When Liberals Attack: Alterman vs. Klein

"Eric Alterman is simply not a serious person --- and I'm writing about a very serious issue," says Time columnist Joe Klein, in response to Eric Alterman's recent ad hominem attack in The Nation, wherein he dubs Klein one of the mainstream media's "most egregious offenders against journalistic standards and simple honesty."

"I don't want to address Eric's remarks because they're not worth addressing," Klein says. "This guy just spews opinions without having any information or doing any reporting. You just did something Alterman has never done, for example, actually calling me to do some reporting!"

In the course of generally noting, "The punditocracy's ignore-except-to-attack attitude toward liberals," Alterman dissected a recent Klein column that Alterman claimed "accused Democrats" of playing too fast and too loose with issues of war and peace. He then criticized Klein for his perceived "animus toward liberals coupled with his cavalier treatment of inconvenient facts."

"That's typical of his essential narcissistic laziness," Klein responds. "Alterman has been personally attacking me for years. It's what he does instead of working … He's so peripheral, I forget he's in the business until someone calls or emails me his latest attack!"

The Klein column in question concerned the flap over revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) is monitoring domestic communications without first seeking warrants. Klein wrote, "A strong majority would favor the NSA program … if its details were declassified and made known." But Alterman claims this is untrue, noting that when an Associated Press poll "asked Americans if the Bush administration should be required to get a warrant before wiretapping, 56 percent answered affirmatively."

Alterman also attacked Klein for relying on U.S. intelligence officials to support his claim that since the publication of the New York Times story on domestic spying, "the terrorists have modified their behavior, hampering our efforts to keep track of them." Alterman then added parenthetically and in his characteristically snarky tone: "(Perhaps the gullible Mr. Klein might be interested in buying some hot African yellowcake uranium, special price …)"

Alterman ended by paraphrasing what he termed "the punditocracy argument," thus: "Never mind that liberals are constitutionally correct. Never mind that their view is supported by a majority of Americans. And never mind that the Bush administration has repeatedly lied to the American people on exactly these issues. Never mind, most of all, the truth."

"I'm not nearly as smart as Eric, to have opinions without bothering to report first," Klein counters. "Instead let me react by speaking to the facts. After all, I've lived my life by seeking out facts and then reporting them. One advantage I think I have over other columnists is that I do reporting."

Klein says he will "have a lot more to say on this (NSA) issue next week -- but first I have to learn more about it."

Asked for an example, Klein says, "The notion of calling it wiretapping is questionable, I think, although I'm still not entirely sure.

"People like me who favor this program don't yet know enough about it yet," he says, "Those opposed to it know even less -- and certainly less than I do."

According to Klein, the NSA employs a "powerful front-end computer program that can scan computers and cell phones and access all previous communications." Then, he says, analysts look for patterns in the calls and emails.

"Once they've gone through that process," he explains, "Then they go to the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) special court."

In Klein's analysis, "the liberals are reacting to this issue in their usual reflexive way. Meanwhile, George Bush and others in his administration are being very cynical."

The political flap over the NSA actions, Klein says, could be easily resolved. "All that's needed is an updating of the FISA Act or the Patriot Act." But this is unlikely to happen, Klein believes, "because George Bush is spoiling for and creating a fight on this issue, since he thinks it's a fight he will win in the court of public opinion."

As for his fight with Eric Alterman, Klein's willing to forfeit. "Who cares, really?" he concluded. "He's written lots of inaccurate, foolish stuff about me before. It's just silly. If it were someone who actually KNOWS stuff or caught me in an inaccuracy, then I'd be concerned. But Eric? He can say what he wants."

[Editor's Note: Eric Alterman has responded to Joe Klein on Altercation, his blog at MSNBC.com.]

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