Did Time's Joe Klein Have John Kerry 'Craving His Approval' As An Adviser in 2004?
In Monday's Washington Post, media reporter Howard Kurtz relayed that Time columnist Joe Klein may have succumbed big time to the stickiest temptation of a national political writer – advising the liberal standard-bearer on how he should win the presidency. (When he doesn't, deny you were ever an adviser, even unofficially.) Klein, renowned back in 1992 as a Clinton toady, reportedly had Kerry eating out of his hand, playing the guru to Kerry at his own abode:
Were some pundits advising John Kerry's presidential campaign while critiquing it for the public? In his new memoir "No Excuses," veteran Democratic consultant Robert Shrum says Time columnist Joe Klein doubled as a "sometime adviser," and that the Massachusetts senator "craved his approval."
Klein "would chastise Kerry on the phone when he didn't like a speech, counseling both Kerry and me about what the candidate should say and what our strategy should be," down to the kind of health care plan the senator should propose, Shrum writes. There were "several long evenings at Joe's house where he importuned me with his ideas for the Kerry campaign."
This raises the old George Will controversy: can a journalist advise a candidate, and then go out on television and sing his praises? (In 1980, Will helped prepare Ronald Reagan for a debate and then praised him for his performance. Liberals pounced on the revelation as "Debategate" when it came out.) It's still interesting to wonder how much Klein helped advise Kerry on his convention speech as he praised the candidate on CNN:
"People who served with him in Vietnam said, ‘You can't believe what he's like in battle. He just changes. He gets this look over him.' And when I saw him walking down the aisle tonight on the way into the speech, I said, ‘Oh yeah, there's that look.' And I just knew at that point that he's going to nail this, and he did. I have never seen the man speak so well." — Time's Joe Klein on CNN's NewsNight, July 29, 2004.
It should not be surprising that Klein would ooze praise over Kerry since he was an unpaid adviser. (And since Klein lied his face off, even to his Newsweek bosses, about being the "Anonymous" author of the faux-Clinton best-selling novel Primary Colors, who would believe him if he denied advising Kerry?)
In responding to Kurtz, Klein trots out an incredibly lame line that he's not "advising" the candidate when they come to his house for long hours of advice, he's having "issue arguments" with the candidate (the man who apparently "craves his approval"):
Klein says Shrum is getting even for the columnist's criticism of him in an earlier book. "I never, ever give political advice to these people," he says. "I have issue arguments with them. If they ask how the horse race is going, I tell them."
Kerry once asked him if he should fire his first campaign manager, Jim Jordan, and Klein says he responded that he had no idea. He says that he pleads guilty to kicking around universal health care with Kerry but that he has been having such conversations with politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, for years.
For how many seconds would Klein tolerate the notion that when Dick Cheney talked to old friends in the oil industry about an energy strategy, that the oil industry is not "advising" Cheney, they were merely having "issue arguments"?
Klein's desire to be a booster/adviser for a Democratic candidate is long-established. Back in 1992, we noted that Klein was scorned by other liberals for his flagrant boosterism for Bill Clinton among the press corps (see "Clinton's Conformity Cops"):
Howell Raines, the departing Washington Bureau Chief of The New York Times, told the Columbia Journalism Review that "he made it a main job to warn against and protect his younger campaign reporters from the `Conformity Cops,' specifically [former Washington Post reporter Sidney] Blumenthal and Joe Klein of New York magazine and since the spring, of Newsweek." Since writing an adoring profile of Clinton in New York last year, Klein was not only added to the Newsweek staff, but to CBS News as a consultant as well. Warned Raines: "When reporters go around campaign planes criticizing reporters who refuse to cheerlead, that's unhealthy. That's part of what we've seen this year."
Kurtz also reported that Shrum claimed former Clinton toady Paul Begala, criticized Kerry on CNN for doing the things that Begala recommended to him. Begala, who vaguely told CNN that he was informally advising Kerry, is not in the Joe Klein category because he's never really pretended to be a disinterested observer in the campaign process.