When it comes to profiling major political figures, the task should — and usually does — fall to a knowledgeable political reporter. But The New York Times Magazine’s July 17, profile of left-wing billionaire George Soros fell to a writer who specializes in ... tennis and wine.
That more than 8,700-word article was written by a contributor Michael Steinberger who writes weekly column for the Tennis Channel and was Slate’s wine columnist. On Twitter, Steinberger (@WineDiarist) promoted his story by referring to Vladimir Putin’s “swipe” at Soros in Helsinki.
His tweets proved he’s also a rabidly anti-Trump, Hillary Clinton supporter. He voted for Clinton (“#ImWithHer”), called Donald Trump’s victory “horrifying” and said the president is “monstrous.”
It’s no joke, although the choice was laughably inappropriate. Steinberger’s previous Times Magazine story focused on the “impact of taller players on professional tennis.” Another was “Can Anyone Save French Food?” At Men’s Journal he’s written “Why You Should Drink Champagne Year-Round,” “Play Squash, Get Fit,” and “The Best Wineries in Baja.”
So his selection as the author of “George Soros Bet Big on Liberal Democracy. Now He Fears He is Losing” was ridiculous given the billionaire donor’s status as a polarizing political figure, a major donor to Democrats and progressive causes, and a huge critic of President Donald Trump.
But it somewhat explains why the story was a puff piece with more talk of “tomato-and-avocado salad” and tennis than substantive criticism of Soros.
In the second paragraph Steinberger recounted, “Soros took the stage with the determined stride of an 87-year-old who still plays tennis a few times a week.” Describing another interview with Soros he writes, “He was dressed in a white linen shirt, dark trousers and sandals. He hadn’t been on the tennis court that morning; he was busy with phone calls instead.”
While discussing financial market behavior, Soros said he’d “lost my capacity to anticipate the markets.” Steinberger wrote that “It was like hearing Roger Federer saying he had lost his touch around the net.”
The story was positively overflowing with statements from Soros, his family and colleagues, but critics were virtually nowhere to be found. Soros’s views dominated and were unchecked by Steinberger, or interviewees.
The author himself even appeared to side with Soros, saying “[I]f Soros’s riches had gone to someone else, would that person have put the money to the same use? It might have gone to a noble cause, but almost certainly not to something as ambitious and quixotic — or as dangerous — as the promotion of liberal values and democracy.”
Steinberger pushed back on liberal criticism of Soros over how he made his money as a hedge fund manager writing, “...in the present moment, with its echoes of the 1930s, how he amassed his fortune matters a lot less than what he has chosen to do with it.”
But he let Soros get away with claiming “his ideology is nonideological,” except to point out that he used the term “center-left” to describe Soros’ views and Soros “demurred.”
“He said it wasn’t clear where he stood now before the left had moved further left, a development that did not please him. ‘I’m opposed to the extreme left,’ he said. ‘It should stop trying to keep up with the extremists on the right.’”
Some extreme, and even inaccurate, claims about Soros were included just to be debunked (including erroneous claims of Nazi collaboration). But rational criticism of his agenda, and his desire to remake the world as he sees fit by spending billions of dollars around the world was minimal.
One of the only critics interviewed was Britain’s Norman Lamont who challenged Soros’ attempted (through a half-million-dollar donation to Best for Britain) Brexit interventionism on grounds that “He can’t vote here.”
This is what comes of tasking a non-political reporter with obvious left-wing bias to profile one of the most powerful political figures of the era.
Steinberger’s Twitter history revealed his anti-Trump biases and support for Clinton — something he had in common with Soros.
Before the election he asked how Trump supporters “look themselves in the mirror each morning? Is this really what they want for their country? They are as monstrous as he is.”
One Election Day 2016, He tweeted “Part I loved most about voting for Hillary? Casting that vote as the father of a 12-year-old girl. Exhilarating. #ImWithHer”
The morning after Trump’s electoral victory, @WineDiarist grieved, “Seen in the cold light of day, what happened last night is...even more horrifying.”
In late November 2016, he referred to Trump as the “Orange Menace” and warned “it is wishful thinking to believe that he will submit to a free and fair election four years from now.”