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Karl Rove, Insider With an Outsize Reputation

The press was endlessly intrigued by the White House role and power of Karl Rove (right, with John McCain, before a TV appearance yesterday).
The press was endlessly intrigued by the White House role and power of Karl Rove (right, with John McCain, before a TV appearance yesterday). (By Karin Cooper -- Associated Press)

But however vital a power player Rove has been, there have always been darker intimations about his role. When Rove repeatedly testified before a grand jury in the CIA leak case, the media anticipation over whether he would be indicted was palpable. And while he may have played a part in the Justice Department's questionable firing of U.S. attorneys -- Rove is resisting congressional subpoenas to testify on the subject -- liberal pundits immediately assumed that he cooked up the plot.

Rove has seemed impervious to media criticism, preferring to grant interviews to conservative allies, such as the Journal's Paul Gigot, who got the exclusive on Rove's departure. Rove told Rush Limbaugh, in another such interview last week, that he ignores sniping by the press: "I mean, if you have to wake up in the morning to be validated by the editorial page of the New York Times, you've got a pretty sorry existence."

In the end, Bush's tenure will be defined by such overarching events as Iraq and Katrina, where the quality of presidential decision-making -- and performance -- mattered more than packaging. Even the most influential White House aides are ultimately hired help.

Footnote : In an embarrassment to the industry, some staffers at a Seattle Times news meeting cheered when Rove's resignation was announced. To his credit, Editor David Boardman made the incident public and warned that staff meetings should not "evolve into a liberal latte klatch." Rove responded by sending a basket of cookies to the newsroom, with a note saying "my wife shares in your enthusiasm."

Make Politics, Not War

In media terms, Iraq is becoming the incredible shrinking war.

While the conflict consumed 15 percent of the space or airtime at many news outlets in the second quarter of 2007, that is down from 22 percent in the first three months of the year, says a new report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Filling the void in part is the 2008 presidential race, which rose from 7 percent to 9 percent of the news content in newspapers and on television, radio and the Internet.

The level of war coverage continued to vary on the cable news channels, claiming 18 percent of the airtime on CNN, 15 percent on MSNBC and 8 percent on Fox News. By contrast, MSNBC is branding itself as the political channel, devoting 21 percent of its time to the early stages of the campaign, followed by 10 percent at Fox and 9 percent at CNN.

The project studied 48 outlets, from the New York Times and The Washington Post to the Bakersfield Californian, top programs on the broadcast networks, cable and radio, and five Web sites.

Although the Democratic candidates received more than twice the coverage of the Republicans in the first quarter, the two sides were virtually tied from April through June. But the top-tier contenders drew most of the attention. Barack Obama, who only recently became a national figure, received more newspaper mentions than Hillary Rodham Clinton, 332 to 262. But the former first lady was mentioned more often on network television, 304 to 290.

On the GOP side, media attention was more evenly divided among John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, with noncandidate-but-running-hard Fred Thompson getting about two-thirds the coverage of the front-runners.

The study also lends support to the notion that conservative talkers helped torpedo President Bush's immigration law overhaul, prompting Republican Sen. Trent Lott to complain that "talk radio is running America." Conservative radio hosts devoted 16 percent of their time to discussing (and usually attacking) the bill. Lou Dobbs, a staunch opponent, devoted 27 percent of his CNN show to the issue.

Cable news may have briefly gone wild over the jailing of Paris Hilton, but the death of Anna Nicole Smith, in the first quarter, attracted three times as much coverage on MSNBC, four times as much on CNN and five times as much on Fox.

Howard Kurtz hosts CNN's weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."

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