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When pundits attack: Choice words by Joe Klein, Jamie Kirchick end panel discussion

Jamie Kirchick, left, and Joe Klein. (Courtesy Kirchick; Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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!"

By The Reliable Source  |  November 11, 2009; 4:30 PM ET
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Is it just me, or does Kirchick look like the kid from The Incredibles who got blown off by Mr. Incredible and grew up to become his arch nemesis?

Posted by: fletch42 | November 11, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Klein was in the tank for McCain, so he has a fair amount of credibility when someone says he is unfairly attacking McCain.

Part of it is the youth of this other kid. Part of it is the hubris of thinking you know everything at age 25.

And part of it is probably he's just a prick.

Posted by: Hillman1 | November 11, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Few people have probably ever heard of Kitchick, but he got his name in the paper, courtesy of this bit. Mission accomlished.

Posted by: Sutter | November 11, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

This is not your typical ideological feud (as in Olbermann O'Reilly), as neither one of them is really easy to peg.

On one hand you have a veteran liberal Jewish columnist who writes for liberal publications, was in the tank for McCain, admired George W. Bush personally and has openly supported Obama's foreign policy.

On the other hand you have a gay 25-year-old neoconservative Jewish kid who is associate editor for a socially liberal magazine and supports an interventionist foreign policy.

Very ironical.

Posted by: RambleOn | November 11, 2009 6:49 PM | Report abuse

Klein may be a tool, but just the snide way that Kirchick guy does his hair makes me want to punch him in the face. The fact he is a propagandist for Marty Peretz suggests to me he probably deserves a good punch in the face. If this little sniveller is so big on military service, why isn't he over in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Posted by: flounder2 | November 11, 2009 9:51 PM | Report abuse

Klein brought himself down to Kirchick's level, which is of course where Klein belongs.

Posted by: radbwana | November 12, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

While I will easily side with Klein in this spat over "Syndrome" from the Incredibles (h/t above for the suggestion),

Why are pundits still fighting about the merits of John McCain's military service? I guess this is good new for the McCain campaign.

McCain is a right wing Republican senator who is not particularly liked by his peers, and is not in the leadership of his party. Why his views are still taken as "influential" by the pundit class is an enduring, and annoying mystery. John McCain represents...John McCain.

You certainly never saw this much attention to what John Kerry thought after the 2004 election, and he didn't get the pasting that McCain recieved.

Posted by: Scientician | November 12, 2009 8:01 AM | Report abuse

"When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
"When your only tool is a gun, everything looks like a target."
Why doesn't anyone ever consider the possibility that extensive wartime experience might actually be HARMFUL to one's judgment? Instead of debating whether McCain's service qualifies him to judge foreign policy, how about noticing that his foreign policy chops just happen to be atrocious anyway.

Posted by: PhD9 | November 12, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

What alternative universe do these posters occupy? It should be abundantly clear by now that Klein is a nasty, unsufferable jerk. This article claims that "Kirchick called Klein a 'juvenile bully' for his criticism of neocons," yet Kirchick was actually calling out Klein for his juvenile (and despicable) criticism and dismissal of Charles Krauthammer for his handicap. As for Klein's accusation that Kirchick "... 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." Well now, that's quite a difference without distinction, isn't it? Or is it more of Mr. Klein's inestimable "nuance" when he claims (repeatedly) that American Jews attempt to use their influence in America for the benefit of Israel, to the detriment of America? To committed (and he really should be) ideologues like Joe Klein, ANY disagreement with their supreme wisdom is cause for condemnation, and the concept of principled opposition is simply alien. The funniest part of the article however, was Klein calling the spat the result if "the desperation of a dying industry." Isn't that a perfect description of the media dinosaurs (Time magazine prominant among them) that Klein works for?

Posted by: njoriole | November 12, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse


"Jews attempt to use their influence in America for the benefit of Israel, to the detriment of America?"

What part of this undeniably true statement do you disagree with? Supporting the continued establishment and growth of settlements in the occupied territories is the main obstacle to getting peace talks started. It violates longstanding US policy in the area. Israel's occupation and brutalization of the Palestinian people is not in US foreign policy interests, period. Do you dispute this? Americans that support the occupation of Palestine are supporting right wing Israeli policies that are against stated US policy.

Posted by: srw3 | November 12, 2009 12:48 PM | Report abuse


I have still not stopped laughing! That smirk is just so eminently punchable.

Posted by: trblmkr1 | November 12, 2009 1:55 PM | Report abuse

TNR: Marty Peretz and Jamie Kirchik: two twits who are always on one note when it comes to Israel. Much of Kirchik's writings lack originality; and some of it is propaganda ( a la Peretz ).

Posted by: bitterpill8 | November 12, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

srw3: Your entire reply is filled with tired - and patently false - anti-Israel propaganda tropes. For example, the "growth of settlements in the occupied territories is the main obstacle to getting peace talks started." Oh really? Then why was there terrorism against the Jews before there WERE any so-called settlements? Recall (or learn here for the first time, as the case may be), the Israelis didn't occupy ANY of the West Bank or Gaza between 1948 and 1967. Those territories (areas that had never been part of an actual country, since the rejectionist Arabs refused the UN partition plan) were instead occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively. In fact, the original PLO charter, when it spoke of "liberating occupied lands" specifically excluded the West Bank and Gaza; they had no intention of "liberating those territories from their fellow Arab dictators (or, at least they claimed so). Recall also (or, again learn something new) that approximately 80% of "Palestine" is already a sovereign country: it's called Jordan (formerly Trans-Jordan). Israel proper represents no more than +/-10% of the British Mandate of Palestine. The fact that the Arabs (at least, those with the guns) have never accepted the notion of the Jews living among the Ummah, let along having their own country, is the one and ONLY reason why there has never been a good chance for peace in that benighted region of the world. To ignore the history of Arab rejectionism (recall the infamous "Three No's" of the Arab League) is to paint yourself as nothing more than an ignorant lap-dog of a fascist world view.

Posted by: njoriole | November 12, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Sing it, njoriole!

Posted by: samthaham | November 14, 2009 11:04 AM | Report abuse

The criticisms of Kirchick are all ad hominem while the critques of Klein tend to be content-related. Apparently, Kirchick's critiques can't make an honest comment.
For those of you who think along with Klein that Kirchick is wrong about Iran, then I presume you are willing to live with a nuclear Iran. Kirchick, obviously, is not. Neither am I.
I do not believe it is reasonable to describe Kirchic's position, which I share, as putting Israel's interests above America's. I, personally, will state that if you are an American who is would rather live with a nuclear Iran than stop that event by use of force as needed, then it is you who is treacherous to America's existential interests.

Posted by: jlrjfi | November 14, 2009 10:46 PM | Report abuse

Klein wrote last week:

***There are today several odious attempts by Jewish extremists, like this one by Martin Peretz and this one by La Pasionaria of the Neocons, to argue that the massacre perpetrated by Nidal Hasan was somehow a direct consequence of his Islamic beliefs as opposed to a direct consequence of his insanity***

[ ]

...Marty Peretz and Jennifer Rubin have yet to support Jewish terrorism or the creation of a neo-Sanhedrin as far as I know...

Putting questions of Kirchick's intellectual virtues and vices aside, this is an antisemitic comment by Klein, plain and simple.

That's not to say that Klein himself is antisemitic, just that he has said something bigoted, and encouraging to the left half of the spectrum of antisemites out there.

Apparently, Joe Klein thinks he can play the provocateur anyway he wants and not be guilty of bigoted speech, because he knows he has no problem with his fellow Jews ... unless they are Marty Peretz, who doesn't know the right way to be Jewish or be a Democrat, in Klein's opinion.

Posted by: AdamMetc | November 17, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

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