July 16, 2005
"This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country."
The brutalizing of Scott McClellan at the White House podium on Monday is a development with long roots. They stretch well beyond the particulars of what McClellan earlier said about Karl Rove and the use of Valerie Plame to discredit Joseph Wilson. Frustrations roared to life that day from hundreds of briefings prior:
MCCLELLAN: If you’ll let me finish.
Q: No, you’re not finishing. You’re not saying anything. You stood at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation. Was he involved or was he not? Because contrary to what you told the American people, he did indeed talk about his wife, didn’t he?
MCCLELLAN: There will be a time to talk about this, but now is not the time to talk about it.
Q: Do you think people will accept that, what you’re saying today?
MCCLELLAN: Again, I’ve responded to the question.
QUESTION: You’re in a bad spot here, Scott…
And so he was. The immediate cause for Monday’s events, where the press finally held McClellan in contempt of country, was an old-fashioned breakdown in official credibility. It happened when statements from the podium were rendered inoperative by Michael Isikoff’s report for Newsweek, posted Sunday, July 10.
The press attacks when it feels openly lied to. (Emphasis on “openly.”) Also when it senses weakness, which of course means it’s safer to attack. Dana Milbank spoke for most of the reporters when he said to McClellan: “It is now clear that 21 months ago, you were up at this podium saying something that we now know to be demonstratively false.” (See also David Corn.) The press secretary and the White House didn’t try to contest it, choosing silence until the prosecutor is done.
Lying to the press—though a serious thing—is what all administrations do. In Washington leaking to damage people’s credibility or wreck their arguments is routine, a bi-partisan game with thousands of knowing participants. I rarely see it mentioned that Joseph Wilson (who is no truthtelling hero) began his crusade by trying to leak his criticisms of the Bush White House. When that didn’t work he went public in an op-ed piece for the New York Times.
But business as usual is not going to explain what happened in the Valerie Plame case, or tell us why its revelations matter. For that we need to enlarge the frame.
My bigger picture starts with George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, Andrew Card, Dan Bartlett, John Ashcroft plus a handful of other strategists and team players in the Bush White House, who have set a new course in press relations. (And Scott McClellan knows his job is to stay on that course, no matter what.) The Bush team’s methods are unlike the handling of the news media under prior presidents because their premises are so different.
This White House doesn’t settle for managing the news—what used to be called “feeding the beast”—because it has a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country, but also less of a wild card in fighting enemies of the state in the permanent war on terror.
Depending on audience and situation, rollback is seen as:
- newly necessary (terrorists exploit the weaknesses of an open society, and a headline hungry, exposure-minded, irresponsible and unaccountable press gives the bad guys too much of an edge);
- long overdue (the “liberal media” is thought to be the opposition’s camp, and culture war demands that it, like the others, be routed);
- well-suited to George W. Bush (who is impatient with critical questioning, and not good at sparring with the press without misspeaking);
- in tune with Americans (who don’t buy the heroic image the press has of itself);
- a consequence of a more disciplined and loyal White House (which stays on message and doesn’t leak without authorization);
- payback for Watergate (among some Republicans with long memories.)
Back ‘em up, starve ‘em down, and drive up their negatives: this policy toward the press has many strengths as a working piece of politics, and supporters of it abound within the Bush coalition. I believe the ultimate goal is to enhance executive power and maximize the president’s freedom of maneuver— not only in policy-making, and warfare, but on the terrain of fact itself.
This is why Bush the Younger’s political project inevitably collides with journalism, a conflict that has largely been won by the Bush forces. They have succeeded in changing the terms of engagement with journalists. Monday’s evisceration of McClellan happened only because a third party—the prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald—altered the power equation. At Whiskey Bar, the astute Lefty blogger Billmon wrote about this (July 13th):
Spinning unfavorable media stories is easy; deflecting accusations from the hapless Democrats easier still. But the Rovians are dealing with a prosecutor and a grand jury who mean business, and a set of federal judges who appear to have found the evidence presented to them rather compelling… they face the possibility that whatever story they try to peddle could be quickly and definitively proven false by hard legal evidence — just as the carefully constructed non-denial denials [from] Scotty McClellan were blasted to bits by Matt Cooper’s e-mail.
His point: The brutalizing of McClellan was no recovery of courage by a suddenly-awakened press. It was the Bush team’s bald assertiveness coming into conflict with truth collection in the criminal justice system, which has exposed a seamy story that journalists themselves would have kept hidden because it involves their confidential sources. (See Howard Fineman’s very different analysis.)
In the normal conduct of McClellan’s briefings, the non-answer (a refusal to engage a question, or even grant it validity) has become the standard answer. “Why bother asking…?” then arises as a problem in professional conscience. It involves trying to estimate the value of having another empty reply in the record of what the White House spokesman said. As Fineman wrote:
The deliberately colorless Ari Fleischer raised the content-free “briefing” to a dismal high art; Scott McClellan… is if anything, even less communicative and, unlike Fleischer, who once worked on the more media-friendly Hill, never betrays the slightest sense of guilt about saying nothing.
And that guiltlessness is a critical factor in his success. The very art of “spin,” which we still talk about, is the old model speaking. The original logic of spin assumed the story the press told was a kind of base line in the public narrative. Therefore you had to win the spin by playing the game of interpreting events with journalists. Bush has challenged that assumption.
Of course Bush spin is still around— lots of it. But notice: Scott McClellan isn’t particularly good at spin or telling the President’s side of the story. That’s not the game anymore. His are the skills of non-communication; he was hired to absorb questions and let no light escape through his non-answers. Beyond that he repeats a pre-determined White House line in rote (many say robotic) fashion.
Press rollback, the policy for which McClellan signed on, means not feeding but starving the beast, downgrading journalism where possible, and reducing its effectiveness as an interlocutor with the President. This goes for Bush theory, as well as Bush practice. The President and his advisors have declared invalid the “fourth estate” and watchdog press model. (See my earlier posts here and here on it.) They have moved on, and take it for granted that adversaries will not be as bold.
The old notion (still being taught in J-school, I’m afraid) had the press permanently incorporated into the republic as one part of the system of checks and balances— not a branch of government, but a necessary, vital and legitimate part of open government and a free society. The First Amendment was interpreted as protection for that part of the system, and this is the grand thinking behind which Judy Miller has gone to jail.
Within government, a representative figure for the pre-rollback era is David Gergen, the consummate insider who served as White House advisor to Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. He preached to both parties, the press, and television audiences a cautious realism in White House media relations. It’s long gone now but (in my paraphrase) it went something like this:
“The White House has a right to get its message out. The press has a right to question and probe. There are going to be conflicts (and during scandals much worse) but they ought to remain within bounds. The press needs the Administration, it’s number one source. The Administration can be hurt by bad press, and helped by good relations with reporters. So calm down and let’s get on with producing White House news together.”
Or as Larry Speakes, fomer press secretary to Ronald Reagan, once put it: “You don’t tell us how to stage the news, and we don’t tell you how to report it.” It’s no surprise that Gergen moved easily from one Administration to the next, and from government into journalism and back. He had the insider’s consensus narrative in his pocket. But what if one party unilaterally withdraws from Gergen-style managerialism? There’s nothing in the press playbook about that.
Ken Aueltta of the New Yorker was one of the first to notice the shift and try to describe it. (See Fortress Bush and this interview.) In January of 2004 he wrote: “For perhaps the first time, the White House has come to see reporters as special pleaders - pleaders for more access and better headlines - as if the press were simply another interest group, and moreover, an interest group that’s not nearly as powerful as it once was.”
Not as powerful, and unsure of what to do about it. In switching from news management (think Gergen) to roll back (think John Ashcroft) the Bush Team was recognizing certain weaknesses in its adversary. Not only could it count on culture warriors to drive up the negatives of the liberal elites in journalism, but also on broader trends reducing the size and influence of the Legacy Media, therefore weakening the Washington bureaus from without and above. The simple fact that the public can download the Administration’s story from whitehouse.gov (a media page) is part of the change. The Economist described it well in March:
Behind all this lies a shift in the balance of power in the news business. Power is moving away from old-fashioned networks and newspapers; it is swinging towards, on the one hand, smaller news providers (in the case of blogs, towards individuals) and, on the other, to the institutions of government, which have got into the business of providing news more or less directly.
I think Rove also knew that the press is that rare special interest group that feels constrained in how “organized” it can be to protest or strike back. In fact the national press, which is only a semi-institution to start with (semi-legitimate, semi-independent, semi-protected by law, and semi-supported by the American people) has no strategic thinking or response capability at all. Rove and company understand this. They know the press can be done to. It rarely knows how to “do” back. (Here is Milbank’s 2002 effort in the Washington Post: “For Bush, Facts Are Malleable.” He barely gets any traction.)
“Executive freedom on the terrain of fact itself” is my way of describing what the Downing Street Memo said: “facts were being fixed around the policy.” Which is also what author Ron Suskind was getting at in a celebrated passage from his 2004 article in the New York Times Magazine, “Without a Doubt.” Today it is mocked by the Right as crackpot realism. I think the passage, which adds little to the documentary record since the official who speaks is unnamed, is a parable about recent innovations in executive power.
Suskind, as you may recall, wrote of a meeting with a “senior adviser to the President,” who expressed his displeasure with an article Suskind had written about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes (one of the architects of rollback.) “Then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend— but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.” The parable:
The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Today the prosecutor is studying what they do, and there’s no way to roll that back. In a Salon interview after the Times article came out, Suskind (whose sources were mostly Republicans) was asked whether the Bush forces were indeed trying to “eliminate a national point of reference on facts.”
Absolutely! That’s the whole idea, to somehow sweep away the community of honest brokers in America — both Republicans and Democrats and members of the mainstream press — sweep them away so we’ll be left with a culture and public dialogue based on assertion rather than authenticity, on claim rather than fact.
No more honest brokers; claims take the place of facts. Disguised by the culture war’s ranting about media bias, these very things are happening all around us today. Limits on what liberties could be taken with the factual record without triggering a political penalty are being overcome. Joseph Wilson interfered with this, forcing the White House to pay a penalty: the so-called sixteen words in the State of the Union speech that had to be withdrawn after his op-ed. So he had to pay. And that’s how rollback, freedom over fact, culture war, and the naming of Valerie Plame connect to one another.
I should add that rollback intersects with trends in journalism that, as Tom Rosenstiel notes, are promoting a “journalism of assertion” (cheap, easy, safe) over the discipline of verification (expensive, hard, and certain to spur more attacks as the culture war wears on.)
Also, Team Bush has been aided immeasurably in its strategy by various lapses and excesses in journalism, including major breaches in public trust like Dan Rather’s Sixty Minutes story about Bush’s military service, and faulty reporting during the build-up to the war in Iraq. When the press is damaging itself in the eyes of the public, and under automatic attack, it’s hard to recover any lost ground. Writing in the New York Times May 22, reporter Patrick Healty said:
Scrutiny is intense. The Internet amplifies professional sins, and spreads the word quickly. And when a news organization confesses its shortcomings, it only draws more attention. Also, there is no unified front - no single standard of professionalism, no system of credentials. So rebuilding credibility is mostly a task shouldered network to network, publication to publication.
When “no unified front” meets “roll back the press” and the discipline of the Bush White House, it really is no contest.
A PressThink reader pointed me to this testimony at a public hearing organized by Senate Democrats on the Valerie Plame disclosures and the effect of outing an agent (Oct. 24, 2003). (Also discussed by Talk Left.) The speaker is Vince Cannistraro, former Chief of Operations and Analysis, CIA Counterterrorism Center, and now a terrorism consultant. His is one of the better descriptions I have found of that strange feature of the Bush governing style Suskind called “a retreat from empiricism.”
CANNISTRARO: …There was a pattern of pressure placed on the analysts to provide supporting data for objectives which were already articulated. It’s the inverse of the intelligence ethic. Intelligence is supposed to describe the world as it is and as best you can find it, and then policymakers are supposed to use that to formulate their own policies. In this case, we had policies that were already adopted and people were looking for the selective pieces of intelligence that would support those policy objectives.
This ethic in government (stating that the White House is entitled to its own facts, and what are you going to do about it?) has brought the Administration into conflict with the CIA, with the press, and now with Republican prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. All are engaged in empirical work—truth collection and verification—of one variety of another.
My final thought: “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” said Ronald Reagan on March 4, 1987. “My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.” I wonder what caused him to say that, because whatever it was seems to be much weaker today.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
Dori Smith of Talk Nation Radio (Pacifica) interviewed me about this post. The transcript is here. Excerpt: “In my view the story of the Bush White House has been for a long time political innovation. They are innovators. They don’t believe in doing things the way that others have done them.”
Scott Rosenberg of Salon responds to my final paragraph:
It seems to me that what caused Reagan to say that was not any particular flash of conscience, but the determined, relentless effort of a team of prosecutors and congressional investigators to dig up the truth, forcing the Republican administration into a corner from which Reagan had no choice but to make a confession in an effort to defuse a crisis that was otherwise headed down the road to impeachment. In those days, we still had an independent counsel statute, and we had two-party government, in that Democrats had a power-base in Congress. Today, there’s a prosecutor, but he’s out there pretty much on his own, and I don’t have any great confidence that his efforts will bring the Bush White House back to its factual senses.
CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer in a commentary Sunday:
This White House did what it usually does when challenged: It went into attack mode, called charges that the White House had leaked the name ridiculous, and allowed the controversy to boil until a special prosecutor had to be appointed. Now two years and millions of tax dollars later, the president’s trusted friend and strategist Karl Rove has emerged as the top suspect, and we’re left to wonder: Can anything said from the White House podium be taken at face value, or does the White House just deny automatically anything that reflects badly on it?
Schieffer thinks the Bush people are following “the modern public relations rule, ‘Never admit a mistake, just do what is necessary to kill the story before it kills you,’ which often works.” I think the strategy goes well beyond any notion of PR we know about from the past.
Howard Kurtz: “Helping White House officials finger a covert operative is not exactly the kind of work that builds public support for the Fourth Estate.” In the 33 years since Deep Throat, Kurtz writes, “journalists have so badly overused unnamed sources on routine stories that they have come to be seen as too cozy with political insiders.”
Stephen Spruiell at National Review’s media blog has had it with journalists “refusing to report what they know” by protecting their sources; and he thinks stonewalling the press is justified:
With the NY Times leading the coverage last week with an incessant series of leaks, all spun against Rove, and with the Times’ reporting clearly tailored to its own political interests — protecting the crutch of anonymous sources, promoting a scandal involving a powerful, unaccountable White House official, and covering up its own role in the investigation of a potentially serious crime — tell me again: Why shouldn’t the White House stonewall this press?
Not rollback, blowback! Bill Quick at Daily Pundit thinks I have it wrong. He says my post
ignores (stonewalls? rolls back?) the possibility that the problems the media is having with the White House (and not just this one, either) are of its own making, arising out of the media’s sense of itself as a special interest group with special privileges to not just report the news, but to militate both for its own projects, and against those of Presidents and other politicians and ideologies with which it disagrees.
Read the rest. I do wonder what Bill Quick thinks of Karl Rove declining to endorse the cultural right’s view of the press in a speech he gave in Maryland April 18. As reported by Dana Milbank, Rove was asked a question about the liberal media:
“I’m not sure I’ve talked about the liberal media,” Rove said when a student inquired — a decision he said he made “consciously.” The press is generally liberal, he argued, but “I think it’s less liberal than it is oppositional.”
The argument — similar to the one that former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer made in his recent book — is nuanced, nonpartisan and, to the ears of many journalists, right on target. “Reporters now see their role less as discovering facts and fair-mindedly reporting the truth and more as being put on the earth to afflict the comfortable, to be a constant thorn of those in power, whether they are Republican or Democrat,” Rove said.
I also wonder why Rove received so little criticism from his own camp for this view, which openly contradicts the claims of the cultural right, and undermines the entire “liberal bias” discourse.
Editor & Publisher: What did Spiro Agnew actually say about the press back in 1969-70? Useful.
In comments, Andrew Tyndal of the Tyndal Report notes that who-leaks-what (certainly an important story) doesn’t get much attention:
How about an article on the leaking styles of the major inside-the-Beltway actors? How does Karl Rove leak? Does he pick up the phone or wait for his contacts to call? Does he react to stories or initiate them? Does he deliver only assertions or authentic facts, as Rosenstiel would say? Does he trade access for non-disclosure? Does he engage in reportorial reward and punishment?
In what way is Rove’s leaking style different from Paul Wolfowitz’s, Colin Powell’s, Karen Hughes’, Dick Cheney’s and so on?
In fact, there is a gentleman’s agreement among journalists not to investigate each other’s confidential sources. Whenever I have asked about this, I have never heard a reporter try to justify the arrangement. (I don’t think it can be done) Nor do they deny it. Good question for Howard Kurtz to ask on “Reliable Sources.”
The San Francisco Chronicle calls on Scott McClellan to resign. Won’t happen. McClellan hasn’t even apologized for misleading the press, which would be the decent thing to do.
Billmon of Whiskey Bar comments (at the Huffington Post):
“I rarely see it mentioned that Joseph Wilson (who is no truthtelling hero) began his crusade by trying to leak his criticisms of the Bush White House.”
I’m sure Jay understands that there is a difference between anonymously criticizing goverment policies and challenging official disinformation, and leaking derogatory (and false) information about political opponents. I’m just surprised he didn’t make the distinction here.
Big difference, yes. Bill (ex-reporter himself) also points out an intruiging passage from a Sidney Blumenthal article in Salon, where former New York Times Washington bureau chief and Atlanta Journal-Constitution editor Bill Kovach, a legend in the business, argues against the notion that confidential sources must be protected at all costs:
If a man damages your credibility, why not lay the blame where it belongs? If Plame were an operative, she wouldn’t have the authority to send someone. Whoever was leaking that information to Novak, Cooper or Judy Miller was doing it with malice aforethought, trying to set up a deceptive circumstance. That would invalidate any promise of confidentiality. You wouldn’t protect a source for telling lies or using you to mislead your audience. That changes everything. Any reporter that puts themselves or a news organization in that position is making a big mistake.
Billmon’s commentary on this shows a man wrestling with himself. Read the rest. Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper provides the view opposite to Kovach’s. Here he is on CNN:
I don’t think we as journalists can sort of pick and choose which sources and which obligations we’re going to honor, and say, well, this source doesn’t seem to have good motives, I’m not going to take his. I think even as we saw in Deep Throat, Mark Felt, who emerged as Deep Throat, had his own motives, and he had been involved in things that were not so great too.
And I think the phrase “we can’t pick and choose” is a dodge. Translates as: we cannot afford to think about it or make any distinctions. New York Times editorial: “But the hard truth is that no reporter can choose the circumstances for upholding a principle.”
See also Sam Smith in Editor & Publisher, who says: if there was more news value in what the source was trying to do (get Wilson’s wife into the frame) than in the information the source was passing (remember the Times did not report it as news) then Miller erred. Smith calls it “malpractice.”
Michael Kinsley on June 12, 2005 dismissed the Downing Street Memo but said: “Fixing intelligence and facts to fit a desired policy is the Bush II governing style, especially concerning the Iraq war.”
Hmmmm. The New Yorker’s Ken Auletta in a 2004 interview: “This is a cohesive White House staff, dominated by people whose first loyalty is to Team Bush. When Bush leaves the White House, most of his aides will probably return to Texas. They are not Washington careerists, and thus they have less need to puff themselves up with the Washington press corps.”
Halley Suitt comments on this post, and she’s optimistic: “Has telling the truth gone out of fashion? I say no. Telling the truth is very fashionable. We all need to start wearing it out on the town. I think we’re about to enjoy a new fall season of veracity, strutting around town in our finery, all dressed up in the naked truth.”
Posted by Jay Rosen at July 16, 2005 12:58 AM
Rosen illustrates the phenomenon of press rollback by describing the Fleischer-McClellan stonewalling technique of public press briefings.
The facts of the Plame case, however, seem to indicate that the White House project of creating its own reality does not disdain the press as an institution when using other conduits, namely secret, unattributable briefings. When information is spread by that method--via unaccountable, anonymous sources--the mainstream media appears to be an instrument of government rather than its constraint.
It is in this sense that Judith Miller's predicament is ironical: having been a conduit for Weapons of Mass Destruction "reality creation," she is apparently punished for being the recipient of information that she deemed not reality-creating enough even to include in her own journalism.
The unreported phenomenon in this entire affair does not concern Plame or Rove or Miller or any of that gang. I would like to read a story about how, precisely, this almost-institutionalized system of unattributable briefings works.
How about an article on the leaking styles of the major inside-the-Beltway actors? How does Karl Rove leak? Does he pick up the phone or wait for his contacts to call? Does he react to stories or initiate them? Does he deliver only assertions or authentic facts, as Rosenstiel would say? Does he trade access for non-disclosure? Does he engage in reportorial reward and punishment?
In what way is Rove's leaking style different from Paul Wolfowitz's, Colin Powell's, Karen Hughes', Dick Cheney's and so on?
Reporting on the system of leaking would not compromise confidentiality agreements since they concern the content of a leak not its technique. Andrea Mitchell could file this story, or Michael Isikoff, or Matthew Cooper, or Robert Novak, or countless others. Best of all, Miller should write it. She has some time on her hands.
Although it neatly describes the changes we see in the dominant liberal media, I think the term "rollback" sounds too proactive. It assumes the Bush folks, clever though they are, are largely responsible for shrinking of our dominant libearl media's credibility.
Instead, I think the media themselves are responsible for their own diminishment as a result of the increasingly transparent liberal bias evident in their work. This is so well documented, including by admission against interest from our dominant press, that it is now almost completely beyond reasonable dispute.
In this environment, any Bush Administration pushback is at least a justified reaction, if not necessary. But more than that, from the perspective of the vast center-right majority of this nation, a "rollback" of press influence is desireable. Such a rollback (a.k.a. the dominant media’s de-legitimization of itself through liberal bias) is likely to unleash the ascendancy of mainstream conservative ideology. Here’s why:
The dominant media are consequential participants in the nation’s political discourse. As I say, even according to admission against interest from a few honest, courageous members of the dominant media (empirical evidence, to some), the press are overwhelmingly liberal and their work-product reflects that (see link above quoting Halperin, Okrent and Goldberg). (If you are not yet prepared to admit this, even to yourself, for now just stipulate it for sake of argument.) Accordingly, liberal ideas have enjoyed disproportionate representation in our public consciousness. You pick the issue: Gun control, abortion, gay marriage, taxes, the death penalty and dozens more. That is, our dominant liberal media friends have stacked the deck against conservative positions in the public square by their slanted reporting - - misinformation on which Americans base political judgments.
Without the sympathetic portrayal of liberal ideas projected through the dominant media’s distorted lens, much of leftist ideology would have largely died a natural death some decades ago, at least in the general polity (for now, universities seem immune to ideological fumigation). To use a recently topical metaphor, liberalism is in a persistent vegetative state, but is being kept alive in the body politic by the life support of liberal media bias.
Now, our dominant liberal media friends find the pretense of (self-certified) objectivity useful in promulgating liberal ideas in news coverage. This is because a presumed impartial referee has more credibility to most than an ideologue, and such credibility is often a prerequisite for ideological influence. Abandoning (or exposing) the false pretense of objectivity reduces the dominant media’s credibility and, consequently, their influence. For this reason, of course, I don’t expect our press friends to abandon the pretense. I’m hopeful, however, that on their own or through publicity from increasingly effective alternate voices in new media, the dominant media’s pretense of objectivity will be thrown down and their leftward bias exposed.
As a result, an electorate searching for information on which to base political judgments will do so on a more level playing field, rather than on the current field tilted left by crooked “referees” who place their thumb on the scale of civic debate by slanting the news under color of objectivity. Thus, for example, instead of taking for granted that President Bush received preferential treatment or shirked his National Guard duty because “60 Minutes” made it seem so, the citizen will think to himself, “Well CBS News gave me one side of the story, let me now hear the other side.” In that balanced, if not fair, news environment I’m confident that conservative ideas will compete favorably with the left.
All of this will be quite a change for our friends on the left. Stripped of the liberal cocoon spun by the dominant media, its denizens will be left blinking in the sunlight, surprised and despairing that the real world is not what they believed.
I must say that all this discussion of "rollback" and any other words one wishes to apply, is utter nonsense. The Press is every bit as guilty as the WH in all the noninformation that comes out in print. Perhaps the journalists have gotten lazy, perhaps the corporate heads of ALL the media have been so taken by taxcuts and other bribes that they simply have sold their soul for money. Perhaps the "elite" journalists of the WH Press Corp simply think too much of themselves, or consider being "one of the in crowd" more important than actually reporting.
What I DO know is that for the so-called "rollback" nonsense to work requires the implicit acceptance by the Press Corp - you have to play along. What, they fear that Rove or Bush wont SMILE at them or shake their hand at the next press meeting if they print facts rather than spin? Poor baby! Get another job if that's your concern! The correct response from the press corp, at least those members not poltically 100% onboard with anything the Administration wants and does, is to print NON-spin. Spin ONLY works if the press bites off on it and prints it again and again (which they have ALL proven too willing to do).
For God's sake, look at the lies the press has STILL been biting off on with regards to Joe Wilson! Plame's CIA identity is blown and the WH tries to defend the action by saying "Joe is a liar! Joe is a liar! He said the VP sent him to Niger and HE DIDN'T!", and the press prints that crap making it seem a legitimate defense. It ISN'T, plus the words are objectively false. The press doesn't give a damn, they like to see a pointless and very damaging political fight and virtually ignore the fact that a crime against the nation's security was committed. The press's behavior these last 6 years or so hurts the nation and it hurts how the public views the press, yet the press corps continues to self immolate in this manner.
If the members of the press would let the SPIN nonsense run in one ear and out the other and instead print facts, print reality, then there could not be any possibility of "rollback". The press can only be "rolled back" if the press plays along with the game the Admin plays.
There are ALWAYS disgruntled employees. There are ALWAYS people willing to spill some beans. It is impossible to hide from reality, no matter what the WH thinks, and if the press would simply go with reality, the Admin would be powerless and incapable of controlling the press.
I don't want to hear any more lame excuses. The Administration is running a "rollback" scheme and there nothing the press can do. Bullcrap. Print what is right, print what is true, compare it with the lies and spin the WH blathers on about (ANY WH Admin) and watch THEM squirm. Quit seeking prestige in the form of being gladhanded by the (ooh!) President. Quit seeking to feel important by being on the Administration's A-list so you can get invited to all the parties. That crap is meaningless. DO. YOUR. JOB. INSTEAD...and let the chips fall where they MUST.
Ron: I haven't seen Somerby's post challenged and refuted (I know a lot of people don't like it, but that's different.) Have a link that explains what he gets wrong? I'll gladly add it to the After section. If you don't have one, I would recommend that you do a post.
Wilson seems to me a very poor choice for lionization, Ron. (This was Somerby's point.) If you're Wilson and you say repeatedly and with great indignation that your wife did not "authorize" your trip or send you to Niger, but then fail to mention that she did in some way recommend you for it, then you're an ass. Wilson knows how the discrediting game works. He should have known his wife's recommendation would come out. What was he thinking? "I know how to stonewall too"? If you have an explanation I would love to hear it.
It's far worse, of course, for the Bush Team and its supporters (some of whom comment here) to simply make up facts like, "his wife sent him," and then try to spin what did come out as confirmation of that lie. (And it was a lie.)
Andrew: You are totally on the mark. There is a gentleman's agreement among reporters not to investigate each other's sources. It's impossible to justify, I think. But I would love to see someone try. I think the seamy underside of confidential sourcing is about to be exposed by this story. Journalists love a good scandal, but I doubt they are happy about that.
TA: In one of the studies you cite as rock-solid evidence that "liberal bias" is now "almost completely beyond reasonable dispute," journalists were asked to identify themselves politically. A majority--54 percent--of the national press identified itself not as liberal but as "moderate." A bigger majority--61 percent--of the local press did the same.
First question: Is this the kind of evidence for transparent liberal bias that you see as "almost completely beyond reasonable dispute?" Second question: If 41 percent of the general public calls itself "moderate" according to the same report, would you agree that I am on firm factual ground in stating that the press, overall, is significantly more moderate than the American public as a whole according to the study you cite?
Matt: I was trying to use curious terms, so thanks. But FYI... my own view of the Bush Team is that they are far more innovative than either supporters or detractors give them credit for. Most supporters shrink from describing the current White House that way because they're invested in the term "conservative" for Bush, which simply doesn't apply to his tradition-busting behavior. (I'm one of those who think Bush is a visionary, and a radical, and quite intelligent, although not learned.)
Detractors don't focus on innovation because it gets in the way of denunciation. And of course the Bushies themselves don't speak about many of their innovations because they have cover stories that would collapse if they did.
Steve: what credit did I give the prosecutor? Or are you using the culture war scorecard where if you don't denounce you are supporter?
I'm with Praedor on this. It has been less a rollback than an assisted suicide. And now we're seeing "Night of the Living Press." Who knows how long that'll last?
I think with a few exceptions no one in the press room actually thinks McClellan was lying when he said Rove assured him he had nothing to do with the leak, and that the press are mostly pissed off that Cooper, who seems to be pretty popular, almost went to jail because of Rove, and that the degree to which the press have allowed, indeed encouraged themselves to be played is becoming inescapably public. They can't get at Rove or any of the other principals so they're taking it out on McClellan. Which is fine; he deserves a thorough thrashing, but probably not precisely the one he's getting.
Of course Wilson tried to leak the story anonymously: He's not stupid and he would have anticipated White House retaliation, although probably against him and not his wife. And while Somerby is correct that beyond mistaking Iraq for Iran with respect to the actual purchase of uranium (a fairly major mistake under the circumstances), Schmidt wrote a mostly accurate summary of the Intelligence Committee report, it's more than passing strange that he would accept the report itself without question when chunks of it have been debunked.
And of course Wilson isn't even the seminal figure in the yellowcake saga: he just happens to have been the most public one. The claim was in enough question within the intelligence community long after Wilson returned from Niger and supposedly reinforced the view that an attempted purchase had occurred, that the CIA had it removed from a Bush speech, and it was disproved entirely shortly before the invasion and months before Wilson got frustrated enough to go public.
But enough of that. Even while the press are salivating all over McClellan, they're still happily printing anonymous tidbits from Rove's attorney and other Rovian Defense Force sources while at the same time chastising the White House for sanctioning the leaks the press are gorging on.
And they're not doing much of a job untangling the mess. I'd like to get some idea of why Rove's attorney, or whoever that was, decided to introduce Stephen Hadley into the mix, and why Powell's and Ari Fleischer's potential involvement have been suddenly resurrected by Rove's people. And I'd seriously like to know why reporters seem to have so little interest in the person who ratted out the rats to the Washington Post, since that person seems not only to have all the details of the leak, but to be known to the prosecutor (by virtue of the reporters not bunking with Judy Miller).
So even now, with all that adrenaline pumping, reporters aren't doing much more than snarling at McClellan and blithely printing leaks from at least one person, Robert Luskin, whom they know to be either a liar or a dupe.
And where's the context? Why is the NYT talking about Ari Fleischer and the State Department memo without mentioning that Fitzgerald subpoenaed the full transcript of a Fleischer press gaggle that took place during the now-famous Africa trip when the now-famous memo surfaced? Can't they even quote a bit of what Ari said about Wilson then? The frickin' transcript is posted at the White House site and the gaggle took place two days before Novak's column was published. Isn't that, like, interesting to any reporter? Why aren't they interviewing the other two Africa hands who came to the same conclusion Wilson did?
We're only a few months away from the annual press self-recrimination orgy. What do you want to bet this story will be near the top of the "Damn, we blew it: oh well" list? And the really pathetic thing is that at least a dozen reporters already know how the story ends and they still can't report it well.
Sven, I'm afraid there are several inaccuracies in the report you cite.
1) The statement, "The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee." can hardly be truthfully characterized as "Attributing Wilson's trip to his wife's supposed authority".
That's a false syllogism and ought to be rejected by all reasonable people. There is all the difference between suggestion and authority as there is between me suggesting that my boss ought to authorize the purchase of software we want and her actually signing the purchase order. To suggest that, because I didn't have the authority to sign the purchase order I therefore had no influence is disingenuous. As my boss would readily tell you, my professional opinion is highly respected and frequently requested.
2) "Schmidt quoted a CIA official in the senators' account saying that Plame had "offered up" Wilson's name."
If that's true, Schmidt was wrong. It was an INR official who made that statement, not CIA.
3) "Plame's memo, in fact, was written at the express directive of her superiors two days before Wilson was to come to Langley for his meeting to describe his qualifications in a standard protocol to receive "country clearance."
Do you have any evidence that this is true? It's the first time I've ever heard this charge, and it conflicts with the official account, which was signed off on unanimously by the SIC.
Furthermore, Plame had earlier recommended her husband (in 1999) for a CIA trip to Niger. No one has argued that is false, and it buttresses the case for her having suggested the second trip as well. In addition, 24 hours after she submitted the memo, the CIA sent a cable requesting concurrence to send Wilson on the trip. This suggests strongly that her memo was the motivating factor for the cable.
Finally, Plame convened the meeting Wilson attended to discuss his upcoming trip and she attended his debriefing. By any reasonable interpretation of these facts, she was involved.
4) "The CIA officer who wrote the memo that originally recommended Wilson for the mission -- who was cited anonymously by the senators as the only source who said that Plame was responsible -- was deeply upset at the twisting of his testimony, which was not public, and told Plame he had said no such thing. CIA spokesman Bill Harlow told Wilson that the Republican Senate staff never contacted him for the agency's information on the matter."
Do you have evidence of this? This is the first time I've seen this stated publicly.
5) "Curiously, the only document cited as the basis for Plame's role was a State Department memo that was later debunked by the CIA."
This is false. The SICR expressly quotes the memo written by Ms. Plame.
Perhaps you can clear these discrepancies up?
On a side note, I find it curious to be trusting the statements of anonymous CIA employees for the facts of the Plame case when they supposedly can't be trusted for their intelligence gathering on something as important as WMD - curiously, Plame's area of "expertise" by the way. Appeals to authority to substantiate a "truth" in order to prove another "truth" to be false seem particularly fraught with difficulty.
Why is that more illuminating? And I want an answer to: Is this the kind of evidence for transparent liberal bias that you see as "almost completely beyond reasonable dispute?"
I'd like to address two points related to this argument.
First, you asserted that some 40% of journalists self-identify as moderate. You then argued that the press was not "liberal" (whatever that means.) This is a meaningless data point. I can tell you that I'm moderate, but that doesn't mean I am. I may be in my own mind, but that doesn't mean that I am in practice.
Case in point. During the Swiftvets controversy Jim Rasmussen was consistently portrayed by the press as "a Republican" or "a registered Republican" or "a registered Republican for 33 years" (an appeal to authority, which is meaningless anyway). Yet when a reporter in Arizona actually bothered to ask him who he voted for, he listed Carter, Clinton and Gore (among others.) I think you would be hard-pressed to find very many Republicans (much less registered Republicans) who voted for all three of those men.
Actions always speak louder than words, yet far too many in the press pay attention to the words and ignore the actions.
If you want genuine evidence of media bias, then look at this post of mine (excerpted in part here.)
NBC 40 - 1
CBS 30 - 0
ABC 18 - 1
WaPo 96 - 2
NY Times 70 - 3
LA Times 48 - 2
Let's make this clear. When Joseph Wilson accused the President of the United States of lying, the old media covered it and covered it extensively - 302 stories. When the proof that Wilson had lied became available, the old media essentially ignored it - 9 stories. That's a 33.6 times as many stories repeating Joseph Wilson's lies as the number of stories exposing his lies.
That is bias, plain and simple. You can put whatever label you want on it (liberal, adversarial,positional), but it is clearly
Another clear example of bias is the tremendous amount of scrutiny given to President Bush's Guard record (nothing wrong with that) compared to the complete lack of scrutiny given to John Kerry's military record (great deal wrong with that.) Kerry never even "released" his military records until two months ago, yet when he repeatedly said during the campaign that he had released all his military records no one in the press questioned him about it.
Even now he has only released them to friendly outlets (Boston Globe, LA Times and AP), none of which have done much with them, much less resolved any of the questions raised by the Swiftvets. The only "story" that came out of them was the story of his grades, and that was puerile to say the least. It's such a minor point it's hardly worth writing a story about.
That's dishonest and it does not serve the public well, but that's the press we're stuck with today.
A couple of points:
In the NYTimes, Matt Cooper tells what he told the grand jury. To back up Steve's point, Cooper said Rove never once indicated Valerie Plame had any kind of covert status, though he said she worked for the CIA. This is perhaps Rove stay-out-of-jail card.
"I told the grand jury something else about my conversation with Rove. I have a distinct memory of Rove ending the call by saying, "I've already said too much." This could have meant he was worried about being indiscreet, or it could have meant he was late for a meeting(ellipsis)but that sign off has been in my memory for two years."
Cooper also stressed that he did not call Rove to talk about welfare reform, despite well-planned leaks by Rove's attorney to the contrary.
As to the myth that Wilson lied about who ordered his trip to Niger, let's look at what the ambassador said in his NYTIMES op-ed piece
"In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report (ellipsis) that referred to a memorandum of agreement that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake in Niger. Agency officials asked it I would travel to Niger to check out the story."
The Senate Intelligence report does indeed state that Ms. Plame "offered up" his name in a memo. Which she did, noting Wilson's experience and contacts in Niger.
It's a trival disingenuous to suggest, as some do, that that carried any more weight than a possibility to those who would make the decision on whom to send.
Larry Johnson lays out the chain of command in the CIA bureaucracy who would be involved in such a decision.
"The Office Chief, the Division Chief, and the Branch Chief are the only decision makers at the CIA outside of the DCI himself who can make a decision to send someone on a trip overseas," he writes. That would not include Valerie Plame. She made introductions to the group who would decide but in no way could make his appointment happen. As for the debrief, it was at Wilson's house. I suppose she could have gone to the movies or something.
But this whole folderol or who picked Wilson to go to Niger is, at best, a distraction from the crucial point: THERE WAS NO SUBSTANCE TO THE CLAIM THAT IRAQ WAS TRYING TO BUY YELLOW CAKE FROM NIGER.
That was Wilson's finding. And those of the U.S. Ambassador to Niger at the time and Gen. Fulford, deputy CINC of the European Command. It didn't stop the Bush White House from using information they knew to be wrong as yet another reason why we were in combat in Iraq.
And the biggest distraction of all is the he said/she said debate about Wilson's Niger report/his wife's role/and the political persuasions of the American media.
If Valerie Plame is a CIA mastermind and every reporter knows the Internationale by heart, so what. Someone in the Bush White House leaked the name of a CIA undercover agent, likely endangering her life and those in her network.
Why isn't there outrage across the political spectrum about that?
TA: I still don't understand why you aren't more intrigued by the fact that, according to the study you cited and obviously believe (or you wouldn't have cited it) journalists are significantly more moderate than the population as a whole. You:
The national press' self-identification as more liberal and less conservative than the general public is more illuminating than the figures for moderates because it directly addresses the offending issue - - a leftward ideology disproportionately shared by much of the press that is out of touch with the nation.
Huh? I'm sorry, but the only sense I can make of that is: you aren't interested in figures showing the press is significantly more moderate than Americans as a whole because it doesn't fit with what you know to be true. You're still ducking.
Empirical evidence, you say? Is that what this is about? I don't think so. I think the media bias discourse is among the most intellectually deranged and dishonest streams of commentary in all of public life-- second only to tax cuts for mendacity per column inch. It is deranged and dishonest on the left, as well as the right. It is deranged when supporters of Israel conduct it. It is deranged when supporters of the Palestinians conduct it.
For a prime example, let's take your use of Evan Thomas's quote: "They're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and there's going to be this glow about them, collective glow, the two of them, that's going to be worth maybe 15 points."
Leaving aside the fact that anyone who believes that statement--press coverage means a swing of 15 points in a close election!--is a complete sap or so deluded by ideology as to have lost contact with reality... you fail to mention or link to the fact that Thomas later disavowed his statement, which he said was really, really dumb.
Why on earth would you fail to mention that? (I mean besides the fact that you're posting under a fake name so what the hell?) Thomas later changed his estimate to 5 points-- and if you believe that you are still a sap. He also said reporters wanted Kerry to win, but they were not consciously tilting their coverage. Subconsciously? "Maybe."
Here's Thomas on Thomas's estimate of 15 points, "Stupid thing to say. It was completely wrong." And you call his comments an "empirical statement?" Thomas was pulling numbers out of his ass. He had no idea what he was saying, or why. He was just trying to be provocative.
Okrent said the New York Times is a liberal newspaper, and then said it didn't apply to the paper's political coverage (which would include the coverage of Bush.) Do you mention that he qualified his "empirical" statement? No, you don't. He said it! He said it! It's true, it's true!
This is the sandbox, this is the playground. This is patty-cake with factoids. (And the 15 percent, as well as the 5, are factoids.)
Now maybe there are people who deny that the press is biased. But listen closely: I am not one of them:
To me, any work of journalism is saturated with bias from the moment the reporter leaves the office--and probably before that--to the edited and finished product.
There's bias in the conversation our biased reporter has with his biased editor, bias in the call list he develops for his story, bias in his choice of events to go out and cover, bias in the details he writes down at the event, bias in his lead paragraph, bias in the last paragraph, bias when his editor cuts a graph. The headline someone else writes for him-- that has bias. There's bias in the placement of the story. (No bias in the pixels or printer's ink, though.)
Bias, bias, bias. Yes, I see it. I see it everywhere. I often disagree with those who see it only somewhere in the press. Bias against Bush. Bias against the anti-war Left. Bias against believing Christians. They don't go far enough, in my opinion.
What I deny is that there's any usable sense or intellectual honesty at all in the "bias" discourse as conducted today. In fact, the more you do it the dumber you get. It has almost nothing to do with the press, and it isn't interested in how journalism works. It is point scoring playground style, or, to put the best face on it, simply another way of conducting politics. In fact, I am wasting my time typing this when there's laundry to fold...
Yes, read the Buchanan piece. There's not a new thought, insight or piece of information to be found, but on the bright side, it's short.
A much more interesting read is Jude Wanninski's take on the Rove story over at The Conservative Voice.
There have been all kinds of "impeachment" movements kicking around the Internet from antiwar advocates. The most serious followed revelations of the so-called Downing Street Memo several weeks ago, with British intelligence suggesting that Mr. Bush had made the firm decision to get rid of Saddam in the summer of 2002 and that he would make the intelligence "fit the policy." But I did not take any of that seriously because, in the end, we could never know if the President truly decided to lead the nation to war on false information or if he himself was misled by his team. Remember CIA Director George Tenet's "slam dunk" on Saddam's WMD?
The Niger "yellowcake" story is a more serious problem for the administration, because it would be practically impossible to believe the President was misled at that late date if the man closest to him, Karl Rove, knew there was nothing to the Niger story but let the President go ahead with it anyway without telling him it was false.
That was on the 14th, and to be fair about it, Wanninski's story isn't notable because it slams Rove, but because it raises at least the possibility that Rove and others might deserve slamming. Someday. Today Jude is back with another piece, this one friendlier to Rove but still staking out ground that is, while distinctly conservative, independent of the White House.
So, three points:
1. I know the right is highly invested in the Plame story being "about" the media, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the public disagrees. The president's approval rating just dropped to 42 percent, and a majority of Americans now believes that the president is not honest.
2. Even conservatives are having to admit that there's a problem, and some of them are now thinking a few moves ahead, trying to set up positions in which they can claim independence of thought and action. The truth is, the current administration is so polarizing that one need not be a liberal to find oneself in strident opposition to its aims.
3. Buchanan and the anonymous Kilgore Trout are trying to suggest that even if the press "gets" Rove, the conservatives will still win because the press will be blamed. But here's the thing. By lying and scheming and blaming the press for what is obviously an in-house integrity crisis, the White House is making the press look good by comparison. Which isn't easy trick, by the way.
Who comes out of this looking cooler? Oh really, who cares? What is this? High school?
Really appreciate your response, I crawled through that factcheck.org article, great site, and looked at some of the documents.
I have to disagree with you though on your analyis and understanding of the current situation.
Wilson did not like how his intelligence report was understood by the CIA. However, considering that at the time of Bush's use of that information, it was the accepted intelligence position, Wilson's calling him a liar months later seems horrifically self-serving and mendacious -- but also basically inconsequential? (I didnt realize until reading the factcheck timeline about when each thing occured). I mean, in perspective, Wilson's original NYT op-ed seems like a contrived scandal, ie
"Former ambassador who wrote a single CIA report in 1999 is still pissed about the analysis of it"
I don't see how the white house leaking the issue of nepotism in his original appointment would arouse any righteous indignation? Certainly it's not lying.
And it seems everyone agrees that no actual undercover CIA agant was outed, at all, right? Can we agree on that? There was no outing of an actual undercover officer, regardless of who the original source was, because she hadnt been undercover overseas within the requisite amount of time and was no longer actually a NOC in practice?
So, with the facts I have now, it seems like 4 failed gotchas:
1) Bush thought he had a gotcha on the international community vis a vis Saddam, but the intelligence now looks unreliable.
2) Wilson thought he had a gotcha on the administration (and his enemies within the CIA I imagine) by going ridiculously public with his unhappiness with the way his report had been analyzed.
3) Bush's administration thought they had a gotcha on Wilson's credibility, post-NYT-op-ed, by leaking his disagreements with the analysts over documents and his entry into his appointment by way of his wife.
4) The NYT's Isikoff and others thought they had a gotcha on Bush and/or Rove for mentioning the Wilson nepotism issue (and thereby exposing his wife). But it turns out no crime was committed there, and her role is possible a useful piece of information in judging Wilson's current credibility.
My analysis: it looks like totally regular political stuff, just with an administration and an MSM who are extremely paranoid about one another. Both parties look justified in feeling that way, in light of these facts.
Are there other facts that would alter things?
My gosh. What a mess. But at least the comments seem to confirm some of Jay's thesis.
Instead of the WH team behind the rollback, though, we have surrogates ... a squadron from the 101st keyboarders, fighting tooth and nail, denying that white is white, that black is black, and that 2+2=4. And no one is going to tell them different.
Whoever said 2+2=4, any way? A liberal professor, no doubt, since the universities are packed full of liberals. And it was first reported in a liberal-biased newspaper no doubt, since by definition reporters are wild liberals and cannot help themselves. SO it's no wonder people conclude 2+2=4, but that does not make it true. Because for all we know, 2 does not really equal, two. It might be just a little bit less than 2, or perhaps a little bit more. It's possible. No one can deny that. And hence it is far from certain that 2+2=4.
And just look how it plays out in the turdgate case. It is down right laughable that any one would pretend to doubt that Rove blew Plame's cover to screw her and her husband, big time. That's just who Karl Rove is. Everyone knows that. It is indisputable. "We will fuck him," Rove said, "Do you hear me? We will fuck him. We will ruin him. Like no one has ever fucked him!"
Now, prior bad acts are not sufficient grounds upon which to convict. But when the suspect lies on other relevant matters, they very well may be. A jury is free to disregard all testimony of a witness if that witness has lied on one material matter. And in this case, Rove has lied for sure, McClellan has lied for sure, heck, even Bush has lied (see below).
But wait, there's more. They have all but confessed to the crime, or been caught red-handed. Rove told Cooper. Scooter told Cooper. They don't dispute this. Rove may have "gone too far" in telling Cooper, but hey, she was "fair game." Right? And the president himself has now retreated, unable to remain in that class of tough straight talkers whose "word is his bond." He won't fire the leaker now, as he previously promised he would. In other words, his word isn't worth shit. Why not, Mr. President?
I think the WH wants more than just rollback, though. They want ownership of the press. They want to co-opt, and to an alarming extent already have co-copted, the media (Fox is just the tip of the iceberg). The media is there to deliver their message, to be used for their purposes, to be woven into the very fabric of governance, so that their interests converge and their message is one and the same. That's what they really want. And sadly, an alarming number of idiots in the citizenry think that would be just great!
Here's the background on Rove's quote, in bold above: Ron Suskind, from The New Republic, from CalPundit.
Reading Anna's post this morning made me think about wars and scandals past, which brought to mind this point, which I believe has been underappreciated in the discussion of the White House and the media.
The public's basic model for a scandal goes like this: 1. Allegation of wrong-doing; 2. Initial investigation of allegation; 3. Appointment of independent counsel; 4. Congressional hearings; 5. Outcome, which varies.
In such a model, the press plays a role in publicizing the initial allegation (and let's be blunt about it, the allegation is usually leaked by someone with a dog in the fight, not developed by primary reporting). Once the machine is set in motion, the press covers its churnings and collects the inevitable leaks as both sides attempt to influence public perception. There are, of course, exceptions, but I think that's the general pattern.
But the the Bush White is operating in a significantly different environment. Unlike his predecessors, Bush enjoys majorities in both Houses of Congress and hasn't been accountable to the Office of the Independent Counsel since the law expired in 2001 (at midnight on Sept. 11, ironically enough).
There simply aren't as many checks on this administration's behavior, and that's probably a very bad thing for the White House. Accountability and feedback are good -- they temper our natural tendency toward hubris.
It's also bad for the press, in a sense. One could say that claims made in the press are only "validated" in the public eye when something official is done about them. Consider: Most of the information relevant to the WMD story had already been published in the summer of 2003. Why is it only a "big" story now? Perhaps because the public has been waiting for confirmation of those facts by someone other than the usual partisan/media suspects.
In other words, had the House been controlled by Democrats in 2003, or had the Independent Counsel law been in effect at the time, the administration likely would have been required by law to account for its actions publicly.
The press, even functioning at its "best," simply isn't configured to be a catch-all balance for all branches of government. It's legal to lie to us, and reporters cannot force anyone to present their evidence.
I think we could improve our performance as journalists and this basic equation still would not change. Nor should it. The press and the media are no more worthy of unearned power than any other institution. We have an important role, but it isn't a stand-alone role.
The whole system is just unhealthy at the moment, and overdue for a correction.
I want to add to my comments to Steve Lovelady (although it appears Steve Schwenk is the one truly blinded by negatively directed emotion to be an honest observer). It occured to me that there is an axiom in art, at least video art, that the object can not observe both subject and itself (object). This amounts in short to the notion that I can see you but I can't see me and, most especially, I can't see me seeing you. So I know very little about myself and about how I see--how I exist as subject.
Now, if we look at the Rove-Plame-Wilson-Cooper-Novak-Miller-Corn affair (which is how it should be accurately termed), there is no way that Cooper-Novak-Miller-Corn can honestly comment on the subject of the story, because they are the subjects themselves. Likewise, their proxies-- Time, NYT, etc.-- are blind as well. One only has to read Time's really horrible coverage in the latest issue to realize the truth of this. Their timeline of events, for example, continues to place Rove as the primary doer of all action -- e.g., "Rove discussed Plame with Cooper"--when in fact it was by all account Cooper who discussed Plame with Rove, if you see the critical distinction. In other words, the media is uanble to conceive of itself as subject, as the thing seen, and continually gets stuck as being seer.
In short, it is virtually useless as a direct interpreter of information in this case. What keeps happening on the boards here is that a lot of the media-ites, eg., the Steves--are too identified with the media and so they end up participating in its self-blindness and have only an incomplete view of the total scene.
This is one of those occassions where "pressthink" means not thinking as the press, but thinking of the press, not as defender or as identifier, but with detachment. If you find yourself capable of discussing only Rove but can not see Cooper, or Wilson, then, I submit, you are blind.
Lee: First, a correction to your reversal. Cooper didn't discuss Plame with Rove; your sentence is imprecise. Cooper discussed Wilson with Rove. He called Rove to ask about Wilson, knowing nothing about the Valerie connection until Rove mentioned it.
I do think you are on to something in your post, despite the confusion of terms.
One of the things that annoys me about some of the Righties who drift in here is that they automatically assume that I disagree with them because I am a "liberal journalist," when I am not, really.
Not really a journalist, that is. By which I mean I have never worked for a mainstream news organization; and I am not the "product" of newsroom culture. (I would be proud to be called a liberal intellectual, though.)
I do have some of the antibodies for the journalism bug. I was a college journalist-- editor of my campus newspaper, the same one Howard Kurtz edited a few years before me. And I wanted to turn pro, hoping to become a political reporter, but through an accident of fate I got de-railed early, and ended up going in a more academic direction.
Today I define myself as a writer and social critic (and increasingly a blogger) who occasionally works in journalistic forms like a book review, interview, or opinion piece, and occasionally does some reporting. My native form is the critical essay, not the news story; but I have studied the construction of news stories.
Whatever contributions I can make come, I think, from having some distance on the journalistic mind, so that it is an "object" to me. But also having enough familiarity with professional journalism to craft descriptions of the press that don't sound entirely alien to journalists or familiar, either. They have to make sense to others-- non-journalists, which is most of the world. That's the hope, anyway, realized some fraction of the time.
The whole point of starting PressThink was that the thinking of the press is not really visible to itself, and the deeper the pattern the less visible it is to journalists. An example from a few posts ago that is relevant to your post is the production of innocence, which really means the signs of innocence in a news story. (As with "he said, she said.") It's safe to say your average newsroom inhabitant doesn't see himself involved with anything like that, whereas I see it in almost every news story. To them this is an "academic" concept, or even "theory," whereas from my point of view it's a concrete description of their practice.
Journalists don't necessarily agree with me that the thinking of the press is invisible to itself, but then what profession or occupational group doesn't see itself as the world's greatest expert on its own work and routines?
I have had hundreds of journalists ask me how I could pretend to understand what they do when I have never been a professional journalist (actually since PressThink no one says that anymore, but they used to...) Many of them don't realize how easily the question could be turned around: what makes you think you understand the press, you're in it!
It's not strange to me that CNN's Reliable Sources is hosted by media reporter Howard Kurtz, whom I respect a good deal. It's not strange, either, that this week's guests were reporters Matt Cooper and Bob Woodward. But it is very strange (to me) that for "perspective" they bring on Susan Page of USA Today, John Fund of the Wall Street Journal, and Ken Herman of Cox Newspapers.
That isn't perspective; it's monopoly! Press think won't be examined in a forum like that, but it will be exhibited. And I think the transcript bears that out.
Finally, speaking not about Lovelady in particular but journalists as a class I think it is true that "self-blindness" means journalists have only an incomplete view of the total scene, especially in a story like this: the Wilson, Plame, Novak, Rove, Cooper, Miller saga. The Times editorializing on Miller is characterized, in my view, by a refusal to think, as I suggested in "After."
But I would add that everyone, journalist or non, insider or outsider, has an incomplete view of the scene. Including me and, sadly, you.
Your second statement (leery of) is accurate, but it doesn't negate the fact that Iraq was seeking yellowcake contra Wilson's op-ed in which he called Bush "a liar".
First, there is no evidence that Iraq was actually seeking yellowcake. There was speculation/an assumption from one Niger trade official that is what Iraq wanted to discuss, and based on that speculative assumption, the trade official claims to have "steered" the conversation away from yellowcake. But the fact is that yellowcake was never discussed at the meeting, and if the operating assumption is that Iraq's purpose in setting up the meeting was to discuss the possible sale of yellowcake, one would assume that the subject would be raised.
(And lets not forget that the trade official's account may have been self-serving, designed to increase the confidence of the US government in Niger's loyalty.)
Secondly, you have apparently not read Wilson's piece, because he did not call Bush a liar. If you read the piece, its clear that the point of Wilson's piece was to raise questions about the Bush administration's handling of intelligence. At the time, Wilson's primary claim to fame was in standing up to Saddam Hussein in the weeks before "Desert Storm"; Wilson was considered an American hero, and when someone of Wilson's stature publicly states that there is good reason to question how intelligence was handled, people pay attention.
The White House didn't want those questions asked, so they engaged in a campaign (which is ongoing) to discredit Wilson.
Re: Somersby --- his whole schtick is based on the erroneous assumption that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's report on Irag was "non-partisan". Based on that assumption, Somersby then goes on to conclude that anyone who supports Wilson has to think that the eight Democrats on the committee were part of a conspiracy that "concocted the cover story" that appears in the SSCI report.
The problem is that the SSCI was far from non-partisan, and while the GOP placed a high priority on discrediting Wilson, the Democrats were more interested in getting what limited facts they could about the handling of intelligence on the public record. (Keep in mind that the GOP majority did not want the SSCI to even look at the handling of intelligence, the Bush administration discouraged the investigation, and the investigation only went forward after the Democrats agreed to restrict the scope of the investigation in a way that was designed by the GOP Senators to contain most of the political damage until after the 2004 elections.)
There is a readers diary in dailykos that explores this issue more fully
perhaps the most telling point of the piece is the information about a May 25th CIA generated report (the third) on the purported sale of yellowcake. This, of course, comes after Wilson (and others, including a state department report) had made it clear that such a sale was virtually impossible, but there is no hint that the information showing that the sale made no sense was included in the new CIA report.
More critically, in terms of the political nature of the SSCI report as a whole, is that the committee was far more concerned with the fact that there were no obvious discrepancies than the fact that there were significant discrepancies that made it clear that the report was bogus. (Wilson at one point had said that the documents on which the reports were based were obvious forgeries.) There is no criticism of the intelligence community for its failure to examine the "new information" included in the CIA's report that, had it been examined, would have revealed the significant discrepancies.
In other words, despite the fact that most experts who had previously examined the claims found in the original reports of the yellowcake sale found them to be not credible, the CIA issued a third "more detailed" report without highlighting the fact that the previous reports had been judged not credible -- and no one examined the "new details" which would have confirmed the fact that the report was not credible. And the SSCI ignored all of that, in favor of attempting to debunk Wilson's previous claim that the documents were "obvious forgeries."
If that's not political, I don't know what is. The fact that Somersby refuses to recognize the political nature of the SSCI report, and pretends that every word of the report was fully endorsed (or, as Somersby puts it, "concocted") by the Democrats on the committee, tells you everything you need to know about Somersby lack of credibility on this issue.
Dang. You hooked me.
OK, then, let's do Gertz.
He writes a story that cites U.S. "officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity" who say that Plame's CIA identity was:
"was first disclosed to Russia in the mid-1990s by a Moscow spy," and that she was revealed a second time "in confidential documents sent by the CIA to the U.S. Interests Section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana. The documents were supposed to be sealed from the Cuban government, but intelligence officials said the Cubans read the classified material and learned the secrets contained in them, the officials said."
I'm not going to go too deep here to raise the obvious credibility issues. The fact that a piece of information HAS credibility issues DOESN'T MEAN IT'S WRONG, but you have to evaluate information pending confirmation by independent sources. Anonymous sources, like anonymous handles, are by themselves neither good nor bad.
Who are Gertz's sources? If they're real, they're people with pretty hefty security clearances, and one would imagine the information cited here, if true, would be classified. So no FOIA trail, no independent source for documents.
Additionally, the sources come straight out of Spookworld. Once a piece of information has passed through that shadow land, you use it at your own risk... PARTICULARLY when it tells you what you wanted to hear.
In summary: I grade the credibility of the sourcing here as poor. In my editor days I wouldn't have printed a piece with that kind of sourcing unless I had a bunch of other confirming facts and personal assurances, probably in writing and on file at my attorney's office. We don't know what the WaTimes editors have, of course, but the truly skinny description of those sources raises red flags for journalists, if not the public.
Now, as to relevance:
The Plame leak is the subject of an independent criminal investigation because the CIA filed a crime report and Ashcroft recused himself. This is not your typical political "independent counsel" case.
There are some very basic assumptions that I feel comfortable making here, and the first is, Rove has good lawyers. If there was no possibility that a crime had been committed because Plame was not, under the law, a covert agent, a good lawyer would have made that motion and a judge would have considered it. So I conclude that: 1. the CIA (which presumably knows its own agents' overt/covert status) believes that the 1982 statute was violated and that Plame met the standard; 2. a judge has likely reviewed the claims and sided with the CIA. So it isn't as if none of this has ever been reviewed. Had the fundamentals of the case been found lacking, we'd know because the charges would have been dropped.
Third, Gertz's government leakers' conclusion that "the disclosure that Mrs. Plame's cover was blown before the news column undermines the prosecution of the government official who might have revealed the name," is absurd on its face because it presumes beyond its factual claims.
Even if Plame's identity is known to agents in Russia and Cuba, one simply cannot reasonably assume that what is known in other countries, including Iraq. Or Niger. Or Congo. Or Canada, for that matter. It could be, but where's the proof?
In other words, even if Plame's CIA cover had been damaged by disclosures in Russia and Cuba, that alone would not preclude her from working in a covert capacity. And apparently it didn't, as Plame continued to work in a non-official status related to WMD monitoring.
As I understand it, Plame's undercover activities were of the false-front company kind. The company, a loosely defined legal group, was called Brewster Jennings & Associates. "The group was intended to infiltrate ties between groups involved in smuggling nuclear weapons and the material to create them."
Because Plame was linked to the company, the company was damaged (I have no idea what its cover status was in 2003, but this couldn't have helped).
What's the intelligence fallout? Let's be blunt: Without a high-level security clearance, we can only speculate. But let's not be disingenuous and suggest that we can know, with ANY degree of confidence, that no outing occurred, that no operations were compromised, and on and on and on.
As to the "36 news operations," I'm unimpressed. That amicus brief is a stoopid lawyer trick from an industry that fights bogus subpoenas against reporters every year.
1. Weak, anonymous sourcing;
2. Irrelevant information;
3. Speculative conclusion not supported by its own claims;
4. A politically sensitize story that supports the WaTimes' conservative editorial position;
5. Passionate argument that it all adds up to smoking-gun evidence of liberal media collusion.
I smell a red herring.
Could I be wrong? YES. I don't cover Washington for a living. I haven't covered this case. I don't know Jack Squat Diddly about many of the players in this drama.
But if all one has to do is waste 30 minutes to tear this thing apart, just how bad are things over at the RNC these days?
At some point, the thoughtful conservatives on this thread and around the country are simply going to conclude that it takes absurd amounts of energy to continue to dodge the most obvious interpretation of the facts. And then they're going to do what I did, after months of supporting the administration in its case for war: They're going to say "I was wrong, and I feel like I've been played."