Thursday, June 07, 2007

Joe Klein Memories

Ah, the good old days when we were all so civil.

That night I was at a table with Jacob Weisberg, the political scribbler for New York magazine. We were gossiping about fellow journalists, when Klein passed by. He spotted Weisberg and came to a stop. That week New York had published a piece about how a literary expert had used a computer program to pinpoint tell-tale similarities between Klein's bylined writings and "Primary Colors." Weisberg had written a sidebar noting that there were other reasons to suspect Klein. The author of the book, Weisberg reported, was knowledgeable about New York politics, a onetime Clintonphile who now felt betrayed, and a man obsessed about the subject of race. All these attributes fit Klein.

Klein was enraged. He launched into a blistering attack on Weisberg. Why hadn't New York -- where Klein once had been the political columnist -- called him, he yelled, for a comment? (A comment which, obviously, would have been a lie.) "Thanks, thanks, a lot, Jacob," he said with bitter sarcasm. "That was real nice." Klein's face was red. His eyes steely. He wouldn't let Weisberg talk. "And that bit about being obsessed about race -- I really liked that. Do you think being concerned about an important national issue is the same as being obsessed?" How could the magazine do this to him, he demanded to know, playing the wrongly accused to perfection.

Increasingly wound up, he charged Weisberg with possessing no class and making improper use of off-the-record information. Getting meaner, Klein said Weisberg was gaining a reputation in journalistic circles as an unlikeable fellow not worthy of a dinner-party invitation. (I know of no evidence of this and find Weisberg entirely likable.) When Weisberg tried to squeeze in a word, Klein shot him the look of daggers and hissed: "You don't understand. This is the very last time you and I will ever speak. The last time."

I had rarely seen such a display of unrelenting anger. Weisberg turned white. Finally, Klein huffed, "By the way, this is off-the- record. You do know what off-the-record is, Jake, don't you?" Then he stormed off. (Since I do not believe public outbursts can be placed off-the-record ex post facto, I do not feel bound by Klein's parting comment.)