• Transcript
  • Show Notes

On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, Preet answers listener questions about Bill Barr’s resignation, and the controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed article that called on Dr. Jill Biden, the incoming first lady, to refrain from calling herself by “Dr. Biden” because she is not a medical doctor.

Then, Preet is joined by Jeffrey Goldberg, the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine. They discuss the state of the journalism industry, the psychology of Donald Trump, and American diplomacy in the Middle East at the dawn of the Biden presidency. 

In the Stay Tuned bonus, Goldberg discusses the time he spent in Israel during early adulthood, and the lessons he learned about his own American identity. Plus, what shows has Goldberg been binge watching during quarantine? 

To listen, try the CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks and get access to the full archive of exclusive content, including the CAFE Insider podcast co-hosted by Preet and Anne Milgram. 

Sign up to receive the CAFE Brief, a weekly newsletter featuring analysis by Elie Honig, a weekly roundup of politically charged legal news, and historical lookbacks that help inform our current political challenges.

As always, tweet your questions to @PreetBharara with hashtag #askpreet, email us at [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 to leave a voicemail.

Stay Tuned with Preet is produced by CAFE Studios. 

Executive Producer: Tamara Sepper; Senior Editorial Producer: Adam Waller; Technical Director: David Tatasciore; Audio Producer: Matthew Billy; Editorial Producers: Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, David Kurlander. 

REFERENCES & SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Q&A:

  • AG Barr resignation letter, Washington Post, 12/14/2020
  • Mark Landler, “Jeff Sessions Recuses Himself From Russia Inquiry,” New York Times, 3/2/2017
  • Joseph Epstein, “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.,” Wall Street Journal, 12/11/2020
  • Paul Gigot, “The Biden Team Strikes Back,” Wall Street Journal, 12/13/2020
  • Adam Grant, “Yes, Women with Doctorates Should Be Called Dr.,” Linkedin, 12/13/2020
  • Adam Grant tweet citing study, Twitter, 12/13/2020

THE INTERVIEW: 

BRUCE

  • Jeffrey Goldberg, “Jersey Boys,” The Atlantic, 8/1/2012
  • Lee Greenwood, “God Bless the USA,” Youtube
  • America, “A Horse With No Name,” Youtube
  • Lauren Onkey, “As ‘Springsteen On Broadway’ Closes, Its Excellent Film Welcomes A New Audience,” NPR, 12/13/2018
  • Jon Stewart, “Bruce Springsteen Tribute,” The Kennedy Center, 2009
  • E Street Radio, SiriusXM

TRUMP

  • Tom Nichols, “Donald Trump, the Most Unmanly President,” The Atlantic, 5/25/2020
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers,’” The Atlantic, 9/3/2020
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, “Why Obama Fears for Our Democracy,” The Atlantic, 11/16/2020
  • Stay Tuned: The Opposite of Trump? (with Michael Bennet), CAFE.com, 9/29/2019
  • “’The Atlantic’ Editor Discusses Reporting On Trump’s Remarks About The Military,” NPR, 9/4/2020

STATE OF JOURNALISM

  • Michael Calderone, “Laurene Powell Jobs solidifies control of The Atlantic as Bradley relinquishes duties,” Politico, 11/20/2019
  • “The Atlantic Appoints Nicholas Thompson as CEO and Expands Board of Directors,” The Atlantic, 12/3/2020
  • COVID-19 Tracking Project, The Atlantic

MIDDLE EAST

  • Jeffrey Goldberg, “Iran and the Palestinians Lose Out in the Abraham Accords,” The Atlantic, 9/16/2020
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Obama Doctrine,” The Atlantic, 3/1/2016
  • Alexia Underwood, “The controversial US Jerusalem embassy opening, explained,” Vox, 5/16/2018

BUTTON

  • Adam Liptak, “In Blistering Retort, 4 Battleground States Tell Texas to Butt Out of Election,” New York Times, 12/10/2020
  • “That Time President Trump Fired Me (w/ Leon Panetta),” CAFE.com, 9/20/2017

Will Trumpism outlast Trump? 

The Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, who broke the “suckers and losers” story, reflects on life in the media during Trump presidency — and weighs in on what might come next.  

The countdown has begun. On January 20th, 2021, President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in as America’s next president—and will be left with a country in chaos. A global pandemic, an economic recession, deep racial inequities, a divided media. As the country makes its way out of the Trump era, many are left wondering where we go from here.  

Normal, as many know, has taken on a new and ever-changing meaning. Jeffrey Goldberg, editor-in-chief of The Atlantic, who has been reporting on Trump throughout his presidency, is an expert on the norms of chaos of this particular president. 

Goldberg is no stranger to Trump’s attacks. He found himself in the President’s crosshairs after breaking a story about Trump calling soldiers who died in combat “suckers” and “losers.” 

After four years of democratic erosion, the question remains: What happens now? Will Trumpism survive without Trump? 

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. 

Preet Bharara:

From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

When you make politics the center of your life, you run the risk of making politics and therefore politicians your gods. And I’m a fairly serious monotheist. There are things that I believe one should worship and there are things that one should not.

Preet Bharara:

That’s Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic magazine. Goldberg’s been busy lately. In addition to his editing duties, he continues to write major stories including a piece in September about President Trump calling Americans who died in combat, suckers and losers. And also a recent sit down with President Obama. Goldberg joins me to discuss the state of journalism, the psychology of Donald Trump and our shared love for Bruce Springsteen. That’s coming up, stay tuned.

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Preet Bharara:

Now, let’s get to your questions. This question comes in an email from Calvon in Brooklyn who writes, “What did you make of Bill Barr’s resignation? What was going on with his letter? So those of you who listen to the CAFE Insider podcast with me and Anne Milgram know that we spent quite a bit of time breaking down Bill Barr’s resignation talking about the letter. I think a lot of it was even in the sample that was put in the Stay Tuned feed.

Preet Bharara:

You’ll recall that we’re not quite sure because it’s impossible to know if Bill Barr really resigned of his own accord or if he was fired. One thing we didn’t mention in our conversation yesterday was more recent reporting that suggests that the resignation was delicately orchestrated or negotiated by the White House council. If that reporting is true, it seems like it was a mix of both things, the desire on the part of the president for Bill Barr to leave and Bill Barr’s acquiescence in that desire.

Preet Bharara:

Neither Anne or I really had the sense that the theory that some people have been propounding is correct that is that Bill Barr doesn’t want to be a part of nasty stuff that’s coming down the pike including many more pardons and possibly a self-pardon by President Trump of himself given how much Bill Barr has seemed to be capable of stooping in the prior years of his service as attorney general both with respect to the Mueller Report and interfering with the Roger Stone case and the Michael Flynn case. I don’t think it was a sudden attack of conscience that caused him to go at this time.

Preet Bharara:

But there’s one other possibility that Anne and I didn’t really delve into and I was reminded of some things that I thought and said when Jeff Sessions was the attorney general, you’ll recall the hapless Jeff Sessions who did a lot of things that people might not agree with and a lot of things that were pretty terrible including having an intentional policy for deterrence of separating children from their parents at the border.

Preet Bharara:

But you’ll remember the one thing that he did that was above board and ethical by all accounts was listening to the career advice of ethics lawyers at the justice department about whether or not he should recuse himself from the Russia probe. He was told that he should and he abided by that recommendation. And for that sin, which wasn’t really his sin, President Trump excoriated him, debased him, mocked him, humiliated him almost on a daily basis.

Preet Bharara:

I remember saying to one or more guests at the time, if you had a job, and a significant job at that, an important job in which your boss whether he was the president of the United States or not openly mocked you and humiliated you on a regular basis, how long would you come to work? I think I asked this question to Ben Wittes once upon a time when it came to Jeff Sessions and his answer was the same as mine, you’d stop coming to work and you quit the job because you have some self-respect.

Preet Bharara:

So I never knew what to make of the fact that Jeff Sessions just took that abuse day after day after day and even knowing that he was going to be ignominiously fired probably after the 2018 election, he continued to take the abuse. So it may be that while Bill Barr I think was a worse attorney general, materially and on a policy basis than Jeff Sessions in various ways that we’ve documented on this show and on the CAFE Insider that maybe part of him has some self-respect and was thinking to himself, “You know what, the president is going to mock me. The president is going to accuse me of not being a good attorney general. I don’t need that in my life. I’m old enough. That’s my second tour of duty. I’m out.”

Preet Bharara:

It still is odd to leave just a few weeks before the end of the administration, but maybe that’s what he was thinking. As for what was going on with his letter, I just want to echo one thing that Anne said yesterday that I’ve been thinking about a lot since, “Nowhere in that letter, nowhere when he’s essentially telling the president of the United States that he’s stepping down from his job. He spends paragraph after paragraph being obsequious flattering the president like he’s some kind of dear leader and doesn’t do even a pro forma giving of respect and thanks and showing gratitude to the rank-and-file people in the justice department who make the justice department great.

Preet Bharara:

So I don’t know all the reasons. I don’t know all the considerations that went into Bill Barr’s decision, if it was his decision, but I said it on Twitter and I’ll say it again, good riddance.

Preet Bharara:

This question comes in an email from Christina from San Antonio. “Dear Preet, your retweet on Dr. Jill Biden and the Wall Street Journal op-ed about her doctorate made me think about how women in the spotlight continue to be treated by the media. What was your reaction to the Wall Street Journal publishing the op-ed?” So this is not something I intended to get into and for those of you who are not familiar with the “controversy” there’s a very stupid and overwrought and silly op-ed in the Wall Street Journal written by an ornery guy named Joseph Epstein entitled, “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an MD.”

Preet Bharara:

He seems very miffed and upset, and wrangled by the idea that the incoming first lady, Jill Biden goes by doctor, Dr. Jill Biden because she has a doctorate in education. And his view seems to be that if you’re not a medical doctor and you can’t deliver a baby or perform surgery, then you should do away with the doctor. And that’s a view that people have, but in my view it was unnecessarily childish, and the view of a lot of people, unnecessarily childish and by the way poorly written op-ed that begins like this. “Madame First Lady…” First mistake by the way, it’s madam first lady, no E required. “Mrs. Biden, Jill, kiddo, calls her kiddo, “a bit of advice on what may seem like a small, but I think is a not unimportant matter…”

Preet Bharara:

Can we pause again for a second to comment? On the atrocious writing represented by this phrase. “A small, but I think is a not unimportant matter.” Wow, that made it to the pages of the Wall Street Journal.” He writes, “Any chance you might drop the doctor before your name? Dr. Jill Biden sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is I believe an EdD, a doctor of education earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title student retention at the community college level meeting students needs. A wise man once said that no one should call himself doctor unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.”

Preet Bharara:

If I may repeat again, this is terrible writing in need of an editor, unnecessarily condescending, and kind of a stupid topic. But who cares when the question is asked how do I feel about the Wall Street Journal publishing it. I think the Wall Street Journal op-ed page has dishonored itself before with trivia and nonsense, but it’s a free country. They have a certain perspective and they have every right to publish it and people have every right to criticize it, and a lot of people did.

Preet Bharara:

I might not have mentioned it, but for two things one is that the editorial page editor, Paul Gigot took to the pages himself in earnest defense of the Wall Street Journal’s right to publish that silly and stupid op-ed. And then another is a study, I want to bring to your attention. So Paul Gigot takes to the pages of the Wall Street Journal seemingly annoyed and upset that people dared to criticize Mr. Epstein’s op-ed. Paul Gigot writes in defense, “The complaints began as a trickle, but became a torrent after the Biden media team elevated Mr. Epstein’s work in what was clearly a political strategy.”

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know about that. It can also be the case that many, many people around the country when they came upon the piece by Mr. Epstein simultaneously and independently thought it was overwrought, silly and stupid. I don’t know that political strategy is necessary for people to draw that conclusion. He gives maybe progressives and democrats a bit too much credit.

Preet Bharara:

Mr. Gigot also writes, and this is kind of comical to me. “Many readers said Mr. Epstein’s use of kiddo is demeaning, but then Joe Biden is also fond of that locution.” So I guess if I understand this correctly, it is okay for someone who’s a complete stranger to use the same term of endearment or nickname that one’s spouse of decades uses for that person. I don’t think it works that way.

Preet Bharara:

Paul Gigot also seems to suggest in defense of Mr. Epstein that he was mocking men and women equally. “Mr. Epstein’s point applies to men and women and his peace also mocked men for their honorary degrees.” I’ll come back to that in a second. Gigot ends his piece by saying, “If you disagree with Mr. Epstein, fair enough, write a letter or shout your objections on Twitter,” which is exactly what people did.

Preet Bharara:

Now, going back to this issue of whether or not Epstein is sexist, sometimes it’s good to look at data. And my friend and former podcast guest, Adam Grant who is a brilliant organizational psychologist at Wharton went on Twitter and also actually texted me about a study that I wanted to bring to your attention and that’s why I’m talking about this because sometimes these ways we have talking about things. We don’t really appreciate and understand and are not cognizant of the fact that we’re being sexist.

Preet Bharara:

So Adam Grant posted on Twitter a reference to a study of 300 or more introductions of people who were presenting at events, all of whom had MD’s or PhDs. And the study found that women’s qualifications were far less likely to be mentioned by men. Men introduced 72% of men as doctor, but only 49 of women as doctor. Women on the other hand were more even-handed. Women introduced speakers as doctor regardless of gender. And as Adam Grant says in his tweet respecting women shouldn’t be this hard. That goes for Paul Gigot, that goes for Mr. Epstein, and that goes for the Wall Street Journal op-ed page as well. It’s time for a short break, stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

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Preet Bharara:

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Preet Bharara:

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Preet Bharara:

Jeffrey Goldberg is my guest this week. He’s the editor-in-chief of The Atlantic Magazine. Today, we talk about the role of The Atlantic in the modern media environment and the state of American diplomacy in the Middle East at the dawn of the Biden presidency.

Preet Bharara:

Jeff Goldberg, thanks for coming on the show.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Thanks for having me.

Preet Bharara:

I wasn’t going to mention this, but sometimes in the chit-chat before we hit the record button, I get the idea for a question and before we get to the magazine and your writing and your editing and everything else, could you explain to the public what you had for breakfast?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yes, I can. I had leftover Thai fried rice.

Preet Bharara:

Because that was from dinner last night.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, which is pretty good because it’s not from dinner four nights ago.

Preet Bharara:

Will you be having that for lunch?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Probably.

Preet Bharara:

How much did you get? How much did you buy? How many meals is this going to go for?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I actually try to eat small meals. So one of those big-

Preet Bharara:

You do intermittent eating.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Intermittent eating at 200 calories every three hours or whatever the thing is. But it’s one of those big round black tubs of whatever rice.

Preet Bharara:

People didn’t know that we’ve converted this to a food show.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Is this what you do on your show?

Preet Bharara:

Nutrition.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’ve listened a little bit, but I don’t remember-

Preet Bharara:

No. This is not usually what we do.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I don’t remember it’s a cooking show.

Preet Bharara:

But you mentioned it.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

No, I did. It’s true.

Preet Bharara:

So let’s talk about some of your writing and I don’t know if you get asked about this a lot, but one of your great works of all time, and I don’t know if you’ll guess which article I’m going to ask about. And I will later ask about the suckers and losers article. But the one I want to begin with is a great piece you did back in 2012. Can you guess the piece?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Not at all. I don’t know. I have very bad, short and long term memory and also medium.

Preet Bharara:

That’s helpful for reporting.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I write everything down. I write everything down.

Preet Bharara:

It is the piece you wrote in 2012, in the fall of 2012, seminal piece on the relationship and the unrequited love between Christopher Christie and the boss, Bruce Springsteen, because, and we’ll get into this, you are a huge Bruce Springsteen fan as I am. And that article was especially special to me in the fall of 2012 where you essentially write how Christie is one of the greatest Bruce Springsteen fans of all time and he was then the governor of New Jersey.

Preet Bharara:

Bruce Springsteen didn’t so much as acknowledge him, didn’t like him, disparaged him and Christie would still in a forlorn way go to every concert, sing along to every song and he got no attention from Bruce. And the reason it’s special to me, and I got to gloat a little bit, I was the US attorney at the time and earlier that year in the winter of 2012, I went to a concert in which, and I like to brag about this Bruce Springsteen gave me a shout out from the stage.

Bruce Springsteen:

This is for Preet Bharara. One, two, three.

Preet Bharara:

And here was the governor of the garden state himself being shunned by Bruce. How fun was that article to write?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, I got to see Chris Christie dance in Newark.

Preet Bharara:

So in other words not fun?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Not everybody gets to see… Yeah, I went to a concert with him and I got to watch him. He was sitting right in front of me, I’m sitting right behind him and we were there and he danced like Hungry Hearts maybe. I don’t remember what he was dancing to, but it was memorable. That was at a point when I had, let’s say more sympathy for Chris Christie than I have today. I mean, I still find him to be a fascinating person and obviously a great deal of fun in a lot of ways, but I questioned some of his life choices over the past four years.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

But it was interesting because I mean, I had a very fun time with him. I went down to Trenton one snowy day and we sat in his office in four hours. We had, I think what was what used to be known as a platter party. We would play Bruce’s songs. Maybe that’s not what platter party is. Anyway, I have a vague recollection, that’s what it means. But we would just play songs and talk about Bruce and argue about it. And that’s a lot of fun for someone from my demographic, my outer borough. Outer borough, bridge and tunnel demographic.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

But the interesting thing about, and you’ll recognize this. The interesting thing about Christie and a lot of conservative leaning Bruce fans is that they perform this mental trick where they discount entirely Bruce’s politics as meaningless and just enjoy the music, but I find it very hard to separate out Bruce’s music from Bruce’s worldview or his understanding of America and the American dream and so on. So that became at first an interesting argument with Christie and then kind of a boring argument because you can’t deny it.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. You quote him is saying… Christie is saying, “I compartmentalize.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, I know.

Preet Bharara:

And I wonder sometimes this conservative and progressive divide in the country, it must be a little bit hard to be a conservative if you like music because you don’t have a lot of bands who are copacetic with your worldview if you’re a conservative.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Who do you have? Who do you actually have?

Preet Bharara:

Well, you have Scott Baio, although he doesn’t sing. So that’s a problem.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s what makes it hard to be in a band, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

Lee Greenwood?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Lee Greenwood.

Preet Bharara:

Lee Greenwood.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I like that song except it has this annoying grammatical tic in it. Do you know this? I think I’ve written about this.

Preet Bharara:

I’m proud to be an American.

Preet Bharara:

(singing)

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’m proud to be an American where at least I… And it’s like it should be, I’m proud to be an American because at least I know I’m free. I tend to copy edit songs. It’s an endearing tic.

Preet Bharara:

You should lay off the Thai fried rice perhaps. Maybe that’s a little too much carbs for you.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’m sure it’s the root cause of that.

Preet Bharara:

What’s that old song, Neil Young, there ain’t no one for to give me no name? That always bothered me. What’s that preposition? (singing)

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, but he was seriously high when he wrote 80% of his music so really [crosstalk 00:19:51].

Preet Bharara:

Right. I don’t think Bruce gets high.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Bruce? No, Bruce is a high on music and earnestness. I don’t think he touches anything. I don’t think he’s really ever really touched anything.

Preet Bharara:

How does a story like that come about? Do you think like oh, it’d be interesting to sort of mock Chris Christie and the no love from Bruce, and I’m going to follow him around and watch him dance.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Let me push back a little bit because my goal was not mockery in that. I mean, there are-

Preet Bharara:

To be fair, it didn’t come across that way. It was actually a thoughtful article-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

It was elegiac.

Preet Bharara:

… about it.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

And my goal really especially at the time was just to… Here, it started from a very positive place. Like I said, I like interesting politicians most are very, very boring to be around and Chris Christie is a three-dimensional character. You very seldom meet professional politicians who have interests other than for self-preservation and self-aggrandizement. Christie’s love of music is actually very sincere and he could talk knowledgeably about a lot of things and I found that charming. I’d gotten to know him through this, that, the other thing, whatever.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I said let’s just write… I didn’t realize the degree to which Bruce was actively toying with Christie’s emotions through that long period. So that became part of the story, but really originally it was just about this governor of New Jersey just obsessing. I mean, he had gone to many more shows than I’ve gone to. I don’t know. How many have you gone to?

Preet Bharara:

Probably 40, 40 to 50. He, I think you’ve cited went to 100 something. This is back in 2012.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

A couple hundred. Yeah, probably a hundred. I’m in the 70s or like 81 or something like that.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t have Christie kind of money. I don’t have that kind of bucks lying around.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. Well, you can get bad seats also.

Preet Bharara:

That’s true. That’s mostly what I’ve gotten.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Right.

Preet Bharara:

Now, I’m actually making a couple of bucks and we have the pandemic. So I told my family-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I know, it’s a bummer because [crosstalk 00:21:45].

Preet Bharara:

Front row when he comes back on tour.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I would really like to go again. That is very true. So no, it wasn’t meant to mock.

Preet Bharara:

How many times have you seen Bruce on Broadway?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Just twice.

Preet Bharara:

Three times for me.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Which is like… Really?

Preet Bharara:

Yeah.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

And you claim to have no money and yet…

Preet Bharara:

Well, one time it was a friend.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I know, little deals, little deals. I get it.

Preet Bharara:

I’m allowed to accept gifts now that I’m no longer in the government.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s the same for me. I once went with John Batiste. You know, Jon who is the great musician in the Colbert… I went with Jon and we had really good seats and Jon was sitting right behind me and he Jon is an irrepressible guy and he lives inside music and it’s this weird thing to even describe. But during the whole show, he would… Jon would be in my ear sort of singing along to Bruce on stage and playing the drums.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

It was a very enjoyable disorienting experience and afterward we went to the dressing room and spent a few minutes with Bruce and Jon started asking him highly technical and very interesting questions about how we recorded this song and that song. I was just a fly on the wall and it was one of the great 10 or 15 minute stretches of my life just to listen to Bruce talk about how he recorded different songs and Jon asking very technical questions. It was a joy. As you can imagine, it was a joy.

Preet Bharara:

Anything relating to Bruce is joy. I was once asked when I was being interviewed, what is it about Bruce and I quoted Jon Stewart who I think put it best and he’s like, “Why do I like Bruce?” He says, “Do you like joy? If you like joy then you should catch a Springsteen concert.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I know that. I know that feeling. You know that great Jon Stewart line about like when you listen to Bruce, you realize that you’re not a loser, you’re part of an epic story about losers. I’m not delivering it well or accurately, but it’s basically it’s like you can aggrandize your own kind of patheticness by listening to this.

Preet Bharara:

We’ve gone from food show to E Street Radio.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Have you been on E Street Radio?

Preet Bharara:

No, but that is a goal of mine.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Me too. Maybe we can go as a package.

Preet Bharara:

Why don’t we do it together?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

They could limit the damage by just having us both at the same time and then just getting rid of it, yeah. This is like an application. This is like an application.

Preet Bharara:

I’m going to instruct my team right now-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

You got your team.

Preet Bharara:

… put that on the list.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Okay. Well, as long as your team-

Preet Bharara:

They’re not going to say no to us, right?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Quite possibly they will say no to us.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. So this is the transition. With whom does Chris Christie have a more tortured relationship, Bruce Springsteen or Donald Trump?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Bruce Springsteen because he respects Bruce Springsteen.

Preet Bharara:

Oh, are you saying that he doesn’t respect Donald Trump?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think he once respected him?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I mean, no. By the way, I’m speculating. Let me be careful here and journalistic and saying I don’t know that he disrespects Donald Trump. I assume. Dangerous to assume, but I assume he disrespects Donald Trump for two reasons. One he is smart and Donald Trump is not. And two, very few people who come into contact with Donald Trump respect Donald Trump. So it’s a numbers proposition.

Preet Bharara:

That opens up a whole can of worms then that we have been talking about for years in this country on my show, in your magazine and The Atlantic by the way in many pieces including a seminal piece by George Conway and we had him on the show to talk about it at the time, there’s a lot of attention paid to the psychology of Donald Trump and of necessity the psychology of the people around Donald Trump. How do you explain the divide between your hypothesis that smart people don’t respect Donald Trump and how even now during the transition, and even up until and even since the voting of the electoral college earlier this week, they’re all sorts of “smart” Republicans who still act in a way that suggests, not just respect but almost obsequiousness and devotion to Donald Trump. Can you explain that?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I can’t explain it. My colleague, Anne Applebaum has tried to explain the nature of complicity and her breakthrough. One of her many intellectual breakthroughs on this subject is that complicity is the norm, bending to the will of the strong man is the norm in human behavior and dissent is actually not the normal human response to a figure like Donald Trump. I can’t really explain it now. I mean, one of the most interesting experiments I think we could watch in the coming months is the re-transformation of Lindsey Graham perhaps. Remember that Lindsey Graham-

Preet Bharara:

You think he’s going to swing back? You think Lindsey is going to swing back to being normal?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I think there’s a reasonable chance. A because he’s a shape-shifter and B because he does have genuine affection for Joe Biden. C, I guess you can say because he’s a month or two into a six-year term. He’s pretty safe. Politics changes and will change again before he’s up. He wants to be relevant. Lindsey Graham is very smart. I knew Lindsey Graham pretty well and he’s pretty smart guy and he knows which way the wind is blowing and maybe he’s not going to lead the charge away from Donald Trump, but if things go a certain way in the coming months, then maybe he will sort of do a moderate limited kind of pivot away from Trumpism. I don’t know. And maybe that’s on a personal level of vestigial hope that this was just cynical and not cultish. I don’t know. But I can-

Preet Bharara:

Does it make it better? Does it make it better?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Maybe 8% better in my mind.

Preet Bharara:

8%.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’m more scared of cults than I am of cynics. Maybe that’s a way of putting it. I don’t know.

Preet Bharara:

Are there any cults on the Democratic side?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Oh, yeah. When you make politics the center of your life, you run the risk of making politics and therefore politicians your gods. I’m a fairly serious monotheist. There are things that I believe one should worship and there are things that should not-

Preet Bharara:

Like Bruce?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, yeah. A very few humans who deserve that level of worship. So that totalizing phenomenon where people… Anyway, whatever. I’m not going to go down this rabbit hole of how everyone needs religion whether they’re religious or not and some people make party of their religion and some people make partisanship and individuals and politics their religion.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I mean, look at what Trump has done to evangelical Christianity. Not all of the evangelicals obviously, but look what evangelicals have done to themselves with Trump as a kind of strange godhead? That’s to me one of the most remarkable stories of the last four years. More remarkable than Lindsey Graham.

Preet Bharara:

I think we have our title.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

What’s that, strange godhead?

Preet Bharara:

Strange godhead. Make a note of that, guys.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:29:05] We could do this on Bruce radio. No, we could do this on E Street Radio. That’ll be exciting for the listeners.

Preet Bharara:

Do progressives and conservatives look for different human qualities in their leaders or are we all the same? It seems to me there has arisen some kind of divide about what the concept of strength is. I think you can postulate that people like… Nobody likes a weak leader, right, no matter what, whether you’re progressive, conservative or independent. But the difference seems to be a little bit is what you perceive to be strength.

Preet Bharara:

Now, Donald Trump and we’re going to get into your other article in a moment has a particular view of what it means to be strong, what it means to be a winner versus what it means to be a loser. And a little bit we keep talking about Joe Biden as the empath as the embodiment of empathy, which is what the country wants in part because it’s a swing away from what Trump was. But that there are some people, Trump himself perhaps is he devoid of empathy or does he think empathy is a feature of weakness? Compound question. Answer any one of those.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

It’s like an essay question.

Preet Bharara:

Well, this is a podcast. We do essay questions.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I assume that Trump is a void. This is why I have a hard time. I mean, obviously we’ve published very strong anti-Trump pieces. We’ve published, I think very true things about Trump that Trump wouldn’t like over the past four years. Not because we’re partisan just because we are based in reality, but I can’t get that angry at Trump compared to the smarter people around him or the people who have more layers or more complexity or show signs of having an inner life.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I think there’s just a void there. I don’t know what Trump is I’m fascinated by this question. Tom Nichols wrote a great piece for us about the American, these kind of weird archetypes of American manhood… Or not weird archetypes, the archetypes of American male behavior and how Trump doesn’t conform to them. I interviewed Barack Obama a few weeks ago and he brought this up.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

And he really interesting stuff he said about how he grew up understanding the model of what American manhood looks like and the Gary Cooper, John Wayne, that kind of model, strong, silent, uncomplaining. He acknowledged all the patriarchal qualities, et cetera. But he’s as flummoxed as we are about why, especially a type of American male who embraces the signifiers of that kind of manhood took to a horrible whiner and self-pitying softy. And by the way, a bully.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I mean, the archetype of American manhood is that Gary Cooper kind of stand with the people who are bullied, not with the bully. And Donald Trump, if no nothing else, he’s a bully. Like I said, we can make long lists of questions about what just happened that go just beyond the politics of it and go to deep American psychology.

Preet Bharara:

What about these people who are not senators, but who worked for Donald Trump and allowed themselves to be humiliated. Jeff Sessions comes to mind. Allow themselves to be abused. It seems to me that goes a little bit beyond the natural inclination to defer and to follow as opposed to dissent. Why do you think folks do that especially people like Bill Barr who went out of their way to be obsequious and to be flattering and to be sort of the hatchet man for the president knowing that it hasn’t gone well for people before them because loyalty only runs in one direction.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

So I’ll give you three answers. A, I don’t know. B, you know that feeling, and we both done this. When you walk up the driveway of the west wing, you get through the gate and you walk into the west wing lobby of the White House and you think to yourself, I’m in the White House. This is center of the world. And that has its seductions, right? You’re Bill Barr or you’re Sessions, and you’ve got a motorcade that drives you everywhere and you’re surrounded by armed men and you feel very important, it could be those kind of seductions.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

See, we have to take into account the kind of Flight 93-ism of some of these folks. They do believe that trump is the flawed vehicle of American salvation, that the America that they feel slipping from their grasp is going to be… It’s not the Flight 93 essay as much as it’s the King David model. King David a flawed leader who nevertheless saved the people Israel. And they see Trump as the flawed vehicle that’s protecting America from a wave of immigrants for instance.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I mean, there’s some instrumental quality to it. But I go back to answer A, which is I don’t know. I mean, because I don’t understand why people would go that far down the road in defense of someone who is obviously, at least to me, an almost comically flawed human being.

Preet Bharara:

It’s very strange to me that in some ways, Donald Trump is a cartoonish figure and there are explanations for why he does what he does. He’s a void. He has no soul, et cetera, et cetera. There are conclusions you can draw and yet you and I and so many other people when asked questions about why things have turned out a particular way and why people do a sort of genuflection to Trump, the honest answer comes back all the time. I don’t know, right? You spend a lot of time with Barack Obama. Is there anything about which the way that the Obama wielded power or acted as president, that is totally flummoxing to you in the same way that some of the stuff with Trump is flummoxing.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, not in the same way, but there’s something. I mean, if you’re trying to both be near power, but also create enough distance for you psychologically, so that you can analyze it correctly. I mean, there’s a lot of things that are flummoxing about Obama and particularly the way he led his presidency for me at least. I mean, one sure way to become a popular ex-president is to be followed by a dope, right? So Obama has benefited tremendously from from that. And also, I mean put aside politics, put aside the way he wielded or didn’t wield power, he’s an exemplary human being.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

We talked about this in this interview that I did with him a few weeks ago. How kind of small C conservative he is in so many ways. He is a family man and an a model of dignity and probity and all the rest, right? So he just looks so good on a personal level compared to what came right after him. I have my criticisms of Obama policies and in particular the way he sometimes was too fatalistic on the world stage about America’s ability to actually do good things and about the way he sometimes didn’t seem to fully grasp the relationship between diplomacy and power. Those are policy issues or policy critiques. I mean he was a sane and smart president. It’s a different thing.

Preet Bharara:

Hear more of our conversation in just a moment.

Preet Bharara:

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Preet Bharara:

So do you think given how unique a figure Trump is that Trumpism fades with him if he fades from the scene or can someone else who doesn’t have his quality, someone else who is more intelligent and has their emotional wits about them is someone like that able to be Trumpist?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, Trumpism without Trump is probably more dangerous than Trumpism with Trump, right? I mean-

Preet Bharara:

I mean, there’s an argument for that, but then is it Trumpism? I guess, what is Trumpism?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

What is Trumpism? I mean, Trumpism, if you want to boil it down to its essence is a kind of fear of the future, which expresses itself in misogyny and racism and in xenophobia. Trumpism is as a philosophy is different than Trump’s personal qualities. What I’m saying is imagine a convention of a politician who, A, had an attention span. B, had the capacity to learn. C didn’t go out of his way to insult racial minorities, ethnic minorities, women and so on. And B, wasn’t a person who is credibly accused of rape. Just piling all the things.

Preet Bharara:

Just to tick off a few things.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, just to tick off. I mean, that’s just scratching the surface of the list. Imagine someone with a more sane seeming private life with more discretion, probity. And again, attention span is hugely important because I mean David Frum in The Atlantic has written a lot about this, that he would have been a much more successful autocrat had he actually been able to work the way a president works. I mean, imagine if he had just built infrastructure, imagine if he had done something for the infrastructure and imagine if he decided to fight the pandemic, he’d be president.

Preet Bharara:

Can I challenge that from… On the pandemic, I think you’re correct. He would have been reelected probably easily if he conducted himself better because many leaders including the governor of my state, I think had a flawed response, but spoke well and was transparent with the public and their rating numbers went up. But putting aside the pandemic, isn’t some of the robotic cult like appeal of Donald Trump his style and being a bully and his brutality and the way he conducts himself at rallies because it seems to me that what a lot of people love is this thing that you’re trying to take away when you describe the model of a future Trumpist, they love his meanness. They love the fact that he triggers the liberals. In other words, can there be a Trumpism, can there be a Trumpist…

Jeffrey Goldberg:

A nice Trumpism?

Preet Bharara:

Without the cult?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Look, I think you’re right. I think some of the attraction of the things that some other people find unattractive. I remember this watching 2016 flipping on CNN and seeing that Trump was about to speak and thinking to myself even subconsciously. I’m going to watch this, because it’s going to be crazy. That was what everybody eventually belatedly understood that we had been trained for this kind of entertainment and reality TV and all the rest and professional wrestling and all the rest.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

They appeal to baser instincts. People can be mean and people love meanness in a kind of way. People love the jokey bullying. There’s no such thing as a milk toast Trumpist, I guess, but I do think like you can imagine… I don’t want to name names, but I’ll name one. I can imagine a Tom Cotton saying things that simultaneously appeal to the resentments of the Trumpist base, but are done in a clever enough way that he could say.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Please don’t accuse me of misogyny or racism. I’m just stating the truth here. I think there are ways to… There’s probably a modified, and I use this word advisely dignified approach that could work. But you’re absolutely right. This was the show and Trump… We know this. I mean, we know this is the bitter last days. I mean, he’s tweeting about Fox ratings today. All he cares about is television ratings and popularity and crowd size. He’s extremely superficial, but he understands something about… He doesn’t understand bread, but he understands circuses, put it that way.

Preet Bharara:

So what happens after January 20th when he leaves office? Does he fade from the scene? Does he fade from the pages of The Atlantic and the evening primetime shows on CNN and Fox and other networks or does he remain center stage in part because he’s a potential candidate in 2024? How are you going to deal with him?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, that’s interesting. I mean, you deal with it as it comes, right? I mean, one of my fondest dreams for next year is that we can go back to being a general interest magazine in many ways.

Preet Bharara:

Right. Recipes. You can add recipes.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I forget my Thai fried rice.

Preet Bharara:

Thai fried rice. Yes, you beat me to it.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

A Thai fried rice dinner breakfast plan.

Preet Bharara:

Microwave for 60 seconds.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s right. I’m going to add a little complexity to it though. I got to sell. I mean, the short answer is I don’t know it’s the future. I don’t know. I mean, if he maintains his megaphone status… The issue is really not Trump, the issue… I mean, this has always been true. The issue is the 70 plus million people who voted for Trump. If they show signs of lack of interest, if they’re moving on, if there’s some level of regret, if senators and congressmen, and governors show some independence, if the dam breaks, then he fades a little bit. But we’re all walking a very fine line. Do we want to make more of him than he is, but we also don’t want to discount his salience in politics and culture going forward. I think that’s the best way to answer it.

Preet Bharara:

I just wonder how long it takes for people to get tired of a simple act because it’s not a complicated act. After four years, I know the people who are progressive are sick and tired of it and joke all the time. We had some candidates who were running in the lead up to the primaries on the show who bragged that one of the best things about them was that they would be boring, and people could forget about who the president was.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, Michael Bennett had that great line.

Preet Bharara:

Michael Bennett, yeah.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

You have to think about me.

Preet Bharara:

He said that on multiple occasions including on the podcast. So I wonder if part of it is that. So I want to get to the other… Let me ask you this question first. So you’re the editor in chief of The Atlantic. That’s a big job.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Okay, yes. It’s not the biggest. It’s not the biggest.

Preet Bharara:

It’s a big job, it’s a big job.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Okay. Not a small job.

Preet Bharara:

It doesn’t allow you time to cook a proper breakfast for yourself, I think.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s true.

Preet Bharara:

But you’re also writing stuff. So how do you have time to do both?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I don’t sleep very much anymore, but that’s probably just because of the state of the world.

Preet Bharara:

Does it piss off some of your writers that you’re both the editor and then you break news in long pieces?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell me. I mean, maybe they’re muttering about them.

Preet Bharara:

I’ll have to ask.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Maybe they’re muttering about it in Slack channels, some Slack channel. I don’t even know exists.

Preet Bharara:

That you don’t conduct surveillance of? I’m going to ask that to George Packer what he thinks about it.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

George Packer is not in Slack, believe me. George Packer barely has electricity.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t believe that.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

He’s not on Twitter. He’s not on Twitter. He just writes great essays. That’s George Packer.

Preet Bharara:

Do you have people who stand outside the offices of The New Yorker to kidnap and snatch writers that you have your eye on?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I can’t confirm or deny. That’s a wonderful magazine. [crosstalk 00:46:31]

Preet Bharara:

Okay. Say what you need to say. Get your index card.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I used to work there. I love it.

Preet Bharara:

Get your index card.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s right. I have a team too. You’re not the only one with a team. I’ve got a team [crosstalk 00:46:42]

Preet Bharara:

David Remnick can do nothing to you. David Remnick can do nothing to you.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

David is a dear friend and a mentor. [crosstalk 00:46:48]

Preet Bharara:

You say what you have to say. But there’s a little bit of a battle between The New Yorker and Atlantic, fair?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s healthy. That’s great. Isn’t it great?

Preet Bharara:

Healthy competition. It’s capitalism.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

It’s great to be… No. It’s not even capitalism. I mean, it is capitalism. Okay, fine. I want a healthy… And David says this all the time too, it’s great to have competition because it creates a healthy eco… We’d like the magazine industry to survive and it’s great to have people who are pushing you through their example forward. So I think it’s great.

Preet Bharara:

You guys are the only ones. I mean, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. There are some serious players in this area, I think.

Preet Bharara:

I mean, it’s interesting because you have other media outlets that have grown up in recent times like Axios which is basically they publish Haiku’s and then you, guys-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I love lists, by the way. I love-

Preet Bharara:

No. I’m a big list lover and there was this trend for a time where people thought well, less, less, less than. And then Twitter arrives on the scene. It’s just a few characters at a time, but there’s still an abiding interest on the part of… Again, you don’t have to have 300 million people buy your magazine to be economically successful. And that’s the thing I think people forget. There’s a subset of folks who by the way listen to a long podcast with intelligent guests who don’t speak in rhyme.

Preet Bharara:

There’s also a subset of the population… And all you need is a few million, who believe in long form and want in-depth reporting and want thoughtfulness not just sort of the sound bite in the headline, right? And does that remain true?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. My belief has always been that if you make a… I mean, I’m saying this like it’s my original belief and not like Steve Jobs or Richard Plepler from HBO or something. But if you make a quality product, people will pay you for it. It’s not that hard a formula to understand. I think journalism lost its self-confidence over the last 15 or 20 years. including even the New York Times, which lately came to realize oh, digital subscriptions actually will work for us. They will actually save us. Digital subscriptions are saving us too. We’ve had a great year.

Preet Bharara:

But people get mad, right? There’s still this expectation which I think is fading a little bit that journalism should be free. It should be ad-based. I mean, I guess we have this podcast that you’re on. We have another podcast that that is behind the paywall. And part of the reason we do that other thing is because it supports this thing because the ad-based business model, maybe a lot of readers and listeners don’t appreciate this is kind of terrible particularly in the podcasting world and particularly in the world of print journalism, right?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Right. In part because of the big platforms Google and Facebook eating up most of the advertising and in part because you’re overly reliant on a small handful of companies, any publication. I’d rather have the costs of making The Atlantic borne by a million separate people than 10 or 15 companies. But reality is reality and reality is that the consumer is the way to go. I mean, I hear this all the time. We do put things in front of our… We have a meter. We don’t really have a paywall. You can come to our site three or four times a month without having to pay anything to see our stories.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

We do put our coronavirus coverage in front of the paywall because it’s a public service and an emergency, but I mean, people say this to me and then I say to them. I have a payroll like the people who are doing this work have to be paid so they can buy food. I mean, it’s like-

Preet Bharara:

No, it’s remarkable. There are people-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I don’t know why I have to explain this in a capitalist society.

Preet Bharara:

I never respond to them so I’m going to respond to them indirectly here and I love… We have the greatest listeners and the greatest followers, but there are some people, this is not free. It takes money to produce people like the sound quality. Well, that takes… This microphone cost $45 million.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. That was a $70 million mic?

Preet Bharara:

$70 million microphone. I mean, you know.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Made in DARPA. Made it in the bowels of DARPA.

Preet Bharara:

We got it through the military contracting process.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, Area 51. It’s the funniest thing because no one would ever walk into a car dealership and expect them to give you a car without exchanging money for it. I mean, this is a public service. This is not a car, but it literally has to be supported. The more support we get through subscriptions, the more journalism we’re able to make. By the way, I’m sure you understand this in intuitively, but our de-facto chief marketing officer, the past several months at least has been Donald Trump because when he started going after us, a lot of people rallied to the cause of great quality independent journalism. That’s also true for the Washington Post, the New York Times.

Preet Bharara:

New York Times.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Talk about a challenge for next year. It’s not like Joe Biden is going to go on Twitter and call me a sleazeball or whatever Donald Trump called me. I would like him to. It would actually [crosstalk 00:51:48] subscription.

Preet Bharara:

It’s helps. It would have been better if you had a book because it sends your book straight to the top.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Straight to the top.

Preet Bharara:

But this is another thing that’s going on too. The Atlantic is owned by a very wealthy person, Laurene Powell Jobs. The Washington Post is owned by, I think the wealthiest person on earth, Jeff Bezos.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I just saw this yesterday, $185 billion.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. That’s $185 billion more than you and me.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s a lot of Thai fried rice.

Preet Bharara:

It’s about three microphones. Three or four microphones.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

At your rate, yeah.

Preet Bharara:

At my rate. So we might need someone like that to bail us out. You can get out your index card to answer this if you need to, but which I imagine you might need to, what does that say about journalism and some of these flagship? I mean, truly historically great. I don’t mean to be blowing smoke, but The Atlantic, its roots go back. It’s like the Republic, the Washington Post has been around long.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, 1857.

Preet Bharara:

And some of the founders of The Atlantic, you can brag about this in your index card answer if you’d like. Mention some of the names of the people who were there at the founding of The Atlantic in your answer?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, Ralph Waldo Emerson was our first subscription manager.

Preet Bharara:

Ralph Waldo Emerson. I know that dude. He’s a big deal, that guy.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

You’ve had him on the show.

Preet Bharara:

I’ve had him on the show. He said his name was Ralph Waldo. No, it may just be Waldo.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Where’s Waldo?

Preet Bharara:

Different guy. But what does it say about the state of journalism and what does it say about the independence of journalism when you have multiple flagship outlets like you and The Washington Post and others that are kind of, I don’t want to say propped up, but that’s a verb I think you can use to buy a bottomless pit of funds if necessary.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, A, it’s not a bottomless pit of funds, because just like Jeff Bezos, I think Laurene Powell Jobs has been very clear about this. This is in the for-profit side of Emerson Collective which is the organization that she founded and there’s an expectation on the part of Emerson that we’re a for-profit business that will pay for itself and make a profit.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

This is not an index card. This is actually how I feel. I really feel like Jeff Bezos and Laurene Powell Jobs, just to name two people, there’s many others are doing a public service, A and doing it by being a bridge to a stable independent future. The disruptions of technology and the decline of the ad market and everything have put a lot of publications in pretty dangerous positions, right?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

They’ve come in to be bridges and helpers toward a future in which we can be truly financially independent and growing based on our direct relationship with millions of our readers. It’s a great gift to have her standing with The Atlantic and being committed in a generational kind of way to The Atlantic. As much as she doesn’t want The Atlantic to be a non-profit organization supported through other people’s largest, I don’t want it either. I really believe that what we make here and what other quality publications make is worth paying for. And I think that our readers should take out subscriptions so that we are supported independent of anybody else’s kindness or charity or selflessness or however you want to call it.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

But if we don’t get across this bridge, that’s the danger because you don’t want to have to rely on other people forever to float the boat. So that’s the way I think of it. I don’t want to speak for her, but I think that’s the way she thinks of it. And I know that she has that same confidence that I have that if you make something that’s special and you make something that’s quality and then it won’t be impossible to convince large numbers of people. And we’re finding out that it’s not impossible to convince large numbers of people to pay you for access to the stories that you’re making.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, because a lot of what’s out there is junk.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I mean, I know this is not like on the media or anything, but we’re in an interesting phase where three or four or five, six years ago there were a lot of… I think the cliche is digital upstarts, right? And they were going to lap the “legacy media”, right? When the New York Times was in trouble, remember it was taking loans from Carlos Slim? And everybody was having-

Preet Bharara:

And upstarts like Buzzfeed.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. The whole range of… I mean, by the way, great people, great stories, et cetera. But but there was an assumption that they were the future and that the legacy publications like The Atlantic, New York Times and so on or the past, but it’s been a little bit of a tortoise and a hare kind of situation where some of those kinds of places, some of them are not even in business anymore, some of them are having difficulties. These are not trade secrets. We’ve talked about this in the last month.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I mean, since we launched our digital paywall 14 months ago, 15 months ago we’ve signed up more than 400,000 new subscribers paying on average $50 for a subscription. So we’re kind of like the tortoise that just every month we’re just collecting new subscribers and doing our work. We’re not a tortoise in terms of the impact of the work or the reach of the work, but as a business proposition, all we’re doing is just accumulating subscribers and trying to give them good journalism and everybody else is looking for other formulas. So I feel good about where places like The New Yorker are The Washington Post, the New York Times, or The Atlantic is. I feel pretty good about where they all are.

Preet Bharara:

Speaking of great journalism, once again, I get to your article in which you wrote-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I gave you the entree before but you didn’t go to the door.

Preet Bharara:

You did, yeah. I ramble sometimes, meander.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

No, no, no, no, no. And then I wanted to give you my theories of journalism.

Preet Bharara:

Which I enjoyed very much.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I’m glad.

Preet Bharara:

So you wrote this article in which you have people saying that Donald Trump referred to Americans who died in war, who died in battle as suckers and losers. And my first question is when your source John Jelly said these things to you, what did you-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Oh, stop it.

Preet Bharara:

You didn’t like how I did that?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

What was that? Is that one of your prosecutor tricks? What is that?

Preet Bharara:

No. You couldn’t get away with that in court. You won’t say who your source was obviously.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, why would I ever say who my sources are?

Preet Bharara:

Well, because it’s just us. It’s just you and me in our homes.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Okay. And I’m Mrs. Gingrich. Right.

Preet Bharara:

My first question is before we analyze it. I don’t want to put too much because we talked about Trump’s psychology a lot already.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah.

Preet Bharara:

But when when one or more people were telling you about this language used by the president, what was your reaction?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Non-surprise. There were several people and obviously I was accumulating data overtime. But look, I recognize a break point in my own understanding of Trumpism and American politics. I date it exactly to the moment when Donald Trump said to John McCain, “I like people who weren’t captured.” And my Washington brain, establishment thinking brain said, “Well, that’s it for Trump.”

Preet Bharara:

That’s what everybody thought.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

That’s it. You don’t survive that. And then he gets more popular and I’m like, “Well, I obviously don’t understand something about American politics.” But from that moment… And I was so deep… I admired John McCain. I knew him, I don’t say fairly well, but I knew him well enough and that appalling inversion of what being an American is, the selflessness and sacrifice that the POWs in Vietnam represented, I couldn’t even understand the level of perversity.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

In other words, nothing from that point on really has truly surprised me. I’m sure, I’ve expressed, “Oh, I can’t believe he just said that or I can’t believe he just did that,” but nothing is really surprising. The suckers and losers, those two quotes are not the most surprising thing in that piece, to me, it was his demand to exclude wounded veterans, amputees from military parades because “Nobody wants to see that.”

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Okay. If I’m going to acknowledge being surprised by something, I’ll acknowledge being surprised by that because that is an actual anti-human response to an observable human reality. I can’t get my mind around someone who would say something like that or feel it.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think there are a lot of people who who feel that way and they just keep it to themselves? And some of those people are attracted to Trump or they just sort of think he’s the crazy guy who triggers the libs and triggers the traditional Republicans and so they don’t care?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I think it’s the more the latter than the former. It’s like watching professional wrestling. You know in the back your mind that those guys aren’t really like that. They don’t expect that they’re taking it seriously. But I don’t know. I don’t know. We don’t know what goes on in the secret. But we don’t know the secret thoughts of people who voted for Trump. I think a lot of it is just resentment based. Of course, we all play our role. The more we go, “Oh my god, how can you say that about a great war hero like John McCain,” and seeing people in the “mainstream media” or establishment figures or whoever, get upset about it. Well, that makes some people happy just seeing them upset. But anyway, it’s just all perverse to me. It’s just all perverse.

Preet Bharara:

So when you’re writing that and you know that it’s going to upset the president.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I didn’t know quite the level [crosstalk 01:01:45].

Preet Bharara:

So I want to ask you, not as a reporter, but just as a person and I’ve asked a lot of people this question because a lot of people have been you know targeted and bullied by the president and tweets and otherwise, what’s that like? Remind people what he said and what was that like for you in your personal life? Did you deal with it as well as you expected?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. I mean, I think I could say this now. I mean, we had some security problems that I had to deal with, obviously because of that. When the president and his allies are all attacking you in gross personal terms, it triggers some people to take him literally, not figuratively or whatever that expression is. I’ve been in this business for a long time. I’ve been called every name you could be called. That stuff doesn’t bother me and in fact it’s sort of… It’s gratifying to be called a sleazeball or a slime bag. I can’t remember if it’s a slime bag, sleazeball, scumbag. It was sort of all these different combinations.

Preet Bharara:

A lot of alliteration of you.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. It wasn’t that creative honestly. In tweet after tweet after tweet. It’s sort of like the cliche of… I’ll be glad to be judged by that enemy if you want to hold me… If that person doesn’t like me, then okay. I mean, the funniest bit and this obviously helped inadvertently from Trump’s perspective I guess generate a lot of reader support at one press conference he… In the course of two or three paragraphs he referred to The Atlantic as a second-rate magazine, a third-rate magazine, a failing magazine and a magazine that is about to close. I told our staff, I said, “Well, that’s escalating quickly.”

Preet Bharara:

In the course in the course of the same message.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, in the of course the same message we had gone from second rate to actual like on life support. So I mean some of it was highly amusing. Some of it is highly not amusing. But it’s just the price you pay and other people were targeted in this as well. I was trying to analyze it at the time and I realized that you know he understood the potential damage that could cause to his support among veterans and among people in the military. He didn’t get quite as exercised when somebody accused him of being anti-Mexican. That was something that was on brand, but I think he understood that this kind of thing is not on brand. Although, I think it is really core to who he is. I mean, the root of all this is that he does not understand service. He can’t comprehend selflessness.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I mean, to me the most the craziest thing about the reporting is a little bit side by side to the fact that he called them suckers and losers is the explanation behind it, why did he call them that? And as you’re saying just now, he doesn’t get it. He literally as an intellectual matter… I don’t know if this makes it better or worse, he can’t understand why anybody would do something that would put themselves in harm’s way for the country even though he claims to be the person who cares about the strength of the country?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

It makes it better in the sense that he’s not capable of understanding. It’s sort of like getting mad at a carnivore for being a carnivore. You know what I mean? I don’t want to do too much metaphorical heavy lifting here, but it’s like he is what he is. I mean, and you referred to George Conway’s great article for us a while back. There’s good material in that on this subject, but he just is what he is. He can only understand the world through the prism of extreme self-interest, and almost physical self-interest in a kind of way. I’m not even just talking about the sex side or the women and the harassment and all the rest. I mean why would you physically put yourself in danger if you don’t have to?

Preet Bharara:

Right. If you can manufacture a bone spur like why would you do that?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, pretty bad bone spur.

Preet Bharara:

I don’t have a great segue, but I want to pivot to something else because you write a lot about the Middle East and spend some time in the Middle East. Are you surprised that all the issues of peace and aggression in the Middle East were not solved by Jared Kushner even though he read all those books?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, at first he wasn’t going to read the books, but then he decided to read the books. Look, I’ll say two things on that. I’m being fair here because I did say this early. I said the great geniuses of American diplomacy did not solve the Middle East problem, problems over the course of the last 30, 40 years. So I wasn’t automatically disparaging of Jared Kushner’s attempt and I tried to understand this through a kind of middle east prism. I remember Ariel Sharon used to send his son on very, very delicate diplomatic missions to Arab countries and Arab groups because in the Middle East context, Sharon understood this, his interlocutors understood this.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Sending a family member means that this is important to you. So there was a logic to having Jared Kushner involved in it. Probably listening to more people would have been smarter. And I will say this, he’s not the key figure in the rapprochement between Israel and various Arab states. He’s a facilitator of it. They have their own rationale for doing it. The Emiratis in particular, the ambassador here in Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba and the leader of the Emirates, Mohammed Bin Zayed where key in making that happen. It did happen and it’s not peace. It doesn’t solve the Middle East problems, but even the Democrats have to recognize. Even the Democrats have recognized it.

Preet Bharara:

You agree that those were advancements.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s what I’m saying.

Preet Bharara:

And Trump he gets some credit.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Even Biden is saying, “Okay, it’s better for these countries to have relations and not have relations. There’s nothing else you could say to it. I think what you’re going to see is the Trump people trying to take more credit for that than they should. A lot of it happened by the way because a lot of Arab leaders were seen as too close to Trump. When they realized that Biden would probably be the next president, they thought we’re going to have to make a gesture that… We have to do something significant here that makes us welcome in a democratic White House. And people aren’t picking up that aspect of it. But it’s a separate big subject.

Preet Bharara:

Let me ask you a smaller question about Israel. Was Donald Trump wrong to move the embassy to Jerusalem?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Well, here’s another thing that’s so interesting to me. I mean, my personal view is that that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is obviously the Jewish capital. It also, I hope one day will be the capital of Palestine. These are, I hope, non-controversial assertions or beliefs. It is true that people predicted that the world would explode if he did it and the world didn’t explode.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

People thought that the world would explode when he assassinated and Qasem Soleimani the Iranian intelligence chief assassinated and the world has not yet exploded because of that. There’s something about his brute understanding of power, politics that may be working in a Middle East context that some people don’t fully grasp. I’m not saying that there was any strategy or thought or care given to these things. They were impulses rather than strategy, but the experts were wrong when they said that everything was going to fall apart.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

He ends his term with Morocco and Israel opening up diplomatic relations after Sudan and Bahrain and the UAE. So you can’t argue that this administration has had a notably unsuccessful time in the Middle East, to be fair.

Preet Bharara:

What do you think Biden does with the US embassy? Does it remain in Jerusalem?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Oh, you can’t. No, you can’t.

Preet Bharara:

You can’t move it back, right?

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Yeah. You can’t move it back.

Preet Bharara:

Even though there’s a lot of-

Jeffrey Goldberg:

It’s done. It’s done. It’s a done thing and everybody understands that. That would be a destabilizing move at this point. Especially for an administration that I think they learned from the Obama administration. It’s like don’t spend a lot of time on the Israel-Palestine issue. It’s not even the most important war in the Middle East, much less the most important foreign policy issue in the world. And all it does is create problems for you.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

You just manage it and you don’t make waves. And I don’t think you’re going to see a tremendous amount of bold diplomacy going on in the part. There’s enough to do for the Biden administration.

Preet Bharara:

Jeff Goldberg, thanks again for being with us. This was long overdue.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Thanks for having me.

Preet Bharara:

This question comes in a voicemail from Daniel and it’s a very thoughtful question and I thought it would end the show with a reflection on what Daniel asks.

Daniel:

Hey, Preet. This is Daniel from Hastings, Nebraska. I wanted to ask a follow-up question from a question that you posed to Leon Panetta on your very first ever episode of this podcast over three years ago. You asked him to predict what the country looks like at the end of President Trump’s first term. My question is this. We’re now at the end of not just his first term, but of the Trump presidency and I’d like to know whether you think the basic institutions of our democracy have been undermined or if those checks and balances, congress, courts or the courage of the American people have prevented it? Regardless, I must say I’m pleased to see that your podcast has remained resilient in the same time. Thank you. Merry Christmas.

Preet Bharara:

So as 2020 comes to an end and a new president is set to be inaugurated on January 20th of next year, I think it’s a good moment to reflect back on what Leon Panetta said and see how accurate he was over three years ago back in 2017. Here’s what the former secretary defense and former CIA director said back then.

Preet Bharara:

Final question, what do you think America looks like at the end of President Trump’s first term?

Leon Panetta:

I want to believe this country is stronger than any one president and that our forefathers were very smart in creating a system of checks and balances. I think that what I sense now is that system of checks and balances whether it’s the congress or whether it’s the courts or whether it’s just people in the country who are resisting certain things that are happening, I think that tells me that we’re going to be able to get through this without undermining the basic institutions of our democracy. I want to believe that.

Leon Panetta:

And I guess the reason I want to believe that is because this country for over 200 years has faced all kinds of crisis, whether it was recessions or depressions or world wars or a civil war or natural disasters. And somehow we’ve always risen to the occasion because I think I think the real strength of this country isn’t here in Washington, I think it’s in the spirit, and resilience, and courage, and moral faith of the American people.

Preet Bharara:

So what do I think of all this? I think it will take some thought and will take some study, and it’s not clear how much damage there has been, but if you look at each of the sort of important institutions of American democracy, you can give them varying grades. I think you can give congress a pretty poor grade. I think that the founding fathers expected there to be an overreaching president from time to time, but they didn’t expect there to be a supine congress even among members of the president’s own party that when norms were transgressed, and bad faith decisions were made, and divisiveness was a political weapon as opposed to unity, that members of congress as an independent equal branch of government, coequal branch of government would do something about it.

Preet Bharara:

It doesn’t necessarily mean voting to convict an impeachment, which didn’t happen. It doesn’t necessarily mean figuring out a way to invoke the 25th amendment, but it does mean standing up to a bully from time to time especially when you know that lots of the things that Donald Trump did Republican senators didn’t like and lots of Republican members of the house didn’t like, but they didn’t do much about it.

Preet Bharara:

So I think overall, and we’ll get into more of this in the coming weeks when we do a post-mortem on the Trump presidency, congress was kind of a failure and that’s not been a great institution. It’s only as good as the members who are part of it. I think most troublingly, we’ve been talking about over the last week, you have a totally frivolous anti-democratic, un-American lawsuit to overturn the election and what did the co-equal branch of government do at least one chamber of that co-equal branch, the House of Representatives, 126 Republican congressmen signed on to a ridiculous amicus brief that even an overwhelmingly conservative court, a third of which was appointed by Trump himself thought was nonsense and wouldn’t permit it to proceed. So that’s congress.

Preet Bharara:

So I think maybe Panetta was a little bit overly optimistic about congress, but I think he was right about the courts. We’ve seen in multiple cases relating to travel bans and other issues that have been pushed forward by the Trump administration that the founders were pretty smart in making sure that the federal judiciary at least was insulated by politics, by making sure that they have life tenure.

Preet Bharara:

Now, there is some debate in recent times and in some quarters about life tenure for supreme court justices because that court is so important and because of the happenstance and vagaries of when people retire or pass away, there’s an imbalance over time and I think there is an argument, it’s a little bit radical, but there is an argument that maybe there should be staggered terms for Supreme Court justices with long periods for their tenure so that you would still have a substantial amount of political independence.

Preet Bharara:

But with respect to the rest of the judiciary, the fact that judges whether appointed by a Democratic president or a Republican president know that they will keep their jobs no matter what their ruling is whether it pisses off the president or not, I think has gone a long way to make sure that the excesses of this administration are dealt with on the basis of law and principle, and precedent. And not because they owe some duty of loyalty or they owe their job going forward to that particular president. And taking the transition period again as an example of that conclusion, I think it shows the resilience of our court system that Donald Trump and his allies when they brought silly, ridiculous, frivolous lawsuits in case after case particularly in the federal courts, whether the judges on the panel were appointed by Trump or someone else on the basis of law and precedent, they struck those down, and didn’t feel they had to reach some particular outcome because that’s what dear leader wanted.

Preet Bharara:

There’s another institution called the Fourth Estate which I think also bears mentioning and that’s a free and open press, which I think also deserves some credit for keeping us mostly on course over the last four years, whether they were reporting on border separations or on other issues with respect to this administration, notwithstanding being called the enemy of the people, notwithstanding threats made by the president and by his allies and humiliation, and mockery, and abuse, they did their job. And I think some institutions, and including The Atlantic that which we had a nice discussion today, but also the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the cable networks have done a very good job of making sure that truth gets known and bad things get exposed, and democracy continues to be resilient.

Preet Bharara:

Over the course of the last few years, there have been hopes that we would be saved. We’d be saved by something or someone. And in that vein people have cast their eyes towards, in the past Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Would he save us? Would he be the savior? Or the 25th Amendment, would that be our savior? Or would there be someone within the administration, someone within the White House who would do his duty or her duty and call out the excesses of the president and be a whistleblower of a sort that we need?

Preet Bharara:

And it turns out at the end of the day, there’s no individual savior. It doesn’t work that way. Not the special counsel, not the 25th Amendment. What saved our democracy and what is saving it going forward is the 80 million people who voted in 2020 and the tens of millions of people who voted in 2018. So when we have this discussion about what saves democracy and how the institutions work, you can do an analysis of the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch and that’s all well and good and that’s important for the reasons I discuss and for many other reasons as well.

Preet Bharara:

But at the end of the day, it is the collective power of voting that people have in this country, notwithstanding obstacles to that voting, notwithstanding attempts to suppress that voting, but the collective power of the vote in this country that keeps democracy on track. It’s a collective power of protest on the part of people in this country that cause the administration to backtrack on its border child separation policy, for example.

Preet Bharara:

So I think the prognosis for American democracy is strong. I’m not sure I would say that if Donald Trump had won a second term, but the reason he didn’t is not necessarily because of the courts, or the press, or the congress, but because a substantial majority of people in this country decided that they cared enough to get out of their homes and go vote even in the midst of a pandemic.

Preet Bharara:

So Daniel when you ask the question whether checks and balances, congress, courts or the courage of the American people have prevented it, I go with the courage of the American people. So congratulations.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Jeffrey Goldberg.

Preet Bharara:

If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with the #askpreet or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338. That’s 669-247-PREET. Or you can send an email to [email protected]

Preet Bharara:

Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE Studios. Your host is Preet Bharara. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Adam Waller. The technical director is David Tatasciore. And the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, Nat Weiner, Jake Kaplan, Calvin Lord, Geoff Isenmann, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh and Margot Maley. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara, Stay Tuned.