Anatomy of a Washington ‘Catfight’

Yesterday, Gawker reported on what it called a “catfight” between Nation columnist Eric Alterman and Time.com’s Washington editor, Ana Marie Cox, setting the scene at television host John McLaughlin’s brunch the day after the White House Correspondents’ dinner.

As is his wont, Mr. Alterman fired back via the Huffington Post calling out Gawker on not having had anyone there to see the argument between the two.

He mentioned that we were recording, which is a little embarrassing. But since the cat’s out of the bag, we thought that for that margin of the population that has a stake in this “catfight” we’d lay out almost the whole argument as it appeared on our recorder. (The conversation was fun, digressive and at times rounded back on itself, so we have made a couple of insignificant cuts for readability. we trust either or both of them will let us know if we've altered the context.)

And here’s a quick key for the non-media obsessed:

· Rick Stengel is the current editor of Time

· John Huey is Time Inc.’s editor-in-chief

· Jim Kelly is Time Inc.’s managing editor and the former managing editor of Time

· Walter Issacson is a former Time managing editor

· Michael Kinsley is currently a columnist at Time

· Charles Krauthammer, Joe Klein and William Kristol are all columnists at Time

· Norman Pearlstine is a former editor-in-chief of Time Inc., and former managing editor of the Wall Street Journal

· Ana Marie Cox is the former editor of Wonkette, a sister site to Gawker which picked up Gawker’s coverage of the “catfight.” Only in Washington are catfights this wonky.)

ERIC ALTERMAN: I’m not critical of you, particularly. You do what it is you do. My view of my role in the world right now is that I defend liberals and liberalism from abuse in the mainstream media. I am very critical of my friend Rick Stengel. And as I was of my friend Jim Kelly. Less so of Walter. Less of a problem with Walter. That liberalism is not represented among Time columnists. And in fact, not only is liberalism not represented, but three of those columnists are obsessed with abusing liberals. I thought that—when I would say this, at least before they hired Kinsley, one has to say the caveat that, ‘Well, Ana is a liberal.’ And my view is that someone who writes the way you do, or did, anyway—I’m speaking about your previous work, “all about ass-fucking”—is not a fair match for the way that people perceive Charles Krauthammer and Joe Klein and William Kristol.

ANA MARIE COX: You’re right. That is very true.

ERIC ALTERMAN: That’s all—

ANA MARIE COX: That is very true. I am not a fair match for them, as it were. But also. Anyway, go ahead.

ERIC ALTERMAN: That’s all I have to say. I enjoy Gawker. I don’t read Wonkette as much because I live in New York. I enjoy it. I don’t have like a moral problem with gossip. I like gossip. But I think that Time is ill-serving liberals, and its liberal readership, and its responsibility to represent the debate.

ANA MARIE COX: Bu
t what about the actual content of the magazine, like “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy,” “Haditha,” “Where The Right Went Wrong”? All the cover stories that we’ve done that have been incredibly critical?

ERIC ALTERMAN: The point I made to John Huey at Walter’s party for—at Jim’s party for Walter …

ANA MARIE COX: I’m just reiterating. The point you made to John Huey at Walter’s party for Jim …

ERIC ALTERMAN: No, Jim’s party for Walter.

ANA MARIE COX: Jim’s party for Walter. The point you were making to John Huey at Jim’s party for Walter.

ERIC ALTERMAN: It’s very ironic that after Pearlstine left Time, Time appeared to morph into a weekly version of the Wall Street Journal—which is the single best reported newspaper in America, but has absolutely insane columnists.

ANA MARIE COX: But the—

ERIC ALTERMANS: So the things you say are absolutely right. The reporting in Time is not what I’m criticizing.

ANA MARIE COX: “Broken Army”?

[snip!]

ERIC ALTERMAN: We’re not disagreeing. I just see no reason why Time can’t find an aggressive liberal columnist, a columnist who will defend liberals. And why Time is so enamored of three columnists who abuse liberals in an indefensible fashion. I mean, the things that Klein and Kristol and Krauthammer write, say, about Al Gore, are absolutely indefensible—morally, intellectually, and politically.

THE OBSERVER: What about Beinart writing in Time?

ANA MARIE COX: Yeah, Beinart’s writing. Kinsley’s writing.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Beinart’s a neocon on foreign policy and a liberal domestically.

ANA MARIE COX: Well, he’s actually come back on the neocon side—backed away from it I mean.

ERIC ALTERMAN: A bit. But—

ANA MARIE COX: I think he would also be very offended by that.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I don’t think so. I think he would say he was certainly a neocon on foreign policy.

ANA MARIE COX: But I think he would currently be offended by that.

[snip!]

ANA MARIE COX: I think to privilege the opinion writing in Time is to actually…. Opinion journalism is cheap, and it should be cheap. It should be not counted as highly as the reporting.

ERIC ALTERMAN: We disagree on this. Deeply.

ANA MARIE COX: Really?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Yeah.

ANA MARIE COX: I think the reporting, that’s what we should privilege. That’s what we should say is the most important thing in any magazine.

ERIC ALTERMAN: In a better world. But in our world, the—

ANA MARIE COX: You think the cover doesn’t matter as much as Krauthammer?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Well the cover changes from week to week. Krauthammer’s always there.

ANA MARIE COX: But the cover has been pretty consistently critical. We’ve had really solid critical reporting on Iraq, on the administration.

ERIC ALTERMAN: If you read what I’ve read about Time, I’ve made that point every single time. Because I’m friends with Rick, and I want—

ANA MARIE COX: Why is there? There’s like 800 words in the magazine every week.

[snip!]

ERIC ALTERMAN: I don’t look for trouble. Rick knows what I think, and I want to stay friendly with Rick, so I don’t put him on the spot. If he wanted to debate it with me, I’d be happy to.

ANA MARIE COX: I’m sure that he would talk to you about it at a party. If he was here, he’d love to talk about it.

ERIC ALTERMAN: I don’t want to put him on the spot.

ANA MARIE COX: Why wouldn’t you? In your role as a journalist? Why wouldn’t you want to put him on the spot?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Because I like to separate my role as a journalist from my role as a friendly human being.

ANA MARIE COX: Obviously, I don’t have that problem. [Laughter] I think actually these are interesting debates to have, and I would have them with my friends. So why not?

ERIC ALTERMAN: My view is an [unclear word] indictment of the way Rick is doing his job.

ANA MARIE COX: Rick and I have actually had, you know now, public discussions about why we haven’t covered—

ERIC ALTERMAN: We actually talked about that yesterday, Rick and I did.

ANA MARIE COX: About why we haven’t had the D.O.J. scandal in the magazine. And he’s wrong, and he knows that I think he’s wrong.

ERIC ALTERMAN: That’s your job. You’re paid by Time to—

ANA MARIE COX: Actually, I would love to hear my job description from you. Yes, what is my job at Time?

ERIC ALTERMAN: Why are you being so hostile to me?

ANA MARIE COX: I’m not being hostile, am I?

[snip!]

ERIC ALTERMAN: If Time were paying me, I would feel a responsibil
ity to the institution to try and improve it. Then I might talk to Rick about it. But Time is not paying me, so my only job is to say what I think is the truth. And that’s what I do.

ANA MARIE COX: Rather than engage with someone that you have a relationship with?

ERIC ALTERMAN: He knows what I think. I wrote a column for The Nation called “Time Is on Their Side.” Rick read it. I made my point.

ANA MARIE COX: And you talked to him yesterday.

ERIC ALTERMAN: About you.

THE END