Sunday, February 25, 2007

Mencken, Kalb, and Me

OK. I admit that I am a little slow on the uptake. I was listening to the car radio over lunch the other day. One talk radio host asked another host how he dealt with the critics. The quote went something like "...or else you could do as H.L. Mencken did and simply write back, 'You may be right.'"

Bells went off. Didn't a well-known journalist say that to me once? I searched my e-mail to no avail. Then I searched SwanBlog and found this post:

Here is my correspondence with Kalb:

From: Peter A Swanson
To: marvinkalb@XXXXXXXXXXXX
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2005 11:51 PM
Subject: Journalism and Morals

Dear Mr. Kalb:

I have been following your letters about the 60 Minutes scandal on the Powerline weblog.

I am glad that you now acknowledge that the documents are clear. Your first e-mail to Charles Thomas was snarky and dismissive on this point.

I am more concerned about your response to John Hinderaker. You write, "[W]ell, you go your way, I'll go with the young men I covered who went to Vietnam for their country. We can disagree." This statement suggests that you can support President Bush or the men who served in Vietnam, but not both. Are those the only two options? What does that say to people who oppose the Iraq war, but "support the troops."

Your statement conveniently shifts from media criticism, the facts of which support Hinderaker, to political commentary. You have made a moral judgment about President Bush, but who cares? Some voters agreed with you last November. More did not. That you disagree with the voters should not figure into your assessment of the 60 Minutes story, which was the reason for your interview with Dan Rather and the subsequent e-mail exchange. In fact, your strong feelings about President Bush's military record may have affected your approach to the Rather interview.

George W. Bush had been elected to two terms as governor and had served as president for over three years when the 60 Minutes story aired. If it were just about the fact that he didn't serve in Vietnam when others did, that was old news. I remember the younger Bush being interviewed on the floor of the Republican convention in 1988 about the Dan Quayle National Guard controversy. Bush mentioned that he had also served in the National Guard. So your particular gripe about the President was not exactly breaking news in September 2004. It was, however, just in time to stop the post-convention bounce and to counter the Swift Boat ads.

Speaking of the Swift Boat Veterans, are you including them when you say [you] will go with those who "went to Vietnam for their country"?

In every election since 1992, the candidate with the less impressive military record won the presidency. The elections in 1972 and 1980 are notable in this regard, too. Senator Bob Dole is probably wondering where your support was during his campaigns.

Dan Rather failed. You also failed in your critique of his journalism. There are so many lessons an experienced journalist like yourself could take from this. Too bad your dislike of President Bush got in the way.


Peter A. Swanson

From: marvinkalb@XXXXXXXXX
To: lawdog@XXXXXXXXX
Sent: Wednesday, October 05, 2005 12:21 PM
Subject: Re: Journalism and Morals

Dear Mr. Swanson:
You may be right.
Marvin Kalb

There you have it. I changed his mind. He was not just brushing me off in an arrogant way that does not call for a response. He really is open minded. His next interview will be free from the errors that plagued his Rather interview. I look forward to the new and improved Marvin Kalb.

In my own defense, I did figure out right away that Kalb was jerking my chain. Before blogs, that would have been the end of it. This post from Leisure Guy talks about the change that the Internet has brought to situations like this.

Other than that, I may be culturally ignorant, but I also say, "Marvin, you're no H.L. Mencken."



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