Monday, July 18, 2005

Rove & Libby Tried to Discredit Wilson

The Los Angeles Times reports that Rove and Libby were so intent on discrediting Joe Wilson, they began talking directly to the press:

Top Aides Reportedly Set Sights on Wilson:

Top aides to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were intensely focused on discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV in the days after he wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times suggesting the administration manipulated intelligence to justify going to war in Iraq, federal investigators have been told.

Prosecutors investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the identity of Wilson's wife, a CIA officer who had worked undercover, have been told that Bush's top political strategist, Karl Rove, and Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, were especially intent on undercutting Wilson's credibility, according to people familiar with the inquiry.

Although lower-level White House staffers typically handle most contacts with the media, Rove and Libby began personally communicating with reporters about Wilson, prosecutors were told.

A source directly familiar with information provided to prosecutors said Rove's interest was so strong that it prompted questions in the White House. When asked at one point why he was pursuing the diplomat so aggressively, Rove reportedly responded: "He's a Democrat." Rove then cited Wilson's campaign donations, which leaned toward Democrats, the person familiar with the case said.

The disclosures about the officials' roles illustrate White House concern about Wilson's July 6, 2003, article, which challenged the administration's assertion that Iraq had sought to purchase nuclear materials. Wilson's article appeared as Rove and other Bush aides were preparing the 2004 reelection campaign strategy, which was built largely around the president's response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein....

News of the high-level interest in discrediting Wilson comes as White House defenders, most notably officials at the Republican National Committee, argue that Rove has been vindicated of suspicion that he was a primary source of the leak. Knowingly revealing the identity of a covert operative is a federal crime.

Regardless of Rove's legal liability, the description of his role runs contrary to earlier White House statements that Rove and Libby were not involved in the unmasking of Wilson's wife, and it suggests they were part of a campaign to discredit Wilson.

And the press's role as a mouth piece for partisan hackery comes under criticism from Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post:

For those who see the secretive Bush administration as a reincarnation of the Nixon regime, the disclosure that Rove served as a source for Time's Matt Cooper and columnist Robert Novak looks like the slow unraveling of a scandal that has now reached the top level of the White House. Scott McClellan is cast in the Ron Ziegler role, refusing to answer a barrage of reporters' questions about Rove after his previous answers were rendered inoperative...

Even the media's preferred narrative -- built around the sanctity of anonymous sources -- comes up short. Unlike Deep Throat, who was risking his FBI career by telling Woodward about the Nixon spying operation and cover-up Rove and whoever else leaked Valerie Plame's CIA connection to Novak and other journalists were doing partisan dirty work, and some may have been committing a crime. Cooper and others have argued that they can't make a distinction between "good guy" and "bad guy" sources -- a promise is a promise -- but helping White House officials finger a covert operative is not exactly the kind of work that builds public support for the Fourth Estate.

Time Inc. has come under a barrage of journalistic criticism for caving to pressure -- and ignoring Cooper's objections -- in surrendering the reporter's notes and e-mails to a special prosecutor, thus announcing to all potential sources that a pledge of confidentiality could crumble. (Cooper, who describes his grand jury testimony in the new issue of Time, says he was "upset" by the company's decision.) Woodward was never subpoenaed during Watergate, but Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham withstood enormous pressure from the White House, including threats against the company's television licenses.

The New York Times, unlike Time, is standing firm despite losing in the courts, and Miller chose to change her address to the Alexandria Detention Center rather than betray her sources. But since she never wrote a story about any of this, it's hard to argue that her source cultivation produced important journalism.

In short, we have the unusual spectacle of a nationally known, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter being jailed and little public outcry. Not even journalists are unanimous about Miller; in his brief demanding her imprisonment, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald cited a Los Angeles Times editorial and a Chicago Tribune column by Steve Chapman challenging the media's absolutist stance on sources.

This is a tangled tale in which no one looks good. And that goes double for Novak, the syndicated columnist and CNN commentator who disclosed Plame's CIA connection in July 2003, based on "two senior administration officials."

Novak's refusal to say whether he was subpoenaed or has cooperated with Fitzgerald is starting to draw fire from other journalists. William Safire wrote in the Times that "Mr. Novak should finally write the column he owes readers and colleagues perhaps explaining how his two sources, who may have truthfully revealed themselves to investigators, managed to get the prosecutor off his back." Jay Rosen, chairman of New York University's journalism department, wrote on his PressThink blog that other media people should shun Novak and that if he "says he can't talk until the case is over, then he shouldn't be allowed to publish or opine on the air until the case is over."