The Battle Between Time’s Joe Klein and the Liberal Blogosphere

Much to his chagrin, Time’s Joe Klein has become a Democrat that liberal bloggers love to hate, thereby making him the Joe Lieberman of journalism.

Of course, rightwing bloggers don’t care for him much either, conceivably making Klein more like Rodney Dangerfield.

Fortunately for our entertainment pleasure, since Klein isn’t a politician – actually, his frequent disabuses of fact lead one to believe he’s more of a comedian! – he doesn’t feel the need to take the attacks lying down.

Maybe more fortunate for us on the right is how Klein seems to be more offended by what those in his own Party are saying about him, making this whole thing that much more delicious.

With that in mind, Klein published a piece Wednesday that is guaranteed to put smiles on the faces of right-thinking Americans across the fruited plain (emphasis added throughout):

A strange thing happened to me the day the House of Representatives voted to pass the Iraq-war-funding bill. Congresswoman Jane Harman of California called as the debate was taking place. "Look, I would love to have cast a vote against Bush on this," she told me. "We need a new strategy, and I hope we can force one in September. But I flew into Baghdad [with 150 young soldiers recently]. To vote against this bill was to vote against giving them the equipment... they need. I couldn't do that." I posted what Harman said on Swampland, the political blog at Time.com, along with my opinion that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had changed their positions and voted against the funding for the worst possible reason: presidential politics.

And then Harman changed her position. After we spoke, she voted against the funding. The next day, I was blasted by a number of left-wing bloggers: Klein screwed up! I had quoted Harman in the past tense—common usage for politicians who know their words will appear after a vote takes place. That was sloppy and... suspicious! Proof that you just can't trust the mainstream media. On Eschaton, a blog that specializes in media bashing, I was given the coveted "Wanker of the Day" award. Eventually, Harman got wind of this and called, unbidden, to apologize for misleading me, saying I had quoted her correctly but she had changed her mind to reflect the sentiments of her constituents. I published her statement and still got hammered by bloggers and Swampland commenters for "stalking" Harman into an apology, for not checking her vote in the Congressional Record, for being a "water boy for the right wing" and many other riffs unfit to print.

How marvelous. Of course, there are always two sides to a story, right? And, given our experience with Klein’s apparent allergy to facts, it only seems fair to see what someone from that side of the aisle has to say.

With that in mind, here’s Paul Lukasiak’s take at TPM Café:

Except this is not what happened. The Iraq vote was taken in the House at 6:45 PM, and in the Senate at 8:26 PM on May 24. Joe posted his claim about Harmon’s vote – and Clinton and Obama’s change of position at 9:37 AM the next day. Within two hours, the Swampland commenters were pointing out that Joe had gotten Harman’s vote wrong. By 11:13, Booman Tribune had noted that Klein had gotten it wrong, and at 12:53 Atrios cited Klein as “wanker of the day”, linking to Boorman. Sometime after 4PM, Joe gets a call from a Harman staffer, telling him that Harman had voted against the bill, and Klein posts that at 5:13PM. Later that night, Harman leaves a voicemail apologizing to Klein, which he posts at 12:54 the next day.

In other words, while Klein would have you believe that he posted about Harmon’s vote before she changed her mind (“I posted what Harman said on Swampland…[t]hen Harman changed her mind”) there was more than 15 hours between the time Harman changed her mind, and Joe said she’d voted for the bill.

And while Joe’s commenters (who he cites later for their viciousness) tried repeatedly to get Joe to correct his post beginning less than two hours after he posted it, he ignored them. Only when he got the staffer’s call did he correct the record, and then it took him an extra hour to do so. Harman’s call didn’t come until well after the staffers call.

Sounds like the Joe we on the right know, correct?  Yet, Klein’s not having any of it:

This is not the first time this kind of free-range lunacy has been visited upon me. Indeed, it happens, oh, once a week to each of us who post on Swampland (Karen Tumulty, Jay Carney and Ana Marie Cox are the others). A reasonable reader might ask, Why are the left-wing bloggers attacking you? Aren't you pretty tough on the Bush Administration? Didn't you write a few months ago that George W. Bush would be remembered as one of the worst Presidents in history? And why on earth does any of this matter?

His answer:

[T]he smart stuff is being drowned out by a fierce, bullying, often witless tone of intolerance that has overtaken the left-wing sector of the blogosphere. Anyone who doesn't move in lockstep with the most extreme voices is savaged and ridiculed—especially people like me who often agree with the liberal position but sometimes disagree and are therefore considered traitorously unreliable.

Sounds reasonable, right? But, Klein had to have it both ways:

Some of this is understandable: the left-liberals in the blogosphere are merely aping the odious, disdainful—and politically successful—tone that right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh pioneered. They are also justifiably furious at a Bush White House that has specialized in big lies and smear tactics.

Fascinating, wouldn’t you agree? The liberals in the blogosphere are copying Rush Limbaugh!

Are you ******* serious, Joe? Don’t you think they’re copying the vitriol and invective they get from their heroes like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? Or how about their idols Keith Olbermann and Randi Rhodes? Don’t you think they’re aping those apes, Joe?

Much like the rest of his ilk, it appears that Klein’s mirror only goes in one direction – away – thereby preventing him from really doing a deep introspection concerning the bile he’s talking about:

And that is precisely the danger here. Fury begets fury. Poison from the right-wing talk shows seeped into the Republican Party's bloodstream and sent that party off the deep end. Limbaugh's show—where Dick Cheney frequently expatiates—has become the voice of the Republican establishment.

What a crock, Joe. If the Republican Party was actually listening to rightwing talk shows, there never would have been a Medicare prescription drug bill, federal spending in the past five years would have been significantly lower, Social Security would have been reformed, and the president wouldn’t be talking about amnesty for illegal immigrants.

In fact, Limbaugh actually responded to this nonsense himself during Thursday’s show stating the following (transcript available here, audio for members available here):

No, it isn't.  This show is not the voice of the Republican establishment.  It is the voice of American conservatism, but it is not the voice of Republican establishment.  And something else.  This program is not odious. It is not disdainful. We are not angry. We are not enraged. We are nothing but happy on this program.  In fact, Joe, I get e-mails from people upset with me that I am too happy because I shouldn't be, given the status of this country these days and where the country is headed.  If I'm happy and enjoying myself, why, it means that I'm out of touch.  

They continually misunderstand what happens here and on all these other shows.  You could see that the Republican debate the other night. There wasn't any anger up there. There wasn't any rage like you can see when the Democrats all get together.  It was a bunch of optimistic people debating different ideas that they have within the same party about the future of the country, which everybody cares about. 

Clearly, like most on the left, Klein doesn’t get it. But, he wasn’t finished demonstrating just how strong the state of his confusion is:

The same could happen to the Democrats. The spitballs aimed at me don't matter much. The spitballs aimed at Harman, Clinton and Obama are another story. Despite their votes, each of those politicians believes the war must be funded. (Obama even said so in his statement explaining his vote.) Each knows, as Senator Jim Webb has said repeatedly, that we must be more careful getting out of Iraq than we were getting in. But they allowed themselves to be bullied into a more simplistic, more extreme position. Why? Partly because they fear the power of the bloggers to set the debate and raise money against them. They may be right—in the short (primary election) term; Harman faced a challenge from the left in 2006. In the long term, however, kowtowing to extremists is exactly the opposite of what this country is looking for after the lethal radicalism of the Bush Administration.

In this concluding paragraph, Klein demonstrated some bizarre journalistic schizophrenia. On the one hand, he was quite correct about the power that the extreme left and the Netroots have over the Democrats. This can be seen by that Party’s steady movement to the left since Clinton exited the White House.

However, during the same period, the Republican Party has also moved to the left ushering in years of runaway spending, a Medicare prescription drug benefit,  no movement on illegal immigration, and no movement on reforming Social Security.

As such, what Klein did here was a classic Clinton maneuver: blame problems within your own Party on the vast rightwing conspiracy.

Fortunately, regardless of its inanity, it does provide entertainment.

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.