What is it with Time Magazine pundits and me at parties? It's getting so I can't go out at all anymore.
Believe me I don't look for trouble--at least in person. I skipped not only the White House Correspondents' dinner but also the Vanity Fair party at Hitchens' and the Bloomberg party. I went to dinner and movie with friends and then dropped off my friend at the Capital Style (or something) party and went back to my hotel and went to bed. The day before, at a brunch hosted by Tammy Haddad, who runs Chris Matthews' show, I had a wonderful time purposely avoiding Matthews, Howie Kurtz, Tim Russert and anyone else whose work I could remember having critiqued in the past. At the McLaughlin Group brunch Sunday morning, I also purposely avoided the host since the last time we met, nearly twenty years ago, I was writing what would end up being a 11,000 or so word profile of him for the Washington Post Magazine that dealt in some detail with many female employees who had complained of sexual harassment among other indignities.
Anyway, I was minding my own business at this brunch, standing all alone, when three people came up to talk to me. I did not recognize them but one was Ana Marie Cox and the other two were Michael Calderone and Spencer Morgan of The New York Observer. I congratulated Ana for the perception in the liberal blogosophere that she was in the process of returning from the Dark Side via Imus, but Ana was mad at me for writing about the fact that she frequently wrote about "ass-fucking" at Wonkette and wanted to talk about that. Michael wanted to know what my beef was with the reporting at the Observer and why I always referred to it as untrustworthy. I was trying to be a nice guy and so agreed to try to explain to Ana why I was critical not of her -- as I sought to explain -- but of Time. I said I didn't mind gossip -- didn't take a high-minded moral position on it -- but didn't think it appropriate that Time should employ three major columnists -- Krauthammer, Kristol (and previously Sullivan) and Klein -- who regularly lie about and abuse liberals and balance them with only Cox -- who does something quite different. (They've added Kinsley too, who is also different, but because while he is a certainly brilliant liberal pundit, he likes attacking them more than defending them, and so is not much help on this score.)
I agreed to do this on the record for the Observer because Mr. Calderone asked, and he seemed to wish to demonstrate that however I had been treated there in the past, I could rely on his professionalism in this case. So the conversation took place with Cox mostly attacking and my mostly seeking to explain what I thought and why I thought it. It was nothing I've never written before and I did not think it a big deal (in a Klein-like) fashion when it was over. In fact, I don't think I even mentioned it to anyone.
So this Gawker item appears and I have to say, before it involved me, I had no idea just how low journalistic standards were over there. And yet given the way the world works, just because it's "out there" people will assume it's true if I let it go. So here's a few things to keep in mind:
1) There was no one present from Gawker during the conversation. The account is entirely second or third hand and is written entirely without attribution.
2) Some of it -- I can't say exactly how much, is entirely made up -- I have never in my life seriously referred to John Huey as "my good friend" as I've only met the man once in my life. I'd be surprised if I called Rick Stengel my "good friend," too, though I may have done so with ironic quotes. When he comes up, I refer to him as an "old friend" because I grew up watching him play basketball and our sisters were friends and we've always had a cordial, friendly relationship. We are not "good friends," and I never wanted nor expected anything out of him professionally. (And if I had, criticizing Time so much would not be a good way to go about getting it.)
3) All of it is, purposely, I imagine, profoundly out of context. Among the many complaints Ana had about what I had said and written, one was that she was insisting that it was my responsibility to confront Rick with my arguments about Time's columnists in person. I said that while I had taken the opportunity to make the case to Huey--and yes, I named the place for accuracy--I generally tend not to burden my social relationships with arguments about their work. I had seen Rick the previous day but said nothing. I imagined he was well aware of what I had written about Time, since Huey was--so what was the point of making both of us uncomfortable by focusing on our disagreement about how he does his job? If he asked, I would tell him, but since he didn't, it's none of my business. I would stick to doing so in print, where it's my job. If I worked at Time, like Ana, I added, I would consider it part of my job, but I don't.
4) It was at this point that Ms. Cox got angry and accused me of telling her how to do her job. This was false however. I was merely saying it wasn't part of my job but that if I were paid by Time, as she was, I would consider it be part of my responsibility. To be fair, later on during the cocktail party, when Ana was talking to Frank Lunz, and I went up to him to ask him to send me a copy of his new book, she brought up the discussion and apologized for what she had said. I accepted her apology and that was that.
So let's recap. I did not want or initiate this conversation. No one from Gawker was there while it took place. The reporting is unsourced and either factually false or purposely out of context. And the very meat of the item -- such as it is -- inspired an apology from the person allegedly wronged.
Nice work if you can get it...