb's allegations. Blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote on The Daily Dish, "Asked to name one other anti-Semite other than his allegation about Rashid Khalidi, he can't. He won't. But he leaves it hanging, refusing to disown or retract the charge. This is pure McCarthyism. And it is the rotten core of McCain."
Time's Joe Klein wrote, "Khalidi is… a respected academic, the sort of person who is involved in foundation work that John McCain, for one, was willing to support financially. I'd say that if we have a bigot here, it's Mr. Goldfarb who, if he's intent on calling people antisemitic—or any other epithet—should be required to provide chapter and verse, which he does not do on CNN."
Before working on McCain's campaign, Goldfarb served as the online editor for the neoconservative Weekly Standard. Goldfarb used his perch at the Standard to attack critics of the "war on terror" and promote a hard line against Iran and other Middle East countries. In a March 2008 blog entry, for example, Goldfarb attacked the "left" for calling out McCain's erroneous statement that Iran was aiding al-Qaeda in Iraq. Discussing a conference call hosted by the National Security Network in which writers including Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress derided McCain's "gaffe," Goldfarb wrote that he was "struck by [the other participants'] insistence that Iran wouldn't collaborate with Sunni extremists."
But none of the call participants made that claim, said Matt Duss, a blogger for the Wonk Room, who criticized Goldfarb for misrepresenting the conference call. Citing the transcript, Duss wrote that "Goldfarb was trying to elicit a specific response through leading questions. He failed to get the response he wanted, but went ahead and wrote the story he wanted to.… In the call, Katulis stressed, and I stress it again, that arguing over whether Iran would refuse, as a matter of doctrine, to cooperate with Sunni groups is not the point. The point is that John McCain's misstatement is typical of conservatives, who have, through intentionally deceptive language, constantly tried to elide the differences between groups with different goals and ideologies in order to create the illusion of a united Islamofascist enemy. In doing so, conservatives are practicing bad politics in the service of bad policy."
During the second Bush administration, Goldfarb participated in the Pentagon's "Bloggers' Roundtable" series which, according to its website, aimed to provide "source material for stories in the blogosphere concerning the Department of Defense (DoD) by bloggers and online journalists." According to journalist Ken Silverstein, the roundtable was part of a larger Pentagon initiative that sought to "bypass the mainstream press by working directly with a carefully culled list of military analysts, bloggers, and others who can be counted on to parrot the Bush Administration's line on national security issues" (see, for example, Right Web's profile of Paul Vallely).
Silverstein wrote that a"surrogates unit" within the Pentagon arranged "regular conference calls during which senior Pentagon officials brief[ed] retired military officials, civilian defense and national security analysts, pundits, and bloggers. A few moderates [were] invited to take part, but the list of participants skews far, far to the right. The Pentagon essentially [fed] participants the talking points, bullet points, and stories it want[ed] told." (The program was similar to the Pentagon operation that invited analysts to private briefings in order to use them as pro-Bush "message force multipliers.")
Responding to Silverstein's article, Goldfarb defended his participation in the program, writing, "Not only are we clear about who our sources are, we are not always kind to them—I wrote at the time that [the] rationale [of Ian Liotta, a Pentagon official who was on one of the conference calls] for keeping Gitmo open wasn't 'terribly compelling.'" Yet as Silverstein points out, "when the curious reader consults Goldfarb's original post, the full quote is as follows: 'To be blunt, I don't find this to be a terribly compelling argument for keeping Gitmo open—though neither is it unreasonable.' Which is not exactly the bold statement I was expecting when I clicked through, and, by the end of the post, Goldfarb appears to come around to Liotta's point of view."
Goldfarb's experience also includes a stint as a journalism fellow at the Phillips Foundation, where he worked on a project entitled "The Upside of Global Warming," and as a history student at Princeton University, where he reportedly concentrated in "war, revolution, and the state."