Accuracy in Media

Several months ago a left-wing journalist named Eric Alterman called in to the C-SPAN television network to try to embarrass a guest on the program. Alterman, a writer for the Nation magazine, berated conservative commentator Bob Novak for citing evidence that veteran leftist journalist I.F. Stone was a Soviet KGB agent. Alterman claimed Novak had smeared a great American.

The truth is that a document released by the National Security Agency in 1996 demonstrates that Stone was a paid KGB agent. The document was a 1944 decoded cable from the Soviet espionage apparatus to its headquarters in Moscow. It described a secret relationship between Stone and the KGB that involved Stone giving the Soviets information in exchange for money. This came on the heels of FBI reports, released to Accuracy in Media through a Freedom of Information Act request, about Stone’s reported one-time membership in the Communist Party. A former high-ranking KGB officer had confirmed that the Soviets considered Stone their friend for many years. Stone apparently took Soviet money until 1968 when the Soviets brutally invaded Czechoslovakia.

The truth is difficult for people like Alterman to accept because they put Stone on a pedestal, viewing him as an American dissident, not a Communist. Alterman even says he considered Stone a “friend.” So when Alterman returned to the C-SPAN network to make another appearance, this time as a guest, he once again took up Stone’s cause, insisting that Novak “can’t prove” the charge against him because it is “not true.” Novak, who wasn’t on the show to defend himself, was called a “scoundrel” by Alterman, who also criticized host Brian Lamb for allowing Internet gossip columnist Matt Drudge to appear on C-SPAN. Alterman insisted that Drudge, like Novak, was in the business of spreading unverified stories.

The problem for Alterman isn’t just his poor command of the facts in the Stone case, but his failure to grasp what he himself is saying on the air. At one point during the show, Alterman launched an offensive against Republicans, claiming they “want to destroy” public schools. He complained that the Congress had not appropriated several billion dollars for school repairs and that in one case “beams were falling on the kids and children have been killed.”

When a caller challenged him, Alterman backed away, saying, “I didn’t say they were killed. I said they were threatened.” When the caller noted that Alterman had said that children were killed, Alterman said, “I don’t think that if we go to the tape you’ll hear me saying ‘killed.’ I don’t think anyone was killed. If I did say that, then I apologize. I don’t say anyone’s killed. I think their lives have been threatened. I think there maybe was one girl killed actually.”

In the course of just a few seconds, he had reversed himself again. Eric Alterman came across as someone who just doesn’t know what he is talking about. This would be entertaining were it not for the fact that he claims to be an arbiter of truth and accuracy. He owes Bob Novak, Matt Drudge and Brian Lamb a full apology.

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