Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be pundits ...


I've got a new "Think Again" column called "Taking Mr. Bush at his Word," here, about the fourth anniversary of the war, and a new Nation column called, "The Many Man-Crushes of Chris Matthews," here.

A few final (I hope) notes about Mr. Klein:

Some points for the record:

1) Just this week, alone, Klein has referred to me as: "obsessed," "still-obsessed," "futile and pathetic," and "still pathetic," "still after [him]," "a suck-up" and "intellectually dishonest," "not reliable," and full of "non-stop crap." I have not called Klein a single name this week, or to my knowledge, ever. I have simply discussed his work as an influential and respected pundit, which after all, is my job, and provided my sources and evidence. I'm still waiting for Klein to back up a single one of his epithets with a (sourced) example from my work.

2) Klein says, "Several readers have wondered why I'm wasting my time with Eric Alterman." Read the comments on his blog, here. That's not what I'm seeing.

3) Klein speaks repeatedly of my "obsession," with him, etc. Well, he's written about me three times (so far) this week, always in a personally vituperative fashion (see above). The first two were inspired merely by a) listing of the various members of Time columnists last week, and b) a single quote of Klein's I posted without comment. He says I've been writing "non-stop crap" about him for twenty years. Well, I've been a media critic for 20 years. The topic of Joe Klein has accounted for an infinitesimal number of the millions of words I imagine I have written. I could easily, off the top of my head, name at least 50 writers to whom I've devoted massively more attention. I'd begin, to move from the ridiculous to the sublime, with John Dewey and Walter Lippmann, who I'm guessing would come in at numbers one and two.

4) Klein recounts a comment I allegedly made to him 20 years ago at a party. I have no recollection of ever speaking to Klein in a social setting. I actually make it a point to avoid it -- even though we are occasionally in the same room -- because I've always expected it would be unpleasant. It's possible that this conversation took place and I've forgotten it, of course, but I doubt it. I did once ask Klein a question from the audience at a Barnes & Noble reading he did for the paperback of his novel. He insisted to the room that no one had suffered for his lies about Primary Colors. I responded from the audience that he had sought to slander the reputation of the linguist who initially unmasked him in New York magazine in order to continue his lie. Klein responded that well, this man had "really pissed him off." No wonder. I mention this because Klein had no idea who I was at the time and asked me afterward. So if we spoke so memorably previously, I would find this incident inconsistent with the above. What's more, Klein invented a previous incident recently. He said he was "certain" I attacked him in the past for his position on the teachers union. But for the first 22 or so years of my career, I never wrote a word about the teachers union, much less Klein's position on it, which is of absolutely no interest to me at all. Klein has admitted lying in the past to his editors, his friends, and to the public. Does it tax my imagination that he would lie, now, about me? It does not.

5) I still like Michael Kinsley, in spite of this.

A few larger points:

1) What you see with Klein, I think, is the panic of the pundit seeing his prestige destroyed by a blogosphere that can do for pundits what academics have always done for one another (and demonstrating why few pundits' work could survive this kind of scrutiny). This includes the ability to:

a) fact-check his unsupported assertions;

b) hold him accountable for his abusive language toward those with whom he disagrees; and

c) demand some transparency with regard to his methods.

Have you noticed that every time Klein is asked to defend something he has written, he responds with a personal attack against the person making the charge? It's not just me; it's anyone. Look at the names he calls Media Matters and the bloggers generally. Note that Tom Friedman and Howard Kurtz, among others, react similarly. Pundits are used to making Olympian pronouncements and then having everyone praise their wisdom and courage, the way Walter Lippmann defined the job. Asking people whatever happened to the last 10 times you said Iraq has only six more months, or that Bush is sure to be a centrist, and they flip out and call you an ideologue or an "obsessive."

Which reminds me: The point about Klein's prediction about Bush is not so much that it was wrong -- as were almost all MSM pundits not merely about Bush but also about Gore, whom Joe Klein called "harsh and stupid," for his 2000 convention speech and who he said "looked like a madman" when he gave his now famously prophetic Commonwealth Club speech opposing Bush's war, about which Klein's fellow Time columnist Charles Krauthammer, a psychiatrist, said the vice president had "gone off his lithium" -- but that he insisted his prediction for Bush's future was the "only" conceivable course. In the same piece he insisted: "There will be no $1.3 trillion tax cut," Klein promised the readers of The New Yorker. MSM pundits are always saying something is the "only" possible conclusion -- Iraq, for instance, has weapons of mass destruction -- in order to delegitimize the questions and critiques of those who would disagree. They don't usually add the personal vituperation that accompanies Klein's columns, unless they also happen to work for Time and The Weekly Standard, as both William Kristol and Krauthammer do, or Time and The New Republic, as Andrew Sullivan did.

2) I find it interesting that Klein, who cannot seem to make up his mind whether he supported or opposed the Iraq war, insisting that he told John Kerry privately that he opposed it while he told the public he did. Is it now the job of the journalist to give politicians their private views and withhold them from the public for whom they allegedly write? For the record, though I am not nearly so important and influential in the MSM as Klein, I had an extremely public debate with John Kerry on the war in 2003 in which I said exactly the same things to him I said in public at the time. (And while we're on the topic, what's with Tim Russert saying he doesn't think it proper to ask questions of public officials about you know, news, on private phone calls? Could you imagine, say, Sy Hersh saying such a thing?)

3) I also find it interesting that when defending his "a pox on both your houses" politics, Klein listed the things he hates about liberals and about conservatives. The things that pissed Klein off about liberals were, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, in many cases, things that happened roughly 40 years ago and almost nobody supports today. What's his problem? They were also, I can't help but notice, largely about race. The story Klein tells about his alleged meeting with me is also about race. Beyond that, I have to say, I don't get the point of it. Klein is saying nobody appreciated him but lavished praise on William Julius Wilson. Well maybe that's because Wilson, a much-admired social scientist, went to the trouble of presenting his views in a measured -- rather than an ad hominem, personally aggrieved fashion -- and provided evidence to support them in the form of checkable source data. Klein might want to try this sometime. (For the record, Klein's comment that "most people kind of liked what I was writing in those days -- just none of the people Alterman hung with" is, from the standpoint of evidence, total nonsense. "Most people" have never heard of Joe Klein and he has no idea what "most people" think. Klein also has no idea who "Alterman hung with" twenty years ago. Klein's modus operandi, once again, is that if he assumes it, it's true.)

4) I agree with Greg's overall point: A big part of the problem for these guys is that fact that we -- the liberal blogosphere -- were right about not only Iraq, but also about the entirety of the Bush administration. Almost all of America agrees now that the administration is driven by dishonest, incompetent, ideological extremists who reject a "reality-based" view of the world. Thing is, accepting that truth makes it impossible for them to do their job, which is to instruct the president and his minions about how to behave and to pretend they will do so. Again, the response is panic.

P.S.: Check out the comment boards both on Klein's post yesterday and on Greg's. There is much wisdom there.


The Wolfson Center for National Affairs at The New School presents on Tuesday, March 27, at 7:00 p.m., in the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, 55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor, the second in a four-part series of conversations with writers and thinkers who are extending the boundaries of discussion on some of the key public policy issues of today. The discussion will include Alan Wolfe, author of Does American Democracy Still Work?, who will talk with Eric Alterman, political journalist and author of When Presidents Lie: The History of Official Deception and Its Consequence. They will look at the issues of the practices of democratic government inhibiting the policies of a democratic state and whether we are extending democracy without due regard for its intrinsic qualities. The admission to this event is $5. The series will continue on April 5 and May 10.

From: TomDispatch: Check out a striking report from a journalist on her first foreign assignment -- covering horrific violence against women in Guatemala. What makes it especially valuable is the way it gives us a peek behind the authoritative, "objective" voice that is usually the essence of mainstream journalism and into the human situation that really lies at its heart. In this case, Meghann Farnsworth suddenly found herself interviewing a Guatemalan teen, traumatized, vulnerable -- she had been repeatedly raped on a visit to a local prison -- and yet remarkably brave.

Farnsworth describes the way, interviewing this young girl, everything she had been taught in journalism school briefly fell away and she found herself enmeshed in a series of strange conundrums. She wonders: "Do journalists comfort their subjects? I didn't remember that from my J-school courses. Do journalists get this nervous? I didn't remember my professors mentioning that either." She concludes:

Here are a few instant truths about journalism from a former neophyte: First, there are some sources you cannot treat with objectivity. Their vulnerability, their story, their plight, sets them apart from other sources. Second (surprise!), journalists are human. When someone tells about being raped, abused, or otherwise brutalized, their very real trauma and fear can be inadvertently transferred to you. It's like second-hand smoke: You don't have to smoke the cigarette to get the cancer. Lastly, as journalists, we will all one day be forced to leave someone behind. We have to move on to the next story. But in her case, it hurt. ... I have no idea what I did for her, but this is what she taught me: There is journalism school and then there is journalism.

Slacker Friday:

Name: Charles Pierce
Hometown: Newton, MA

Hey Doc --

"The sun goes up/A car goes by..."

If I could recommend anything at the moment, I'd recommend Ken Loach's altogether brilliant The Wind That Shakes The Barley, his account of two brothers in rural Cork during the Anglo-Irish War, and the subsequent Irish Civil War, of the 1920's. Things get a touch deterministic at the end -- if the civil war had been as resolutely a class war as Loach makes it out to be, especially out in the country, it would have made a modicum of sense, which it never did -- but Loach captures the odd, tragic dynamic of guerrilla war in all its darkest power, which is all the more fitting for a film named after the most beautiful, and the saddest, of all the rebel songs. As for the ensemble historical-parallels hissy-fit thrown by the Tory press in Britain, well, you lot followed C-Plus Augustus over the cliff, it's a little late to grow consciences beneath the splintered imperial carapace as the rocks rush up to meet you.

Speaking of which ...

I never cease to be amazed by the ease with which the current passel of clucks roosting in the executive branch can pretend that we've learned nothing about how they conduct government in the past six years. Forget everything that you already know. Forget the clumsy electric-slide he did as soon as Patrick Fitzgerald waved a Bible under his jowls. Karl Rove, that "honorable" public servant, has no need to testify under oath. Forget that John DiIulio gave the whole game away to Ron Suskind five years ago as regards the reign of the "Mayberry Machiavellis." Nothing about this White House is run by the political branch. Hell, the boss himself is still out there pitching to the rubes that things shore are purty weird there in Washington DeeCee. They're feckless and they're reckless, and there isn't enough honesty in them to fill a rat's teacup but, my god, they've got brass ones. You have to give them that.

P.S. Here's what I meant about the song, by the way.

Name: Tim Kane
Hometown: St. Louis, Missouri


After listening through the press conference, I found the President's comments the other day on the Attorney Purge-gate scandal to be absurd on their face.

The President indicated that if members of his administration have to testify under oath and in public that it would hurt a president's ability to get good information so that he can make good decisions.

Isn't that absurd?

Wouldn't the opposite be true?

If you wanted to give the President bad information, and knew you could be forced to divulge it under oath in front of congress and in front of the public, wouldn't that intimidate you from doing so?

On the other hand, if you had good information, or even neutral information, why would you care about having to divulge it later on?

Say you wanted to give the President bad advice, like launching preemptive wars against nations that were no threat to us, or that you wanted to implement an act of treason in outing a CIA agent as political payback or fire a bunch of U.S. attorneys to thwart justice and the rule of law, or how about planting a male prostitute in the press corps, wouldn't you be more reluctant to give that bad advice to the president if you thought you might have to spill it out to the public?

Now consider the merits of the argument: when was the last time that this President made a good decision? Maybe he needs the threat of exposure on the record to filter out all the bad advice that he's been acting on.

Finally, the President said he will not go along with partisan fishing expeditions aimed at "honorable" public servants. That means he won't stand in the way of "dishonorable" public servants being dragged through the meat grinder whether they appropriate or not.

I assume, taking him at his word (cough, cough), that that means that Rove, Cheney, and almost the entire administration, including the President himself, is open game for whatever treatment Congress decides to hand out.

I don't understand why journalists and pundits don't bring up the absurdities in the president's own words, and then press on it?

Name: Daniel Tortora
Hometown: Rochester, NY

I often hear on the MSM that no one wants to see Democrats hold an endless parade of hearings and investigations for the next 17 months. Well, I for one wouldn't mind one bit if Congress did nothing else for the next 17 months but hold hearings, turn over rocks, and hold this administration accountable for at least some of its many misdeeds. To regain even a small iota of faith in our system of government and to see at least some small degree of justice done, would be well worth it.

Name: Steve Milligan
Hometown: Colorado Springs, CO

Doctor A:

Regarding your entry on the 21st, I agree that illegal immigration ought not to be a liberal cause. It is damaging to this country for a number of reasons, an overriding one being the sheer number of people that we must absorb in a time of increasing scarcity of resources. The problem is that I hear a lot of conservatives fomenting a great deal of popular sentiment against immigrants, and almost no practical solutions to the problem. This amounts to electioneering and demagoguery. I'm sorry, but I don't think a wall is a viable solution. Perhaps a rethinking of NAFTA might be in order. Wages in Mexico relative to the U.S. have gone down measurably since its inception. It was touted as a win-win solution. People who have been driven out of the rural areas by our subsidized agricultural products (free trade?) have tended to come north. Maybe if we really feel that illegal immigration is destructive, we have to make some meaningful investment in a relationship with Mexico that's a bit less exploitive. Maybe we have to pay a just wage to get our infrastructure rebuilt. Or our houses built. Or our fruit picked. Not willing to do that? Then no fair complaining about hearing Spanish spoken in our stores, streets and schools. Like you, I believe in the rule of law, but if a significant and powerful portion of our fellow countrymen are benefiting from the undermining of our laws, and they're able to do so with impunity, the laws will be eviscerated, and rhetoric to the contrary will be empty calories. Hmmm ... a lot like it is now.

Name: Charles Hinton
Hometown: Satellite Beach, FL

You convinced me. I cancelled my Time subscription by postal letter after 40 years. I told them why I was canceling and then couldn't tell it well enough so I added some of your material with credit to you.

Name: Kurt Weldon
Hometown: Los Angeles

As a longtime Zevon fan, I can relate to your confession that you "made the trek to London to order the beef chow mein." When I first moved to LA in 1983, I was enthralled to see the places mentioned in his lyrics. I once made a wrong turn on Yucca and passed the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel. I looked away down Gower Avenue. I slowed down the first time I drove past Trader Vic's. I even gazed in wonder at the Pioneer Chicken stand on Alvarado Street -- not really a good place to stand and gaze at anything. Earlier generations can have their Raymond Chandler. For me, it's Zevon whose work captures this city.

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