Looking for writing-related posts? Check out my new writing blog, www.larrykollar.com!

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Joe Klein and the Beltway Insider Problem

So… it appears that once again, Joe Klein (a Very Serious Person who writes for Time on behalf of the rich and powerful) and Glenn Greenwald (a constitutional lawyer turned blogger at Salon) have tangled once again. And once again, Klein gets his ass handed to him, then whines about it at his blog on Swampland. In his hissy-fit, Joe demonstrates a lack of understanding, exceptionally woeful for a supposedly super-journalist, about what constitutes a “private communication.” To wit:
  1. At one of the cocktail parties (actually a beach party in this case) so favored by the Beltway Insider clique, Klein rather loudly rants to a young woman about how “Greenwald is EVIL! EVIL!” and many other things. He took particular umbrage when she pointed that Greenwald was recently given the I.F. Stone award, telling her “[she] shouldn't talk about things [she doesn't] understand.” (The woman in question is I.F. Stone’s granddaughter, which is quite funny when you think about it.)

  2. Having been schooled in public, both by mere bloggers and a young woman whom he dismisses as “a rather pathetic woman acolyte of Greenwald's,” Joe Klein (often referred to as Joke Line in the blogosphere as of late) resorted to the 8th-grade tactic of saying nasty things about Greenwald behind his back. It’s probably likely that he was already well under way by the time he got pwned at the beach party, but he began trashing Greenwald on Journolist, a “members-only” mailing list for the Beltway Insiders and some of their favored friends. One of the other members forwarded some of the emails to Glenn Greenwald, and much hilarity ensued (again, at Klein’s expense).

Joe Klein is perhaps part of the problem in what passes for journalism these days, but he is best seen as a symbol for what I call the Beltway Insider Problem. Journalists, who are supposed to be about afflicting the comfortable, have grown uncomfortably chummy with the inner circles of power lately — whether in DC, on Wall Street, or City Hall of most locales. The problem begins, but does not end, with:

The Access Fetish

At some point, I’m guessing the early 1980s, “access” became more important than truth to journalism. Perhaps it started with the Reagan regime, more likely with early budget cuts in newsrooms, I don’t know for sure (and admitting I don’t know proves I myself am no Beltway Insider). But reporters who asked tough questions of those in power began to be shunted aside in favor of the sycophants and stenographers that seem to make up the entire Beltway Insider clique these days. Joe Klein sucked up to the Bush Administration for quite a few years, indeed was one of their primary cheerleaders for the Iraq war, all to maintain that all-important “access.” He and his fellows seem to have forgotten that when you’re doing some real journalism, that you’ll get access anyway. After all, short of outright admitting to bad behavior, “XYZ refused to comment on this story” is pretty close to self-indictment.

One of the more unfortunate effects, of the Access Fetish, besides the outright toadying-up to the powerful, has been:

Replacing Fact-Checking with “Balance”

The most glaring example of this problem with the Beltway Insider clique has been their “coverage” of climate change issues. It doesn’t matter how much evidence of the 150-year warming trend piles up, how many scientists think it’s actually worse than the consensus position, the insiders will find an ignorant blowhard like Sen. Inhofe or a paid shill for Exxon who will counter claims with nothing but their opinion, and then present both sides as equally credible. Truth is truth… unless you’re an Insider, then it’s just a matter of he-said-she-said. And they think that’s doing their jobs.

Which brings us to the third problem:

The Insider Echo Chamber

Tools like Journolist and the cocktail/beach party circuit allow the Beltway Insiders to collaborate. That in itself is not a bad thing — an investigative journalist might hear a crucial piece of information from a fellow, for example — but the problem is that the Insiders use those tools to develop a “narrative” rather than just get to the heart of the matter. Media narratives are convenient for lazy pseudo-journalists, as they provide a framework to hang a story on. We see this dreck all the time: Hillary was inevitable, health care reform is dead (and the screamers were concerned citizens rather than bussed-in provocateurs), financial bailouts are necessary to preserve… something important, probably the Insiders’ access to bankers.

This is exactly why more and more people are getting their news from the Internet these days — sure, you get biased sources, but you have a pretty good idea what the bias is and everyone gets to chime in and correct facts or point out the bias. Me, I haven’t subscribed to a newspaper or newsmagazine in 15 years or so, and people like Joe Klein are perfect examples of why.


  1. Hiya FAR,

    I have to agree about the insider problem. That's one of the reasons I'm glad I got on the internet awhile ago. Of course most internet sites are bias based, but being able to do your own research on the internet beats hands down being told something and not being able to research.

  2. Yup, FM, and like I said it's pretty easy to figure out the bias and calibrate accordingly. Thanks for coming by & give George a scritch for me.

  3. Pretty good piece, there, Mr. FARfetched. I think you left out a chunk, though: you might consider that mainstream journalism went South hand in hand with the Democratic Party. You will remember how, back in the early 1980s we all waited for someone to counter Rush Limbaugh's lies and point out Mr. Reagan's idiocy. Instead, we got to watch the Democrats roll over and play dead and journalism agreed that Rush, too was a journalist because he talks on the radio and makes lots of money. You see where I'm going, of course, so I'll stop there.

    Keep 'em flying.


  4. Hey Jimmy, good to see you again. You make a very good point about the rolling over & playing dead… seems like Congress still had a spine in the early Raygun years (several of his budgets were declared "dead on arrival") but beyond that there wasn't a whole lot of stomach for the Good Fight. To use a baseball metaphor, the Dems didn't invest in their farm system pretty much until Howard Dean took over in '04. But yeah, I always wondered why there was such a proliferation of media whackos like Lush Dimbulb without much of a counter from the left.

  5. Hey Far! Heh! Took a little refreshing break from the internet! ha! I'll have to catch up on the story.

    Have a great Labor Day!


  6. Yooper! I've been worrying about you, buddy!


Comments are welcome, and they don't have to be complimentary. I delete spam on sight, but that's pretty much it for moderation. Long off-topic rants or unconstructive flamage are also candidates for deletion but I haven’t seen any of that so far.

I have comment moderation on for posts over a week old, but that’s so I’ll see them.

Include your Twitter handle if you want a shout-out.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...