The Jewish Student Press Service held a conference in late Fall of 1982 in NYC. The lineup was stellar – Anthony Lewis from the NYTimes, Nat Hentoff, and other Jewish journalism pros – and very left. This conference took place a few months after the Lebanon War started, and Israel was taking a beating in the media.
Anthony Lewis was a constant and sharp critic of Israeli policy, as were many of the other speakers.
A few weeks before the conference, I asked the organizer to make the conference more inclusive by bringing in speakers from the right and center. He asked who I had in mind. I suggested Norman Podhoretz from Commentary Magazine. He told me he had asked Podhoretz in previous years, and Podhoretz always refused to come. I asked him to ask again, and to have Podoretz suggest a substitute if he wasn’t coming. What happened?
Podhoretz refused to come and also refused to suggest a replacement, so the conference went on, skewed to the left. (DK has suggested, correctly I think, that this comes from elitism. Podhoretz and company considered themselves to be intellectuals, not journalists, and did not want to slum with either journalists or undergrads.)
There were about 100 student journalists from across North America there. Many went on to take positions in print and electronic media, including at major (non-Jewish-community) newspapers. All but two of us appeared to be left-leaning.
I was lucky enough to put Anthony Lewis on the spot. Most felt Lewis acquitted himself poorly. The journalist who introduced him as “my hero” came up to me immediately after Lewis’ talk and said, “You got him! You really got him!”
It turned out most of the student journalists were open to hearing from the right and center. But their campuses were dominated by the left, and the right – under the leadership of the Podhoretzs of this world – could not be bothered.
Podhoretz’s magazine is now in many ways a shell of its former self. They charge very high subscription rates with no discounts for students (surprise) or opinion makers. (I hear complaints about this from academics who would love to use Commentary on their campuses but cannot due to price.) Their website is poorly maintained and largely useless, unless one subscribes, and even then the articles are often far from timely. Commentary is still operating as if we lived in a pre-digital, pre-24-hour-news world.
Podhoretz refused repeated attempts – including attempts WUJS North America made – to reach students who later became the very journalists and opinion leaders he so often criticizes.
In those days, Commentary was associated with the American Jewish Committee, which made Podhoretz’s behavior that much worse, because it was in effect a Jewish community organization.
The right seems not to have learned much in 24 years.