Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 16, 2004
POLITICS: You Will Write What I Tell You To Write

Is there any blogger out there who makes more demands of other bloggers than Mark Kleiman? I should preface this by saying that I generally don't get into flame wars and the like with other bloggers; life's too short, and I generally prefer just to bicker with a particular post and leave it at that (although the disappearance of Hesiod from the blogosphere does warm my heart). But Kleiman's tactics and rhetoric have really gotten under my skin one time too many. Kleiman's beloved rhetorical hobbyhorse is branding as many people on the Right as he can - other bloggers as well as pundits and elected officials - as bigots, liars, and crooks, often by association. He's probably the single blogger most obsessed with a tactic we all use sometimes - and properly so, in some circumstances - but should be extremely cautious about overusing, especially against fellow amateur pundits who don't have the time to cover every issue under the sun: demanding that people on the other side of the spectrum denounce this person or that activity or the other statement. And, of course, his hair-trigger overreactions even on subjects about which he knows little or nothing often winds up forcing him to back down from things he's written.

It would, of course, be unfair of me to make such sweeping assertions about Kleiman's blog without some examples. This is hardly exhaustive; we'll go in reverse chronological order here:

June 13, 2004
Kleiman rips Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds for not writing about the torture-memo issue, in response to Volokh's reasoned explanation of why he was staying out of this controversy. Kleiman:

If the attacks on the Presdient were even a little bit unfair, one would have expected that, even if Eugene decided to remain silent, one of the less weighty conservative law-bloggers could have been found to rise to the President's defense. (Glenn Reynolds, who has been silent so far this round, presumably isn't available, given his unprintable response last time the torture issue came up.)

Sometimes silence conveys more information than speech. Indeed, as Leo Strauss never tired of reminding his readers, sometimes silence is intended to convey information about which speech would be inconvenient, or information too important to be written or spoken. This may be one of those cases.

June 4, 2004
Kleiman tries to smear the entire universe of people criticizing George Soros' overwrought anti-Bush broadsides (like comparing Bush to Hitler) as nothing but disguised anti-Semitism:

Ever since the Republicans started their attempt to demonize George Soros, I've had in the back of my mind a nagging question about how much of the campaign was based on simple anti-Semitism.

Rather than ask himself whether Democrats would tear into a billionaire who was financing over-the-top attack ads on their president (Richard Mellon Scaife, anyone?), Kleiman latches on to a legitimately anti-Semitic Tony Blankley column in the Washington Times, but then uses it as a club to smear the rest of the Right while demanding that we all snap to attention; after Pejman weighed in, Kleiman wrote, "I'm still waiting for a non-Jewish conservative to agree, or a hint of complaint from the RNC or its allies"; after Drezner did the same, he insisted, "Drezner also doubts that Blankley's words reflect discredit on the other Republican Soros-bashers. I'm with Kevin Drum on this one: yes they do, unless the other Republican Soros-bashers distance themselves from their colleague." Frankly, I doubt that I've ever read a Tony Blankley column in my life, but there you have it: I'm a bigot because I didn't denounce it the way Mark Kleiman demands. And if you've criticized Soros, even if you've never read anything Blankley has ever written, so are you.

May 20, 2004
Following the raid on Ahmed Chalabi's headquarters: "I'm waiting with bated breath for the reaction from the neocons and the warbloggers."

May 06, 2004
Kleiman notes reports that the President was upset about not being told sooner by Don Rumsfeld about the photos from Abu Ghraib, and asks (linking to Instapundit), "I wonder what all the warbloggers who have been dumping on John Kerry for Kerry's perfectly sensible, and rather restrained, criticism of the Pentagon's handling of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal think about this?"

April 28, 2004
In a post helpfully entitled, "Why does the right wing hate America so much," Kleiman writes about Newt Gingrich's new what-if book about Lee winning at Gettysburg. Without having read the book, Kleiman denounces it as "[o]penly pandering to wish-fulfillment dreams about the defeat of the armed forces of the United States by the forces of a rebellion mounted in defense of slavery" and argues that "[t]hat Gingrich can get away with it says something ugly about his section, and his party, and the tame press." Under a hail of criticism (see this Stuart Buck item for a sample), Kleiman is compelled to retract his criticism: "My apologies to Gingrich for questioning his patriotism and to my readers for wasting their time."

April 15, 2004
Kleiman notes a contradiction between statements by Pat Roberts and Bill Frist regarding Richard Clarke's testimony, and makes this demand:

Frist, standing behind his Congressional immunity, accused Clarke of the crime of perjury.

That charge was repeated both in the mass media and by many bloggers.

Everyone who mentioned that charge now has an obligation to state clearly that it was false: not in an update to a now-dead post, but in a story or post as prominent as the one that carried the original charge.

April 06, 2004
Kleiman throws around all sorts of attacks on conservatives for calling Ted Kennedy on his speech calling Iraq "George Bush's Vietnam," (even sneering that Glenn Reynolds "seems to get most of his exercise jumping to conclusions"), but ultimately has to admit that Kennedy's other pronouncements involved "unambiguously defeatist language" associating Iraq with the idea of a quagmire. If Kleiman had not been laboring so hard to avoid the obvious popular association of Vietnam with quagmire, he would never have found himself so far out on that rhetorical limb.

April 03, 2004
Proving he can be just as overwrought in attacking his allies as his enemies, Kleiman responded to the infamous Kos controversy by comparing Kos to Ann Coulter:

Anyone who now quotes her, links to her approvingly, or supports her financially is dirtying himself: Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas.

Kos has now, it seems to me, put himself in the same category. And he needs to think, quickly and accurately, about whether to take himself out of it, or remain there more or less permanently.

Until and unless Kos comes to his senses, recognizes what he said, and takes it back with a full and unreserved apology, it seems to me that no office-seeker in his right mind can continue to advertise on his blog.

As soon as someone on the Left criticized Kos, Kleiman reverts to form ("The contrast with the right's silence about Coulter and Bunning is pretty stark, wouldn't you say?"), although he quickly has to retract both that and his "Fredo, you're nothing to me now" speech to Kos.

March 31, 2004
Kleiman seeks to smear anyone who has raised any questions about Richard Clarke's credibility:

Now that the White House is (behind its usual shield of anonymity, of course) gay-baiting Richard Clarke, those who have been criticizing him personally, as opposed to criticizing his foreign policy views (Glenn Reynolds, for example, or Mickey Kaus, as opposed to Dan Drezner) have, it seems to me, three choices:

1. Say that they approve of the attack, and that Clarke's sexual orientation is a legitimate reason to doubt his veracity or his acuity.

2. Say that they don't think that the attack is really relevant, but that any tactic is legitimate if it weakens a critic of the President.

3. Claim that Wolf Blitzer was making it up, and explain why he would.

4. Denounce the attack in strong terms.

can't really see a fifth option. This is truly the case where silence gives consent. Anyone who has been attacking Clarke personally has been, in effect, playing on the White House team, and has an ethical obligaton to call the foul.

I actually fell for the trap and criticized this, although I never did see any evidence that "gay-baiting" was coming from anyone but a couple of left-wing sources who took CNN's later retraction as evidence that what was retracted must have been true.

January 16, 2004
Kleiman paraphrases a Michael Ledeen column without linking to it, then asks, "where are the warbloggers?"

December 27, 2003
Kleiman on Glenn Reynolds discussing what would happen if the U.S. and Israel supported anti-EU terrorists the way the EU supports Arafat: "I'm hoping that some of his warblogger friends will take this occasion to distance themselves from what seems to be a truly evil idea."

December 24, 2003
The demands keep coming, even on Christmas Eve - Kleiman links to a WaPo profile of Anthony Zinni and writes, "Note to the warbloggers: Go ahead. Fisk this."

November 15, 2003
Kleiman issues a bunch of questions for Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds and Tom Maguire about Wesley Clark's various charges based on unnamed sources, declaring, "remember Churchill's maxim that an occastional meal of one's own words is an important part of a balanced diet."

October 14, 2003
In a post entitled "Why are the orcs flying the Stars and Stripes," Kleiman cites a report about American troops cutting down trees to punish local farmers in Iraq and announces:

The warbloggers, eager to climb all over anything they consider biased coverage, have been silent, which seems to be their standard policy with respect to any sort of news that can't be seen without removing their blinders.

October 06, 2003
Kleiman accuses the Bush White House of "an unspeakably sleazy trick that makes sense only as part of a cover-up" in having documents reviewed by the White House Counsel's office before turning them over to investigators in the Valerie Plame case. As I explained at the time, this demonstrated Kleiman's complete misunderstanding of how white collar criminal cases, and lawyers' work generally, operate. Kleiman subsequently tried to claim that he wasn't accusing the White House of anything improper.

September 29, 2003
Kleiman complains about a "virtual wall of silence in Right Blogistan about the Plame affair," then has to correct himself by referring back to prior posts by Glenn Reynolds, NRO and Tom Maguire, yet finds the discussion insufficient: "I repeat: a wall of silence, from a group of bloggers who purport to be defenders of national security and scourges of media misconduct."

July 13, 2003
Kleiman links to some stories on the whole "Yellowcake" flapdoodle and declares:

How long are the warbloggers going to be able to live in a parallel universe where this isn't happening? Not much longer, I'd guess.

March 20, 2003
Kleiman quotes a Washington Times story that cites an indeterminate number of unnamed sources discussing the resignation of Rand Beers (now one of John Kerry's foreign policy advisers), and demands a response:

I'd like to hear from the warbloggers about this. Are they surprised by what the Washington Times reports as the near-consensus of official intelligence and counter-terrorism experts on this point? If they are, does it make them angry to have been misled? If they aren't, does it maket them uncomfortable to have assisted in misleading others? They're perfectly entitled to disagre[e] with the experts, of course, but it seems to me that when a non-expert disagrees with experts, or when an expert disagrees with the consensus in the field, that person has an obligation to report this his views are non-standard ones.

March 18, 2003
Kleiman writes to Salam Pax and complains, as if this proves something, that "none of the warbloggers bothered to respond, either to me or to Salam's original "Rant.""

October 22, 2002

Kleiman on Glenn Reynolds and Little Green Footballs:

[I]n light of Glenn Reynold's forthright denunciation of the gay-baiting of Andrew Sullivan, I wonder how he feels about LGF's reference to a Jewish apologist for al-Fatah as "Yassir Arafat's boyfriend"? Do I sniff a double standard?

* * * * *

Again, I don't think it's necessarily improper to argue from silences or pose questions to the other side; I've done it myself, and plenty of others have as well. But the constant barrage of "respond to this!" and "if they don't denounce that it proves they're a bunch of bigots!," combined with Kleiman's accusatory tone and willingness to leap to the worst possible conclusions on the thinnest possible evidence, makes his site a serious chore to read. Which is a shame; he's obviously a smart guy, and he sometimes has interesting things to say that don't fit with liberal orthodoxy, like his recent post touting nuclear energy. He just goes to this particular well way, way too often.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 7:00 AM | Politics 2004 | Comments (14) | TrackBack (4)

He sounds like a spoiled child..."Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! Look what I can do!"

Posted by: mhking at June 16, 2004 9:34 AM

He sounds like a spoiled child..."Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! Look what I can do!"

Posted by: mhking at June 16, 2004 9:45 AM

Criticizing journalists and mass-media outlets, including criticizing them for ignoring important stories, is one of the legitimate functions of blogging. Glenn Reynolds, for example, makes a specialty of it.

Blogging is now an important element of journalism.

Therefore, it seems to me that criticizing other bloggers for ignoring important stories is a legitimate form of blogging. And I stand by my assertion that any decent journalist, whether professional or amateur, who repeats a charge that later turns out to be false has an absolute obligation to inform his readers of its falsity, both out of respect for them and out of respect for the victim of the false charge.

The only "flaming" I see is in the post above.

Note that the Crank's attempt to sow ill will between me and Glenn Reynolds, and between me and Eugene Volokh, has failed. In this case my criticism was not of them, as I made clear, but of George Walker Bush, and I was using the failure of his usual friends to defend him as evidence that his actions were indefensible. As I noted, Glenn has been perfectly clear on the torture issue: he's against it. And he recently linked approvingly to one of my posts on the subject, and added a still stronger version of the argument.

My point stands: No one, inlcuding his usual friends, seems willing to defend Mr. Bush's words and actions concerning torture.

Posted by: Mark Kleiman at June 16, 2004 1:10 PM

Hmm. Seems the President has said that torture isn't US policy, and those that have engaged in it will be punished.

Which part of that would you care to have 'defended'?

And as Mr Kleiman, you appear to be unhappy with this position, exactly what sort of torture are you advocating?

Posted by: Wind Rider at June 16, 2004 1:45 PM

My favorite is this: "Kleiman on Glenn Reynolds discussing what would happen if the U.S. and Israel supported anti-EU terrorists the way the EU supports Arafat: "I'm hoping that some of his warblogger friends will take this occasion to distance themselves from what seems to be a truly evil idea."

And of course he is right, it would be truly evil to support anti-EU terrorists the way that the EU supposts anti-Israel terrorists. And Reynolds acknowledges that because he is arguing AGAINST THE SUPPORT OF ARAFAT. Sheesh.

And other than those posts I really like his blog.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at June 16, 2004 3:04 PM

"Note that the Crank's attempt to sow ill will between me and Glenn Reynolds, and between me and Eugene Volokh, has failed."

I don't know where the charge of trying to sow ill will comes from, or how it can be adjudged a failure. I doubt Reynolds will ever even see this post.

Posted by: The Crank at June 16, 2004 3:52 PM

The charge of attempting to sow ill will comes from
the Crank's asserting that I was criticizing Reynolds and Volokh in a column in a post in which I was not criticizing them, but instead pointing out that they were conspicuously silent when the President was under attack, suggesting that even his supporters find it hard to come up with any defense of his words and actions.

As to Wind Rider, I suggest that he read the memos, and parse the President's comments carefully. The memos argue that lots of things that look like torture from the outside, and feel like torture to the victim, aren't really "torture" legally. And they claim that anything the President orders in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief is automatically lawful. Confronted with this, the President said that it wasn't our policy to do anything unlawful.

Posted by: Mark Kleiman at June 16, 2004 9:59 PM

Not criticizing them?! That's like saying that Benson was not criticizing Quayle, he was just pointing out that Quayle lacked some of the qualities of JFK. If you are going to go after someone, at least have the backbone to admit it.

Posted by: WD at June 17, 2004 8:52 AM

There are, of course, a few more examples here than just the torture item. Actually, it was the Blankley thing that pushed me to write this post.

Posted by: The Crank at June 17, 2004 9:06 AM

This seems like piling on, since Mr. Kleiman eventually admitted that his post about the Newt Gingrich "Lee wins at Gettysburg" book was a waste of time, but why did Winston Churchill hate America so much?

In case that link fails, it is to a 1930 speculative history article by Winston Churchill titled (and you need to follow the backspin) "IF LEE HAD NOT WON THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG"."

His gist - Lee wins at Gettysburg; to secure British support, Lee frees the slaves, and Britain imposes a peace on both sides, which remain armed and distrustful. Around 1900, however, the Brits negotiate an Alliance of English Speaking Peoples which (given the military might in North America) is too great a power to be challenged. Hence, no WWI, and no Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. One can only guess, from a 1930 perspective, that WWII would also have been avoided.

On the main point, I'll accept that criticizing media coverage is fair game, especially on buried stories like UNSCAM. From that it might follow that criticizing other bloggers for their story selection is appropriate, although I personally don't have as many man-hours in the day as the NY Times, and don't expect the inexhaustible Glenn Reynolds does either.

However, the notion that the torture story is in some way undercovered is absurd. If Mr. Kleiman is concerned that some poor sap is unaware of this story because his only news source is Glenn R, well, that's ridiculous.

Or, if he is troubled that conservatives don't criticize Bush at every opportunity, well, I see plenty of liberals who don't criticize Kerry at every opportunity. This is a target rich environment on both sides.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at June 17, 2004 10:23 AM

****And I stand by my assertion that any decent journalist, whether professional or amateur, who repeats a charge that later turns out to be false has an absolute obligation to inform his readers of its falsity, both out of respect for them and out of respect for the victim of the false charge.***

Did you ever correct the incorrect story about Disney "censoring" Michael Moore's movie, when his own agent later admitted that he knew last year they wouldn't distribute it? Last I saw, you were still requesting people to contact Disney & complain.

You were duped.

Posted by: Ricky at June 17, 2004 1:11 PM

FWIW, Mark Kleiman seems to have committed an egregious breach of Godwin's Law in a post today. Commenting on the Michael Barone piece about Bush, Lincoln, McClellan, and changing horses in midstream, Kleiman says this:

"Barone doesn't attend to what seems to me a more compelling analogy. If Hitler had been killed or overthrown anytime between the fall of France in June of 1940 and the invasion of Russia a year later -- leaving the conduct of the German side of World War II and its associated diplomacy to the highly competent professionals of the German armed forces and diplomatic corps -- Germany would very probably have won."

Well. Bush is Hitler and it would be better if we had killed or overthrown him.

One problem with the analogy is that Bush has already invaded Russia - the Dem heroes who might have spoken up prior to the war resolution in Oct 2002 were sadly lacking (Oh, but there was an election frightening them).

Most oddly, however, Mr. Kleiman took the position with Newt Gingrich's speculative fiction that imagination = advocacy. Why is Kleiman fantasizing about a (Hitler free) German rule over Europe?

Posted by: Tom Maguire at June 17, 2004 10:22 PM

The link.

Well, if you follow that analogy to its logical conclusion, a victory for the Kerry campaign is equivalent to a Nazi conquest of Europe!

That's the funny thing about analogies . . .

Posted by: The Crank at June 17, 2004 10:34 PM

The Clarke/gay thing was a really neat trick to show a "smear" that absolutely no one was pushing, and now all you people on the right better condemn it! Amazing... There was also a whisper campaign against Nader in 2000, where was the left on that?

Posted by: HH at June 18, 2004 1:21 AM
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