Leak? What Leak?
Washington Post | July 13, 2005
By Howard Kurtz
From the moment the Karl Rove story exploded over the weekend, I've been intensely curious as to what tack the conservatives would take.
This is a big political embarrassment, no question about it, and while Scott McClellan could try the old can't-comment-during-the-investigation (though he had earlier denied any Rove involvement during the same investigation), what would the denizens of the right do?
I tuned into O'Reilly and Hannity on Monday night, but there was no mention, none, of the Rove/Plame affair. Imagine if an e-mail had surfaced showing that a top aide to Clinton--say, Sid Blumenthal--had told a reporter about a covert CIA agent. Would those Fox shows have given the controversy a bit of air time? (Last night, O'Reilly said "some in the media are foaming" over the story but did call on Rove to "clear the air," then hosted Newt Gingrich, who attacked Joe Wilson. Hannity said Rove "wasn't on a witchhunt" because Matt Cooper called him , and guest G. Gordon Liddy ripped Cooper and said Valerie Plame wasn't really undercover. At least the show had a liberal guest, Bill Press, who got overheated in accusing Rove of "treason" and saying he "should be marched off to prison." No trial, Bill?)
While the White House remains in lockdown mode over Rove, my first clue to the GOP defense came in a statement from RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman:
"It's disappointing that once again, so many Democrat leaders are taking their political cues from the far-left, Moveon wing of the party. The bottom line is Karl Rove was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story based on a false premise and the Democrats are engaging in blatant partisan political attacks."
So the response is that 1) the Dems are playing politics (and Rove wasn't, in dragging in Mrs. Joe Wilson?). And 2) Rove was just performing a public service by steering a reporter away from a false story (actually, Wilson was right about the bogus Niger uranium tale, and the White House was wrong).
Another tactic: Change the subject to Judy Miller, as National Review 's media blog does in critiquing a NYT piece:
"This last part of the story seems calibrated to get Miller off the hook -- if there's no crime, why is she in jail? -- while the first part is focused on all the reasons the Bush administration should now feel obligated to fire Karl Rove. The Times is going for everything it wants here -- Rove fired and Miller exonerated.
"Convenient, but it doesn't change the fact that there's more to this story -- Miller's testimony. Miller's involvement in this case is still murky, and yet the consequences could reach far if the case costs Rove his job or results in any indictments. The Times wants you to forget that it is obstructing not just the investigation of a possible crime, but the public's evaluation of whether a high-ranking public official should continue to serve.
"What is Miller hiding? Conservatives should not let the Times get away with this just because it might be bad for Rove. We can go on without Rove. We cannot go on with a press that routinely defies the rule of law in defense of a practice that turns reporters into agents for unaccountable operators who leak to serve their own interests more often than the interests of the public."
NR's Byron York , by the way, quotes Rove lawyer Donald Luskin as comparing "the contents of a July 11, 2003, internal Time e-mail written by Cooper with the wording of a story Cooper co-wrote a few days later. 'By any definition, he burned Karl Rove,' Luskin said of Cooper. 'If you read what Karl said to him and read how Cooper characterizes it in the article, he really spins it in a pretty ugly fashion to make it seem like people in the White House were affirmatively reaching out to reporters to try to get them to them to report negative information about Plame.'" In fact, says Luskin, Cooper called Rove to talk about welfare reform, then switched subjects.
Still another approach is to blame Wilson, as John Podhoretz does in the New York Post:
"There's no mistaking the purpose of this conversation between Cooper and Rove. It wasn't intended to discredit, defame or injure Wilson's wife. It was intended to throw cold water on the import, seriousness and supposedly high level of Wilson's findings.
"While some may differ on the fairness of discrediting Joseph Wilson, it sure isn't any kind of crime. . . .
"What isn't controversial is this: Karl Rove didn't "out" Valerie Plame as a CIA agent to intimidate Joe Wilson. He was dismissing Joe Wilson as a low-level has-been hack to whom nobody should pay attention. He was right then, and if he said it today, he'd still be right."
Oh, and there's the no-crime-was-committed defense. Which may be true, given the vagaries of the law. But is that the standard for service in the White House? And are these folks conveniently forgetting Bush's pledge to fire the leakers?
The Wall Street Journal editorial page also slams Wilson and defends Rove, saying: "As for the press corps, rather than calling for Mr. Rove to be fired, they ought to be grateful to him for telling the truth."
As for actual news, this New York Times lead says it all:
"President Bush offered only a stony silence today when he was asked if he planned to fire Karl Rove, a senior aide at the center of an investigation over the unmasking of an undercover C.I.A. officer."
Liberals are clearly enjoying themselves, a la Josh Marshall
"We don't know that the president knew about the decision to use Plame's work at CIA against Wilson in advance, though given the high-level working group assembled at the White House to go to war with Wilson, it's reasonable to suspect that he did. But at a minimum the president has known about this as long as the rest of us -- that is, almost exactly two years.
"And he -- unlike anyone else in the country -- had the power to call Rove into his office and ask him whether he did this or knew who did?
"Whether he knew before or after, he's known for a very long time. And pretty clearly he didn't want Rove held to any account. Indeed, he's gone to great lengths to prevent this from happening. And of course few reporters in DC have cared to press this essential point."
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann slaps around the deputy chief of staff:
"Karl Rove is a liability in the war on terror.
"Rove -- Newsweek's new article quotes the very emails -- told a Time reporter that Ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to investigate of the Niger uranium claim was at the behest of Wilson's CIA wife.
"To paraphrase Mr. Rove, liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers; conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared to ruin the career of one of the country's spies tracking terrorist efforts to gain weapons of mass destruction -- for political gain.
"Politics first, counter-terrorism second -- it's as simple as that."
The Nation's David Corn
sketches two scenarios, both of them bad for Rove:
"This e-mail demonstrates that Rove committed a firing offense. He leaked national security information as part of a fierce campaign to undermine Wilson, who had criticized the White House on the war on Iraq. Rove's overworked attorney, Robert Luskin, defends his client by arguing that Rove never revealed the name of Valerie Plame/Wilson to Cooper and that he only referred to her as Wilson's wife.
"This is not much of a defense. If Cooper or any other journalist had written that 'Wilson's wife works for the CIA'--without mentioning her name--such a disclosure could have been expected to have the same effect as if her name had been used: Valerie Wilson would have been compromised, her anti-WMD work placed at risk and national security potentially harmed. Either Rove knew that he was revealing an undercover officer to a reporter or he was identifying a CIA officer without bothering to check on her status and without considering the consequences of outing her. Take your pick: In both scenarios Rove is acting in a reckless and cavalier fashion, ignoring national security interests to score a political point against a policy foe."
The Note offers this assessment:
"This is a significant political problem for Rove and the President.
"Some Republicans with standing believe he'll have to make unClintonian accounting for his actions, and soon.
"Saying, in defense, that he didn't 'say her name' or was trying to 'wave off' Cooper is, for many, hairsplitting. It may save Rove from legal trouble, but it certainly does not get him free and clear of the political responsibility. . . .
"For the average American, it is unseemly for the president's senior adviser, using inside information, to discredit enemies of the president anonymously."
Jeff Jarvis is Not Exactly Excited by all this:
"I got email from a blog friend asking why I haven't been on top of l'affaire Rove (formerly known as l'affaire Plame) and the truth is that I just didn't keep up with all the ins and outs. The implication when people ask a blogger why he's not writing about a story is that there's a political motive: Why are you and Reynolds ignoring Rove? Confess! Apologize! Blog!
"But, in fact, it's usually just the case that the blogger simply doesn't care about the story and since a blog isn't a newspaper of record -- a blog is personal -- that's perfectly fine. I have not been a devotee of the Niger-Wilson-Plame-Miller-Cooper-Rove game of hot potato from the start. It's a pretty sleazy story of overlapping hidden agendas. I don't get my rocks off digging into scandals. And so I have not written about it. I haven't had anything worthwhile to add.
"Still, I will admit it's time to catch up. But I look at the mountain of charges and countercharges with exhaustion. Just today, I read the NY Times story about White House silence (what we used to call stonewalling) on the hit reality show Rove and the Reporters past the jump without getting a summary of what exactly is now known or acknowledged about Rove's involvement. The Times assumes that we're all keeping up on every back-and-forth like good Sisyphusean scandalmongers. I haven't been. But The Times can't edit every story for ignorant dolts like me who haven't been keeping track of a story. Newspapers try; they add background graphs into the middle of tales but in the case of a saga like Rove/Plame, it's impossible to sum it all up in a graph or two."
Slate Editor Jake Weisberg argues that journalists should sometimes expose their sources: "Can the nation's leading newspaper really find it an easy call to defy the nation's high court when faced with a ruling it doesn't like? Is corporate disobedience--which would have been a new one on Thoreau and King--really a principle the Times wants to establish?. . . .
"If someone goes off the record to offer a journalist a bribe, or threaten violence, the importance of what the source has told a reporter may simply supersede the promise to keep mum. To take an extreme example, any reporter of integrity would reveal off-the-record information about an upcoming terrorist attack or serious crime. In the Plame case, the crime under investigation consists in speaking to reporters. No plausible shield law would, or should, protect a reporter in this situation, because there's no way for a prosecutor to develop a case against a perpetrator without evidence from the recipients of the leak."
My analysis of the NYT legal strategy in the case, compared to those of other news outlets whose reporters were subpoenaed, is here.
Richard Stengel writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, sees secret sources as dangerously habit-forming:
"The use of anonymous sources certainly is an important tool for journalists. I used them myself when I was a reporter. But it is a tool that is often abused and one whose value is overstated. In many ways, anonymous sources have become the crack cocaine of journalism: easy, addictive and dangerous.
"Anonymous sources should be used to level the playing field between the powerful and the powerless. In a republic, the ability of individuals to speak truth to power is the reason the framers made the press the only private institution specifically protected by the Constitution. Certainly, anonymous sources have helped change the course of history - the use of such sources contributed to the unraveling of the Watergate scandal. But more often than not these days, they have become a device to preserve and enhance power rather than question it - a tool journalists use to advance their own careers rather than the disinterested pursuit of the truth.
"In my experience, most anonymous leads were either water-cooler gossip, poison darts, or self-interested information leaked to help the agendas of officeholders. Indeed, the leak at the heart of the Valerie Plame case was a government official settling scores with Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, because Wilson questioned the administration's argument that Iraq was seeking to acquire nuclear weapons."
This, from novelist Annie Lamott on TPM Cafe, is one of the more jaw-dropping posts I've read on any blog on any subject:
"Back to the paranoia: I am able to believe, about half the time, that Bush and Rove would be capable of orchestrating a second terrorist attack on America, if and when they deem it necessary to instill martial law, which they will." The phrase "over the top" doesn't quite seem to do it justice.
I've been thinking in recent days that the Huffington Post, for its all its advance hype (including from me) about celebrity blogging, has emerged as a consistently liberal site (despite contributions from a small group of conservatives). Now comes HuffPoster Richard Bradley Bradley to defend the site against criticism from Andrew Sullivan "that 'The Huffington Post is full of part-time bloggers calling for negotiating with al Qaeda, withdrawing from Iraq, and generally laying the blame for the mass murder of innocents on George Bush and Tony Blair.'
"Strong stuff. Andrew's an old friend, but this drive-by slander points up one of his intellectual lapses; though in virtually every other way an intellectually rigorous thinker, he has a longstanding habit of caricaturing liberals, taking the most extreme examples of wacky radicals and lumping them together as 'the left in America.'
"Consider this quote from a September 16, 2001 column Andrew wrote in the London Sunday Times: 'The middle part of the country -- the great red zone that voted for Bush -- is clearly ready for war. The decadent left in its enclaves on the coasts is not dead -- and may well mount a fifth column.'
"He was referring to the war in Afghanistan, about which there wasn't a huge amount of left-wing opposition. Even if there had been, that quote happens to suggest that people who opposed the war --the 'decadent left' -- are traitors, as if one could not be a patriot and be against the war. Would the same litmus test apply to Iraq?
"Now, I can't say that I've read everything on the Huffington Post, and sure, it tilts in the liberal direction. But I don't think I've seen anyone advocate negotiating with al Qaeda. . . .
"The larger point is that Andrew's portrait of HuffPo as a loony left-wing sandbox is an intellectually dishonest trick, performed by lumping together the most extreme examples and using them to characterize the entire site."
"Yes, there are some good posts on Huffington Post. In my cranky diss of the place, I cited one such by Irshad Manji. Anywhere Eugene Volokh contributes has something worthwhile in it. But even Rich B. has to concede that the place is dominated by paranoid Hollywood liberalism; and maybe it was reading guff like this, and this, and this on the day terrorists murdered dozens of Londoners that made me cranky. My claim that the blog is full of people in favor of 'withdrawing from Iraq, and generally laying the blame for the mass murder of innocents on George Bush and Tony Blair' is fully documented by those posts. As for negotiating with al Qaeda operatives, I concede hyperbole. Deepak Chopra just wants us to give them a hug."