When pundits attack: Choice words by Joe Klein, Jamie Kirchick end panel discussion
Now that's a panel discussion! A debate between Time's Joe Klein and New Republic's Jamie Kirchick spilled off the dais Tuesday into a hallway confrontation where Klein called the younger pundit a "dishonest [expletive]" and "[expletiving] propagandist."
Klein told us Wednesday that he's not sure he uttered the "propagandist" bit -- reported by a few witnesses -- but stands by the "dishonest" part.
"Absolutely. He's a [expletive]," said Klein, 62. "He's 25 years old, and he's one of those people who has opinions but no facts or experience."
Things started tense at the early a.m. "Pro-Israel Lobby and the Media" workshop at the Jewish Federations of North America's General Assembly. The two had clashed before: In an April blog post, Klein called Kirchick's critique of President Obama's diplomacy "overwhelmingly limited"; in a May op-ed, Kirchick called Klein a "juvenile bully" for his criticism of neocons.
People say things heated up on the panel when Klein said he was dismayed that John McCain was swayed by Jewish neocons to support an aggressive stance toward Iran. This led to Kirchick citing McCain's Vietnam War experience and Klein retorting that McCain just "fought from the air." Kirchick claimed Klein was denigrating McCain's hard POW years. Klein said he honored the senator's service, but it doesn't relate to troop experiences today.
Lively! Moderator Ron Kampeas, a journalist with Jewish news agency JTA, told us, "We had people walking out later saying, 'This is the best panel!' "
As the crowd filtered out into the hallway of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel, Klein caught up with Kirchick and warned him not to misrepresent what he said. Cue the expletives.
Klein later told us Kirchick "has distorted the stuff I've been writing. He says I accuse Jewish neoconservatives of being traitors, which is a word I've never used. I've said, at times they put the interests of Israel above the interests of the U.S."
He added that Kirchick interrupted him throughout the panel and ignored the nuance of his arguments. "I've written constantly of the incredible service [McCain] gave his country. But as soon as I said, 'He fought from the air,' [Kirchick] started shouting at me. ... This is a point that's been made by many of McCain's friends, but I know his headline will be 'Joe Klein says John McCain only fought from the air.' "
Reached for comment, Kirchick said McCain "doesn't need lessons in the horrors of war from the likes of Joe Klein. One wishes he went back to being Anonymous" (as in 1996's "Primary Colors," which Klein wrote anonymously -- get it?).
Klein chalks up the spat to "the desperation of a dying industry. People need to make a splash." An old-pundit vs. new-pundit thing? Said Klein: "When I was Kirchick's age, I was every bit as unnuanced about the war in Vietnam as he is now about this war. He says I patronized him. Guilty as charged!"
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