Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Inaugural Beasting of the Day: Time's Joe Klein




This is Joe Klein.

You may remember that Mr. Klein is the guy that wrote “Primary Colors” under the name Anonymous (perhaps sensing that at some point along the way, John Travolta would become involved). He now (openly) writes for Time magazine, where he has a weekly column on politics. Recently, Mr. Klein has been writing about the progress in Congress of the efforts to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) bill, which controls wiretapping of terrorist suspects abroad. Here’s what Mr. Klein wrote about the proceedings in a November 21 Time magazine article titled “The Tone-Deaf Democrats:”

Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that – [Rush] Limbaugh is salivating -- would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only. In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid.
This did not go over well with Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer who blogs for Salon.com, mainly because it was factually incorrect. It seems like calling something stupid when you yourself are engaged in what could be termed stupidity is a bad idea when a guy like Mr. Greenwald is around; or, as he so succinctly put it, ‘ "Well beyond stupid" is a good description for what Klein wrote here. "Factually false" is even better.’ Apparently Mr. Greenwald gets cranky when he has to fact-check you. Mr. Greenwald wrote a takedown on Mr. Klein’s work on Wednesday November 21, where he enumerated how Mr. Klein’s article was factually erroneous: namely, the FISA law clearly does not require that the FISA court approve surveillance of foreign terrorists—that protection applies only to “U.S. persons,” meaning citizens and lawful permanent residents.

Mr. Klein, caught with his hand in the lazy jar, responded to the posting online, but did not address the inaccuracies pointed out by Mr. Greenwald, focusing instead on reiterating how bad he thinks all this looks for Democrats, whom he again insists are “giv[ing] foreign terrorists the same procedures as American citizens, if not the same rights.” Apparently, Mr. Klein started getting heat on this from other quarters, and on Saturday, November 24, he posted a correction to his article on Time’s website, which he kicked off thusly:

I may have made a mistake in my column this week about the FISA legislation passed by the House, although it’s difficult to tell for sure given the technical nature of the bill’s language and fierce disagreements between even moderate Republicans and Democrats on the Committee about what the bill actually does contain.
This repetition of the core falsehood that triggered Mr. Greenwald to write on this issue seems to have made Mr. Greenwald go “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” Blogging, I presume, with Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries blasting in the background, Mr. Greenwald went to town, on Mr. Klein’s difficulties with the technical nature of the bill:
There is no confusion possible about whether the House bill -- as Klein originally wrote -- "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court." Anyone who told that to Klein was lying. All you have to do is read the House bill in order to know that. Here is Section 2 of the RESTORE Act -- the very first section after the "Definitions" section:

'CLARIFICATION OF ELECTRONIC SURVEILLANCE OF NON-UNITED STATES PERSONS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES'

Sec. 105A. (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications-

(1) IN GENERAL - Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for electronic surveillance directed at the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not known to be United States persons and are reasonably believed to be located outside the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.
I don’t know about you, but that seems fairly clear to me. So what happened here? How could Mr. Klein have been so far off-base? Apparently, it seems that Mr. Klein is guilty of two things:

1. He did not read the bill he was writing about.

2. He relied on information from sources, and then did not verify the accuracy of said information. (see point 1).

(Consider also that no editor or fact-checker over at Time seems to have caught this.)

Mr. Greenwald goes on to excoriate Mr. Klein thoroughly, and the media in general for lazy reportage of this type, which seems to have been in vogue for the last few years. Mr. Kline gets called " an easily manipulated and dishonest "reporter," and his work is referred to as "weaselly", "inaccurate," and "slothful"; a prominent blogger picks up on the story and refers to Mr. Klein as "Joke Line" (unless this is a long-standing nickname; it's not like Mr. Klein was beloved before this episode). The whole fiasco has led to this, as reported by Mr. Greenwald:

The Center for Citizen Media -- jointly affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Law School -- has picked up on the Klein/Time story, labeling Klein's behavior "Shameful 'Journalism'," and contending that the "flagrantly inaccurate and misguided Time magazine column by Joe Klein" is "[o]ne of the most amazing episodes in modern American journalism." They concluded: Klein's "work in this case may become Exhibit A for what's wrong with the craft today."
So Mr. Klein did not do his homework, and consequently he probably had a very bad Thanksgiving weekend. And what happens when you let that happen? You get BEASTED. Kids, don’t let this happen to you. Don't wind up being the fact pattern for the essay question in every journalism school's Journalism 101 final exam this year. If you’re going to write about FISA, you’d better check yourself before Glenn Greenwald rickety-wrecks yo ass.

1 comment:

Adrian said...

That dude got BEASTED. Yet another reason not to read Time magazine, with its floppy pages.