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.
Glenn Greenwald gets this exactly right:
Leave aside the false description of what Klein wrote. He didn’t say “that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would allow a court review of individual foreign surveillance targets.” He said that their bill “would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target’s calls to be approved by the FISA court” and “would give terrorists the same legal protections as Americans.” But the Editor’s false characterization of Klein’s original lie about the House FISA bill is the least of the issues here.
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. We just wrote down exactly what they said.” At best, they write down what each side says and then go home. That’s what they’re for.
That our typical establishment “journalist” conceives of this petty clerical task as their only role is not news. But it is striking to see the nation’s “leading news magazine” so starkly describe how they perceive their role.
In reality, they don’t even usually fulfill this clerical role fairly or well. After all, 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. But that isn’t for Time to say.
So to Time, Klein’s so-called “reporting error” wasn’t that he falsely described the bill. No; describing the bill accurately isn’t the role of a journalist. Klein’s only “reporting error” was that he only wrote down what one side said (the Republicans). He “forgot” to write down what the Democrats said. Now that the Editors noted in passing that the Democrats disagree, everything is fixed. Their job is done. That’s what they just said about explicitly as it can be said. And they don’t even realize that saying this is a profound indictment on what they do. They think that’s what they’re supposed to do.