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Joe Klein on the Republican field for president: ‘A bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers’

Over at Swampland, the Time Magazine blog, Joe Klein gives the following (ahem) assessment of the Repub field for prez:

“This is my 10th presidential campaign, Lord help me. I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party’s banner. They are the most compelling argument I’ve seen against American exceptionalism. Even Tim Pawlenty, a decent governor, can’t let a day go by without some bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain. And, as Greg Sargent makes clear, Mitt Romney has wandered a long way from courage.”

The full post has a pretty amazing quote from Newt Gingrich in which he worries that his grandchildren will live under both Muslim fundamentalists and secular atheists and will have no clue “what it once meant to be an American.”

I spent so many years playing the objectivity game that I about lost my dentures at some of Klein’s word choices. I don’t think Tim Pawlenty has a lizard brain (although the Gingrich quote does begin to support the “vile” and “shameless” enumeration).

But I couldn’t help reflecting, too, that not that many years ago Klein was doing the objective reporter gag himself (although I doubt that regular readers had much doubt about which way he leaned).

Of course there were always that subset of professional journalists who were permitted to express their opinions (although very few of them would have let loose with anything quite so blunt at the Klein passage above), and the balance has shifted in favor of more and more of us having what I often call “freedom of voice.”

So, after picking up my dentures, I ask myself: Is this better or worse? I say better — not the freedom to vituperate (although that comes with the package) but the freedom to tell it like (you think) it is. On balance, and still hoping for the civil and substantive but intellectually honest version — I say better. What say you?

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Comments (18)

  1. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 03/30/2011 - 01:39 pm.

    That’s funny coming from a hack like Klein, who is accurately mocked as “Joke Line” on liberal blogs.

  2. Submitted by Tim Walker on 03/30/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    What think I?

    I think, and have thought for a long time, that “objective” journalism is good in theory, but horrible in practice.

    For example, 99.99% of climatologists say that climate change is occurring and is a man-made phenomenon. But to be balanced, a journalist working on a story on global warming has to locate one of the 0.01% of climatologists and give him/her equal time.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/30/2011 - 03:24 pm.

    I think “objectivity” was – and is – not very likely from sentient human beings. What I expected in the past, and still expect, with allowance for occasional vituperation, is something that comes close to fairness. When the public figure generally regarded as an idiot – Mrs. Bachmann, for example – somehow, inexplicably, makes a good point, it’s incumbent upon journalists to admit that that’s the case, just as it’s incumbent upon them to similarly point out when the public figure they happen to like, or even admire, proposes something especially stupid or counterproductive.

    Meanwhile, what I wonder about Newt’s grandchildren is, which one of his wives will the kids call “Grandma?”

  4. Submitted by Jackson Cage on 03/30/2011 - 03:48 pm.

    “I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party’s banner.”

    What’s your point?

  5. Submitted by Joe Musich on 03/30/2011 - 10:11 pm.

    Klien has a point. I cannot believe what’s happening at our own state legislature. The same descriptors could be put in place over the attack on the people by the people. As to journalism how about NBC not even bringing up the outlandish nature of GE profit. Will there ever be an admission as to how much the news is controlled by the owners by anyone who’s in the biz ?

  6. Submitted by Steve Rose on 03/31/2011 - 06:11 am.

    With everything going so swimmingly, why would Americans consider any opponent in 2012?

    We have expanded wars, new wars, warrantless wiretaps, Gitmo, record debt and deficit, persistent 10% unemployment, and we pay $3.59 at the pump. Clearly, we have everything we need.

  7. Submitted by will lynott on 03/31/2011 - 08:18 am.

    My vision of the sector of journalism that is news reporting is that it simply reports facts. Opinion is reserved for the op-ed or “analysis” pieces. Reporting facts means reporting that Bachman said something in a speech, without editorializing about her serial stupidity. It could, however, include facts about past statements that were debunked and/or that she later retracted or apologized for. It might also include the fact that a tiny minority of skeptics dispute global warming, but would also include the facts that (1) many of that tiny minority are not even scientists, let alone climate scientists, and (2) they are vastly outnumbered by the hordes of real climate scientists who believe the threat is real.

    I don’t think this is rocket science, but I also don’t believe most reporters are entirely to blame. There are several reports out there on pressure on them from above to slant things a certain way. That doesn’t excuse their transgressions, but does make them somewhat understandable. Then of course, there are the Judith Millers of the world who routinely-and apparently shamelessly-inject their own politics into their news reporting. Her superiors could and should have put a stop to that, but did not. Journalism as a profession has taken some body blows lately, and many of them are self inflicted.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/31/2011 - 08:24 am.

    //I have never before seen such a bunch of vile, desperate-to-please, shameless, embarrassing losers coagulated under a single party’s banner. They are the most compelling argument I’ve seen against American exceptionalism.

    The only thing that matters if whether or not this is an accurate statement. Americans are so preoccupied with detecting bias that they’ve completely lost the capacity to detect truth. People with integrity compensate for bias with accuracy and reliability. People without integrity make the impossible claim of unbias, and pretend to be balanced.

    I’m not so sure Pawlenty doesn’t have a lizard brain by the way especially when it comes to economics. I’ve never been able to figure out if he actually believes the drivel he spits out, like his recent prediction of a double dip recession caused by “too much government money”. He either doesn’t know better or doesn’t care, I’m not sure which is worse.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/31/2011 - 08:34 am.

    //My vision of the sector of journalism that is news reporting is that it simply reports facts.

    The problem is “facts” require context to be meaningful. Two problem actually, the second is the definition of “editorializing” isn’t as clear as one pretend. For instance is it editorializing to report the “fact” that Pawlenty is predicting a double dip recession, and then report the “fact” that Pawlenty predicted surpluses and delivered deficits for eight years?

    I read the first paragraph of Katherine Kersten’s latest drivel last weekend. She opened with factually distorted description of the Wisconsin union struggle comparing it to German Nazis (Brown Shirts). Here’s the thing, I don’t mind editorials, but I don’t think editorialists should be allowed to operate under different rules evidence. Say what you want about the facts, but you must use reliable and verifiable facts to begin with. I’d like to know how an editor reads an editorial that begins with outright fabrication and decides to print it?

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/31/2011 - 08:50 am.

    I guess my point is that “non-bias” isn’t an absence of editorial, it’s a form of editorial. By stripping something of context you are making a sin omission most often, this does not enhance news value or make it more reliable or informative.

  11. Submitted by Jim Roth on 03/31/2011 - 11:00 am.

    To be honest, although I’m no fan of any of the group he is referring to, I’d don’t think his assessment adds to the civil discourse we desperately need. It looks like he himself is resorting to the lowest common denominator. It sounds like something you might say to a few friends in a bar after a few drinks. “Swampland” sounds like an apt description though.

  12. Submitted by will lynott on 03/31/2011 - 11:39 am.

    “For instance is it editorializing to report the “fact” that Pawlenty is predicting a double dip recession, and then report the “fact” that Pawlenty predicted surpluses and delivered deficits for eight years?” -Paul Udstrand

    At one level, of course not. They’re facts, right? However, editorializing might creep in if the contextual facts were to be cherry picked to create an image that wouldn’t stand up were all the relevant facts known. There’s been a lot of this in the media in the last couple of decades. Editorializing (that is, opinionating) would also include calling tp a flip-flopping imbecile. Both are opinion, one a bit more subtle than the other, but editors can spot both, or they shouldn’t be editors.

    I don’t think anything I posted suggests stripping facts of context, nor would I advocate that. What I would advocate is not allowing a news reporter to skip over context that s/he finds, ah, inconvenient.
    Properly done, reporting the relevant facts when reporting news is not difficult and gives readers an “objective” picture of the situation. Klein’s post, on the other hand, is clearly intended to be understood as his opinion. Of course, it’s clearly based on facts 😉 but it’s opinion nonetheless, and not difficult to recognize as such.

  13. Submitted by Don Lee on 03/31/2011 - 12:51 pm.

    A small point, but one that may keep some dentures in place: We all have lizard brains. It’s another name for the amygdala, the most primitive part of the brain. Klein’s point seems to be that Pawlenty’s impulse to speak sometimes bypasses his frontal lobes.

  14. Submitted by D.J. Scholtz on 03/31/2011 - 02:51 pm.

    For a couple of reasons, Mr. Black, I do hope that you will not slide too far down the non-objectivity slope.

    First, you should know that seeing your byline (along with a couple others from the Strib’s Golden Days) on a MinnPost mailing got me hooked as a subscriber. Why? Because, in the past, I always appreciated the fact that I was never totally sure just where your analysis of an issue might end up because the path down which you led the reader was so thought-provoking, it forced one to really think about a number of competing perspectives.(At the same time, your “answers” did usually coincide with my own leanings, so I suppose that could be considered evidence that the writer was merely more clever than most at disguising bias?)

    But here’s a second reason: When I’m looking for a piece to tickle the fancy of a fellow believer, I might forward something from Klein. But if I really want to draw a non-believer closer to The Truth, guess whose stuff I’d choose? It’s Entertainment vs. Making a Difference.

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 03/31/2011 - 04:07 pm.

    //However, editorializing might creep in if the contextual facts were to be cherry picked to create an image that wouldn’t stand up were all the relevant facts known.

    Yes but who decides what context is appropriate and whether or not “facts” are cherry picked or relevant? This is why there’s no substitute for integrity, the lie of objectivity is that it’s the equivalent of integrity. I think Pawlenty’s failure to issue a reliable economic forecast as governor illustrates his lack of ability in economics. I think it irresponsible journalism to simply act as a stenographer and report his economic predictions without context. Is that cherry-picking? It would be if I were simply trying to discredit Pawlenty, but I’m not. So who’s doing the cherry-picking if an editor says: “cut the deficit stuff- it’s not relevant, it’s editorializing”?

    I think people get hung up on bias because it’s so much easier to detect and hide than are fallacies and dishonesty. I can re-write Kersten’s editorial in a objective style for instance, and still deliver the same bogus information. It’s a lot easier to detect liberal or conservative bias than it is to fact check… the point is it’s not a substitute.

    Basically I think a focus on objectivity encourages mental laziness and consumerism. It allows the reader to draw conclusions without evaluating reliability or accuracy, and makes reading about preferences rather than content. I don’t like the way Noam Chomsky writes, but it’s worth struggling through it because his analysis is invaluable.

    It’s interesting I think that liberals always question and challenge liberal bias, and claim that it detracts the the message while conservatives only complain about liberal bias and flock to unbiased conservatives hacks.

    By the way, in the interest of integrity I should amend my point, Pawlenty promised balanced budgets for seven years, and a surplus one year… and delivered nothing but deficits- in real terms.

  16. Submitted by Norman Witt on 03/31/2011 - 08:41 pm.

    HOW, HOW could Joe Klein ever believe that Tim Pawlenty was a “decent” governor? He obviously did not follow T.P’s gubernatorial career. I live in the ex-gov’s legislative district and his home town. As for the “bilious nonsense escaping his lizard brain”, this is nothing new for T.P. It started long ago, when he was first running for governor and had a strong conservative challenge within the party (Brian Sullivan). That was when it became very apparent that Timmy was willing to part with pieces of his soul to get where and what he wanted. As for his wriggling for a presidential run, I’m surprised he has anything left to trade or bargain away. He has followed the political winds for his own aggrandizement and now we can only hope he steps off the end of the political plank he has made for himself.

  17. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 04/01/2011 - 02:23 pm.

    Joe Klein crossed the line when he called Pawlenty a ‘decent’ governor. The rest of it is true FACT!

  18. Submitted by will lynott on 04/03/2011 - 08:29 pm.

    “I think Pawlenty’s failure to issue a reliable economic forecast as governor illustrates his lack of ability in economics.”
    –Paul Udstrand

    I don’t. I think it reflects the venality and corruption that goes hand in hand with the insistence on the right of winning at all costs, regardless of whether it’s good governance. They clearly believe that their view of what’s good for the country (or state) is so existentially correct that it’s okay if they must lie through their teeth to achieve it.

    The rest of your points are well taken, although I’d argue that the editor who says “leave the deficit stuff out–it’s not relevant” is indeed inserting his/her personal proclivities into the equation, and displaying neither integrity nor objectivity. Here’s the thing: any OBJECTIVE observer would realize that the editor is not doing his/her job, either because leaving it out sells papers, or because that’s not the political slant s/he wants–or both.

    I think true objectivity has a lot to do with integrity. Being truly objective means
    telling the story regardless of where the chips fall. But, (for example), reporting the two sides of the global warming debate as if they are equal in size and stature is not objectivity, it’s a perversion of objectivity, and lazy besides, a lot of the time. A truly objective reporter would not write that. I’ll grant you, however, that it’s a reporter’s integrity that assures that outcome, and an editor’s integrity that keeps reporters on the ball.

    Wish there was more of that…

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