The sight of David Gregory, Terry Moran, John Roberts and other White House correspondents badgering Scott McClellan over Karl Rove has triggered some pretty strong reactions.
Many on the left are saying it's about time that journalists found some backbone and got tough on the Bush team.
Others are saying that the White House gang are showing their true anti-Bush colors and are hopping mad because their colleagues are involved (Matt Cooper, who testified yesterday about Rove and other "double super secret background" sources, and Judy Miller, who's now spent a week in an Alexandria jail).
Well, here's the deal. Reporters don't like being misled. That is the hottest of hot buttons. As the White House gang sees it, McClellan came out 21 months ago and said it was ridiculous to suggest that Rove had outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative and that any staffer found to have done so would no longer being working at 1600 Penn. He said this, by the way, while a criminal investigation was going on. Then Newsweek gets the Cooper e-mail showing that Rove did have a background conversation with him about Plame (or "Wilson's wife," as the note put it), and suddenly Scott can't possibly comment because of the investigation--a position that Bush also took yesterday.
That, to the press, smacks of stonewalling. And if you think such a reaction is unique to the Bush administration, you've forgotten about all these tense briefings in which reporters smacked around McCurry and Lockhart as they dueled over various Clinton scandals. The notion that the Clintonites weren't being straight with the press, I wrote at the time, fueled a lot of the animosity in that briefing room. And now it's flared up again.
Michael Goodwin | http://www.nydailynews.com/news/ideas_opinions/story/327526p-279954c.html argues in the New York Daily News that the press is out of control:
"It's a civil war in Washington. The combatants have an eye-for-an-eye mentality. The partisanship is heated and nasty.
"Republicans versus Democrats? Nah. This one pits the media against the White House. It's a war the media can't win, and shouldn't wage.
"The intense grilling that White House reporters inflicted on presidential spokesman Scott McClellan Monday over whether political guru Karl Rove leaked the name of a CIA operative was no ordinary give-and-take. It was a hostile hectoring that revealed much of the mainstream press for what it has become: the opposition party.
"Forget fairness, or even the pretense of it. With one of its own locked up - Judith Miller of The New York Times - much of the Beltway gang has declared war on the White House.
"Reporters apparently have decided Democrats aren't up to the job. Can't blame them. With Dems reduced to Howard Dean's rants and Hillary Clinton's juvenile jab that President Bush looks like Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, somebody has to offer a substantive alternative. The press has volunteered.
"That the mainstream media are basically liberals with press passes has been documented by virtually every study that measures reporters' political identification and issue positions. But bias has now slopped over into blatant opposition, a stance the media will regret. Instead of providing unvarnished facts obtained by aggressive but fair-minded reporting, the media will be reduced to providing comfort food to ideological comrades."
Except that there was plenty of "blatant opposition" during the Monica years as well.
Salon has been getting some fairly vicious anti-Judy mail, as Andrew O'Hehir | http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2005/07/13/judy_miller/index.html reports:
"'New York Times reporter Judith Miller is sent to jail for contempt of court, but not for writing months of front-page fiction about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction,' a reader in California recently wrote to Salon. 'Al Capone did time in prison for tax evasion, but not for murder. I guess you have to take what you can get.'
"That letter, which I quote in its entirety, pretty much sums up the response so far from Salon's readers (and much of the lefty blogosphere) to our two recent news stories about Miller. . . . At least on the leftward half of the political spectrum, there is a wide gulf between the way the media is telling the Miller story and the way the public understands it.
"Salon also received at least two letters suggesting, with apparent seriousness, that Miller deserves not just prison time but the death penalty for her journalistic sins. (Salon published one of those, which I think might have been a failure in judgment.) A more lenient correspondent suggested a life sentence, while many others seemed to share one reader's pithy but less specific sentiment: 'I hope she rots.'. . . .
"Miller is also spectacularly ill-suited for the role of poster child for the use of confidential sources or First Amendment freedoms in general because, as numerous commentators have noted, the source she's now protecting wasn't some selfless, embattled whistle-blower, but rather 'a high government operative determined to stab a whistle-blower in the back,' as a Salon reader from Washington put it."
O'Hehir finally offers this less-than-ringing defense of Miller: "The First Amendment covers all members of the press, without regard to truthfulness, integrity or their perceived similarity to sub-reptilian life forms."
Rove has his share of media connections--he recently was over here for a sitdown with Post editors and reporters--as this Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/custom/showcase/la-na-rove13jul13.story piece observes:
"Rove also maintains contacts at leading news organizations and often provides background guidance to top reporters and editors, as he did for Cooper. These contacts are part of Rove's less-discussed role of crafting Bush's image, enforcing the strict Bush code of discipline and jumping hard on perceived opponents of the president. 'If you are at a senior level in Washington these days, you inevitably must deal with the media,' said Terry Holt, a former spokesman for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, speaking of Rove. 'He has good relationships [with reporters], and he's good at it. He has great credibility with the people that he deals with.'"
But maybe less so now.
As for Bush, he mostly brushed off two questions with the McClellan tactic of noting there was an "ongoing investigation," as the New York Times | http://nytimes.com/2005/07/14/politics/14rove.html?hp&ex=1121313600&en=9d0ef7adb2b34d99&ei=5094&partner=homepage reports:
"President Bush said Wednesday that he would withhold judgment on whether Karl Rove, his senior adviser and political strategist, had identified an undercover C.I.A. operative in a conversation with a reporter for Time magazine.
"Mr. Bush's comment came nearly two years after he suggested that he would fire anyone in his administration who had knowingly leaked the identity of the operative, Valerie Wilson. . . .
"Mr. Bush neither criticized nor defended Mr. Rove. But Mr. Rove sat directly behind him as he spoke, sending a visual signal that he remained on the job and at the president's elbow, where he has been throughout Mr. Bush's political career."
Andrew Sullivan | http://www.andrewsullivan.com pushes back against this Wall Street Journal editorial:
"Democrats and most of the Beltway press corps are baying for Karl Rove's head over his role in exposing a case of CIA nepotism involving Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame. On the contrary, we'd say the White House political guru deserves a prize--perhaps the next iteration of the 'Truth-Telling' award that The Nation magazine bestowed upon Mr. Wilson before the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed him as a fraud.
"Just a thought experiment: can you imagine the WSJ calling to give, say, Sid Blumenthal a medal for outing a CIA operative to counter misinformation in the Bosnia campaign? Fox's John Gibson echoes:
"I say give Karl Rove a medal, even if Bush has to fire him. Why? Because Valerie Plame should have been outed by somebody. And if nobody else had the cojones to do it, I'm glad Rove did -- if he did do it, and he still says he didn't.
"For the partisan right, outing CIA operatives in wartime is the patriotic thing to do. There's only one real option worthy of Bush: give Rove the Medal of Freedom."
Eugene Oregon at Demagogue | http://demagogue.blogspot.com/2005/07/poor-karl-rove.html indulges in a little sarcasm, methinks:
"You really have to feel for Rove - he's the victim here. Curse that nasty, nasty Matthew Cooper! What kind of a world is it where the president's top aide can't even attempt to discredit somebody by divulging damaging classified information to a reporter on double super secret background without that reporter, two years later, burning him?"
Freelance investigative reporter Murray Waas | http://whateveralready.blogspot.com/2005/07/exclusive-novak-co-operated-with.html has the first report I've seen on Novak's role in the probe:
"Columnist Robert Novak provided detailed accounts to federal prosecutors of his conversations with Bush administration officials who were sources for his controversial July 11, 2003 column identifying Valerie Plame as a clandestine CIA officer, according to attorneys familiar with the matter. . . .
"Novak had claimed to the investigators that the Bush administration officials with whom he spoke did not identify Plame as a covert operative, and that use of the word 'operative' was his formulation and not theirs, according to those familiar with Novak's accounts to the investigators."
Is Patrick Fitzgerald's office starting to leak? Here's a Bloomberg News report: "People familiar with the inquiry say Fitzgerald also is reviewing testimony by former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, though it is not clear whether the prosecutor is focusing on him or seeking information about higher-ups. Fleischer Tuesday night refused to comment."
Power Line's John Hinderaker | http://powerlineblog.com/ tries to turn the tables on the NYT:
"In all of the liberal huffing and puffing over the supposed 'outing' of Valerie Plame--as though she might be in danger as she drove to and from her desk job in Langley, and as though she hadn't posed for a photo shoot in Vanity Fair, dressed up as a spy--I've seen no liberal criticism of a more recent, real outing of a clandestine CIA operation. In this case, those who outed a CIA operation exposed secret agents operating in the field, in circumstances of great personal danger, not a civilian desk employee. The outing of the CIA operation undoubtedly forced the CIA to terminate or change what had been an effective means of protecting the nation's security, and likely did endanger the lives of real covert agents.
"I'm referring, of course, to the exposure of a purportedly civilian airline as a CIA operation:
"While posing as a private charter outfit - 'aircraft rental with pilot' is the listing in Dun and Bradstreet - Aero Contractors is in fact a major domestic hub of the Central Intelligence Agency's secret air service. . . .
"Who was it who 'outed' these CIA employees, blew their cover and perhaps endangered their lives? The New York Times, of course! In an article that was based largely on leaks by former CIA employees, who were out to embarrass the administration. Ah, but that's the 'good' kind of leak--the kind that exposes the Agency's real covert operatives, not the kind that tries to correct lies told by Democratic Party loyalists in the pages of the New York Times."
Retired CIA man Larry Johnson | http://www.tpmcafe.com/story/2005/7/13/04720/9340 defends Valerie at TPM Cafe:
"The misinformation being spread in the media about the Plame affair is alarming and damaging to the longterm security interests of the United States. Republicans' talking points are trying to savage Joe Wilson and, by implication, his wife, Valerie Plame as liars. That is the truly big lie.
"For starters, Valerie Plame was an undercover operations officer until outed in the press by Robert Novak. Novak's column was not an isolated attack. It was in fact part of a coordinated, orchestrated smear that we now know includes at least Karl Rove.
"Valerie Plame was a classmate of mine from the day she started with the CIA. I entered on duty at the CIA in September 1985. All of my classmates were undercover--in other words, we told our family and friends that we were working for other overt U.S. Government agencies. We had official cover. That means we had a black passport--i.e., a diplomatic passport. If we were caught overseas engaged in espionage activity the black passport was a get out of jail free card."
The LAT has new ethics language on unnamed sources, reports LAObserved | http://www.laobserved.com/archive/003778.html:
"Relying in print on unnamed sources should be a last resort. . . . When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving. Sources should never be permitted to use the shield of anonymity to voice speculation or to make ad hominem attacks. An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and stories should state those reasons when they are relevant. The reporter and editor must be satisfied that the source has a sound factual basis for his or her assertions. Some sources quoted anonymously might tend to exaggerate or overreach precisely because they will not be named. . . .
"In rare instances, sources may insist that the paper and the reporter resist subpoenas and judicial orders, if necessary, to protect their anonymity. Reporters should consult a masthead editor before entering into any such agreement."
Here's how heated things are getting with this HuffPo posting by James Moore | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/archive/jim-moore/the-knower-of-allknowing_4064.html, co-author of "Bush's Brain":
"The hallmarks of a Rove smear job are always the same: leak, lie, defame, obfuscate, and deny. He did it when he began a whisper campaign about Gov. Ann Richards' sexuality. He did it when he used surrogates in South Carolina to suggest that Sen. John McCain was mentally unstable and may have fathered a black child out of wedlock and he did it in the last election when he used the Swift Boat Veterans as a front group to proffer lies about John Kerry's time in Vietnam."
I'd respectfully suggest there is no hard evidence tying Rove to any of this.
Congressional Quarterly editor David Rapp has to remind his reporters to act like, well, reporters, according to Romenesko | http://poynter.org/forum/view_post.asp?id=9857:
"The petition in support of Judith Miller's refusal to reveal her confidential sources is a worthy effort. But as CQ reporters and editors, we must take the extreme position of neutrality and disengagement. Her case is too close to an ongoing story that we are, and will be, covering in the publications of Congressional Quarterly. And the problem is, we don't know where this story leads and what the outcome will be, and thus how we will have to cover it. For that reason, as much as we all feel solidarity with a fellow reporter and colleague, CQ editorial staff should not sign this petition."
Fred Barnes | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/822xcgvg.asp cites no "double super secret background" sources here, but he says Alberto is almost definitely staying put:
"Though he defended Attorney General Alberto Gonzales against conservative critics, President Bush now appears highly unlikely to nominate Gonzales to replace retiring Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Nor is Gonzales expected to be chosen to fill a second vacancy on the high court should Chief Justice William Rehnquist or another justice steps down in the near future.
"The president, of course, could change his mind and pick Gonzales. But a better bet now is that he will choose a woman, an option recommended by First Lady Laura Bush. Judge Edith Brown Clement of the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals is considered a possibility. Bush, who met with Senate leaders Tuesday to discuss the court vacancy, is expected to announce a nominee by the end of July.
"It is unclear how seriously the president ever regarded Gonzales as a potential court choice or if he was steered away from Gonzales at the urging of conservatives who want Bush to move the court to the right in its judicial philosophy. But the president is believed to have had reasons for not picking Gonzales all along.
"One is that he just installed Gonzales in the AG job, one of the top four cabinet posts, a few months ago. Having already rewarded Gonzales with a promotion, he doesn't owe him another one."
Here's the public's view:
"The latest USA TODAY | http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-07-13-court-cover_x.htm/CNN/Gallup Poll, taken July 7-10, showed overwhelming support for putting another woman on the court. Three of four favored appointing a woman to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the high court. Two-thirds of those surveyed liked the idea of naming the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, too."
Finally, Kobe Bryant | http://www.latimes.com/sports/basketball/nba/lakers/la-071305kobe_lat,0,271581.story?coll=la-home-headlines, having beaten a sexual assault rap, is back in Nike ads. Shame doesn't last long in this country.