Tuesday, September 01, 2009

No, Seriously, Dude, Acolyte?

It is fun to wake up and find [edited to remove extra word] yourself accused of joining a cult—the cult of people who like incredibly detailed, footnoted, analytic, legal arguments about abstruse and painful political crimes? The cult of people who follow links? No, really, it is fun. Because it gives me a chance to tell “the rest of the story.” I ended my other essay by observing that Klein thinks readers don't really read, and readers don't really remember. So Klein can say what he wants and be sure that no one will ever use his own words to impeach his argument. But that's not really the way the world works, anymore. Klein stalked off in a huff to soothe his ego. I went home to surf the internet and make sure of my facts before I blogged the interaction. I checked his blog—yes, he'd really exposed a private citizen to what he hoped would be internet harassment. I checked the Wiki—surprisingly restrained and well linked, no particular anti Klein slant. I even checked Conservipaedia (Alas, poor Klein, they knew him not). And, of course, I read backwards through Glenn's well cited and well linked oeuvre of Klein evisceration. The internet never forgets. And if we use it properly, it doesn't let us forget either.

And that was the real heart of my little sand box fight with Klein—that the internet and the google and the readership today make the argument from journalistic authority a very hard hill to climb these days. It wasn't about Greenwald, and it didn't come about because I read Greenwald. It didn't come about because of anything but Klein's own work. I didn't confront Klein because I'm somebody. I'm nobody special. I confronted him because I'm something important—I'm a reader. In fact—I'm one of his readers.* That, it seems, was the unkindest cut of all. Because Klein writes, after a fashion, but he doesn't read much. Certainly, he doesn't read like a reader—lots of sources, lots of texts, across genres, and with curiosity. And thus he doesn't expect that of his own readers. And because he thinks we are helpless birds, mouths open to consume any old regurgitated pap from daddy's crop, he doesn't acknowledge the duty he owes to his readers. To be diligent, to be thoughtful, to be honest, and above all to remember what he himself has written. He lacks the ethic of responsibility in a journalistic sense.

There's nothing I can say that will make Klein more absurd than his own writings. But there is something important here. No no, not Klein's fight with Greenwald. That's like watching a man with a “lion tamer's hat” actually taking on a lion. Time was a journalist wanted to be read, and remembered for what he'd written. A “public intellectual?” Even more so. But to want that is to be determined to stand behind what you've written or what you've said. You have to take your work seriously—do your research, form your opinions, and stick to them because they are good or as good as they could be under the circumstances.** But Klein doesn't want to do that—he's said too many stupid things at this point. Too many venial, corrupt, weak, vile, bought and paid for political puff balls. He said things he knew his interlocutor wanted him to say. He's said things he knew one party wanted him to say although he knew that they were untrue, or dangerous, or foolish, or just partial. He's not a public intellectual—he's a fucking wind sock. And he knows it.

So he turns the attack onto Greenwald and, for make weight on myself, poor lowly acolyte that I am—not because we aren't honestly reading him and wrestling with his work but precisely because we are.

*And that, of course, led to the now infamous mewl of rage “You don't read me! You read Wikipedia, and that's leftist.”

**Klein's complaint to me that he got things factually wrong on the FISA legislation because “he'd been lied to, by a Democratic Staffer” reflects prezackly this unseriousness about his work. He didn't read the legislation, or he didn't understand what he read, or he chose his unnamed experts inexpertly. None of these professional errors in judgment excuse what he wrote. In fact, I think you'd have to argue that the entire accusation that it was I who read only Wikipedia was merely a form of projection.

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