By D. Cupples | There's a helluva hullabaloo brewing over last week's column by Time Magazine's Joe Klein -- and his editor's response to people who pointed out Klein's blatant errors and asked for blatant corrections, so that millions of Time readers would not be misled about an important political issue.
Klein's column discussed the RESTORE Act, a bill that the House passed about two weeks ago, which would tweak requirements relating to the Bush Administration's domestic-surveillance programs. In part, Klein's column states:
"...Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that — Limbaugh is salivating — House Republicans believe 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. (Democrats dispute this interpretation.) In the lethal shorthand of political advertising, it would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans. That is well beyond stupid...." (Time)
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) addressed Klein's errors:
"[the bill] contains no such provision. (Also, as someone closely involved in trying to produce a good bill, I cannot figure out what bipartisan House Intelligence Committee effort Speaker Pelosi 'quashed' that Mr. Klein could possibly be talking about. Several Republicans proposed something close to last August's Protect America Act, but that never got anywhere.)...
This bill provides exactly what the Director of National Intelligence asked for earlier this year: it explicitly states that no court order is required to listen to the conversations of foreigners that happen to pass through the U.S. telecommunications system. It does not grant Constitutional rights to foreign terrorists.... (Huffington Post)
Salon's Glenn Greenwald started this ruckus by criticizing Klein's column. Afterward, Klein admitted online that he
might have made factual errors, meaning millions
of people who don't read Time online might believe Klein's error-filled column was accurate.
Mr. Klein might have prevented his errors (and the resulting embarrassment) by simply reading the RESTORE Act, instead of blindly accepting a source's opinion of the bill. Greenwald points out:
"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...:
'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.
"...As clearly as it can, the bill says that no warrant is required for communications involving non-U.S. persons outside of the U.S. In fact, individual warrants are not even required when a foreign target communicates with someone inside the U.S.... Thus, Klein's statements about the bill were indisputably, unquestionably false, and all one had to do is read the painfully clear language of the bill to know that."
Blogger Jane Hamsher called Klein's editor, Priscilla Painton, and asked how a piece with so many errors made it into print. Ms. Painton reportedly answered, "That assumes that there are errors"; then, she hung up.
It's a shame, because recognizing errors is a necessary first step toward correcting them. Beyond Klein's errors, Greenwald looks at the bigger picture:
"This episode also highlights one of the most corrupt and destructive journalistic practices -- namely, the fact that establishment media outlets eagerly protect their sources even when those sources feed them outright lies in order to manipulate them into printing a false story. In theory, journalists are not supposed to protect the identity of sources who do that, but they virtually always do.
"I first focused on this deeply corrupt practice when I wrote about the completely false story broadcast repeatedly in October and November, 2001 by ABC News and Brian Ross blaming Saddam Hussein for the anthrax attacks. That story was generated by an outright lie fed to ABC by neoconservative sources wishing to fuel war-hysteria against Iraq: namely, those "sources" told ABC that government tests revealed the presence of bentonite in the anthrax, one of the distinguishing "markers" of Saddam's chemical program.
"What the sources told ABC was, from start to finish, an outright, deliberate lie. Government tests never revealed any such thing. The sources lied because they wanted to manipulate Ross to do exactly what he did -- namely, spend the next several days on virtually every ABC News show loudly linking Saddam to the anthrax attacks in the minds of Americans. Yet to this day, ABC News protects these lying sources and refuses to report the real story: namely, who were these individuals who lied to ABC about the anthrax test results in order to cause them to produce such a destructively fake news story?...
"That is exactly what Time is doing here. Whoever it was who told Klein that the House bill 'would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court' was lying to him, in order to manipulate Time and Klein to do exactly what they did -- publish the accusation that Democrats want to extend civil liberties protections to foreign Terrorists.
"Any respectable journalist would recognize that this is the real story here -- that Bush officials and GOP operatives were outright lying about the House bill, and they would report on that, including revealing who did this."
After the Ruckus started, Time issued a weak correction of Klein's column:
"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."
Greenwald's response (in part):
"All Time can say about this matter is that Republicans say one thing and Democrats claim another. Who is right? Is one side lying? What does the bill actually say, in reality?
"That's not for Time to say. After all, they're journalists, not partisans. So they just write down what each side says. It's not for them to say what is true, even if one side is lying.
"In this twisted view, that is called "balance" -- writing down what each side says. As in: 'Hey - Bush officials say that there is WMD in Iraq and things are going great with the war (and a few people say otherwise). It's not for us to decide. It's not our fault if what we wrote down is a lie....'
"Klein's entire column presented only the lies from the Republicans about this bill as fact, and didn't even mention that there was another side (just as Time, in a lengthy article by the now-promoted Tyrangiel, presented only the Bush view to its readers about Saddam's scary stockpiles of WMD and didn't bother to mention that there was another side).
"Here, there are not two sides; the bill could not be clearer. What Klein's GOP source (and Time) said about the bill is indisputably false." (links in original)
I hope Time will learn from this mistake and make a point of doing thorough fact-checking in the future. It might help preserve the magazine's image if it truly admits the errors now and sets about improving procedures before Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann get wind of Klein's blunder and Time's poor handling of it.