This just in: STYLE NEARLY SINKS TRIAL.
Exposure to Scribe's Piece May Have Tainted Jury.
Imagine my surprise when that scribe turned out to be . . . me.
It seems that federal marshals at the Scooter Libby trial have the job of clipping out all references to the trial before the jurors get their newspapers. But while they get out the razor blades for The Post's front section, they make no attempt to censor the Style section, which is where my piece on Tim Russert's day on the stand appears this morning.
One of the jurors told Judge Reggie Walton that she had seen the headline on my piece ("Tim Russert, On the Uncomfortable Side of a Question"). There was much consternation over this unintended exposure. Libby's attorney, Williams Jeffress, said he hadn't even seen my piece. A scramble ensued, and copies were procured.
In the end, both the prosecution and the defense agreed that the cause of justice had not been irreparably harmed, and the trial proceeded.
Memo to the Marshals Service: Ignore Style at your peril!
This was the second straight day of strangeness for me in terms of this CIA leak case. My name came up in testimony yesterday.
Then it came up again, and again. Suddenly it seemed like the whole criminal proceeding had taken a sharp detour into stories I had written three years ago.
To say that the feeling was surreal is an understatement. I was there to cover Tim Russert's day on the stand. I was on a long bench in the sixth-floor courtroom, along with a couple of dozen other journalists, scribbling on a pad. What was the defense doing talking about me?
Suddenly other reporters were asking me for the backstory.
The irony is that while I've written about the media's role in Plamegate for 3 1/2 years, from Robert Novak to Judith Miller to Matt Cooper to Bob Woodward, the reporting of mine that drew the attention of Libby's lawyer had nothing to do with the CIA outing case.
It involved a dustup between Russert and his hometown paper, the Buffalo News. Here was Russert saying that he couldn't remember exactly what he had said to me.
And this is what's interesting. As defense lawyer Ted Wells started questioning Russert about the mistaken statement he had made to me, which he later had to correct, I immediately knew what he was talking about. It was a long magazine piece in which I tried to subject Russert to a "Meet the Press"-style interrogation during a 90-minute Q & A. But I couldn't instantly recollect the exact sequence of when I learned of the error and how I came to do the follow-up piece. The whole thing was a minor flap, but when it's time to impeach the witness, the defense will use any and all available weapons. Human memory, it turns out, is a fragile thing, even for journalists who pride themselves on having a vast mental repository of information.
You'll see the details in my report here:
From the moment he hobbled into the wood-paneled courtroom on a single crutch from an ankle injury, Tim Russert seemed very different from the familiar television figure of Sunday morning combat.
He was careful, sober and subdued. He spoke in a flat monotone. He offered responses such as "I don't recall saying that specifically, but I may have," and "You'll have to refresh my recollection on that." Gone was Russert's usual bombast and showmanship.
With the perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby hanging in the balance, the "Meet the Press" inquisitor -- the man who puts all those quotations up on the screen and presses politicians about contradictions and evasions -- found himself on the receiving end of a tough cross-examination.
Russert emerged relatively unscathed yesterday, except for a previously acknowledged memory lapse about a phone call unrelated to the Libby case. But it was a long afternoon for someone who much prefers asking the questions. It was, at bottom, a case study in the importance of controlling the microphone. On the air, NBC's Washington bureau chief asks the questions, frames the issues or serves up political insight.
On the witness stand, by contrast, even the cockiest pundit is by definition on the defensive. Russert, a lawyer, measured his words and frequently answered the question he wished he had been asked rather than the query posed by Libby attorney Ted Wells.
Libby, who was Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, had called Russert in 2003 to gripe about MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who was hammering both Cheney and Libby on the handling of prewar intelligence involving Iraq's attempts to acquire illegal weapons. Libby says he learned from Russert that Valerie Plame, the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson, worked for the CIA. Russert said repeatedly that Wilson and Plame never came up during the conversation.
Russert likes to have all the documents at his disposal. At one point, Wells handed the witness a report on his interview with the FBI and directed him to review a brief section.
"I can't read the whole thing?" Russert asked.
The FBI summary said that Russert had not completely ruled out the possibility that he had talked about the Wilsons with Libby. "Those aren't my words," Russert insisted.
His apparent strategy was to remain low-key, regardless of the provocation -- precisely the opposite of what compelling television demands. Wearing a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, Russert remained largely motionless, except when slipping on his glasses to look at evidence. As the questioning moved from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to the more tendentious Wells, the only signs of testiness that Russert displayed were a slight tightening of the voice and perhaps a whiff of impatience.
Even when recounting Libby's agitated words about the Matthews show -- "What the hell's going on with 'Hardball'? Damn it, I'm tired of hearing my name over and over again" -- Russert used a tone more suitable for reading a shopping list.
He showed a rare flash of emotion, putting his hand to his forehead, when he recalled reading the 2003 Robert Novak column that disclosed Plame's CIA employment -- which happened to underscore his contention that the subject never arose with Libby. "I said, 'Wow, look at this, this is really significant, this is really big.' "
He couldn't resist adding: "I wish I had known before then, but I did not."
Russert's unusual status was underscored when he recalled how the FBI agent sent to question him had first thanked him for speaking to the man's church group during a visit to the NBC bureau.
The newsman was not on trial, but in ways large and small, he defended his approach to journalism, even when that was off the point. Wells asked about a passage in Russert's book about his father, "Big Russ," in which he asserts how getting the news first is important.
"As long as you're accurate, yes," Russert said.
When asked about rumors that surrounded Wilson's mission to Africa to investigate alleged Iraqi efforts to obtain enriched uranium, Russert said: "We try to stay away from rumors. . . . Rumors don't make it on the air."
He said he assumes that phone calls from government officials, such as Libby, are confidential, and that if he wants to use some piece of information he warns the caller, "not to blindside anyone or try to trick them."
Since Libby's call turned out to be what Russert termed a "viewer complaint," not a whispered chat with a confidential source, why, Wells asked, had he initially resisted testifying? Russert used the occasion to deliver a journalism lecture on the "chilling effect" of subpoenas. "We do not want to be involved in a fishing expedition to find out who I talked to," he said.
Russert's most uncomfortable moments involved a 2004 Washington Post Magazine interview, which I conducted, in which he made an error. Russert said then that he challenged the accuracy of a Buffalo News columnist who had sharply criticized him for pressing Hillary Rodham Clinton, during a 2000 Senate debate that he moderated, about her remarks on the Monica Lewinsky uproar. Russert said in the interview that he had not called the columnist, Mark Sommer, to complain, but when Sommer said he had received two angry calls, Russert acknowledged to The Post: "I just plain didn't remember it."
Wells was using the incident to show that Russert's memory on the Libby call might be faulty as well, but the witness seemed more interested in defending his debate performance.
"I was very evenhanded, as I always try to be," Russert said. He is constantly criticized for his "Meet the Press" performance, Russert said, "and if I focused on that, I wouldn't be able to do my job."
Wells sounded incredulous, but Russert, who always tries to get a rise out of his guests, gave the attorney precious little to work with.
How could he have forgotten the call? This was his hometown paper, and Russert was "one of the icons of Buffalo."
"I'm a citizen."
Wasn't he angry?
"Was it one of the more personal attacks you've experienced?"
"Probably not anymore," Russert said, and again returned to his role as moderator: "I stand by every question I asked. . . . The debate still stands up."
There was one question that Russert did not have to answer. "Does NBC pay you in excess of $5 million a year?" Wells asked. The judge sustained an objection.
"Mr. Russert, whose signature technique in interrogating officials on his television program includes confronting them with documents and texts of their previous quotes, found the technique used on him. A defense lawyer displayed documents and quotes on a large television screen in the courtroom as he challenged Mr. Russert's recollection of events . . .
"Mr. Russert, whose appearance drew the largest crowd of spectators yet in the three-week-long trial, stopped speaking in the confident, complete sentences in which he had answered the prosecutor in his direct testimony. Instead, he became more deliberate and halting in his responses, frequently asking Mr. Wells to repeat the question or asking for time to examine the document about which he was being asked. 'Say again?' he said frequently."
"After one string of jumbly gobbledygook from Wells (implying that Russert might have known about Valerie Plame earlier than he's claiming that he did), Russert ignores all the nooks and crannies and keeps things blunt: 'I did not know that she worked at the CIA. That's the simple fact. I did not know who she was, what her name was, or where she worked.' I suppose appearing on national television for years, verbally jousting with pundits and presidents, is good practice for parrying a lawyer's tricky questions."
Air Pelosi is having trouble getting off the ground:
"The Department of Defense yesterday sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that puts limits on the size of the plane she may use to travel across the country and restricts the guests she can bring, The
"A congressional source who read the letter signed by Assistant Secretary of Defense Robert Wilkie said it essentially limits her to the commuter plane used by former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, which requires refueling to travel from Washington to Mrs. Pelosi's San Francisco district. A second source, in the Bush administration, confirmed the contents of the letter. The Washington Times first reported last week that Mrs. Pelosi's staff was pressing the Department of Defense for an Air Force aircraft large enough to fly nonstop to San Francisco. She also has pressed to be able to include other members of the California congressional delegation, her family members and her staff on the plane."
How dare John Edwards tell Tim Russert (on the set, not in the courtroom) that he would raise taxes to pay for his health care plan?
"Edwards doesn't believe it's necessarily a blasphemy anymore. First of all, he is not proposing to raise taxes on everybody; he wants to finance universal health care by erasing the Bush tax cuts that currently benefit those Americans who make more than $200,000 a year. He is calculating that middle-class Americans (the heart of the electorate) would have no problem with such a proposal; indeed, there is considerable evidence that the affluent have benefited far more from the Bush tax cuts than anybody else. And a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll suggests that people are willing to sacrifice for the greater good. When they were asked whether they 'would be willing to pay higher taxes so that everyone can have health insurance,' 53 percent said yes and 40 percent said no.
"Let us not forget the political calculus. Edwards is waging an uphill fight for the Democratic nomination; to win over the liberals who dominate voting in the early primaries, he needs to outflank Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the left. Therefore, his populist tax-the-rich-for-health-care pitch is potentially good politics. The activist Democrats of Iowa, many of whom are union members, won't wince at that kind of proposal. They may well challenge Clinton and Obama and the others to come up with something equally bold. Edwards knows that his best hope is to put his rivals on the defensive.
"This is also about image. Edwards was widely dismissed during his '04 bid as a substance-free pretty boy with great hair - or, in the favored parlance of that year, a 'Breck Girl.' Therefore, the health care plan is also intended to be a comment on Edwards' maturation of character. In other words, the message is: If he lacked substance in 2004, he has it now."
Actually, Breck Girl was an anonymous Bush White House slur passed on by reporters. I didn't know Edwards still had to overcome that.
The McCain campaign held a call with bloggers, and Power Line's
I reported on Monday that the John Edwards campaign had hired blogger Amanda Marcotte, who wrote recently of the Duke rape case that she "had to listen to how the poor dear lacrosse players at Duke are being persecuted just because they held someone down and [sexually assaulted] her against her will -- not rape, of course, because the charges have been thrown out. Can't a few white boys sexually assault a black woman anymore without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair."
Yesterday the NYT reported that the Edwards camp had also brought in Melissa McEwan, who "referred in her blog to President Bush's 'wingnut Christofascist base' and repeatedly used profanity in demanding that religious conservatives stop meddling with women's reproductive and sexual rights. Multiple postings use explicit and inflammatory language on a variety of issues."
Now there are conflicting reports on whether both have been fired. And that has sparked a blogosphere debate.
"On one level," says Washington Monthly's
"Unfortunately, it might end up being not so ridiculous at all. Bloggers nearly all talk trash, and if Edwards sets a precedent by agreeing that you shouldn't hire a blogger who's ever said anything that anyone finds offensive, then that's pretty much it for hiring bloggers. And that would be a shame. I hope they stick to their guns on this and laugh it off. It'll be forgotten in a couple of days if they do."
"Now Marcotte's sympathizers complain that mean conservatives have tried to silence Marcotte and McEwan and intruded on her right to free speech, which is ludicrous. Neither of them have their hands tied, and I'm sure both can access their blogs. No one has argued that they didn't have a right to publish their rather rancid opinions, and I'd be the first to defend their right to do so. What commentators questioned was the decision by the Edwards campaign to associate themselves with political activists that demonstrated that much hostility to a large sector of the electorate that Edwards supposedly would like to court.
"Chris Bowers and a few others make a good point about the initial hiring decision. If the Edwards campaign hired them for their bombast and inflammatory rhetoric, knowing full well of their history of attacking people for their religious beliefs, then the Edwards campaign really did take a cowardly way out of their own stupid decision by firing the two bloggers. However, it seems much more likely that someone in the campaign hired them on the basis of their name recognition without doing much research into their blogs."
"The rightwing blogosphere has tried to set the bar for what disqualifies a blogger from working on a political campaign so low that they've set themselves up to knock almost every single Republican staffer out of contention for their views. While attention is being brought on the Edwards campaign has started to gain traction, I have to wonder why Republicans are given such a free pass on their personnel decisions."
Wait a minute. I'm not a right-wing blogger (or a left-wing one), and I have a high tolerance for provocation and profanity, but I thought Marcotte's Duke comments were over the top.