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Joe Klein Is a Journalist; John McCain Is Dishonest and Dishonorable

Joe Klein of Time has been banned from the McCain plane, while other Time employees Jay Carney, Michael Scherer, and Mark Halperin are still allowed on it. Matthew Yglesias opines:

Matthew Yglesias: The Wages of Wankery: Joe Klein, who in the past had oft been a critic of blogospheric ire, has done some of the very best writing on John McCain’s presidential campaign. For his trouble, he’s been banned from the McCain and Palin campaign planes:

Campaign spokesperson Michael Goldfarb responded that “we don’t allow Daily Kos diarists on board either.”

Michael Calderone observes that “other Time magazine staffers, including Washington bureau chief Jay Carney, reporter Michael Scherer, and Mark Halperin (The Page), have not had a problem with access.” You might think that if Time were a real news organization, it would stand up for Klein and say that if the McCain-Palin campaign isn’t going to let Klein on the plane, then they’re not going to send some other journalists to give them kinder coverage. Instead, though, Time operates in conventional MSM style. If you get good access, your stories get good placement. So if like Scherer and Halperin you decline to tell the truth about McCain, you get access to McCain and your career benefits. If you do tell the truth about McCain, you lose access to McCain and your career suffers. Which is a great way to run a magazine if you don’t care about informing your audience. Which, I guess, Time’s owners and editors don’t care about.

It seems to me that right now Jay Carney, Michael Scherer, and Mark Halperin have a choice: they can either write stories true enough about the McCain campaign to get themselves banned from the McCain plane, or they stay on the plane through the election and so shred their journalistic reputations for all time.

The problem is that there is a long institutional history here.

As I have said before, It was the fall of 2000 when my conversations with cabinet- and subcabinet-rank Republicans began to center around the fact that George W. Bush, was clearly not up to the job: underbriefed and incurious. The Republicans told me they were not worried. Look at how George W. Bush had operated at the Texas Rangers--let the managers manage the team and the financial guys run the business, and spend his time making sure the political coalition to support the Texas Rangers in the remained stable. Bush knows his strengths and weaknesses, they told me. He will, they said focus on being America's Queen Elizabeth II, and will let people like Colin Powell and Paul O'Neill be America's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

By the summer of 2001 it had become clear to me that something had gone very wrong.

Rather than following Paul O'Neill and Christine Todd Whitman's advice on environmental policy, George W. Bush had rejected it. Rather than following Alan Greenspan and Paul O'Neill'S advice on fiscal policy, George W. Bush had rejected it. Rather than following Colin Powell and Condi Rice's advice on the importance of pushing forward on negotiations between Israel and Palestine, George W. Bush had rejected it. And--we were all to learn later--rather than following George Tenet and Richard Clarke's advice about the importance of counterterrorism, George W. Bush had rejected it. A strange picture of George W. Bush had emerged: not just underbriefed but insisting on remaining underbriefed, not just incurious but arrogant and insisting on making decisions about things he did not know, not just dumb but mean and so making decisions that were essentially random except for their meanness. And stubborn: once he had made a decision--even or rather especially if it was a howlingly wrong and stupid one--he would never revisit it.

That was the reality of the George W. Bush administration.

That was not what Time told its readers.

As long as Jay, Michael, and Mark work for Time they work under the burden of that legacy. If they quit Time and went to work for McClatchy they would no longer work under this burden. But at the moment the presumption--a presumption that is the result of very bitter experience--has to be that they are, at best, refs who are easily worked, and whose work is valuable not as a source of information but as an index of the corruption of the press corps.

The only way any of them can even begin to rebut that presumption is for them to write something true enough about the McCain campaign to get thrown off the plane along with Joe Klein.

I would recommend--for their own sakes--that they start doing that now. I would advise every reporter covering the McCain campaign that their only road to having a career in journalism in the future is to write something that gets them thrown off the plane.