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H20town by Lisa Williams is about the life and times of Watertown, Massachusetts, and it covers that town better than any local newspaper. Williams is funny, she has style, and she loves her town.

Dan Froomkin's White House Briefing at is a daily review of the best reporting and commentary on the presidency. Read it daily and you'll be extremely well informed.

Rebecca MacKinnon, former correspondent for CNN, has immersed herself in the world of new media and she's seen the light (great linker too.)

Micro Persuasion is Steve Rubel's weblog. It's about how blogs and participatory journalism are changing the business of persuasion. Rubel always has the latest study or article.

Susan Mernit's blog is "writing and news about digital media, ecommerce, social networks, blogs, search, online classifieds, publishing and pop culture from a consultant, writer, and sometime entrepeneur." Connected.

Group Blogs

CJR Daily is Columbia Journalism Review's weblog about the press and its problems, edited by Steve Lovelady, formerly of the Philadelpia Inquirer.

Lost Remote is a very newsy weblog about television and its future, founded by Cory Bergman, executive producer at KING-TV in Seattle. Truly on top of things, with many short posts a day that take an inside look at the industry.

Editors Weblog is from the World Editors Fourm, an international group of newspaper editors. It's about trends and challenges facing editors worldwide. keeps track of developments from the British side of the Atlantic. Very strong on online journalism.

Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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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 (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   Print


Basically, it is not abnormal for any current Admin. to evolve with the current press-rightly or wrongly- and this tension/rollback will obviously affect the reporting/questioning/journaling as we see with the Plame/Rove affair. As usual, there must be a winner and loser in such cases-perceived or real- and therefore who will be the perceived or real loser in this rollback in the Plame/Rove affair or other budding stories? Is the evolution of the way the Press deals with things correct or wrong or neutral, or is the way the Admin. deals with things correct or wrong or neutral? Is the average american the real loser in all of this?

Posted by: calboy at July 16, 2005 2:38 AM | Permalink

linking to the thoroughly discredited Daily Howler piece about Joe's Wilson's supposed lack of credibility doesn't help you make your case, Mr. Rosen.

Posted by: ami at July 16, 2005 7:33 AM | Permalink

Jay, I think you give the administration far too much credit in this. You're writing about an effect, the causes of which are many and not nearly so organized and planned. The rollback policy (excellent phrase) is a natural reaction to the slow suicide of the press. None of this would be possible were it not for years of public trust abuse at the hands of the media elite. Did the Bush administration take advantage of that abuse? Perhaps yes, but here's the bigger question: would any other administration have done likewise? I think the answer is yes.

Posted by: Terry Heaton at July 16, 2005 9:12 AM | Permalink

To Ami: Actually, linking to any piece questioning Mr. Wilson's credibility *does* provide context, thus supporting Mr. Rosen's point. More so, your assertion that the Daily Howler piece is thoroughly discredited lacks substantiation. By whom? And how many? Jay's point seems to be that assertion without evidence leads to spin. And then it merely becomes point/counterpoint. And that is what the current administration has used to weaken investigations of its policies and decisions.

Posted by: Jasperjed at July 16, 2005 9:27 AM | Permalink


I was going to leave a comment about the Daily Howler, as well. There are so many things that Bob Somerby has written in his posts that are just plain's hard to know where to start.

But, instead, I'll argue that the White House press corps didn't just suddenly awaken.

I think the day to mark on the calendar is May 17th, 2005 when Scott McClellan said, in relation to the Koran desecration story which had (sort of) been discredited (link), "And we would encourage Newsweek to do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region."

Terry Moran, who I have criticized often in the past, was especially awakened and his response was, "With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print?" could even make the case that it happened a few days before that...when a number of reporters who were in the Old Executive Office Building were upset at the fact that they hadn't received word to be evacuated during the plane scare in May.

I also give credit to a certain blogger (who many in the press think is still the acting chair of a certain school's journalism department - or are just too lazy to fact check) who made an awful lot of noise before both of the incidents that I mentioned about how poor a job the White House press corps has done.

I just hope they keep it up.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at July 16, 2005 9:29 AM | Permalink

This is a fascinating analysis of the way that the Bush administration has successfully rolled over the press, but I disagree with the suggestion that the press might counter it with better coordination. Media organizations could never get away with creating their own spin infrastructure.

The real enemy of the Bush approach is reality. You can win elections and minimize criticism through bald assertion and fix intelligence around policy objectives, but those only solve your political problems.

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at July 16, 2005 9:35 AM | Permalink


Joe Wilson has effectively countered every point that the Daily Howler made in the hundreds of interviews he's given over the last two years. And most of his points were brought up in the last thread by some right-leaning detractors and were countered by the usual suspects who populate the commments section.

While it's possible that there may be a few things which Wilson said or did that may not be altogether far...there's nothing that can be proven unequivocally false, yet.

Posted by: Ron Brynaert at July 16, 2005 9:36 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Andrew Tyndall at July 16, 2005 11:49 AM | Permalink

The mention of Newsweek's Quran-flushing story raises the question of Isikoff's role in this story. His first article, one of the first stories breaking Rove's involvement, is a great study in a lot of these forces. Of course, it is notable that Isikoff--recently recovered from his public White House beating--writes the story. So one might think this story is just Isikoff's chance for revenge. But Isikoff, of course, is not new to this kind of story; he's got one President's credibility under his belt, and I'm sure he'd love to get a second.

Nevertheless Isikoff falls right into White House spin on this story. He relies on three sources, Luskin, and two anonymous lawyers "sympathetic to the White House." (I saw no one mention the irony of relying on two anonymous sources at the White House for a story about Plame...) I, for one, am quite certain he was a tool of someone in the White House (my latest theory is that Libby's or Cheney's lawyer was the one who said, "WH is worried about a Rove indictment" because it shifted attention away from their own culpability). He thought he was taking down a(nother) President, and he was really just falling for someone's spin!!!

Posted by: emptywheel at July 16, 2005 1:54 PM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 16, 2005 3:00 PM | Permalink

Please elucidate. What is the evidence that the administration is in conflict with Patrick Fitzgerald? Is the press afraid of the blogs for the exposing of a multitude of false reports? It is easier to place blame on Rove et. al. than numerous private individuals.

Posted by: richard siegel at July 16, 2005 5:11 PM | Permalink

'Executive innovation' is a curious way to describe a rollback of the enlightenment in governance.

Posted by: Matt Stoller at July 16, 2005 5:20 PM | Permalink

Instead of a retread of Jay's press rollback theory, I would have been more interested in seeing him delve into the media's continuing, evolving role in the Plame affair. Perhaps Jay is also waiting, like Scott McClellan, for Fitzgerald to finish his investigation!

I mean when Josh Marshall is grudgingly moving on to other issues, you know that a reality that many people had a lot invested in has turned into quicksand. But is it the quicksand of Bush's diabolical press strategy or the quicksand of a lazy, mediocre Washington Press corps (routinely castigated by Bob Somerby) that declines to do hard work when it can instead piece together another bogus conflict piece based on the canned sound bytes of a couple of press spokesmen?

Posted by: Brian at July 16, 2005 6:08 PM | Permalink

John Tierney so completely nails the Plame affair that one wants to breathe a sigh of relief: it's one of the few places in the MSM you can read about Wilson's credibility problems and the strange emptiness at the center of this would-be scandal.

I disagree with him, however, in his apparent belief that it's a scandal without promise. I do think that it's very possible some unknown figure--who could be Wilson, Novak, Miller, Plame, an Administration official or someone in the CIA--is going to be indicted for a crime that has nothing to do with a post-facto coverup but for some sort of original sin.

The fact that you can't read in the good old MSM about most of the facts to which Tierney alludes, but you can on the blogs, is why I don't think there is much of a "rollback" going on, as in some external force acting on the press. The press is rolling itself back with shoddy work.

I think it's steady loss of credibility is good for the country, for the spread of complete information and for democracy. Who isn't cheering the press's self-rollback? (except the press). Bring on the alternative media.

Posted by: Lee Kane at July 16, 2005 6:27 PM | Permalink

PS. No irony intended, btw. I know that Tierney is a member of the MSM so by citing him I am disproving my own thesis. But I am speaking primarily of the news pages, not a backpage columnist, whose "facts" will always be seen as partisan. On the other hand, perhaps in some sense I am disproving my own thesis. One cheer for the MSM!

Posted by: Lee Kane at July 16, 2005 6:32 PM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates at July 16, 2005 8:00 PM | Permalink

Jay, I think you're giving the special prosecutor a little too much credit here. He, like the adminstration flunkies on the run and like the Washington press itself, has hardly covered himself with glory in this unfolding fiasco.
Every time you think the story can't get any more bizarre ... it gets more bizarre.
In today's Times alone, you have:

        --The prosecutor's office set up to chase anonymous leaks of sensitive information evidently leaking sensitive information itself--about grand jury proceedings, which is clearly illegal.

        --The NYT that has both foresworn using anonymous sources, and is willing to violate the law to protect anonymous sources, accepting leaks from the leak-hunting prosecutor, and then explaining why it's okay for them to be anonymous.

        --The evidently real possibility that the person who outed Plame was not a government official at all, but a journalist (who used to be a government official), Tim Russert. (Which, of course, begs the question -- who was Russert's source who told him stuff that he then blabbed to whomever he could reach at the White House.)

-- And, best of all, of course Karl Rove's ingenious and shiny new defense: "I didn't leak to reporters ... reporters leaked to me!"

You couldn't make this stuff up!

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 16, 2005 8:45 PM | Permalink

Your plea for our media to "print what is true" reminds me of something I once heard:

Understanding is a three edged sword. Your side, their side, and the truth.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 16, 2005 10:37 PM | Permalink

Praedor, Your plea for our media to "print what is true" reminds me of something I once heard: Understanding is a three edged sword. Your side, their side, and the truth.

By day I'm a scientist. The whole deal is quite simple. You observe, ask questions, get answers, you dig. You report the facts and generate conclusions ONLY based upon the facts (data). There's no room here for spin (that is called scientific misconduct). There are also certain operating assumptions for the press corps that are virtually 100% foolproof. ANYTHING the WH says is spin and may or may not be associated with reality. Better to take it with a grain of salt. NEVER trust a "source" that is highly placed, has a clear political agenda tied to the information that has nothing whatsoever to do with serving the public good.

It is unacceptable, period, when "journalists" pass on talking points or repeat clearly demonstrable falsehoods spouted by political operatives with clear motive to lie. David Brooks and others pass on totally irrelevant nonsense provided by the WH about what a liar Wilson if, even if true, that would justify outing a CIA operative. Apples and oranges. It doesn't help when the nonsense they forward at the behest of the WH are factually incorrect (provable lies) and yet they say nothing about that fact.

Unethical, every last one of them. They simply haven't been doing their jobs. All they do is accept printouts and words from the WH and then pass them on to the public without critical review. If any ever DO actually provide the factually-based counterpoint to the spin, the nevertheless present the obvious fabrications by the WH as if they have equal weight with REALITY.

I repeat: unethical. It's also lazy, damaging to democracy, damaging to the press, damaging to the nation, and a dereliction of duty (I am also a veteran so this last is as unforgivable to me as presenting false data as if it were true).

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates at July 16, 2005 11:06 PM | Permalink

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?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 16, 2005 11:26 PM | Permalink

Ron Brynaert wrote

While it's possible that there may be a few things which Wilson said or did that may not be altogether far...there's nothing that can be proven unequivocally false, yet.
I wonder what you might be referring to? Would it be the "documents" Wilson supposedly saw, that, when the SIC confronted him with the fact that he couldn't possibly have seen them, he claimed were "literary flair"? Could it be the response to Newsweek, "That's bullshit!", when he was asked if his wife was involved in his trip to Niger? Or perhaps it's his reference to the forged documents obtained by the US from the Italian's six months after he claimed to have seen them, when he said he "may have mispoken"?

Or perhaps it's his claim that he "debunked" the claim that the iraqis had signed an agreement to obtain yellowcake from Niger when in fact that claim had never been made?

I'm just curious which, of all the many lies Wilson has told, you think he has refuted.

Oh, and I absolutely love your parsing of words in "there's nothing that can be proven unequivocally false, yet." I guess we get to argue incessantly now over whether or not his lies were "unequivocally" false rather than patently false.

I do have to thank you for a good chuckle, though.

Jay, a fascinating look at current relationships between the press and the White House.

I wonder how you would respond to this question.

Yesterday and today AP published stories based upon leaks from "legal professionals" with knowledge of Fitzgerald's grand jury investigation. Would you support an investigation of those leaks? Would you support compelling the AP reporters to reveal their sources so they could be charged with their obvious violations of the law? Does the press have an ethical obligation not to reveal secret information? Or are they free to publish anything, even if the only way the information could be obtained were for someone to violate the law?

Posted by: antimedia at July 16, 2005 11:37 PM | Permalink

Jay, I think you're wrapping your arms around one leg of a big elephant here. The key to understanding Bush & Co.'s approach to the press is understanding its approach to politics in general.

Bush & Co. simply isn't interested in the traditional political practice of reaching out to the general populace through the press or any other means. It doesn't have to. That's due in part to advances in targeted media, but also because demographics and structural electoral changes (redistricting, the growth of exurbs, etc.) give the GOP a slim but largely unassailable advantage. The goal is therefore not to evangelize the Bush/GOP message to the masses, but rather to preach to the choir.

Writing in The Atlantic last year, Joshua Green explained:

As with direct mail, Rove was skilled at reaching specific voter segments with television commercials, buying air time only during programs that he believed would attract the audience he was trying to reach. In his Alabama races he was known particularly to withhold advertising from The Oprah Winfrey Show and similar afternoon programming—"trimming a media buy," as it is known in the trade. Bill Smith, who worked on a series of close races with Rove in Alabama, says, "There's a real overlap in what he specialized in professionally and what you need to do in a tight race." Whether he is seeking donors in a direct-mail fundraising campaign or manipulating a particular demographic sliver to win a close race, Rove's professional goal has been strikingly consistent: to reach the right people.

Green concluded that Karl Rove "isn't bracing for a close race. He's depending on it." Because it can depend on a slim but solid majority, Bush & Co. can afford to ignore the hue and cry from the press and the other side of the aisle. In fact, it often throws salt in the wound because it pleases its own base:

Rather than soften Bush's appeal to reach moderates, Rove, as he has done throughout his career, is attempting to control the debate by expertly spotlighting issues sure to inspire his core constituency [which includes bashing out groups]...

Privately, Rove has been challenged and even denounced for his approach. A common refrain I heard from Republican consultants a few months ago was that his approach is foolish, because for the sake of an ideologically intense campaign, Rove is ceding to the Democrats the moderates Kerry is pursuing. And, these consultants fear, it puts Bush in jeopardy of seeing outside events decide the race.

But an interesting thing happened as I worked on this piece. Early in the summer, as Bush was struggling, even Rove's allies professed to doubt his ability to control the dynamics of the race in view of an unrelenting stream of bad news from Iraq. Several insisted that he was in over his head—with an emphasis that seemed to go deeper than mere professional envy. Yet by August, when attacks by the anti-Kerry group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth were dominating the front pages, such comments had become rarer. Then they died away entirely.

If this year stays true to past form, the campaign will get nastier in the closing weeks, and without anyone's quite registering it, Rove will be right back in his element. He seems to understand—indeed, to count on—the media's unwillingness or inability, whether from squeamishness, laziness, or professional caution, ever to give a full estimate of him or his work. It is ultimately not just Rove's skill but his character that allows him to perform on an entirely different plane. Along with remarkable strategic skills, he has both an understanding of the media's unstated self-limitations and a willingness to fight in territory where conscience forbids most others.

Posted by: Sven at July 17, 2005 12:17 AM | Permalink


Attributing Wilson's trip to his wife's supposed authority became the predicate for a smear campaign against his credibility. Seven months after the appointment of the special counsel, in July 2004, the Republican-dominated Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued its report on flawed intelligence leading to the Iraq war... The three-page addendum by the ranking Republicans followed the now well-worn attack lines: "The plan to send the former ambassador to Niger was suggested by the former ambassador's wife, a CIA employee."

The CIA subsequently issued a statement, as reported by New York Newsday and CNN, that the Republican senators' conclusion about Plame's role was wholly inaccurate. But the Washington Post's Susan Schmidt reported only the Republican senators' version, writing that Wilson was "specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly," in a memo she wrote. Schmidt quoted a CIA official in the senators' account saying that Plame had "offered up" Wilson's name. 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." Unfortunately, Schmidt's article did not reflect this understanding of routine CIA procedure. 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.

Curiously, the only document cited as the basis for Plame's role was a State Department memo that was later debunked by the CIA. The Washington Post, on Dec. 26, 2003, reported: "CIA officials have challenged the accuracy of the ... document, the official said, because the agency officer identified as talking about Plame's alleged role in arranging Wilson's trip could not have attended the meeting. 'It has been circulated around,' one official said."

Posted by: Sven at July 17, 2005 12:37 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: weldon berger at July 17, 2005 12:43 AM | Permalink

Yes, it's evidence, and it's more illuminating to note that study's numbers for liberals and conservatives: Some 34 percent of responding national press self-identified as liberal; only 20 of the general public did. Only 7 percent of national press self-identified as conservative; 33 percent of the general public did.

Thus, according to the study you also cited, the national press self-identify as signifcantly more liberal and significantly less conservative than the general public. I believe that fact is apparent in their work product - - and I hope many other Americans come to understand that as well.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 17, 2005 12:50 AM | Permalink

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?"

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 17, 2005 1:02 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: antimedia at July 17, 2005 1:28 AM | Permalink

Antimedia: are you claiming that you, personally, believe that, based on the evidence you have seen, Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife, who conceived and authorized his trip?

I would be happy to add your "name" and a link to this post and send whatever readers I have (here and at the Huffington Post) to your site so they too can know the truth and be set free.

So... do you think he was sent by his wife? And if you do, what link from your site can I use?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 17, 2005 8:55 AM | Permalink

You libs just don't get it, do you? First of all, Rove didn't leak anything to Novak. Novak ran with the story first and had secured permission from the CIA before publishing. Now, ask yourself was Valerie Plame a covert operative? If she was, why did Langley bless Novak's story? If she wansn't, this is just politics as usual. If you don't have someting on your opponent, make something up (its getting habitual for the left).

Secondly, who is Judith Miller's source? Can't be Rove--he gave waivers. The NYT is probably protecting someone.

But you guys will do ANYTHING to try and make Bush look bad. It's like blood for you sharks. Better luck next time.

And you honestly think this administration controls the press? That is laughable. Check out and see how the press has run mostly negative stories on this administration. Except for a few newer networks, the media hates this president as much as Howard Dean. Viva' Bush!

Posted by: Jeff Fleming at July 17, 2005 9:43 AM | Permalink

No, Viva Jeff! That's almost a perfect culture war comment thread text. Good enough to put in a time capsule for curious people generations from now. Especially: "you guys will do ANYTHING to try and make Bush look bad," which is so...beautifully all-purpose.

By the way, here's 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.

Both Rove and Fleicher wanted to separate themselves from yahoos in their own party for whom this view (press is constant thorn of those in power, whether Republican or Democrat) is heresy. Why did they do that? Anyone know?

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 17, 2005 10:17 AM | Permalink

Low blow to Viva Jeff Mr. Rosen. The economy is booming--what does the press say?. I can't hear the tree falling sir. When the pillar of probity(Mr. T. Kennedy) and Mr. Byrd(KKK) are quoted ad nauseum, one wonders whose agenda the press is furthering. The country at large( yes the red states are alive and kicking) has left the press behind. Oh by the way-- remember how " Mr. Bush" stole Florida in 2000? I don't see the outrage or coverage of the East St. Louis or state of Washington scandals.

Posted by: richard siegel at July 17, 2005 11:40 AM | Permalink

Unless I'm reading the tone of Jay's post wrong, the instinct seems to be to attribute ulterior, maninuplative motive to Rove's comment on press bias (or its lack) ironically resembles the reflexive mode of "it's all liberal bias" interpretation of MSM behavior. Perhaps Rove made his comments simply because he believed them, for the most part--though maybe there is ulterior motive. It doesn't behoove the Administration to get caught in a he-said/she-said game in which Bush and Co. (Rove, et al) accuse the media of liberal bias and the media denies it. Better to be above the fray--let others make the accusations than do so directly--and that's been the Bush line all along for a number of obvious reasons, so Rove's comments are hardly suprising.

By the way, I agree mostly with Rove. I think sometimes the dominant paradigm operating in a given bit of coverage is to "afflict the comfortable" while other times it is laced with a particular form of almost subconscious Republican mistrust. I think your frequent poster Steve Lovelady is a case in point there, so blinded by his paradigms that he has pretty much been off base on this Plame affair right along, so expecting Rove to be the "villain," even the latest developments he must interpret from a frame of Rove as master manipulator events to nefarious purpose, and that that is always the main story, even the only story. It is rather amusing. The major media-even NPR as late as today--is still operating from this base; eventually they will catch up a bit to what's actually happening, though I doubt fully so.

In any case, "afflication" or "bias" motivated -- the real question is do these modes get the public the information it needs to make decisions. I think the answer there is no, pretty much. Both modes are dysfunctional and destructive, and lead to sometimes grossly inaccurate pictures of any given situation.

Posted by: LK at July 17, 2005 12:27 PM | Permalink

Jay asks

Antimedia: are you claiming that you, personally, believe that, based on the evidence you have seen, Wilson was sent to Niger by his wife, who conceived and authorized his trip?
Not at all. I'm arguing that framing the question the way that you have (and many others have as well) is a false dichotomy. Of course Plame didn't authorize the trip. She wasn't in a position to. But she certainly suggested the trip, and she certainly promoted her husband for the trip, and she convened the meeting at which the trip was planned and she attended his debriefing.

By any reasonable measure, that is involvement. To then reframe the facts to say she never authorized the trip or she never sent him to Niger is to ignore the influence she had over the trip being authorized.

My boss is the only one who can sign PO's, but I can assure you she will tell you my influence is critical. In fact, in some areas she defers to my judgment completely. If, then, something went wrong with a purchase I promoted, who do you think is going to be criticized for the judgment to buy? Certainly not my boss alone!

This is silly parsing of words that completely misses the point which is that Plame was actively involved from the beginning. Considering that her area of expertise was WMD and her former boss characterized her as "an excellent agent" (I don't buy the "paper pusher" characterization for one minute), it's rather difficult to buy the idea that she had no influence at all or wasn't even involved.

Posted by: antimedia at July 17, 2005 12:29 PM | Permalink

Jeff wrote

You libs just don't get it, do you? First of all, Rove didn't leak anything to Novak. Novak ran with the story first and had secured permission from the CIA before publishing. Now, ask yourself was Valerie Plame a covert operative? If she was, why did Langley bless Novak's story? If she wansn't, this is just politics as usual. If you don't have someting on your opponent, make something up (its getting habitual for the left).
I'm afraid this is a mischaracterization of the facts, Jeff. Novak didn't "get permission" from the CIA. He chose to publish because the CIA didn't warn him strongly enough not to. This is a consistent problem with the press. They take the slightest indication of something and assume it's confirmation.

For example, Novak used Rove as his second source. He told Rove what he knew and Rove said, "I heard that too." Novak took that to be confirmation. It is not! Novak failed to ask the obvious followup question - is it true? Had Rove been asked that, and answered, "Yes!", then and only then would Novak have gotten confirmation.

The press is assuming far too much before they publish.

Secondly, who is Judith Miller's source? Can't be Rove--he gave waivers. The NYT is probably protecting someone.
That's untrue. Whoever Judith Miller's source(s) is/are has given a waiver. Miller simply refuses to testify anyway. So her source could be any one of the people that has granted waivers, including Rove, Scooter Libby and a number of others.

Posted by: antimedia at July 17, 2005 12:36 PM | Permalink

Jay wrote

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 bias.

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.

Posted by: antimedia at July 17, 2005 1:17 PM | Permalink

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. I believe this is reflected in their work.

In my view, the study we cited supporting the above, taken on the whole with all other substantiation both empirical (see below) and otherwise, constitutes evidence almost completely beyond reasonable dispute. I wouldn't pretend it isn't aruguable (especially given how articulate many of the commenters in this fine forum are); but I am almost certain it is not reasonably so.

Now please answer this concerning empirical statements: Why would ABC News' Mark Halperin and Newsweek's Evan Thomas, members of the dominant media in good standing, indicate that the media are biased toward liberals if this were not truly their deeply held informed conclusions? What other explanation is there for their remarks?

Yet bias renouncers persist, I think for reasons of political advantage. But perhaps it's simply based on faith: If the ritual denial of bias by those sympathetic to the liberal ideology exhibited by our dominant media "is closer to a political religion (which is what I think, from listening to it over and over and over and over and over...) then an empirical statement like" Halperin's and Thomas'"would hardly be enough to shake the believer's faith."

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 17, 2005 1:22 PM | Permalink

Lee: I agree that Rove said those words (the press is a "constant thorn of those in power, whether they are Republican or Democrat") because he believed them and they are true, more or less, and because Rove is a sophisticated player who does not want to be associated with the crude illusions of the "liberal bias" discourse.

AM: my question was to Trained Auditor and he ducked it. I asked him: Is a study showing that most of the press calls itself moderate the kind of evidence for transparent liberal bias that you see as "almost completely beyond reasonable dispute?" That was my question. Your extrapolations from it are meaningless to me.

Also, as I say here, I think the press is full of bias.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 17, 2005 1:45 PM | Permalink

Jay, isn't it possible that Rove is also telling his interviewer what he knows he wants to hear? We know from your example alone that any hint of a general political slant among, say, the Washington press corps is immediately shut down and the person giving the hint is assumed to be a mildly retarded ideologue. If Rove wants to manipulate the press he knows he will have to whisper sweet nothings in its ear. And it works--you never fail to purr when you hear what you want to be told by people like Rove or Ari.

Posted by: Brian at July 17, 2005 1:52 PM | Permalink

"I think your frequent poster Steve Lovelady is a case in point there, so blinded by his paradigms that he has pretty much been off base on this Plame affair right along, so expecting Rove to be the "villain." -- LK

Oh, come on, LK, can't you read ?
I have said from the start (previous threads) and repeated half a dozen times -- -- in the face of liberal "Gotcha!" artists who thought he was toast -- that Rove will skate home from this fairly effortlessly .
For Rove, this is child's play.
Already, he has turned it around. "I told reporters nothing; reporters told me everything."
Watch the master at work in coming days.
Those who think Fitzgerald will trap Rove have not studied recent history.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 17, 2005 3:26 PM | Permalink

Those who think Fitzgerald will trap Rove have not studied recent history.

Uh...the spin that the WH attempts to put out is relevant ONLY to the fawning, de-balled press. It has no relevance, no currency, with Fitzgerald. You don't "spin" your way out of an indictment.

You statement MIGHT be true if it was ONLY the press (and the dwindling numbers of people that read the tripe put out by the press) that Rove needed to convince. Separate worlds, one made largely of oil, the other of water. Rove's spin oil doesn't work with Fitzgerald's water.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates at July 17, 2005 3:42 PM | Permalink

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?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 17, 2005 4:29 PM | Permalink

Oops. Matt Cooper's revelations about what he told the grand jury are, of course, in TIME magazine

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 17, 2005 4:32 PM | Permalink

Dave writes

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?

Why? It's very simple. Because some of us aren't so blinded by political passions that we fall for the rhetoric of the Larry Johnson's of the world.

I'm not going to repeat the points I've already made. You can read the SICR yourself. But your representation of Valerie Plame's influence is wrong as is your representation of Wilson's findings (not his representation of them.)

Furthermore, you have no evidence whatsoever that anyone in the administration leaked Valerie Plame's name, and it's looking increasingly more likely that it was the press that leaked her name to the White House, not the other way around.

It's difficult to get outraged by twisted facts and spun events. That's why so few people buy anything that a partisan says, and both Wilson and Johnson are clearly partisans.

Posted by: antimedia at July 17, 2005 4:50 PM | Permalink

Nope, AM. It's you that's blind. You've taken a few selective words from the Senate report and weaved them into a infinitely more powerful Valerie Plame than exists.

Wilson's findings in Niger are supported by the former ambassador there, the CIA and the military. In the wake of the blow-up over the president's 16 words, there's been attempts by Bush supporters to interpret trade overtures between Saddam and Niger's uranium connection. But they are much wisps of smoke as the Saddam/bin Laden connection.

You don't like Larry Johnson's words? If I subscribed to your world view, I wouldn't either. But they haven't been satisfactorily refuted except by half-truths and speculation.

We know that Rove has identified Wilson's wife as a CIA officer. If you want to suggest that doesn't mean anything because he didn't say her name, go ahead. You're welcome to your delusions.

Matt Cooper writes he told the grand jury that he first learned about "Wilson's wife" from Rove, who volunteered the information when Cooper asked about Wilson's op-ed piece. Rove, he said, wasn't merely confirming media speculation.

I'll repeat my essential point: I don't believe this should be a left/right issue. But you and many like you are willing to endorse the outing of an undercover agent and all that entails out of some political POV. And I find that deeply disturbing.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 17, 2005 5:16 PM | Permalink

Your post deeply resonates with a point made by Susan Buck-Morss in her important book, Thinking Past Terror. She argues that there are two approaches in play in the interpretation of 9/11, one epistemological, that tests intentions and consequences to see if they match up, and another, ontological, that insists that the US essentially and intrinsically expresses the interest of justice in the world regardless of policy and leadership, so any US action taken anywhere anytime for any reason by any leader (particularly of one's own party I would add) is democratic and just BY DEFINITION.

I think the dogma of the ontological mind-set of many Bush supporters is critical in allowing the rollback on facts you describe above. If these things must be true BY DEFINITION, demands for testing and accounting for their consequences can only be partisan or traitorous opposition to the realization of truth and justice in the world. I cite her analysis of this syndrome in a post entitled, The Metaphysics of Bush Republicanism.

Posted by: Mark Anderson at July 17, 2005 5:23 PM | Permalink

So what about dominant media confessions of liberal bias, Jay? Are Halperin, Okrent and Thomas simply blowing notes on the Sousaphone?

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 17, 2005 5:56 PM | Permalink

You sound smart here, Jay, but you didn't tell us what you FEEL about it all and ... more importantly, what's gonna happen next?

(-----> Feeling bitchy here with the Red Sox losing to the Yankees!)

Posted by: Halley Suitt at July 17, 2005 10:35 PM | Permalink

Trained Auditor:
In an uneasy and shifting world, the predictability of your comments is reassuring. Maybe you should change that moniker to "Trained Seal."
You always cite the Halperins, the Okrents and the Thomases.
Oddly, you never cite the Chomskys, the Gitlins, the Lakoffs and the multitude of other press critics who dismiss the MSM as craven lackeys reduced to reciting the administration line.
Isn't that strange ? An opinion informed only by those who buy into a portion of your pet theory.
And you never answer Jay's pointed questions (in this case, as concerning Mssrs. Fleischer and Rove, who both dismiss out of hand your simplistic view of the press.)

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 17, 2005 10:54 PM | Permalink

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...

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 18, 2005 12:14 AM | Permalink

Jay, us conservatives will stop accusing the media of liberal bias when the MSM(what I term the Fringe Stream Media) stops accusing us of being religious fanatics through terminology and verbage. Maybe there is a compromise there somewhere....I have to fold laundry too, but there is hopefully no bias in that.

Posted by: calboy at July 18, 2005 12:59 AM | Permalink

Well, CNN says Novak will remain on the air.

We can expect to see Novak on your air for a long time to come?" one critic asked CNN suits on stage yesterday.

"Yes," responded CNN News Group president Jim Walton.

"You had a discussion with him, you understand what happened? You don't see a problem for your organization?" the critic asked.

"I think we need to be careful how I answer that question," Walton responded, stating the obvious.

"When Bob Novak wrote that column he wrote it for the Chicago Sun-Times. And I was not privy to who his sources were . . . that did not go through the editorial process at CNN. He has broken no laws and he has distinguished himself as a journalist for many, many years . . . He brings a different voice to our air."

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 18, 2005 8:36 AM | Permalink

"Bias, Bias, Bias." So much varied bias that it's senseless to partially differentiate its impact on political journalism. Well, I think I understand your position, Jay. But I think it's easier to accept that when the status quo disproportionately benefits the ideology with which one sympathizes.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 18, 2005 10:06 AM | Permalink

Whatever. And you still ducked the question. And by saying nothing about why you failed to mention Evan Thomas's retraction, or Okrent's qualifying of his column, you prove the point about the worthlessness of the bias discourse-- which is not truth-seeking but point scoring.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 18, 2005 10:10 AM | Permalink

Jay, perhaps this will only reinforce your position, and I understand you disagree, but for my part I must respectfully maintain:

A) I meaningfully answered the question that you feel I ducked; I regret it's not the answer you were looking for.
B) In Evan Thomas subsequent interview (of which I was aware), he did not withdraw his conclusion that the press favored the liberal candidate, he only indicated that his initial estimate of the magnitude of the impact was wrong.
C) The NYT's biased coverage of social issues, disclosed by Dan Okrent, significantly affects politics - - information promulgated by our dominant media about those issues form the basis of Americans' political and electoral judgements.
D) It seems Halperin's confession is more difficult to argue.

Jay, I accept that ardent liberals will never fully agree with conservatives such as myself (I feel there is reason for some hope for more thoughtful liberals). However, it is the political middle who are the target of bias discourse. My desire is that most Americans will begin to question the self-annointed ideological "objectivity" with which the referees of political discourse (i.e. our dominant media) cloak themselves.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 18, 2005 1:09 PM | Permalink

TA, you've been posting here as long as I've been reading here, and during that time PressThink has been the host to numerous in-depth discussions about bias, objectivity, credibility, etc. Some of these discussions have been valuable to those who sincerely seek to understand and reform the press. Others have been helpful to reporters and editors who want to do a better job. But all of these discussions end, as if on cue, about the time that you and your friends show up with your "reporters are liberals" trash talk.

Reading these discussions has changed my thinking. It hasn't changed yours one bit. So what's the point?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 18, 2005 1:56 PM | Permalink

One important component missing in this little morality play is the "press as player" angle. The press, and particularly Matt Cooper, have been spinning like tops to get their story out. I can only assume something seriously damaging to the press is down the road.

Pat Buchanan, someone I usually consider too extreme, has written about this. He says that when the press defeated Nixon, they won the battle, but lost the war. " For the remorselessness of the attacks and jubilation of the press in the fall of Nixon stripped the media of it's most priceless asset: It's reputation for neutrality, honesty, objectivity and fairness." Read the whole thing. Buchanan's opinion is that the press has become the "opposition party". Howard Fineman and Michael Godwin have written about this, too. Come on, if you can read David Corn, you can read Pat Buchanan. Expand your horizons. You might learn something if you bust out of your cocoon.

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 18, 2005 2:20 PM | Permalink

The press defeated Nixon? Huh. And all this time, I thought Nixon defeated himself.

The press as player isn't exactly a new concept. Just ask Edmund Burke.

And certainly the media is a powerful force in our culture. That is certainly the conceit behind the 'liberal press' echo that continues to roil out of the right.

But I'm not convinced that it is as potent a force as Trout, Buchanan or the press itself thinks. For one thing, the media are plural. And too diverse and contradictory to be all-powerful.

I don't believe the media are capable of whatever it is that Buchanan and Trout fervidly believe they are.

If the media truly can cloud men's minds and drive the crowds to liberalism, Godlessness and perversion as some would suggest, then they've done a pretty crappy job of it.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 18, 2005 2:50 PM | Permalink

Conover, point well taken. I think a broad-minded appreciation of liberal media bias explains a lot; Jay dismissively labels it "The Great Explainer." As I say, I acknowledge that the players on opposing teams disagree about the referees.

In future, I'll try to ruminate more about solutions, rather than what I feel is the problem.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 18, 2005 2:54 PM | Permalink

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?

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 18, 2005 2:59 PM | Permalink

Nevermind, Dave, stay in your cocoon---it's safer there---and you don't have to think!

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 18, 2005 3:04 PM | Permalink

As damaging as your riposte was, Kilgore, you're still missing the point. Or maybe just avoiding it.

I ventured outside my comfort zone and read Buchanan. And found it, shall we say, unnew. As Mr. Conover notes, it does have the grace of being short.

If the press is as powerful as you suggest - able to twist thoughts, bend minds and drive out conservative kings to lonely exile, then how did they fail so miserably with Bush & Co.

Oh, that's right - through the brave efforts of individuals like you who man the barricades and fight the perfidy of the liberal media with Truth, Justice and Pat Buchanan.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 18, 2005 3:23 PM | Permalink

So Conover and McLemore---you don't believe the press is driving this story? There was a front page story on this in yesterday's WaPo, with absolutely NO new information. Just like NYTimes-Democrat kept Abu Gharib on it's front page for a solid 30 days, even though there was no new news. I didn't say I agreed with everything Buchanan wrote, I thought it was interesting and I said I thought he was an extremist(and my guess is that you didn't read the story)---but to completely deny the "press as player"(brave Judy in jail even though she 'never wrote a story' about Plame, the 'public's right to know', 'answer to the American people', and all the other press bullshit) aspect of this particular morality play(see also, Clinton, GHWB, Reagan) is to deny reality (in my view).

You'll understand me better if you stop applying your cliched thinking to me. But you don't really want to do that, do you?

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 18, 2005 3:23 PM | Permalink


Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 18, 2005 3:28 PM | Permalink

I could yammer on from now until the end of time, and you'd never get it. I'm really sorry I brought it up. Nevermind.

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 18, 2005 3:41 PM | Permalink

First, you suggest I'm hiding from the Truth. Then you claim I "completely deny the 'press as player'" as you so eloquently misstated.

As the media can certainly overplay stories. See: the missing pretty white woman story of your choice. Though I don't see how the TIME's reporting on Miller is being a player or even particularly convincing of her martyrdom.

But the press is not driving the Rove/Plame story. The story is driving the story.

Though I can understand why you might not like to read about it.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 18, 2005 3:45 PM | Permalink

It's kind of sad that this blog has devolved into partisan bickering. Where's the beef?

Posted by: KirkH at July 18, 2005 6:47 PM | Permalink

I cannot resist.

These two comments, out of this whole thread, fundamentally differ with respect to key facts:



Now, it would seem to me based on what I have previously read that:
1) Wilson's offical findings, and the opinion of other intelligence sources, at the time, was that it looked like Iraq did try to by uranium yellowcake in Niger
2) Wilson's leak and op-ed in the NYT presented the opposite opinion.

Now, I strongly suggest a discussion here, right now, on these facts, since to me (and I would imagine, every single person i could respect professionally), this is the most important question. And all it requires is reading and quoting some key original documents.

As a non-journalists tired after work, I do not have the resources to track this down myself.

So, how about a break from the philosophising about the press, and some effort, from all of your different backgrounds, to track down what Wilson's original report was, what the contemporaneous and subsequent reports said, and then the history of his current well-publicized position?

Thanks and regards,

Posted by: Marc Siegel at July 18, 2005 6:48 PM | Permalink

Actually, Marc, the issue has been discussed and cross-referenced to death. And the problem with the who issue is that it's hardened along ideological lines.

Much has been made of Wilson's 'inconsistencies' in reporting what he learned from Niger's prime minister.

But like Alice's looking glass, it seems to depend on whose looking. According to, Wilson wrote in his report that Ibrahim Mayaki, who said in 1999 he was asked to meet wtih a delegation from Iraq to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries.

The CIA interpreted that to mean they wanted to discuss purchase of yellowcake uranium. But Wilson told the Senate Intelligence Committee later that Mayki, leery of UN sanctions of Iraq, steered the conversation away from any trade talks.

That seems a slender reed to hang an assertion that the Iraqi's sought to buy uranium from Niger.

That and Wilson's report frankly don't strike me as the key issues. for me, it's why someone in the White House would out an undercover CIA agent for political revenge? And why righeous anger about this doesn't cross political ideologies?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 18, 2005 8:50 PM | Permalink


Really appreciate your response, I crawled through that 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?

Posted by: Marc Siegel at July 18, 2005 9:28 PM | Permalink

(apologies for barging into a substantive discussion with this hit-and-run)

"The greatest political scandal of this campaign is the brazen manner in which...the Washington Post has set up housekeeping with the [Democrat's] campaign. ...

The Post's reputation for objectivity and credibility have sunk so low they have almost disappeared...

There is a cultural and social affinity between the [Democratic faction] and the Post executives and editors. They belong to the same elite; they can be found living cheek by jowl in the same exclusive neighborhood, and hob-nobbing at the same Georgetown parties..."
When [editor] allows his paper to be used as a political instrument of the [Democrat's] campaign...then he and his publication should expect appropriate treatment, which they will with regularity receive.

The Republican party has been the victim of a barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations by [Democrat] and his partner in mud-slinging, the Washington Post."


The Washington Post's credibility has sunk lower than that of [Democrat]. ...The Post has maliciously sought to give the appearance of a direct connection... - a charge the Post knows and half a dozen investigations have found to be false. The hallmark of the Post's campaign is hypocrisy."


"Ben Bradlee now sees himself as the self-appointed leader of ...'that tiny little fringe of arrogant elitists who infect the healthy mainstream of American journalism with their own peculiar view of the world.'

I think if Bradlee ever [got out in the real world] he might discover out there the real America, and he might learn that all truth and all knowledge and all superior wisdom doesn't emanate exclusively from that small little clique in Georgetown, and that the rest of the country isn't just sitting out here waiting to be told what they're supposed to think...

An independent investigation was conducted in the White House which corroborated the findings of the FBI that no one in the White House was in any way involved in the Watergate affair."


- Bob Dole (p. 340), Ron Ziegler (p. 340-1) and Chuck Colson (p. 342-3), in Ben Bradlee's A Good Life.

Posted by: Anna Haynes at July 18, 2005 10:51 PM | Permalink

Thanks, Anna.

Kevin Drum has something to say about this, Mark and David:

Why did the White House react so violently to Joe Wilson's suggestion that the story about Saddam Hussein trying to procure uranium from Niger was false? After all, as conservative apologists never tire of pointing out, Wilson didn't really debunk George Bush's words in the 2003 State of the Union address. Bush said only that Saddam "sought" uranium from Africa, while Wilson merely provided evidence that no uranium ever changed hands. The fact is, Wilson's report didn't invalidate Bush's statement.

So why did the White House go nuts? What were they so scared of that they went into full-blown smear-and-destroy mode?

His answer is "nukes were key" to getting everyone on board within the Bush coalition itself.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 18, 2005 11:31 PM | Permalink

Anna -- Hmmm, Iraq is Vietnam and Plame-gate is Watergate. Bush is Nixon. Rove is McCord (and a few others) and McClellen is Ziegler. Nothing new ever happens. Just the central events in the central moment in history for American jourrnalists repeats itself endlessly with the same plot, same heros and villians, only the names change, and a few details. All denials are false because the Watergate denials were, all wars are quagmires, and all government officials guilty. Journalists are doing god's work--thank god!

Steve: I have been reading your posts--didn't you read mine? You believe Rove to be master manipulator, twisting all events to his--I suppose the implication is--nefarious ends, as he grabs and then clings to power. For him, this whole scandal is, as you said, "child's play." I am merely suggesting that you try to look at the world through other prisms--ones in which Rove is not antogonist and, say, Bill Keller is protagonist. Try reinterpreting things while reversing the roles, then try again while assuming who protagonist and who antognist is ambiguous. You might be able to see the three-dimensionality of everything that is happening if you do, and perhaps you might assign the characters new roles in the plot.

Posted by: Lee Kane at July 19, 2005 12:37 AM | Permalink

Dave McLemore wrote

But like Alice's looking glass, it seems to depend on whose looking. According to, Wilson wrote in his report that Ibrahim Mayaki, who said in 1999 he was asked to meet wtih a delegation from Iraq to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries.
The CIA interpreted that to mean they wanted to discuss purchase of yellowcake uranium. But Wilson told the Senate Intelligence Committee later that Mayki, leery of UN sanctions of Iraq, steered the conversation away from any trade talks.
Sorry, Dave, but you are wrong. Wilson reported that the Nigerian minister interpreted that to mean yellowcake uranium.

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".

Furthermore, there was independent intelligence, which Wilson was unaware of, indicating that Iraq had also sought to purchase uranium from the Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

If you're not familiar with the facts, you should refrain from making assertions.

To the august readers of this blog, how many of you are aware of the fact that the lawyers who filed an amici curiae brief (representing 36 media corporations) pointed out that Rove's covert status was exposed by the CIA in the 1990's? I wonder why there has not been one single article on that save Bill Gertz' original article just ten days following Novak's infamous piece?

Jay insists there's no bias, so what's the explanation for the paucity of coverage (or even reference) to this seminal fact?

Posted by: antimedia at July 19, 2005 1:08 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: steve schwenk at July 19, 2005 1:08 AM | Permalink

Anti-media (in this thread): "Jay insists there's no bias, so what's the explanation for the paucity of coverage (or even reference) to this seminal fact?"

Jay (in this thread): "Now maybe there are people who deny that the press is biased. But listen closely: I am not one of them..."

Now that's truthtelling for 'ya! I told you guys the bias discourse would rot your mind.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 19, 2005 1:55 AM | Permalink

"...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."

Do they?
If they did, would they care?

A poll of sorts:
Will anyone who both
a) thinks Rove is not that kind of guy - i.e., that outing an agent for political purposes isn't in his behavioral repertoire;
b) would be shocked and dismayed if Rove did indeed turn out to have done such a thing, and want him ousted
- please speak up and say so?

(My #1 conservative foil in real life has pretty much admitted that he wouldn't take ethics into account when deciding who to support, short of actual violence; I'm wondering if Bush supporters here feel the same.)

Posted by: Anna Haynes at July 19, 2005 2:10 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 19, 2005 10:30 AM | Permalink

Daniel Conover's point is well-taken. No one can be forced to talk with a reporter, particularly on policy matters. When they do, it's usually for self-serving reasons.

As Dan notes, when a political party controls the executive and legislative branches, the 'rules' of governmental/press relations go out the window.

Perhaps the news media are like the military: the generals fight the new wars with the old tactics. Until they learn better.

I'm not sure the media are learning.

PS to those who want to pick over and reinterpret the minutia of the Rove/Plame case: Let's assume for a moment that Wilson's report ill-served Bush. Explain how that justifies a top presidential advisor revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 19, 2005 12:34 PM | Permalink

Antimedia: It's not that "Jay insists there's no bias...". We should now be aware that Jay sees all kinds of bias everywhere in the press.

But, if I understand him correctly, Jay feels it's senseless to begin characterizing that bias in part, for example as liberal, because the debate quickly becomes "politicized". Better to simply accept that everyone has a perspective, including ideological (perhaps even liberal, though one musn't speak that label).

The problem, of course, is our dominant media insist that their reporting does not reflect a perspecitve (e.g. is not biased toward the left), but is instead objective. In that environment, Jay's approach - - taking off the table of press criticism any characterization, especially ideological (or is it only ideological?), of the varied biases which he sees everywhere - - a significant portion of any observer's vocabulary for truth-telling is placed out of bounds. For those who agree the dominant media's work-product is not objective (Jay included, I believe), removing that vocabulary hamstrings an observer's ability to specify what the dominant media's work-product is.


Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 19, 2005 1:55 PM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Lee Kane at July 19, 2005 2:25 PM | Permalink

ps. argh. next time I will preview. brain-lock: please reverse the terms "subject" and "object" in the above, but the meaning is the same. (There is the subject of a story, but in this case I am talking about the "object" of the story, its target.)

Posted by: Lee Kane at July 19, 2005 2:29 PM | Permalink

subject/object. i feel your pain.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 19, 2005 3:02 PM | Permalink

"Will anyone who both A) thinks Rove is not that kind of guy, and B) would be shocked and dismayed if he were, please say so?"

Bummer, looks like nobody's stepping up to this plate. I wonder why - do we all fail criterion A, or do some not get tripped up until B?

Posted by: Anna at July 19, 2005 10:16 PM | Permalink

Put me down as someone who could really care less whether Rove is or isn't evil and whether or not he goes or stays. In fact I wish he would go, because it would remove the Democrat's excuse for all things political. Right now, if anything political happens, they see Rove behind it which is pretty stupid - nobody is that great a mastermind or evil manipulator. In fact, I'd bet that half of what is attributed to him he had nothing whatsoever to do with. (I take his silence to mean he doesn't care if he gets blamed for stuff, whether or not he was involved. In fact, if it enhances his reputation, all the better.)

However, don't look for Bush to fire him unless he broke the law. Bush doesn't make decisions based on politics. (If he did, he'd be doing much better in the polls.)

I noticed no one took my bait on the Gertz story. I guess no one wants to deal with that? Jay? Dave? Steve(s)?

Posted by: antimedia at July 19, 2005 11:39 PM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 20, 2005 12:03 AM | Permalink

To the august readers of this blog, how many of you are aware of the fact that the lawyers who filed an amici curiae brief (representing 36 media corporations) pointed out that Rove's [sic - Plame's] covert status was exposed by the CIA in the 1990's? I wonder why there has not been one single article on that save Bill Gertz' original article just ten days following Novak's infamous piece?

Antimedia, you owe it to yourself to know what you are alledging before you make the argument. If Plame was not covert withing the requirements of the laws at issue, there would be no possibility of a crime. The courts would dismiss the case if she did not fall within the legal meaning of the statute.

Moreover, legal briefs are nothing more than allegations of law and fact urgiong the court to take or not to take certain action. Just because something appears in a brief does not mean it is true or correct, not by a long shot. That's for the court to decide.

If the issue was indeed properly raised and the court did not dismiss the case, then you have to conculde the court made a finding that the claim that Plame was not covert had no merit. But this was an amicus brief, and the people who filed it had no standing to actually raise the issue with the court. Of course, if the issue had merit, one of the real parties would have raised it. If they did, it was denied. If they did not, it's because they believed the argument had no merit and no chance with the court.

So at worst, the presence of the allegation in the brief proves you are wrong since the court did not dismiss the case despite the issue possibly being raised by a real party. At best, it proves nothing.

Posted by: steve schwenk at July 20, 2005 12:04 AM | Permalink

I am not interested in your games, "anti-media," whomever you are. And while I can't say I know or have anything resembling proof, I am increasingly of the view that Conover may be right and you are some kind of operative or agent provocateur. In any case I have no interest in your "bait." By the way your chosen name convicts you of having a closed mind before you type a single word.

On tonight's news, maybe I have a warped sense of humor or I am punch drunk from people dragging the culture war in here, but I find this news release from Progress for America, the pro-whomever-Bush-picks group, unintentionally hilarious in the way it accomplishes what it accuses its "opposite" of. I got it at 8:03 Tuesday night.

WASHINGTON Progress For America Inc. (PFA) president Brian McCabe today vowed to defend President Bush's nominee to the United States Supreme Court, Judge John G. Roberts -- who was confirmed unanimously by the US Senate just two years ago -- from attacks by liberal special interest groups bent on the personal destruction of any nominee to the high court.

"A former Rehnquist clerk with a distinguished resume and an impeccable reputation, Judge Roberts is a terrific nominee to the Supreme Court," said Brian McCabe, president of PFA. "Judge Roberts is a man of great character who deserves genuine consideration, not automatic attacks and partisan indignation based on nothing other than the fact he was nominated."

Added McCabe: "Progress for America will defend Judge Roberts from the Left's predictable and premeditated character assassination attempts."

Progress for America, Inc. ("PFA") is a national grassroots organization dedicated to supporting a conservative issue agenda that will benefit all Americans. PFA is the leading conservative group working on the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and for an up or down vote on the president’s judicial nominees. PFA has pledged an initial $18 million to combat dishonest attacks on Judge Roberts.

Come on, isn't that funny to at least some of y'all?

And yes, I'm sure the same or worse will be coming from the "other" side. My own view is PFA and People for the American Way and the like are in many ways on the same side (the you scorch my earth, I'll scorch yours side) but to return to Lee's points, this perspective will be invisible in news reporting.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 20, 2005 12:19 AM | Permalink

Slight correction. Since we're dealing with a special prosecutor conducting an investigation, and no charges have been filed yet, there is no "case" for the court to dismiss. However, at some point, certainly before the courts will allow (order)people to be jailed for contempt, a threshold showing would have to be made, and indeed the court has said such a showing has been made in this case, a very compelling one indicating that a serious crime has very likely been committed (according to the appellate court's opinion).

Besides, what kind of bozo prosecutor is going to interview the President and his inner circle and bring the nation to such a point of tension without first nailing down the essential elements of the crime he can prove, or disprove, easily. Only a complete moron hell-bent on self-destruction would do something so foolish.

It reminds me of that old blog saying, "smarter monkeys, please." But of course it is now commonly known that the point of such trollish behavior is to disrupt meaningful discussions, not to engage in one. Sorry I took the bait.

Posted by: steve schwenk at July 20, 2005 1:20 AM | Permalink

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.

Posted by: ami at July 20, 2005 8:14 AM | Permalink

Hey Jay Boy,

Why don't you, Conover, and Navasky puppet Lovelady put up or shut about anti-media being an agent provocateur. You guys are making complete asses of yourselves. Of course, that's standard procedure for you ass clowns.

Posted by: Gary at July 20, 2005 9:17 AM | Permalink

Hey, Gary, you left out the hyphen in "ass-clowns."

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 20, 2005 10:10 AM | Permalink

Dave wrote

The CIA interpreted that to mean they wanted to discuss purchase of yellowcake uranium. But Wilson told the Senate Intelligence Committee later that Mayki, leery of UN sanctions of Iraq, steered the conversation away from any trade talks.
I'm afraid that is inaccurate. It wasn't the CIA that interpreted it to mean that. According to Wilson, it was Mayki who interpreted that way. (Else why would he be leery and feel the need to steer the conversation in anothe direction?)

I wonder if anyone has a response to Gertz' Washington Times article revealing that Plame was "outed" by the Russians in the early 1990's and by the CIA shortly thereafter? (Meaning she was not covert at the time Novak's article came out nor was she covert five years prior to his article.)

Posted by: antimedia at July 20, 2005 12:15 PM | Permalink

Speaking of rolling back the press -

Howard Kurtz, among others, notes the timing of Bush's Supremes nominee announcement. It came right on deadline for the East Coast newspapers and beyond network newscasts.

Cutting through the media filter, of course. But also forestalling any analysis of his nominee. The timing also drives Rove right off the screen.

This is more than simply adroit use of the bully pulpit. Bush ain't preaching a point. He's minimizing the effect of the newsgatherers.

Will it backfire? Probably not. Can the media recoup and do its job? They haven't yet.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 20, 2005 12:17 PM | Permalink

Yes, AM, and Wilson reported Mayki's interpretation of Iraq's overtures. Though the overtures did not result in any overt talks about yellowcake. Which makes the White House's certitude that Iraq sought uranium in Niger a little harder to understand. Thanks for bringing that out.

So, AM, what are the proper motivations for White House officials to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent?

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 20, 2005 12:25 PM | Permalink

David Corn on the "Plame was not a covert operative" talking point.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 20, 2005 1:09 PM | Permalink

I wonder if anyone has a response to Gertz' Washington Times article revealing that Plame was "outed" by the Russians in the early 1990's and by the CIA shortly thereafter? (Meaning she was not covert at the time Novak's article came out nor was she covert five years prior to his article.)

well, for starters, read what 11 former intelligence agents and analysts have to say on this particular issue

of course, the statements of these professionals really carry no weight when compared to the musings of someone who works for Reverend Moon....

Posted by: ami at July 20, 2005 1:29 PM | Permalink

Dave, the White House never made any assertions about Iraqis seeking uranium from Niger, only from Africa, which included intelligence on efforts to obtain from both the Congo and Somalia, as well as Niger.

If you can't stick to facts, it makes it really difficult to discuss issues.

"what are the proper motivations for White House officials to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA agent?"

There are none, but of course we don't even know yet if anyone has, press speculation aside. (I quit believing the press a while ago. Half of what they write is outright falsehood.) The grand jury will answer that question in due time, and the answer may shock many, who knows.

Personally, I wish Rove would step down. The resulting shock from the Democrats and liberals when Bush didn't disintegrate in a pile would be a pleasure to watch. Rove gets far too much credit, even for things he never did. Bush is the real power, despite all the machinations from the naysayers.

David Corn's piece fails to deal with Gertz. Does no one have the courage to deal with Gertz? (And save the ad hominem about Moon. It simply makes you look inarticulate. Do we really need to start slinging names like Jayson Blair around to show the press' hypocrisy?)

Posted by: antimedia at July 20, 2005 2:31 PM | Permalink

"the White House never made any assertions about Iraqis seeking uranium from Niger, only from Africa, which included intelligence on efforts to obtain from both the Congo and Somalia, as well as Niger."

Which, of course, is why George Tenant said after the State of the Union speech that the president should never have uttered those 16 words.

Not to mention why we've heard all about those many trips the Iraqis made to Africa to look for uranium. Were those the same trips they picked up those 'precision-milled' aluminum tubes for the reactor? Or the trailers/mobile labs?

Keep spinning, AM. You may get a letter of appreciation some day.

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 20, 2005 2:46 PM | Permalink

The true believers in the Bush Administration, starting and ending with the President himself, are on a "Mission from God".

Fighting Islamic terrorists? A Mission from God.

Outlawing abortions and gay marriage? A Mission from God.

Cutting taxes and dismantling Social Security? A Mission from Wall Street...uh, I'll have to get back to you about that.

The point is, if you truly believe you are working and fighting for a Higher Power, a Greater Good, then lying (to Congress or the people), stealing (an election or two), and even killing (or allowing Valerie Plame's contacts to be killed) can be justified as Righteous (sort of like that "necessary and proper" clause for the House).

And as far as doing the unethical for purely material gain? Well, c'mon, that's just the law of the jungle, survival of the fittest. It's a dog-eat-dog out there, baby. You gotta do unto others before they do unto you. Get real.

Apes with souls, but often no conscience.

It all adds up to P-O-W-E-R.

Posted by: Doug Drenkow at July 20, 2005 3:00 PM | Permalink

Wait !
What does Jason Blair have to do with David Corn or the Rev. Moon ?
Did I miss something ??
Spill the beans, anti-media !

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at July 20, 2005 4:17 PM | Permalink

Antimedia - The facts disclosed by the Gertz report, as well as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (and U.K.'s Butler committee's) conclusions corroborating the President's 16 words, do not fit with our lefty friends' policy of Bush/Rove hatred.

Posted by: Trained Auditor at July 20, 2005 4:27 PM | Permalink

Maybe he means Bill Gertz has difficulty with the truth like Blair.

Remember Gertz's story about Chechen terrorists sneaking across the Mexican border? Or how the Russians removed Saddam's WMD? Those were also 'exclusives.'

Posted by: Dave McLemore at July 20, 2005 4:28 PM | Permalink

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.

In summary:

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."

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 20, 2005 4:33 PM | Permalink

A typo: "Even if Plame's identity is known to agents in Russia and Cuba, one simply cannot reasonably assume that this is known in other countries, including Iraq."

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 20, 2005 4:37 PM | Permalink

And Jay, please forgive me for taking up so much space in this thread giving a detailed reply to antimedia's "challenge." It's boorish of me, and I apologize.

Posted by: Daniel Conover at July 20, 2005 4:41 PM | Permalink

Daniel Conover writes

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.
Apparently this only applies to those who support the Bush version of events?
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.
Of course, Rove's lawyers, whom you say you believe are "good", have stated publicly that Rove is not "a target" of the investigation. So, since you've put on your tin-foil beanie, what do you think that means? I would conclude that it means someone else is. It's quite possible that what started as a "White House leak" investigation has turned into something else entirely. The point is, we will not know until the grand jury indicts (or doesn't), unless, of course, we get more anonymous leaks from the "secret" testimony, which the press seems all hot and bothered to get even though it's illegal.
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).
Unless, of course, she had no cover status (as her former boss has stated on the record), but since, as you say we can't know if she did or not, what is the source of the outrage? Large assumptions on the part of the press, wouldn't you say?

It seems quite disingenuous to me to be expressing such outrage in op-eds and "news" articles when, as you clearly state, we don't know what her status was. Furthermore, you write "we'd know because the charges would have been dropped." There are no charges! It's an investigation.

I think you'd better stop while you're behind.

Posted by: antimedia at July 20, 2005 5:16 PM | Permalink

Good lord, Jay, stop the madness.

Posted by: kilgore trout at July 20, 2005 5:27 PM | Permalink

Well, these posts and replies are an interesting way of spending your time, Trout. Must correspond to a genuine wish.

Rather than argue "the facts" so much, maybe we should discuss our different wishes. To some degree we are in a shadow play here.

I will make you an offer, though.

If two people in this thread, or any two who stand on "opposite" sides of the argument, would pull out the best posts and jointly-edit (via an exchange of polite e-mails over several days) a condensed version, with joint introdcution, we might publish it, as a PressThink post, and see what happens.

As an experiment, I would run it.

Who knows: is there any good being served, or gestured at in these blazing exchanges, any light?

Don't know. But I'm closing the thread. Not for any reason more than good time for a draw a line under what's been said, and break. There will be a new post soon.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at July 20, 2005 6:13 PM | Permalink

From the Intro