Frog-Marching: Miller, Cooper, Rove.

24 MB MP3

Follow along with our flow chart [Bertozzi/Greeley]

Can someone please translate Washington into English for us? Let’s say Karl Rove — or whoever leaked to Robert Novak — did just want to discredit Joe Wilson. Let’s say he didn’t know Wilson’s wife was undercover.

What effect, exactly was this intended to have upon those of us who read the newspaper? Were we supposed to say “Aha, she wears the pants and he is thus incapable of rendering judgment on Niger.” We’re sitting here in a story meeting right now, and all we can do is ask questions that no one can answer.

Chris’s Billboard

In this Beltway obsession called Rove-gate, which they’re calling the biggest press-and-politics trainwreck since the Pentagon Papers three decades ago, there are more ironies now than are fit to print. Judith Miller of the New York Times sits in jail to protect the source of a story she didn’t write. You protect sources, the theory goes, to keep the flow of information open. But the story being protected here was an outing and a smear to stop the flow of good information about nuclear fuels for Saddam Hussein. The press is constitutionally free, the theory goes, to protect our right to know such things as the truth about weapons of mass destruction, but Karl Rove’s leaks to Bob Novak could seem to be about the government’s power to spin us all unto eternity. What is the dividend of wisdom that we the people hope to get for Judy Miller’s time behind bars?

Mickey Kaus

Journalist; author of the Kaus Files on Slate.

David Corn

Washington editor of The Nation; author of The Lies of George W. Bush.

Lewis Lapham

Editor of Harper’s Magazine.

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  • avecfrites

    Worth discussing as part of this:

    1) Is the flood of scandals (Rove, Ralph Reed, Delay) hitting the Republicans now likely to affect elections in 2008, or is the country so divided into “teams” based on identity that nothing will change?

    2) Is there any chance of the Rove involvement in Plame-gate touching Bush or Cheney?

    3) Is corporate ownership of big media squelching scandals like this one, or are there enough independent voices (blogs, etc.) to prevent that? Does middle America listen to the non-traditional voices?

  • JamesFlynn

    Could possible intent of the leak be to insinuate that Wilson (who was closely associated with the Clinton administration) was only sent to Niger because his wife pulled a few strings? I.e. that he wouldn’t have been chosen on his merits alone, and so wasn’t a reliable or independent opinion.

    Is it also possible that Rove (or whoever) simply acted out of anger – lashed out – and wanted to punish Wilson for going public with the Niger story? As well of course, as sending a warning to other insiders considering going public with information that would damage the false casus belli.

    Avecfrites, I can’t see any of the current scandals affecting the 2008 elections – when Palme-gate breaks, the Whitehouse can simply retort:

    * the leak was unauthorised

    * ’twas a slip of the tongue

    * ’twas harmless anyway, as Palme was not a field agent

    The others don’t seem to have made much impact. Good point on the blogs. Though, to me, the blogosphere currently looks as devisive a media as the american AM radio band – full of ranting voices, preaching to audiences of the already converted.

  • All commonsense analyses have pointed out that Novak likely cut a deal months ago, and somehow what he sung was only an incomplete picture, so that Fitzgerald would keep up his witch hunt.

    Also, history tells us that second terms are usually a disaster politically. Quite frequently there’s enough scandal from the first that always boils over.

    Now, to the comments here:

    “Is corporate ownership of big media squelching scandals like this one?”

    Oh, please, enough of this silly media-lashing. The reason this came out is that it was Newsweek that reported on the Time emails (which are supposedly secret to the grand jury, but never mind); the big papers have now been all over this for the last couple of days. There is no squelching here.

    Now, as to the big question. The “public journalism” movement asserts that journalists are political actors, and that they should sacrifice the story for the public good. Granted, PJ is still not universally accepted. Journalists are just as happy not to be political actors. They are aware of the “privileged” information they have (given under confidence) and are extremely wary to do something which could be construed as tossing an election (suppose this were released last October?). True, this notion of privilege, is a fiction, like the one that baseball players were steroid-free for the last decade, but it’s a fiction we prefer to live with.

  • Chris Williams

    I think James Flynn is right. Digby’s Hullabaloo blog, points to an RNC with talking points suggesting that Wilson was only selected because of his wife, and further, that Wilson denied this. From the release:

    Officials Said Evidence Was “Thin� And His “Homework Was Shoddy.� “In the days after Wilson’s essay appeared, government officials began to steer reporters away from Wilson’s conclusions, raising questions about his veracity and the agency’s reasons for sending him in the first place. They told reporters that Wilson’s evidence was thin, said his homework was shoddy and suggested that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA only because his wife had nominated him for the job.� (Michael Duffy, “Leaking With A Vengeance,� Time, 10/13/03)

    It’s all about changing the subject, in any way possible, away from the mistakes and misconduct of the Bush White House. Ignore the forged yellowcake documents, you can’t trust Joe Wilson. Ignore that his wife was outed, it wasn’t technically a crime. Ignore what Bush said about firing the leaker, it’s an ongoing investigation. And it works! Reporters give up in the face of stonewalling, Democrats can’t force hearings, and we’ll be distracted next week by some other shocking revelation. Two weeks ago it was the Downing Street Memo. And don’t forget when Rumsfeld was surely going to resign over Abu Grahib. How about Condi Rice and the 8/6/01 Presidential Daily Briefing? Colin Powell and his satellite photos of water trucks? Not to mention the original scandal of the yellowcake uranium and the famous “16 words” in Bush’s State of the Union. We have successfully been distracted from all of those things by changes of subject. How does this continue happening?

  • FYI I think Chris just said on-air “Rove’s leak to Novak” in the intro. I’m not sure if that’s been determined yet for the public record. Rove’s lawyer confirmed that he leaked to Cooper. I just called the line to communicate this to the staff, but figured I’d post it here, too.

  • Chris Williams

    Link to RNC press release, cut off above:

  • Chris Williams
  • “Digby’s Hullabaloo blog”– not sure why this should be authoritative doesn’t clarify the timing. The Oct. 2003 Time story was reflecting back on months earlier about “government officials”. The “RNC Talking Points” are from today, pointing back to the Time story. These were not RNC Talking Points then.

    That said, the RNC/WH case right now is pretty flimsy, because when you drop down to “the other side is playing politics!” it means you’ve got nothing left.

    Kaus is not coming through too clearly discussing the timeline. Someone should have posted a timeline here.

  • Brendan, thanks for the flowchart. Gosh, Kaus talks exactly as he blogs. sounds like he’s hyper-excited and practically shouting.

  • Brendan

    Flowchart idea — and most of the execution — came from Vanessa Bertozzi of MIT, working with us for the summer. Good ideas has Vanessa.

  • I agree with Chris right now– I would like once in a while for a reporter to say, “WH officials were so mad at X they decided to smear him with an anonymous leak…” but then, of course (as with the Koran-toilet incident), the WH would deny the whole thing. Sometimes they are able to do this.

    META: As a regular listener, and frequent poster, I wonder if Chris might introduce some sharp blog comments in the first half of the show. Only once have I heard that. You (hardworking producers) have a wide bandwidth for reviewing comments here (more than the phone), and I think that would make it a bit more engaging.

  • shpilk

    It’s 2006, not 2008 that is important – one third of the Senate up, as well as all the House. I can begin to imagine a influx of Independents and Democrats gaining in both venues and the rattling of impeachment.

    What is interesting is the movements in the background that point to an even LARGER involvement, perhaps reaching right up to the highest levels {ie Cheney} and could prove to be a very rapid unraveling. It’s all the shades of the Nixonian era; with the obvious entertainment provided by Scott McClellan.

    The legal possibilities are going to be dwarfed by the political realities, as Ex- GOP supporters finally cannot stand the stench anymore.

  • Ahh, on air, Chris explained that. Rove had leaked to Novak before in the Bush 41 administration. Thank you for the clarification on air. But I was hoping you would have picked up my “Now as to the big question” section… I guess I post to much. Just trying to have a conversation.

  • Brendan

    I have a weakness for Scott McClellan, to be honest. In the dark days of my freelance career, I watched his briefings every day, and he seems like a nice guy. A nice guy tasked with the unfortunate prospect of saying nothing for thirty minutes a day. Fleischer, Fleischer looked relaxed and bored, like he couldn’t believe that not a single correspondent could even provide him with a challenge.

    McClellan, McClellan looks like it hurts him a little every time he has to repeat himself. Perhaps that’s his schtick, but it works on me. The dude sweats. He looks scared.

  • Potter

    I was anxious to hear Chris’s take on this all since he worked for the NYT at one point. I liked his term “client Journalism” expressing my profound disappointment that it exists.

    To me this is all a side show away from Bush who should be suffering impeachment rumblings getting louder and louder. I agree with Chris Williams and Shpilk on that score.

    Regarding Judy Miller, I was and will be grateful to her for her wonderful series on Al Qaeda in the NYT before 9/11: a good 8 months before, if I am not mistaken. Since then, she has disappointed by her zealousness for the scoop, going off the deep end on one side, the wrong side possibly to her and one would hope the NYT’s embarrassment. I also think, as was at least hinted at last night, that she sits in jail now because she wants to sit in jail. I understand that she is sleeping on the floor too. Is this what was ( I think Louis Lapham said this) meant by “eating her chocolate cookie”? This may be her way, too, of getting some of her reputation back, or at least some attention.

    This also keeps the “Plame thang” alive for possible deeper introspection on the part of the sleeping public. There is always hope.

    I was gratified to know that, if true, Bill Keller was only defending JM’s acting in conscience and not the principle. This issue for me is about leakers not being allowed/enabled to leak in order to take revenge. The outing of Plame was a warning to others as well as a punishment. Isn’t that all too clear?

    Journalism informed by a leak for the purpose of informing us of what we need to know is one thing. It’s a brave act. We did not need to know about Plame. So for me now this case is about reporters covering up evidence of a Federal crime for no other purpose it would seem than to protect political revenge and intimidation.

    On the one hand possible future sources may be intimidated from coming forward to leak to journialists, and on the other, people like Joe Wilson, for instance, would be intimidated from expressing their opinions in an op-ed for fear of retribution.

    It seems absurd to be talking about giving journalists these extraordinary privileges just as we witness a deterioration in the standards of their profession.

  • John

    I have a lot of reactions to last night’s show. Lewis Lapham’s analysis was completely mean spirited and odd. It is one thing to hold Judith Miller accountable for her crappy reporting about WMD. It is quite another issue to look at her role in protecting a source and being willing to go to jail. And, for Lapham to conclude this is NOT a first amendment issue seems absurd: the use of confidential sources and protecting them is key to exercising a free press. Sure, it is up to the publisher or the reporter to determine how much they are willing to sacrifice to protect those sources. Most top reporters have sizeable egos but I don’t think she was willing to go to jail so she could write a book.

    Reporters protect confidential sources even if they are crummy people. Rove seems to me to fall into that category. Reporters, though, aren’t moralists–if the information checks out, we use it. Smart reporters know when they are getting spun…lazy ones don’t, or prefer to ignore it.

    Reporters and editors, at least are aware of the motivations of leakers. That’s one of the reasons not everything leakers leak makes it to print and on air.

    Potter notes: “It seems absurd to be talking about giving journalists these extraordinary privileges just as we witness a deterioration in the standards of their profession.”

    What privilieges? If a journalist wants to suffer the indignity of a jail term to protect a source, that’s their business. Not a privilege. Do I think there should be a national shield law? Yes, because the use of confidential sources is, given this day and age, an even more crucial method of keeping the public informed than it was 30 years ago. And i would argue that the deterioration of standdards in the profession IS part of the current debate. When we are willing, for corporate or legal reasons, to toss overboard a pledge we have made to a confidential source, then the profession–one built on the good word of a reporter and their news organization–has truly lost the trust of the people it serves.

    TIME Inc. will learn that lesson.

  • Potter

    John asks “what privileges”? I mean the privilege of not having to give information in a criminal investigation when a federal crime has been committed. In this case a shield law would have been abused because the spirit of such a law is such that ( it seems to me) it would be used ultimately for the benefit of the public not abused for partisan purposes. We are in an extraordinary time now. I can’t remember when we have been so divided and motives at the top have been to grab and maintain power at all costs . I can’t remember ever having a situation where we could not depend on much more free and courageous press working for us.

    John says that it’s a journalist’s business if they want to suffer a jail term to protect a source. This makes my point. If a journalist wants to protect such a source as in this case, fine.

    I agree the deterioration of standards is part of the debate and what makes this case difficult because it seems to me a shield law in place could very well be misused for partisan purposes. I don’t deny that a shield law would come in handy in another situation, but first show me that it will not be abused by partisans seeking more control through weak client journalists.