Last week I went to a cookout on the beach here with some old friends (Sausages and seafood, but no cocktail weenies!) Every year they do a cookout, and then a birthday party, and for years I've known that one of their guests was Joe Klein. I never mixed it up with him because, after all, well...the opportunity never presented itself and while I'm pretty aggressive in print no one really goes up to someone and picks a quarrel with them, do they?You know, you always read about how screwed up politicians are. And, yes, they usually deserve it.
Or maybe they do. Yes, I guess they do. I was standing at the cookout minding my own business when Klein started pontificating for the rubes on how “surprising” and “shocking” it was that Grassley, of all people, should have come out and endorsed the “death panels” lie. I walked up and said “why are you surprised?” [edited to remove typo] to which he, in best pundit debater fashion (never allow yourself to admit you were just posing!), shot back “who says I'm surprised?” I said “well, you did. You just started your lecture saying “Its surprising.”” Its not surprising, the republicans have nothing left to lose and nothing left to gain at this point outside of pleasing the crazy base and attacking Obama and the dems.”
We were off and running. He then said that its true the fringe republicans were “crazy” but perhaps no crazier than the “crazy left” under Bush. I thought he meant the “truthers” so I said “name me one person in congress or the Senate who was as crazy on any topic as these Republican senators and Congressmen who sign on to the birther and deather stuff are now?” Evading this question he said “well, Glenn Greenwald is crazy—he's a civil liberties absolutist.” Now, me, I come from a long line of civil liberties absolutists so I said “I admire Glenn Greenwald's work immensley but it must be very embarrassing for you, of course, because he's been eating your lunch for years.” (!) I think this must be something of a sore point for him. He began shrieking “Glenn Greenwald is EVIL! EVILl!..do you know what he did? He “sicced” his blog readers on my EDITOR and she was going through a DIVORCE at the time.” Really? I said, politely, that was very wrong, if it happened.
“We kept it very quiet” he said, backing off the claim of any real harm and, as a twofer, managing to imply that only those "in the know" had been kept informed.
People around us were clamoring to know what the debate was about so I laid it out, chapter and verse: I explained the Klein was upset because he had been caught out shilling for the Republicans on National Security Matters and on the FISA court legislation in particular and that he was still upset because he'd been held up for ridicule for his absurd statement that there was no problem with the secret Bush programs although he didn't know anything about them. And that this extended to the actual retroactive FISA legislation, which he also said was fine but didn't know anything about. This seemed to inflame things somewhat. Can't see why. He began shrieking at me that he hadn't been wrong, he'd been misled by a “democratic staffer” but really, I just began laughing at that point because “I didn't read the legislation” like “the dog ate my homework” is rather a lame explanation for a grown man, let alone a self described journalist.
I re-iterated that I was a big admirer of Glenn's work and that he had just received the I.F. Stone award for his excellence. That really got Klein's goat and he started screaming that he had been one of Izzy's readers for years and that Glenn was no Izzy, that he was crazily anti-national security which Izzy wouldn't have been, and at any rate I shouldn't talk about things I don't understand and I should realize that Klein has been on the right side of every argument since the Vietnam war. Yes! I should read his stuff on the Vietnam war!”
I said that I was, in fact, one of his readers—that I read his column and his blog and that it was precisely because I did know his history, in detail, that I accepted Glenn's critique of him, which of course has always been extensively documented and linked. And then, in what might be the piece de resistance of this little interaction, he screamed “you don't read me! You read WIKIPEDIA! AND THAT'S LEFTIST.” He then added that he had always been anti war and that I should “read his [Klein's] stuff from 1993." Hmm....1993, were we at war with Iraq then? I rather thought that was a different time, and even a different president. I take it that the rationale behind that bizarre interjection is that, as far as Klein is concerned, most of this is really old history at this point and what he really wants to be talking about is health care reform.
After this the e discussion, such as it was, devolved into the usual journalistic posturing and ranting against “those bloggers” who “don't do research” and who “don't have editors.” (There were many other well respected journalists at this dinner but they don't deserve to be dragged in here) to which I responded “jeezus christ on toast points you can say that to me after it came out today that John Solomon, then of the Washington Post, was writing fawning letters to the White House explaining to them how he could spin the US attorney scandal anyway they wanted? And hellooooo? Judy Miller?” Klein actually backed down on this topic and we agreed that McClatchey had done very good reporting but the main thing I took away from the discussion is that for journalists like Klein the world is divided into practitioners/insiders and totally ignorant outsiders. He was surprised that I brought up the Solomon story, or that I took seriously the Judy Miller issue, because in his world that's really inside baseball. In fact when I pointed out how abysmal the Washington Post's editorial page had been, under Fred Hiatt's tenure, he and another Journalist standing nearby assured me that Fred is an “editorialist” so the ordinary rules don't apply and I don't need to tar the whole paper with his sins. Its as thought they imagine that each story is a stand alone piece and that there's a hard and fast line between opinion and “fact” when every day, and every way, we've seen any pretense to that distinction run right into the ground. Has any adult person thought that since Media Whores Online (of sainted memory?).
[Edited to remove two embarrassingly inaccurate French terms which I will replace with an apparently better chosen Yiddish word that makes me feel more like S.J. Perleman.] There's a term "Trepvorder" or things you wish you'd said after a conversation is over. Klein actually used a different strategy, more akin to anger sex--he stalked off to find someone at the party who would let him market himself as a great liberal spokesman with lots of friends in the bloggosphere that he'd just spent a good ten minutes attacking. (You have to understand it was a really small barbecue, maybe thirty people in all, so he stalked just two feet away from me and my supporters in order to find someone who isn't an American citizen and who doesn't read his blog. )
So what was his strategy to recoup the manhood he felt he'd lost in our argument? He told them that just that day he had received an obscene email from a right winger on the death panels issue. In retaliation for this he had “posted the entire email, with the guys name and email address” on his blog at Swampland so that his loyal readers could attack and destroy this poor, moronic, foul mouthed schnook. “So you see,” he said happily (and this is pretty much what he posted on his blog) “Attack this man for me! I'm really a liberal, if the right wingers hate me. And I do too have friends. I think.” Best moment of all was when our English friend rolled over on the sand and said, blandly and gently “oh, are you a liberal?”
This is a real life story, so it doesn't exactly have a point, or a moral, or even a conclusion except to say that the most striking thing of all about Klein's attitude towards me and presumably to his other readers was his assumption that although he's famous, and important, and people read his work that we read it as though it were a continually scrolling chyron at the bottom of a busy news screen and that we have no memory of what he has said, or done, or stood for. He was talking to a reader who actually reads him but he thought he could get away with bluffing me on a history which I actually share with him. He thought he could tell me that his argument with Glenn was something other than it was and that I couldn't go back, for myself, and review the evidence. Klein's Klein-line is that the parts of his past where he shilled for the Iraq war, where he covered for the excesses and abuses of the Bush Administration, where he played Hugh Hewitt's favorite “I ustabee a liberal but these dudes are crazee” guest can be forgotten because today he wrote something supportive about Obama's health care plan.
But as Athenae points out he is still hedging his bets. As long as there is money to be made or friendships to be maintained on the right side of the aisle he will continue to write these “on the one hand/on the other hand” pieces so in six or seven years he can point to whichever part is more convenient to him. And woe betide the reader who takes what he writes seriously--we're just crazy, leftist, wikipedia reading hysterics.
But you rarely read about just how screwed up the guys who comment on them are. Or how disingenuous they are. Or how plain-old-batshit-crazy they are. And you won't, because the guys who are supposed to be pointing that out are part of the same tribe, with the same hangups.
That's why they fear bloggers so much. That's why people like whatzisname are desperate to find ways to sue them, and the rest are desperate to find ways to discredit them. Bloggers aren't part of the tribe—and after reading things like this, we don't necessarily want to be.
Tip to digby.