'The Forward': A Small Publication With An Outsized Influence
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka has some controversial views. You have heard them, in fact, expressed on this program. After news reports linked Gorka to a far-right Hungarian group known for its ties with Nazis, some Democrats on Capitol Hill are now asking the White House to fire Gorka. NPR's David Folkenflik reports on a small publication with roots in the American Jewish community that's been investigating him.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Sebastian Gorka has enjoyed a heady rise from his jobs at a little-known think tank and Breitbart News to the White House. On Monday, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer deflected inquiries about Gorka.
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SEAN SPICER: I have no belief that he is currently leaving the White House.
FOLKENFLIK: No institution has done more to cast Gorka's brief tenure in doubt than the liberal Jewish Forward. A framed drawing of its founder, Abraham Cahan, peers down at the current editor, Jane Eisner.
JANE EISNER: He could walk through the streets and the schools and the synagogues and really soak up that immigrant community. He was kind of like the rabbi of that community, if you will.
FOLKENFLIK: In its heyday, The Forward had a circulation exceeding 250,000 coast to coast. It was in Yiddish, and it began to decline as American Jews assimilated. The Forward started an English edition in 1990. Now its circulation sits at 30,000, and it reaches 2 million distinct monthly readers online. The Forward's liberal sensibilities remain.
EISNER: We understand that the American Jewish story is really intertwined with so many other things that are going on across this country today. And so we think we are continuing this rich journalistic heritage, but we're writing for a much broader audience.
FOLKENFLIK: Jane Eisner says the emergence of Trump has sharpened the stakes. The Forward covered Trump's endorsement by leaders of hate groups, a reported rise in anti-Jewish hate crimes in the early months of the Trump White House and the growing influence of the president's daughter and son-in-law, themselves Jewish. The Forward has also devoted a lot of time and space to scrutinizing the British-born Sebastian Gorka, Trump's chief adviser on counterterrorism strategy.
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SEBASTIAN GORKA: It's about radical, Islamic terrorism. We are prepared to be honest about the threat. We're not going to white it out, delete it, as the Obama administration did. We understand that groups like ISIS have a religious verbiage.
FOLKENFLIK: NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed Gorka in February.
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Forgive me, I understand what you're saying, but does the president believe Islam is a religion?
GORKA: I think you should ask him that question. I'm not a spokesperson for the president. I'm a deputy assistant to him, but I would say that's really a misreading of everything he's said in the last 18 months.
FOLKENFLIK: Again, Jane Eisner.
EISNER: Because he's - has no real public record, never done public service before, only been a citizen since 2012, I think it's entirely fair to understand more about what motivates him and what shapes his worldview.
FOLKENFLIK: Gorka did not respond to NPR's request for comment. In a series of stories, The Forward has reported claims that Gorka has sworn fealty to a group that the State Department says had Nazi ties during World War II, that he affirmed support for a violent right-wing militia later banned by the Hungarian government and that he worked with openly racist and anti-Semitic figures in Hungary a decade ago. Gorka disputes The Forward's claims, and The Forward does not allege that Gorka is anti-Semitic. Yet, Eisner says his background warrants scrutiny given his job.
EISNER: And part of what's been so frustrating about reporting this story is we can't get a straight answer from him or from the White House. And to me, that's where sort of the Jewish value of searching for truth and, of course, the journalistic value of searching for truth happily collide.
FOLKENFLIK: Last week, Democratic lawmakers called on Trump to fire Gorka. Reports suggest he's likely to be placed in another federal position within days. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.