Monday, October 24, 2005

The not so brave Matthew Cooper

With Patrick Fitzgerald placing documents online, now might be a good time to revist Matthew Cooper. So let's take a look at one document, "GOVERNMENT'S MEMORANDUM IN OPPOSITION TO MATTHEW COOPER'S MEMORANDUM REGARDING THE CONTEMPT SANCTION."

You learn that Cooper attempted to argue that "Time, Inc.'s decision last week to comply with this Court's order 'should obviate the need to enforce the subpoena served on Cooper and the contempt citation against him." At that point, Cooper was still refusing to go before the court in July (like Judith Miller). "Cooper argues that there is no prospect that he will testify because he is ethically bound to honor a promise made to a source, even where the source committed misconduct."

Let's drop back a moment because there is confusion on this. We noted here, when everyone was speculating about the one source that Cooper must have had, that he had already given testimony on Scooter Libby. He not only gave testimony, he spoke of his testimony afterward at a public event. That was known.

What he had with Libby is what he had with Karl Rove, a form that both signed at the administration's request. Months and months ago. With Libby, that form was good enough for Cooper.

Unless Chatty Cathy Cooper is sitting on something (not likely), he had no additional release from Rove. He breathlessly announced, on the day he would have been found in contempt (Miller was found in contempt that day), that he had contact with his source. Rove's lawyer denied it in real time and Cooper's been sketchy since which has allowed the press to circle the wagons and act like Cooper did have a new release.

No, that's not what it appears. What it appears is that faced with having to sit his butt in jail (which Miller had to do), Cooper suddenly didn't care so much about the legal strategy or the First Amendment.

Why does it matter?

Well he didn't conduct himself in any brave journalistic manner and that should be noted.

But if you want to draw a conclusion from the events, one conclusion is that Matthew Cooper was scared of Karl Rove. He wasn't scared of Libby. He named Libby almost immediately. His silence revolved around Rove.

He didn't want to testify against Rove. When Time turned over the documents, his argument was that they removed the need for him to testify. (From Cooper's account in Time, the notes fingered Rove.) He didn't want to protect a source, that's not what it looks like. If he had, and used the same standard, why did he roll over on Libby?

It appears he was either scared of Karl Rove or he had a special bond with him that made protecting Rove more important than protecting Libby.

So which is it? Either doesn't paint him as a good journalist, let alone a great one. Until he was about to be found in contempt, he was willing to push "protect my source" (Rove) as far as he could. So did Time have a reporter who had a special relationship with Rove? Or did they have one who was scared of Rove?

If it's a special relationship, it should have been disclosed considering Cooper's beat. If it was that he was scared of Rove, that says a great deal about the state of journalism.

Regardless, the point is that until he was going to go to jail, he was perfectly willing to stay silent on what Karl Rove did. That's not all that surprising considering that he stayed silent in July of 2003. Two years later, he can finally get honest.

What did his two years of silence buy? It bought Bully Boy another four years. It allowed Karl Rove the time (and luxury) of focusing on the election instead of worrying if he was going to prison. That's two things that Rove can thank Cooper for. I'm not sure America feels so "thankful" to Cooper for that.

Rove's lawyer has maintained there was no new release. Cooper's had an ever changing story on that. It appears that a release (the original one, the only one Rove's attorney says exists) that was good enough with regards to Libby wasn't good enough with regards to Rove. Was Cooper scared? Did they have a relationship that went beyond reporter and source? Those are questions "brave" Matt Cooper needs to answer.

In all the talk about Judith Miller, some time might need to be spent examing what happened with Cooper and why. Instead, he's given a pass and people rush to rewrite what happened.

Why was Cooper willing to fight (repeatedly) all attempts to compell him to testify against Rove until to continue fighting meant going to jail?

Why didn't he want to testify against Rove?

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[Note: An unneeded, and confusing, "the" was removed. Thanks, Shirley for catching that. In addition Shirley asks that we note this earlier editorial "Editorial: Not so brave Matt Cooper."]