Shameful 'journalism' by Time Magazine's Joe Klein

by Dan Gillmor, Center for Citizen Media

One of the most amazing episodes in modern American journalism has emerged from a flagrantly inaccurate and misguided Time magazine column by Joe Klein. He's a political writer whose work in this case may become Exhibit A for what's wrong with the craft today.

Klein's column attacked congressional Democrats' effort to pass electronic surveillance legislation that would restrain the Bush administration's wish for essentially no restraints or oversight whatever. In his piece, Klein got some vital facts dead wrong, giving a totally misleading message to his readers.

Needless to say, bloggers and others who care about truth and the Constitution jumped on this outrageous stuff. No one did a better job than Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who pointed out the misstatements in great detail.

Klein, obviously responding to Greenwald (though never saying so), defended himself without actually dealing with the actual facts — and even more amazingly asserted that telecom companies should do whatever the government orders them to do, even if it's completely illegal. Bloggers continued to attack both the original piece and his absurd justifications.

Then Klein sort of, kind of admitted error in a follow-up — though he made obvious something even more amazing: He hasn't read the legislation he attacks. Meanwhile, neither Klein nor Time has put corrections into the original, flagrantly inaccurate column, which also ran in the print edition.

What makes all this so bad is Time's reach and influence. Millions of people probably read the original. Very, very few will know, even now, that fundamental premises were false.

Why Time employs Klein is a mystery to me, though I suppose it shouldn't be. He's a member of the Washington journalistic establishment, where forgetting reality is all too common. As Wired News' Ryan Singel noted, Klein's record includes publicly lying about his anonymous authorship of the novel Primary Colors (one of the best books of fiction about politics in recent memory, incidentally). Singel then adds, and I agree:

But Time ought to stop Klein from writing about any substantive topic, especially FISA.

Because when it comes to these topics, Klein is well beyond stupid. He's dangerous.

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey