Friday, September 30, 2005

Editorial: Not so brave Matt Cooper

Okay, let's talk Plamegate. Judith Miller is out of jail. Scoots Libby has given her permission to testify. But let's not talk about it like everybody else is going to talk about it.

David Johnston and Douglas Jehl (that might not be the order, I don't care) turn in "Times Reporter Free From Jail; She Will Testify" in this morning's New York Times.

Maybe they've accepted the media spin? It hasn't really been their beat (despite all the attention Jehl received -- and back slapping -- for doing the obvious in one story on Plamegate*) so maybe they're not familiar with the details?

I don't know.

Warning, this isn't a trash Judy piece. (Nor is it a defend Miller piece.)

I was asked to hold my tongue on one aspect of Plamegate. The reason being Miller was in jail and for the stated principle of why she was in jail, I held my tongue. She's out now.

She (and her attorney) spoke to Scoots and got his permission for a release.

And Jehl & Johnston tell you, in passing, of a similar thing that happened with Matt Cooper. But the thing is, it didn't happen with Cooper.

Cooper didn't hear from Karl Rove. Cooper's breathless announcement the morning of what would have had him joining Miller in jail, there was nothing new. There was no new release. It was the same thing Cooper had in 2003.

And if you check Adam Liptak's original reporting in the New York Times, you'll see that.

But the pack protects its own.

So Cooper (married to a Democrat) is given a pass. And the Los Angeles Times (among others) rewrites history. What's really surprising is when Michael Wolff points out the obvious (and public record) fact that Cooper didn't have anything to breathlessly announce, he gets attacked for it. The attack is sideslam that won't deal with the real issue, but that's why he got attacked.

It's interesting the way this will go down: Matt Cooper is a brave journalist who got a release from his source at the last minute. But that's not how it happened.

I held my tongue because two at the Times said it would hurt the principle Miller was standing up for. (Whether you believe she believed in that principle or not is your business.) I held my tongue here. In private conversations and e-mails, I've not been so silent.

And the reason is Cooper lied. Wolff told the truth. Wolff got broadsided for doing so. (Though he may or may not be aware of it.) He broke from the pack. And some of the voices who pride themselves on being so independent attacked him. Why? That's for those voices to reveal.

If they attacked out of friendship with Matt Cooper and a desire to protect him, they should come forward and admit it. They shouldn't act as though they just picked apart Wolff's writing for no reason.

We noted Wolff's article here twice. The second time we used the single paragraph that led one person especially to attack Wolff. They didn't make that the basis of the attack because that's not how you do it.

If you're protecting Cooper, you don't say, "Wolff says Cooper lied about having a new release!"
You don't draw attention to what's vanishing down the memory hole. You find another reason to attack. (Murray Waas and Wolff had a lively exchange on Democracy Now! but it wasn't re: Cooper -- due to that exchange, some may assume Waas is among the people I'm referring to, he's not.) You try to find another way to pick apart the article, to slime it and Wolff, so that if anyone does read it and they find the Cooper paragraph that strays from the revised narrative they just assume, "Oh, there's Wolff again, lying!"

Wolff didn't lie, he didn't skew.

Cooper wasn't going to go to jail. It wasn't important enough to him to go to jail. If that was the deciding factor, then say so. Don't invent a new release that didn't exist. (And in real time, in the public record, you'll find Karl Rove's attorney pointing that out.)

The narrative is now that Cooper got a release from his source at the last minute. That's the way the LA Times reported it, it's the way the New York Times does today -- going against their original reporting (again, see Liptak's original articles).

The narrative may well become two reporters stood up for their sources until their sources released them. But that narrative is false and a lot of work has gone into creating it. A lot of work went into attacking Wolff as well. It required pouring over his article to find something other than the offending paragraph to pick apart in an attempt to tar and feather him a liar.

Floyd Abrams did not accept the 2003 waiver. (The only waiver that Cooper had.) The attornies and the clients, while Miller & Cooper were standing side by side on this, both agreed that a release someone was forced to sign wasn't a real release. Miller's deal to disclose was ironed out by a phone call between attornies and Miller and Scoots.

Cooper didn't get honest. And the press, other than Wolff, has been willing to look the other way. That was bad enough but maybe they held their tongues for the principle? If so, now might be a good time to discuss what really went down.

Cooper didn't want to go to jail so why didn't that just get said? "I don't want to go to jail so I'm offering information." Instead a last minute release is invented, one that never happened. (Again, check the public record.)

There was nothing journalistically brave about what Cooper did. He may be "All Too Human" but he's not a brave reporter and he shouldn't be allowed to pretend he is.

Wolff pointed out reality. Here's the paragraph that led to the attacks (from"All Roads Lead To Rove") :

There is Time's Matt Cooper, a very decent fellow of my acquaintance (married, it is impossible in the ironies department not to note, to Mandy Grunwald, whose father, Henry, ran Time magazine, where Cooper works, in an era when the government was not so sharp when it came to the media, and who, herself, is a very sharp media political consultant who has advised both Clintons, and who has, it is likely, done some leaking herself), marching with seeming stoicism to his protect-my-source jail cell. But who, beyond ritual denial, seemed awfully relieved when his bosses took it upon themselves to release his notes and name his source (perhaps he felt a little guilty about his secret). And then, when that didn't get him excused, he announced a breathless last-minute release from his source, which turned out to be, according to Robert D. Luskin, Rove's lawyer, nothing but a reconfirmation of the pro forma release the White House had already required the source--and all potential sources--to sign (and which Cooper had said before was not good enough). So, baloney. And then there is the piece about all this that he did in fact write for Time nearly two years after he might just as well have written it.

This is nothing new. When Barbara Walters' name came up during Iran-Contra, the press circled the wagons then too. Walters should have been held accountable by the public but, for that to happen, they'd have to know what she knew and when. For a brief moment, they did. Then it was circle the wagons and down the memory hole.

There's no real news in this article in the Times. But I'm sure it will be examined and probed and discussed. That's fine. The outing of Valerie Plame by an administration swearing to change the tone (and boy did they) deserves to be examined intensely and discussed.

But I was offended when a publisher explained, the day Walters was briefly (a newspaper publisher) a news item in Iran-Contra, that she wouldn't be by the next day's news cycle.
That's what's happening with Cooper.

It probably will continue. No one will question it because the spin is so intense that most people now think it happened that way. It didn't. I gave my word to hold my tongue on this (after I called Cooper "Fat Boy" -- either here or in a phone conversation) because the issue was the freedom of the press and pointing out Cooper's obvious flaws would lead to a defense and counter-defense (publicly by the press, not legal) and the "waters would be muddied if not bloodied." So I agreed to hold my tonuge here while Miller was in jail.

We're not discussing Miller in this entry, we aren't discussing Valerie Plame. What we're discussing is how the press will protect its own and how friends in various places will rush forward to attack someone, in this case Wolff, who states the obvious truth but never say, "Oh by the way, me and Matty? Friends!"

The attacks on Wolff might not have been so convincing if people knew they were coming from friends of Matt Cooper. (Which is not to say Cooper encouraged the attacks, just that he benefitted from them as he benefits from not being asked to explain his supposed new release that doesn't appear to have existed unless he's kept silent on it -- which, all things considered, would be amazing on his part.)

There are people who say they're in it for the truth. They say they just want to inform. A lot of them didn't do that -- not because they fell for the spin, but because they actively promoted it when they knew better. And there's also the issue of private conversations Cooper appears to have had which surfaced in the press while he was still supposedly not coming forward and standing with Miller on the First Amendment.

You can think Miller was self-serving or whatever. That's not the point for this entry. The point is that Cooper's story didn't hold up. And we saw that in real time. But then friends got a hold of it and it was hammered into a narrative that doesn't reflect reality.

This will be studied in journalism classes because there was an investigation, reporters were threatened with jail, many came forward. When it's studied, it's really not fair for Matt Cooper to be held up as an example of someone who bravely stood up against a prosecuter for the First Amendment because that's not what happend. And if anyone needs the truth about journalism, it's the young adults who will be stuyding to become journalists.

Cooper may be a nice person, he has a lot of friends. But an honest person would have stepped forward and set the record straight. He hasn't done that. And he's aware of some of the attacks on Wolff for raising the unmentionable in a single paragraph of a lengthy essay. (Wolff's been especially attacked on the D.C. party scene.)

Scoots told Miller, according to the article in the paper today, that he thought Valerie Plame sent Wilson on the trip. (That's spreading the rumor and that rumor pops up a lot in some of the revisionist writing benefitting Cooper.) His claim right now is apparently that he didn't know she was CIA. That deserves to be picked apart. The nonsense of "I didn't use her name!" deserves to be picked apart as well.

But here we're going to focus on the Cooper aspect because I don't like having to hold my tongue while history is rewritten. I agreed to do so while Miller was in jail. Maybe others got caught up in the larger principle as well? Miller's out of jail. There's no need to continue to maintain a "friendly" environment because the First Amendment is at stake.

The narrative flew in the face of common sense and public record but it took hold and maybe everyone wants to stay silent on it (except Michael Wolff) but I don't have a need to take part in a lie or play circle the wagons.

Cooper was initially vauge about his new release. Rove's attorney, in real time, publicly denied such a release. If Cooper has a release that justifies his actions, he can come forward with it. Don't hold your breath for that to happen because a lot of people have invested a lot of time in creating and maintaining this narrative.

You hear a lot of criticism of the press, justified, but one of the things that they do best, that rarely gets commented upon, is this circle the wagons approach. It allows certain individuals to not be held accountable. Take Judith Miller. Her articles in the lead up to the invasion and while taking part in it are obviously wrong. (She was proved f**king wrong.) But she wasn't held accountable for that. You had Jack Shafer and a few others who did hold her accountable (a few others within the ranks -- you had a lot of people outside those ranks holding her accountable). But it took a grand jury for her work to be seriously addressed. (The Times still hasn't done that.)

That's because they protect their own. They circle the wagons. And they've done it with Cooper and they need to called on it. They did it with Walters and today most people don't even know her ties to Iran-Contra. Matthew Cooper sat on a story, an important one that might have impacted the election (as Wolff points out) and here we won't act like a rewrite is reality.

End of editorial.

We'll note BuzzFlash's editorial entitled "The Last Passion of the Democratic Party:"

"It was, perhaps, the last time that the Democratic Party leadership stood passionately behind an issue that was integral to the preservation of the goals and grandeur of our revolutionary heritage -- and to the promise of our Constitution and democracy. Some southern Democrats dragged their feet, as did some northern lunch bucket mayors, but the party as a whole put its soul and its conviction behind the notion that all Americans are created equal and each one is entitled to one vote, to a quality education, and to equal opportunity.
For Democrats, it was a tense, but proud period. They had the law, the Constitution, and righteousness on their side. The hymn, "We Shall Overcome," became the rallying song for a generation that was motivated by the notion that America's greatness resided in the legal and equal rights it bestowed on all its citizens, not just the self-appointed few. "

Lloyd e-mails to note Matthew Rothschild's "
When Will Rumsfeld Face the Music?" (This Just In, The Progressive):

Lynndie England just got three years and a dishonorable discharge.
When is Donald Rumsfeld going to face the music and get canned or indicted for his part in the torture scandal?
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both say there is "prima facie evidence" to indict Rumsfeld for war crimes. (See "
Stripping Rumsfeld and Bush of Impunity.")
For the fact is, that the torture scandal is not confined to a few immoral and pathetic and sadistic soldiers on the lowest rungs of the command ladder.
U.S. torture and abuse have been widespread, and the evidence of that keeps mounting.
A whistleblower from the 82nd Airborne, Captain Ian Fishback, says, "Prisoner abuse is systemic in the Army." He and two other former members of the elite division, who were stationed at Forward Operating Base Mercury near Fallujah, told Human Rights Watch of all sorts of human rights violations, including beatings and then the cover up of those beatings by medical professionals.
"Torture and other mistreatment of Iraqis in detention was systematic and was known at varying levels of command," Human Rights Watch alleges in "
Leadership Failure: Firsthand Accounts of Torture of Iraqi Detainees by the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne."

Olive e-mails to note Clive Stafford Smith's "Gitmo's Hunger Strikers" (The Nation):

"I am slowly dying in this solitary prison cell," says Omar Deghayes, a British refugee and Guantánamo Bay prisoner. "I have no rights, no hope. So why not take my destiny into my own hands, and die for a principle?"
This magazine goes to press on the forty-ninth day of the Guantánamo hunger strike. In 1981 near Belfast, Bobby Sands and nine other members of the IRA starved themselves to death. The prisoners had insisted that they be treated as POWs rather than criminals. They died before the British government accepted that its use of kangaroo courts and its policy of "criminalization" did not just betray democratic principles; these methods functioned as the most persuasive recruiting sergeant the IRA ever had. How soon these lessons are forgotten. Three and a half years of internment without trial in Guantánamo, and any US claim to be the standard-bearer of the rule of law has dissolved.
But there are two important distinctions between the experience of Sands and Omar Deghayes: The US military has insisted on secrecy regarding Guantánamo, and the US media have been compliant in their apathy. Despite the traditional British hostility to free speech, every moment of Bobby Sands's decline was broadcast live. In contrast, nothing we lawyers learn from our Guantánamo clients can be revealed until it passes the US government censors. Thus, two weeks went by before the public even knew there was a hunger strike, and the military has been allowed to dissemble on the details since.

Rod e-mails to note today's scheduled topics for Democracy Now!:

Friday, September 30:* A look at the Red Cross and disaster relief funding. We'll speak with Richard Walden of Operation USA who is highly critical of the way the Red Cross has used the substantial sums of funds it has received in the wake of hurricane Katrina.
* We take a look at legislation making its way through Congress that critics say will destroy public access television in the U.S.

The e-mail address for this site is

[Note: Typos fixed and "is" added to one sentence by Ava per C.I. who also wanted a note added:
* Douglas Jehl sought a response from Bill Keller in one article. That was Jehl's job. He did it. Maybe some people wouldn't have but it is what NYT reporters are supposed to do when the story involves the paper. There seems to be two e-mailers confused by this, one from the Times, who see it as a slapdown at Jehl. It's not. He did the job he was supposed to. The backslapping came from others outside the Times who were treating something as basic as a student asking, "Will the test be open book?" as though it was the most revolutionary question in the world and required someone stepping outside of the policies to ask it. Jehl did his job, but it's the job everyone at the Times is supposed to do.
That was C.I.'s note. I will steer you to "Rudith Miller" which is more timely than ever -- note "Newton Fulbright." I'm also adding tags to the post.]