Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"Klein," incidentally, is German for "small"

For those of you not following this story, the facts, in brief, are these:

Joe Klein, who is ostensibly Time magazine's "liberal" columnist but mostly seems to serve the function of giving the right ammunition for saying things like "even the liberal Joe Klein thinks Democrats are poopheads," wrote a column in the last issue of Time in which he alleged that the Democrats' FISA bill "would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court" and "would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." This proved, he essentially said, that Democrats are idiots who can't be trusted on national security issues.

The problem is that the bill objectively does not do this. It actually says something that is precisely the opposite of that:

(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.

This would seem simple, but Klein admitted he had not read the bill, and had gotten his information about what the bill did from a Republican source. Because, really, why should you doubt that a Republican operative who tells you Democrats are big pansies on national security is being truthful and fair?

The actual story is much longer. Glenn Greenwald, who has been both pushing and extensively chronicling the story, has pretty much the whole thing, here, here, here, here, and here, and I actually recommend the whole thing if you have 20 minutes or so to pore through it.

Klein initially wouldn't admit he'd done anything wrong, then eventually declared the whole thing too complicated to figure out and anyway, who's got the time (as if he had not considered it important enough to devote a whole column to it originally). Time, meanwhile, finally issued what it apparently (and remarkably) believes is a correction:

In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets. Republicans believe the bill can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't.

That's it. Seriously.

Apparently it doesn't matter, and isn't worth thinking about, whether one side is lying. They think their job is to spend half their time printing what Republicans say and half printing what Democrats say, and then go home. I would think it would be obvious that this is the opposite of how journalism should work, and gives a huge advantage to liars, but apparently not.

But I think it's significant and telling how this played out. For the longest time, the right was swarming with watchdogs looking for "bias" against them, and had an echo chamber it could use to destroy anyone guilty of said bias. As a result, the mainstream media seemed to develop a habit of slanting everything so as to be inoffensive to the right. We on the left were some combination of too passive and too disorganized, so bias against us and our causes was a total nonissue.

Now, of course, we on the left are energized, we have our own media watchdogs and our own echo chambers, as Time and Joe Klein are experiencing firsthand at this very moment. but that hasn't sunk in yet, so their first impulse was to just run with Republican spin, and everything would be okay.

The lesson they seem to take from this is, they need to print the spin coming from both sides, and then everything will be okay.

It would be fairer if they did, I guess, at least compared to just printing Republican talking points as news, but they seem to have missed the larger point: how about just printing the truth? If you're going to report on what a bill does, maybe you should actually smegging read it. And then, don't let either side spin you. It's not a matter of striking the right balance of spin. Journalism is supposed to be about facts.

And I may be biased, here, but I really think that's what most media critics coming from our side of the aisle want. We just want the facts reported. It's not that we want our talking points to replace, or augment, Karl Rove's. We want journalists to actually report facts instead of spin.

Honestly, why is that so hard?

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