Joe Klein's extreme revisionism

The journalist who, in 2003, gushed that Mission Accomplished was "the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie 'Independence Day'" tries to re-write his past.

By Glenn Greenwald
Published November 26, 2008 5:44PM (UTC)
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(updated below)

Joe Klein, this week's Time Magazine, on George Bush's legacy:

Bush has that forlorn what-the-hell-happened? expression on his face, the one that has marked his presidency at difficult times. You never want to see the President of the United States looking like that.

So I've been searching for valedictory encomiums. . . . I'd add the bracing moment of Bush with the bullhorn in the ruins of the World Trade Center, but that was neutered in my memory by his ridiculous, preening appearance in a flight suit on the deck of the aircraft carrier beneath the "Mission Accomplished" sign. The flight-suit image is one of the two defining moments of the Bush failure.

Joe Klein, Face the Nation, May 4, 2003, with Bob Schieffer -- 3 days after Bush's Mission Accomplished speech:

BOB SCHIEFFER: How does [the Democratic presidential primary debate] play off against the pictures we saw this week of President Bush landing on the aircraft -- aircraft carrier and appearing before these screaming, adoring groups of military people?  As far as I'm concerned, that was one of the great pictures of all time. And if you're a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.

JOE KLEIN: Well, that was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day. That was the first thing that came to mind for me. And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb. You compare that image, which everybody across the world saw, with this debate last night where you have nine people on a stage and it doesn't air until 11:30 at night, up against Saturday Night Live, and you see what a major, major struggle the Democrats are going to have to try and beat a popular incumbent president.

I'm glad that many people, including some journalists, seem to have learned some lessons from the Bush era now that he's almost certainly the single most unpopular President in modern American history.  People who regret their mistakes and learn from them should be welcomed and encouraged.  But a vital aspect of what happened over the last eight years is the role the media -- our leading media stars -- played in glorifying and venerating George Bush, and that can't be re-written or forgotten. 

Truly learning from one's mistakes -- as opposed to wet-finger-in-the-air abandoment of  previously revered leaders when they are revealed as failures and lose their power -- requires, at the very least, an acknowledgment of one's own role in what happened.   There have been very few mea culpas from establishment media journalists, many -- most -- of whom, to this day, think they did nothing wrong ("It was all Judy Miller!").  As bad as this absence of remorse is, it is simply intolerable to watch those who cheered on many of the worst excesses try now to pretend that they were skeptical, adversarial critics all along.  Journalists with influential platforms have responsibilities, the primary one of which is to be accountable for what they say and do.


UPDATE:  Tristam Shandy notes some other relevant highlight reels from Joe Klein.

Glenn Greenwald

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