Media Criticism

My Correspondence with Rick Perlstein: You Decide

By Benjamin Wittes
Monday, December 23, 2013, 4:13 PM

On Saturday, I posted this piece in response to a particularly slimy blog post on The Nation's web site. The post dealt with Lawfare's relationship with the New Republic and the sponsorship of our joint Security States project by Northrop Grumman. The post contained preponderantly false information---particularly about Jack---and Perlstein had not bothered to contact either Jack or me or Frank Foer (the New Republic's editor) before running it. He sent us each a note after running the piece saying he would be happy to run our responses. So I sent him one on Friday evening, as did Jack and Frank. I also tweeted at him repeatedly, since he had tweeted the original piece---and it had something of a viral life on Twitter. I heard nothing from him in response all weekend, nor did he correct the post, nor did he run our responses--as he had promised. I didn't hear from him at all until this afternoon, when he sent me a note that so flabbergasted me that I feel I can only respond by publishing our entire correspondence.

The post ran on Friday at 4:32 pm. At 5:36 pm, I received an email with no text save a link to the piece and the subject line: "Glad to publish your response."

I didn't notice the piece until the evening, but at 10:00 pm, I responded as follows (typos corrected):

My response is that this is really goofy for someone of your very considerable talents---and that it would have been worth checking with someone who knows something about this subject before writing it up, rather than after.

The Northrop sponsorship was for one month only---the month of October. Not a dime of the money from that sponsorship has been paid to Jack or anyone else for writing for Lawfare, Lawfare being a tiny non-profit that does not pay its writers. What's more, our content-sharing arrangement with the New Republic, in any event, has nothing whatsoever to do with the "Inside NSA" podcast series, which developed---as we made very clear on the site---out of dialogues Bobby Chesney has been organizing between the agency and academics.

On a more personal note, I might add that your characterization of me as "blogging on the report on the abuses of the National Security Agency . . . in terms highly favorable to the super-secretive and media-shy agency" is simply indefensible. I have written exactly one post on the subject, and it contains no evaluation of the merits of the review group findings at all, merely the political observation that the report is very awkward for the administration.

You got one thing right though. I am, in fact, not a lawyer.

Cheers,

/b

(I am, by the way, planning a series of posts this week with my evaluation of the review group's recommendation on the merits. Readers can decide for themselves whether those posts---when I have actually written them---involve "terms highly favorable" to NSA or not.)
On Saturday, I posted the response to Perlstein to which I linked above. Then radio silence until this afternoon, when I received the following:

What's your speaking fee?

Will you release the agreement---who got paid, and how much? If N-G had any oversight over content? I'm also interested if they were promised pieces on drones.
RP
Peeling myself off the floor, I wrote the following note (again, typos corrected):

Dude,

You ran a piece that contained a lot of false information both about us and about TNR. You did this without lifting a finger to check any facts in the piece before running it. When you [contacted] me after business hours on a Friday evening after having run the piece, I wrote back promptly, and you [let] the thing fester over the whole weekend without correcting any of it. Now you're asking about my speaking fees? What on earth does that have to do with it? I have never received a speaking fee from either NSA or from N-G of any size. N-G had no oversight over content with respect to Security States and was not promised pieces on drones or NSA matters either. Editorial content was the province of Lawfare and TNR alone. As to releasing the terms of the agreement, I can't imagine that would be a good idea given how fair you've been so far. How about this? Why don't you release all your speaking fee information to me---and throw in the terms of your contractual arrangements with The Nation. Then we can talk.
Cheers,
/b
I'm going to send Perlstein a link to this post with the following note:

Dear Rick--

Any further correspondence I receive from you will be added to this post---and will go unanswered---unless and until you correct the record in what you have already posted, honor your statement that you will publish our responses, and tweet a correction to the many people who have tweeted and retweeted your original piece.

/b

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