Meredith Vieira was in a light-hearted mood at the top of this morning's "Today," joshing with substitute co-host Ann Curry about the estrogen on the set and kiddingly offering to leave her husband for the winner of the Mega Millions lottery. But we shouldn't have let the idle chatter fool us. When it came to discussing the repercussions of the Libby conviction, Meredith's leopard-skin blouse should have been a clue -- because she pounced.
Discussing the trial with NBC host-turned-star-prosecution-witness Tim Russert [file photo], Meredith displayed and read this quotation from Republican strategist [and former Dole campaign manager] Scott Reed that appeared in a New York Timesarticle this morning:
“The trial has been death by 1,000 cuts for Cheney. It’s hurt him inside the administration. It’s hurt him with the Congress, and it’s hurt his stature around the world because it has shown a lot of the inner workings of the White House. It peeled the bark right off the way they operate.”
Vieira then asked Russert: "Is this the beginning of the end, do you believe, for the Vice President?"
The broadcast network evening newscast coverage Tuesday night, of the guilty verdicts for perjury and lying found against Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, painted the case through the prism of administration opponents who presumed a nefarious scheme led by Vice President Cheney against the heroic Joe Wilson. Though the legal status of Valerie Plame remains in dispute, ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas and CBS's Gloria Borger described her as an “undercover” CIA agent. And while ABC's Pierre Thomas noted how Plame “had been outed as a CIA operative in a column by Robert Novak,” neither Thomas, nor reporters on CBS or NBC, ever pointed out how Novak learned of Plame's identity from then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a war opponent outside the Cheney/Karl Rove circle.
CBS and NBC managed to connect Libby to the Reagan years. “Guilty,” Katie Couric teased at the top of the CBS Evening News, “the highest ranking White House official found guilty of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal." Over on the NBC Nightly News, Kelly O'Donnell echoed: "What happened here today makes Lewis 'Scooter' Libby the highest-ranking White House official convicted of a felony since the Reagan era and the Iran-Contra scandal.”
CBS's Gloria Borger ominously concluded: "The prosecutor said there was a cloud over the Vice President's office. And today he said it's still there. Only now, Katie, it may be darker." Bob Schieffer soon piled on: “I think it's going to hurt the administration because it's going to raise new questions about their credibility when they already have more problems on their plate than they can really handle right now." On ABC, Vargas picked up on how “Joe Wilson...said today he wants Karl Rove fired from the White House. Do you think that might happen?" George Stephanopoulos rationally retorted: "No. It ain't going to happen.”
Avuncular he might be, but Bob Schieffer can sling Dem spin like a Shrum.
Appearing on the CBS Evening News to comment on the Libby verdict, not only did Katie Couric's predecessor in the anchor chair paint things in
the grimmest possible terms for Vice-President Cheney, he took things an unsolicited
step further. Katie Couric asked Schieffer "how badly does this reflect on Mr. Cheney in your view?"
Schieffer: "Very badly, and it's hard to conclude otherwise."
During Tuesday’s "Situation Room," Jack Cafferty used the conviction of a former aide to Vice President Cheney as a springboard for wild attacks against George W. Bush. According to the CNN correspondent, a decision by the President to pardon Lewis "Scooter" Libby would be symptomatic of "an administration that has come to view things like the Constitution and the nation’s laws as inconveniences that only serve to get in the way of their agenda."
Cafferty, who once giddily joked about Karl Rove being indicted in the CIA leak case, also furiously speculated about just who Lewis Libby is "protecting":
Jack Cafferty: "Remember this?"
George W. Bush (file footage): "America wants somebody to restore honor and dignity to the White House. That’s what America is looking for."
Cafferty: "That’s an interesting clip in light of today’s conviction of Vice President Cheney’s former top advisor Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby. He was found guilty on four of five counts against him and they all had to do with lying and obstructing justice when it came to details about Valerie Plame’s identity. Why would he lie? Who was he protecting? We’ll probably never know the answer to that."
During live coverage of the Lewis Libby verdict on MSNBC, Newsweek's Howard Fineman greenlit this potential line of attack for the Democrats: "If you're the Democrats you go up immediately with ads. You talk about lying. You use the word, 'lying' with reference to this administration and you can do it because there is a conviction in a court of law." Fineman also tied the mistreatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed Hospital to the Libby verdict as he claimed: "The war in Iraq has now been bracketed on both sides politically. The Walter Reed story is about the human consequences of the war, the Scooter Libby trial was about how we got into the war and whether somebody was lying..."
It didn't take long for Chris Matthews to launch into his rant against Dick Cheney after news of the Lewis Libby verdict broke. Just 11 minutes into MSNBC's live coverage of the Libby decision the Cheney-obsessed Matthews to jumped into his anti-Iraq war routine as he repeated Patrick Fitzgerald's charge there the is now "a cloud" around the Vice President. Matthews also asserted Cheney was "now in the cross-hairs of national debate," and charged "This isn't like a hunting accident where he can walk away for two days and let someone else answer the questions. He's gonna have to answer the questions. Let's see if he puts out a statement. If it's anything more than remorse, well let's hope that it's something more than remorse because there's a lot of questions here."
Hey NBC your double-standards are showing! On last night's Hardball, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was in awe of the Clinton spin machine as he called them "pros" and "good leakers" but MSNBC correspondent David Shuster labeled Dick Cheney's behavior in the Scooter Libby leak case as "ruthless," and "obsessed."
First up Hardball host, Chris Matthews, asked Williams for his take on Hillary Clinton's rapid defense in her David Geffen-fueled spat with Barack Obama. Williams, seemed to admire the Clinton machine's prowess in both past and current crises, as he admitted: "They were pros politically. They were good leakers. They were good attackers, and they were good defenders.Hillary Rodham Clinton has some pros working for her.We've had some experience with them, all of us in this business have."
Today is probably going to be the last day of the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial. I'm going to be in the courtroom blogging the trial for Dean's World. For my coverage and everyone else's see the Media Bloggers Association's Scooter Libby Trial web site. For an idea of what to expect, see Tom Maguire's post here.
The defense in the Scooter Libby trial has subpoenaed NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell to speak about her earlier statement that the profession of Valerie Plame Wilson "was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community."
She's since retracted it after her remarks seemingly implicated her NBC colleague Tim Russert. The prosecution also does not want Mitchell to testify as Clarice Feldman notes:
Yet Special Counsel Patrick
Fitzgerald is fighting hard to make sure reporter Andrea Mitchell's
testimony is not heard, and is asking the jury to buy some highly
implausible notions about a key FBI interview with NBC's Washington
Bureau Chief Tim Russert.
prosecution is still trying hard to keep Andrea Mitchell from being
called as a defense witness. In a pleading Friday, the defense is
trying just as hard to get court permission to call her. The
prosecution argues that the defense cannot call a witness just to
impeach her, and the defense says that is not their only reason to call
her, that she has other evidence to provide, and that a fair trial
cannot be had without her being called and questioned by the defense.
In the Scooter Libby trial, the jury heard a tape of NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert sounding very much like a liberal Democrat expressing glee at approaching indictments in the Plamegate prosecution of Patrick Fitzgerald on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning on October 28, 2005 (in the 8:30 half hour). He said "Santa Claus is coming tomorrow." MRC's Mike Rule dug out the tape to give people outside the courtroom some of the flavor of that giddy conversation:
Imus: "Here's somebody, if this person who we're going to talk to now doesn't know [who will be indicted in the CIA leak case, or even if indictments are coming] nobody knows. The Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News and the host of 'Meet the Press' Tim Russert. Good morning Mr. Russert."
It is a common maxim that sometimes those who most loudly decry a sin are in fact the most guilty of it. The trial of Scooter Libby has become a troubling affirmation of that maxim, at least from my vantage point in the media room at the Prettyman Courthouse.
The Washington press has been giddy since the name Joe Wilson was first thrust into the limelight by the tag-team of the New York Times opinion page and NBC's Meet the Press. This week's court proceedings reminded us how invested Big Media has been in the prosecution of White House staff over Wilson's now-debunked claims. Consider this excerpt provided by Libby's defense from an appearance by NBC's Tim Russert on the Don Imus show:
"It was like Christmas here last night," describing the anticipation of indictments coming down over the leak case. "Santa Claus is coming. Surprises! What's going to be under the tree?"
On Friday night's edition of Inside Washington airing locally on Washington PBS station WETA, the first topic was whether the media's been unfair to President Bush, given his abysmal approval ratings. NPR reporter Nina Totenberg said Bush received a "free ride" for years, so now the worm has turned and the coverage is fierce. Then the host turned to Newsweek's Evan Thomas, who was frank in his assessment of the media's role:
Gordon Peterson: "What do you think, Evan? Are the mainstream media bashing the president unfairly?"
Evan Thomas: "Well, our job is to bash the president, that's what we do almost --"
"Truth is stranger than fiction" is a phrase you often hear tossed around. I'd add a corollary to it: truth can be funnier than fiction, too.
Such was the case on tonight's "Hardball" where host Chris Matthews got so excited with his quest to blame the Bush admin for the Valerie Plame kerfuffle, he actually started drooling about it on the air, going past anything that "Saturday Night Live" actor Darrell Hammond has ever done in parody.
And no, that's not hyperbole. See the screenshot to the right and watch the video here in WMV or in RealPlayer.
Will the rise of blogging and "citizen journalism"* have a positive effect on news coverage of politics? I'd have to say yes. Kate Werk at Small Dead Animals posted the other day on a different reason this will be so:
The distinction between national and local is an important one. [...] I find
the local reporting by mainstream affiliates in my part of the country
to be, by and large, reasonably thorough and not nearly as tainted by
the political "default setting" that infects much of national and
international coverage. [...]
Indeed, one wonders how different our perceptions of the national
mainstream media might be if the chattering quasi -experts, political
mouthpieces and overpaid anchors were sent into early retirement, and
replaced with editing teams that simply compiled reports submitted by
local affiliates and journalists in the field.
Removing the conclusion-drawing, forecasting and speculation that
currently infects hard news could go a long way towards restoring the
credibility of a troubled industry and the confidence of that "former
audience" - those news consumers who have turned to the internet, not
for its speed, but for the sources - to fact check, cross-check and provide context.
The emergence of blogging as a source of national news can bring out information that the elitist, liberal press can't or won't report.
On ABC's World News Saturday, correspondent Laura Marquez filed a story on the upcoming trial of Lewis Libby regarding his role in leaking CIA analyst Valerie Plame's identity. Marquez relayed the theory that Bush administration members deliberately leaked her identity "to get back at" her husband, Iraq War critic Joe Wilson, without mentioning the revelation that Richard Armitage, formerly an assistant to Colin Powell and a dove in the run-up to the Iraq War, admitted to having inadvertently been the original leaker. Instead of mentioning this aspect of the story which undermines the theory of a deliberate conspiracy, Marquez suggested "dirty politics" was behind the leak as she pointed out the trial's bad timing with the President's upcoming State of the Union speech. Marquez: "It will remind the American public just how dirty politics can get." (Transcript follows)
On Tuesday, jury selection began in the trial of Lewis Libby. And "Good Morning America" reporter Claire Shipman couldn’t resist spinning this occasion into an attack against President Bush. Libby, the former Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. He does not, however, face prosecution for publically outing Wilson's wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame. However, through sloppy phrasing and omission, Shipman encouraged the assumption that this is yet another example of the Bush administration’s misconduct. The most brazen example is the GMA reporter’s description of the "original crime":
Claire Shipman: "Prosecutors are trying to show that Libby lied to investigators about conversations he had with reporters regarding CIA officer Valerie Plame, the undercover agent who was outed. Libby blames a faulty memory. And in classic Washington style, Libby isn't in trouble for the original crime, outing Plame, but, rather, the, quote, ‘the cover up,’ according to the prosecutor."
No government official has been charged with revealing the identity of Valerie Plame. So, how can there be an "original crime?"
As NewsBusters has reported here and here, there has been a shockingly deafening silence from the American media concerning revelations of former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger’s actions at the National Archives in 2003. In fact, it appears that only Fox News has much interest in a story about a top-level political official stealing and destroying top secret documents from the facility responsible for storing them.
With that in mind, “Your World” invited Ann Coulter on to discuss this issue on Thursday, and the conservative author was not shy (video available here courtesy of our friend at Ms Underestimated). After guest host David Asman gave some background, he asked his guest: “Ann Coulter, where is the outrage? Are you surprised that there is no outrage about this?”
Chris Matthews's apparently inexorable plunge off the Olbermann end of the pool continued on Thursday's Hardball.
Matthews [seen in file photo] discussed the Scooter Libby trial with Newsweek investigative reporter Michael Isikoff and former associate independent counsel Scott Fredericksen. Matthews put it to Isikoff that the case against Libby is "open and shut," a conclusion that Isikoff declined to endorse.
Fredericksen stated that, to the contrary, there are many defenses available to Libby and that "you've got the Vice-President coming in to testify for him . . . you've got a darn good defense."
As Fredericksen continued to sketch a defense, Matthews interjected:
After his May 8 prediction that White House aide Karle Rove "will, in fact, be indicted" blew up in his face as investigators into the Valerie Plame non-scandal told Rove he would not be charged, you'd think MSNBC correspondent David Shuster would have stayed away from making prognostications based on his own reporting.
If you predicted that, however, you would've been wrong.
Last Wednesday, Shuster confidently asserted that his sources told him that GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert would be ousted from power by a week. Well, it's Thursday now and Hastert is still very much in the Speaker's Chair. Will Shuster trouble himself to issue a retraction? Perhaps the perpetually inaccurate Keith Olbermann might bestir himself to force one since he now seems slightly more interested in accuracy, especially since Shuster's remark was made on his show.
In any case, Shuster should definitely consider developing some better sources since they've steered him wrong rather profoundly on two instances in less than six months' time.
Full text of Shuster's comment is below the fold. Tip of the hat to Olbermann Watch for reminding me of when Shuster made his false prediction.
On Monday's edition of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central -- the same edition rolling out the red carpet for Bill Clinton promoting his latest Global Initiative talk-a-thon -- Jon Stewart opened his show by trashing conservative columnist Robert Novak over his C-SPAN critique of Stewart as a self-righteous comedian with airs of grandeur. Admitting he's "mean" and "sophomoric," Stewart described Novak as a heartless "vampire demon," a "terrible person," and even an "enemy of American democracy."
Bill Press, the former CNN and MSNBC host refuses
to yield ground on the Plame story. Starting to sound a lot like a crazy guy shouting about aliens, Press creates a unified
conspiracy theory of Plame. That's a little difficult given recent news
events, so Press has to resort to distorting the words of columnist
So where's my apology to Karl Rove?
what many readers want to know: Having accused Karl Rove of leading a
conspiracy within the Bush White House to reveal the identity of
undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, don't I owe Rove an apology now
that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has admitted
that he, not Rove, was Novak's primary source?
here's my answer: Hell, no! Armitage's involvement doesn't disprove the
Rove conspiracy. It only proves it was a lot wider than we originally
On CNN's Reliable Sources on Sunday morning, Gloria Borger, CBS News Capitol Hill correspondent and U.S. News columnist, conceded that the revelation that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was who leaked the fact that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, “was sort of a big yawn” to the news media “and why we didn't cover it that much, is because, first of all, everybody was anticipating a Karl Rove indictment, and that would have been a huge, huge story.” So, when “Karl Rove was not indicted, the air went out of the balloon at that particular point.” To put it mildly. Host Howard Kurtz called media coverage of Rove “overheated,” suggesting that “a lot of journalists practically had the date circled on the calendar when he might be charged."
The CBS Evening News at least ran a story, unlike the ABC and NBC evening newscasts, but a very skewed and incomplete report, as detailed in my September 7 NewsBusters item, “CBS Interviews Armitage, But Skips Rove and Asks if He Owes Apology to Wilson?” (Brief transcript of Borger's exchange with Kurtz follows)
The Fitzpatrick Plame investigation has spurred the New York Times into examining how their reporters conduct themselves. Apparently, the Gray Lady wants her staff to act more like terrorists and drug dealers. Reporters are being told to delete emails, destroy notes, and use disposable cell phones in order to stymie future investigations.
During today's Live Discussion at WashingtonPost.com, columnist David Broder took heat from liberal readers who asked him to explain why he said the press should apologize to Karl Rove for the stink it made over the non-issue of Valerie Plame.
It's remarkable how overwhelmingly liberal the questions are that make it to Broder's attention, but perhaps conservatives readers have given up on the Washington Post.
Washington, D.C.: Mr Broder, if you feel Karl Rove is owed an apology from the pundits and writers over Valerie Plame, did you also call for an apology to the Clintons after Ken Starr, the Whitewater investigation and the failed attempt to impeach President Clinton? If not, why not?
David S. Broder: As best, I can recall,I did not call for such an apology. My view, for whatever it is worth long after the dust has settled on Monica, was that when President Clinton admitted he had lied to his Cabinet and his closest assoc, to say nothing of the public, that the honorable thing was for him to have resigned and turned over the office to Vice President Gore. I think history would have been very different had he done that.
[After being called out by NewsBusters, Matthews ended his boycott late Friday. Be sure and read updates to this post below.]
Since the revelation that Richard Armitage, a former high-ranking official in the State Department, was the source of the much-ballyhooed Valerie Plame "leak," many in the media have refused to touch the story with a ten-foot pole. This was quite a turnaround since before the Armitage involvement was known, many journalists believed the CIA leak story was one worth pursuing on a daily basis. Some even believed it could bring down the Bush White House, or at least end the careers of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.
One of the biggest media figures boycotting the Plame story has been MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who has yet to mention the scandal at all since the Armitage report broke, a dramatic contrast to the 27 times he mentioned the "scandal" in the five months leading up to it.
Like P.J. Gladnick, I couldn't help but notice Matthews's strange flip. So I decided to ask him about it. His answer revealed an animus toward Vice President Dick Cheney and a fear of being asked to answer tough questions himself.
Last night, I went to a press conference/party held by MSNBC and National Journal celebrating a new venture the two media outlets are launching together. Quite a few NBCers were there, including Chris Matthews. I struck up a conversation with the host about the topic of Plame and why he hadn't talked about the story at all. Here's a rough transcript of our discussion which I wrote down shortly thereafter:
Asked how he feels about what happened, Armitage said, "Every day, I
think I let down the president. I let down the Secretary of State. I
let down my department, my family and I also let down Mr. and Mrs.
[Armitage] says he was reading Novak's newspaper column again, on
Oct. 1, 2003, and "he said he was told by a non-partisan gun slinger."
The CBS Evening News on Thursday night became the first broadcast network evening newscast to report how former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the one who revealed how Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but CBS portrayed the Wilsons and taxpayers as the victims of the probe, not Scooter Libby or Karl Rove (whose name was never uttered), nor questions about the special counsel's pursuit. Couric framed the piece by asserting Wilson accused Bush of using “faulty intelligence to justify the war in Iraq” and the “leak ultimately sent a reporter to jail, got a top White House aide indicted, and set off a criminal investigation that has cost taxpayers $20 million so far.” In the “exclusive” interview with David Martin, Armitage maintained: “Oh, I feel terrible everyday. I think I let down the President, I let down the Secretary of State, I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.” Martin then asked: "You feel you owe the Wilson's an apology?" Martin did point out to Armitage, "You would have taken a lot of wind out of this whole feeding frenzy if you had come forward," prompting Armitage to say he had just honored the special counsel's request. And Martin wondered: “Did you ever think of saying, 'Mr. President, I screwed up'?”
Martin never addressed why the special counsel continued the probe when he knew up front that Armitage was Bob Novak's source, or retracted any of CBS's past mis-reporting (see below). CBS also presumed some facts not in evidence as Couric described Valerie Plame as an “undercover agent for the CIA” and Martin relayed: “It's a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.” (Transcript follows)
Columnist David Broder says he wrote "almost nothing about the Wilson-Plame case, because it seemed overblown to me from the start." As for the rest of the media, Broder says Newsweek "and other publications owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts."
The only time I commented on the case was to caution reporters who offered bold First Amendment defenses for keeping their sources' names secret that they had better examine the motivations of the people leaking the information to be sure they deserve protection.
But caution has been notably lacking in some of the press treatment of this subject -- especially when it comes to Karl Rove. And it behooves us in the media to examine that behavior, not just sweep it under the rug.