Saturday, October 29, 2005

Editorial on Scooter, Judy, Dexy and Matty

Apologies to members expecting Friday evening posts. I'm out of town and intended to do entries as soon as we landed but I couldn't connect to the net last night and it was too late for me to feel comfortable calling someone and asking them to take dictation and post it to the site.

The New York Times this morning is focusing on Scooter Libby. Consider this entry an editorial.

Let's start with Todd S. Purdum ("A Prosecutor's Focus Shifted to a Cover-Up") who apparently decided that instead of washing his dirty jock, he'd turn it inside out and wear it for another six months without washing. That would explain how the fumes got to him yet again and why he feels the need to early on toss out Bill Clinton. Drawing comparisons no sane person would make (Clinton's cover up revolved around a private, consensual sex affair; Libby's cover up revolves around the outing of a CIA agent), you start to wonder if Todd's not only sniffing his own fumes but also chewing on his dirty jock? The after taste of his "news analysis" makes one wonder.

How far into the article before Todd mentions Clinton (for balance, I'm sure)? Fourth paragraph. How far before Nixon is mentioned? Fourteen. (Always check my math.)

And what are we 'assured' when Nixon finally crawls out from under the rock? "The Wilson affair is not Watergate . . ." Really?

The issues involved are not a consensual sex affair either. But Todd didn't have a need to rush to assure there. They may actually go beyond the petty motives of Watergate (original motive: to spy on the Democratic Party during a presidential election) since the outing of Valerie Plame is an attempt to discredit (and silence) her husband Joseph Wilson who was explaining that there was no evidence of "yellow cakes." (Our latter day Dylan, who hopefully gets honest today, splits hairs over "dubious." Will let him do his daily jerk off on that but in the real world we grasp the meaning. And if there's no Saturday coming clean, look for something at The Third Estate Sunday Review tomorrow because, frankly, I'm sick of the latter day Dylan and his psuedo even handed approach.)

Todd's "news analysis" provides a new example for "worthless." (For visitors, Todd S. Purdum is not "the latter day Dylan.")

There was an interesting debate over the transcript excerpts the Times provides of Patrick Fitzgerald's conference yesterday. Interesting debate within the walls of the New York Times.

Worthy of note, among all the stories, is Eric Schmitt's "An Influential Bush Insider Who Is Used to Challenges." It's full of details and worth taking the time to read. Among the details, one sentence worth noting is:

In the White House contellation of advisers, Mr. Libby, 55, was not just any aide. Known by the nickname Scooter, he had the exalted position of being a full member of President Bush's inner circle. In fact, he excercised more influence than senior vice-presidential aides in previous administrations, holding three pivotal jobs at once: assistant to the president, chief of staff to the vice president and Mr. Cheney's national security advisor.

"Assistant to the president." How often is that emphasized in the press coverage that appears to put up a safety wall between Scooter and Bully Boy.

Now we're going to break a policy at this site to comment on the editorial section of the paper. Gail Collins, the presumed author of the editorials on the importance of the free press, is slammed and slammed again for those editorials. I read three of them but I'll say for the record that I agree with all of them, not just the ones I read. The legal issue for the paper was the right of a free press.

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., gave a speech that I haven't found online (I've been in the air, then speaking, then finally at the hotel where I couldn't connect to the net). As the speech was conveyed to me (by two friends at the paper) he's making the point that you fight for the First Amendment. The editorials that are being lambasted went to the issue of the First Amendment.

The contents of Judith Miller's reporting aren't the issue. (This is an editorial so "my opinion" should be added throughout.) The legal strategy was the First Amendment and that a reporter doesn't roll over on a source. The editorials maintained that committment to a free press. I loathe Jeff Gerth but I'm not thrilled that he may be forced to name a source under a court order. (If Gerth felt burned, I doubt he does, he could willingly name the source.) The editorials were about the freedom of the press.

Has the Times been a brave voice? No. It's really never been a brave voice, though our latter day Dylan thinks that all began in the Clinton era. There have been a few strong investigative reporters over the years (most of whom leave quickly) and some strong columnists but the Times is not a brave paper in print. It's also not all that interested in freedom of speech by its own actions. You can take their refusal to join the efforts of others to protest the restrictions imposed on the first Gulf War. You can go back to their efforts to undermine a reporter in the early seventies (when the government wanted his notes and his sources).

The paper didn't plan the legal strategy or put it in motion. For a number of reasons, once Miller's legal strategy was in place the paper was along for the ride (though there's a dispute over a line by Sulzberger -- we never quoted it here -- about whose hand or hands were steering the wheel). Another reporter likely would have found themselves with weak backing from the paper. (Miller, being a "star" reporter -- as is Gerth, benefitted as much from that as from her relationship with Sulzberger did. Which is why you hear the public objections, having weathered this storm, to Miller continuing to be a spokesperson for the paper.)

Had Gail Collins written an editorial emphasizing Miller's long history of factually based reporting, the slams against Collins would be justified. Collins didn't base the editorials on what Miller got into the paper.

FAIR has offered a counter-opinion that I disagree with but can respect. Their opinion is that a crime was committed with the outing of Valerie Plame and that witnesses (reporters) to that crime must be compelled to testify the same as any other witness to a crime.

I disagree with that principle but it is logical and I can understand where they're coming from. The more popular argument, Judy Miller is a bad reporter and who cares what happens to bad reporters, isn't one I can agree with. To attempt to extract the events involved in this from the larger war against the press isn't something I can go along with.

The editorials were addressing the war on the press and the First Amendment.

Compelling a reporter to testify in a case where national security may or may not have been breached (I believe it was with the outing of Valerie Plame) leaves the door open to forcing a reporter to testify in other cases. (I do not support the federal shield law currently being trumpted by others including the Times. The definition of "journalist" is too narrow and perfectly in keeping with the Times' mindset.) If X comes across a report to Bully Boy on how to lie the country into war and leaks it to the press, will those reporters be compelled to testify?
The Pentagon Papers resulted in attempts to surpress the report and then attempts to discredit the whistle blower (Daniel Ellsberg).

There is a history of erosions to the First Amendment. It's certainly true that the Times has been largely silent on those erosions. It's also true that Miller printed whatever stenography she took down from whatever administration official. The issue wasn't the Times, the issue wasn't Miller. The issue was a free press.

If the issue for others on the other side of this argument is similar to FAIR's (that witnesses to a crime must testify) then the continued focus on Miller with no commentary on Matthew Cooper is suspect. Matt Cooper rolled over on Scooter Libby with only the original signed release. That's all he had from Karl Rove when he rolled over on Rove. But that's not addressed. Matthew Cooper's given a pass for false statements to the public and he's given a pass for keeping silent when it could have mattered (before the election). He gets that pass because of his friends who see him as a Democrat.

I don't know that a Democrat covers for Rove in the midst of an election. A coward does. I'd argue a coward did. At worst, Miller's a liar who lied us into war. At best, she's a really bad excuse for a reporter.

Her position, and this was Cooper's as well, was that she could only testify if she had a release from her source and that a statement signed under duress did not qualify as a release. When facing jail time, Miller stuck to that. Cooper didn't. He invented a new release that didn't exist.

From a journalistic stand point, Miller (a joke) protected her source. Cooper didn't. Faced with jail time, Cooper rolled over. Too scared to speak when it mattered, confronted with his ass sitting in jail, he abandoned his beliefs but didn't have the guts to get honest about that so he invents a mysterious release that just popped up that morning.

That's worth noting. Yes, Miller and Cooper's testimony help "our side." But in terms of journalistic issues, this case is a nightmare. Instead of slamming Gail Collins for editorials defending the rights of the press, people might be better served contemplating the issues at stake.

If all the commentary is about the fact that reporters have an obligation to testify when a crime is committed, the trashing of Judith Miller and Gail Collins while Matt Cooper continues to get a pass is mystifying.

Cooper, who spoke to Rove, had a funny sort of "journalistic" position. In 2004, he would testify against Scooter Libby. In 2004, he would publicly discuss his testimony against Scooter Libby to select audiences. But in 2004, he would not name Karl Rove.

His employer is not a fighter of the First Amendment. They could have turned over his notes prior to the election. They chose not to.

So in all the ridicule (and I have nothing against ridicule, mock and mock freely) the continued pass given to both Matt Cooper and Time magazine is surprising.

Miller's never been seen as being on "our side." Matthew Cooper is getting a pass because he's perceived that way (and because of whom he's married to). His friends have worked so hard to give him a pass that in the early days they slimed Joe Wilson. (Presumably not under orders from Cooper but Cooper knows what went down.) So you'd turn on the TV or the radio or open a magazine or go to a web site and find the most vicious attacks on Joe Wilson. If it was coming from "our side," you might scratch your head and wonder. You should stop wondering and demand accountability.

Judith Miller's paper, the Times, was constrained by their coverage (that's their public position) due to Miller's involvement. What's the reason for others?

Between friends and the pack mentality, Cooper's getting a free pass.

He doesn't deserve one. A standard issue release was enough for him to roll over on Scooter and, when jail time approached, it was suddenly enough to roll over on Karl Rove. It's a real shame the same release wasn't enough when it mattered and it's really a shame that his friends mounted a disinformation campaign on Joe Wilson.

While The Daily Jerk Off tells CJR that the 2004 election coverage was more even handed than the 2000 election, he lies, misinforms or has left the realm of reality. It wasn't. Al Gore didn't have phoney terrorist alerts popping up during his convention. No one said al Qaeda wants Al Gore to win (think of Cheney's public statements on John Kerry). The press didn't trumpet those charges and alerts because they didn't exist. Al Gore had no war injuries to question, but John Kerry had war injuries that were questioned and the press trumpeted that. No one wore band aids with puple hearts on them to the GOP convention in 2000 while the press looked the other way. To imply that the coverage in 2000 was awful but in 2004 it was better is to be uninformed, tired or a liar.

Add in that certain members of the press sat on (Miller and Cooper among them) the news that the White House had outed a CIA agent when their testimony could have mattered and you can't claim, not truthfully, that 2004 saw improved press coverage.

In terms of the outing of a CIA agent or press freedoms, there are a number of issues involved. In terms of "our side" the issue is that "our" Matt Cooper sat on news that could have effected the outcome of the 2004 election. Sat on it until the election was over. Not only did he not write about it, he wouldn't testify to Rove's involvement in 2004. So before the next voice on "our side" goes after Judy Miller, they might want to weigh in on Cooper. No one mistook Judith Miller as serving on "our side." No one familiar with her reporting (predates 2000) would make that claim.

As for Gail Collins, she wrote about press freedom, she defended it. She tied Miller's case into the larger landscape of erosions on the press. In that regard, she has nothing to be ashamed of.

The press has clowned. For years. (Goes way beyond when Clinton was first sworn in.) The editorials may have been laughable coming from the New York Timid, no question. But the arguments in the editorials were founded on a reporter's obligations to their source and to a free press. Collins case was not made on what Judith Miller knew or didn't know because Collins, not part of the legal team, had no way of knowing what was known. The editorials addressed the free press.

Myself, I'd like to see those editorials put into practice at the Timid. (But, as noted before, the editorials largely exist, like Scott Shane, to mop up after all the fluff that's dubbed "reporting.")
Trapped into taking a position, the Timid defended the press. That happens very rarely at the paper. I'm not going to ridicule the editorials for their content (others can do what they want, and obviously are) but I'd like to see the paper try to put those beliefs into practice.

Juan Foero, Jeff Gerth and Dexter Filkins are three who've earned ridicule. It's amazing that only Miller (and Collins) recieve it. Maybe Forero's white washings of deaths doesn't matter since it happens to "them" and not "us"? If Miller got us over there (Iraq) (and she did with plenty of help from other "reporters"), it's been the work of the likes of Dexter Filkins that's kept us immune to the realities on the ground in Iraq.

While Miller was part of the steno pool endorsing the cake walk view, the WMDs and everything that got us over there, Miller wasn't over in Iraq all that long. It's fallen to "reporters" like Filkins (who won an award for his white washing of the slaughter in Falluja) to keep us over there.

The public allegations against Filkins (from reporters) include living a wild life of sex and good times in the safety of the Green Zone and cancelling interviews when the US military registered their disapproval. (Reportedly, all it took was a scowl.) Rumors abound that his award winning piece was turned over to military censors before it appeared in print (over six days after the fact).

So I'm not sure why the focus goes to Miller and only Miller (or Miller and Collins)? If it's a desire to focus on the Times that gives Matt Cooper a pass (from those not take part in the disinformation campaign against Wilson), then you'd think that Forero, Gerth or Filkins (to name but three, want to toss in Hassan?) would be addressed.

Miller's an easy target. She's made herself that. People should feel free to mock her. But is that how it's going to go down? Miller's the fall guy for the war? No other reporter participated in that?

In terms of covering for the administration, Matt Cooper did. It doesn't appear to be out of any desire to fight for journalistic freedom (based on his actions). He covered for Karl Rove for two years. Then he stopped covering. Not because he got a new release (he didn't) but because he didn't want to go to jail. It's too bad he wasn't as scared of jail before the election. When it could have mattered. It's equally too bad that he's not being pressed to explain that "new release" that he's backed off from and that Rove's attorney (Luskin) has denied existed from the moment Cooper announced it.

It's also too bad that a number of people have discredited themselves as they trashed Joe Wilson to protect Matthew Cooper. They've had time to probe every comma in Wilson's public words, to mangle his comments and skew them. But they've never turned that same "analytical" ability to Matt Cooper.

In the meantime, let's close with this from Katharine Q. Seelye and Adam Liptak's "Novel Strategy Pits Journalists Against Source :"

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committe for Freedom of the Press, said the case was setting a dangerous precedent. "Reading the indictment makes my blood run cold," she said. "This whole thing hinges on Russert."
Basing criminal charges on statements by reporters, she said, "puts us on completely new ground."

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[At the request of one friend at the Times, I'll note that it wasn't a smart decision to bury Sandra Blakeslee's article on the back page. The issue is one of interest to the ownership and it's thought that the Liberia story should have been moved to make way for Blakeslee's.]