The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has produced its annual World Press Freedom Index for 2005.
The Associated Press reports that "European countries lead the world in providing freedoms to news media, while the United States lost ground."
North Korea retained the last spot, 167, and the U.S. fell to 44.
"The United States dropped more than 20 spots, to 44th place, mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and judicial action that was 'undermining the privacy of journalistic sources,' the statement said."
The top five countries: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, Norway.
Other countries that ranked higher than the U.S.: Canada, France, South Korea, Italy
Beginning in the Middle Ages, there was a widely popular puppet show called “Punch and Judy.” Most of its content and humor were based on two characters flailing away at each other with slap sticks. Today, we have a verbal equivalent of the same thing, occurring in the pages of the New York Times. These protagonists are Arthur (“Pinch”) Sulzberger Jr., boy-publisher of the Times, and Judith (“Judy”) Miller, one-time rising star writer for that paper.
Judy says she told the truth and upheld the values of the Times. Slap! Pinch says she misled her editors and brought the reputation of the Times into question. Slap! Slap! But unlike its medieval ancestor, the Pinch and Judy Show has four participants. And they are not evenly matched.
The first half-hour of today's Early Show featured a brief anchor read by Hannah Storm on the 1,998th and 1,999th American deaths in Iraq, followed two segments later with a Bill Plante segment on the Valerie Plame leak investigation (sandwiched between was an obituary for civil rights icon Rosa Parks who died yesterday). At the end of Plante's piece, he suggested the upcoming 2000-fatality benchmark is just the cherry on top of the problems the White House is having with the Miers nomination and the Plame investigation:
Adding to the President's problems, of course, the fact that the U.S. death toll in Iraq will soon pass 2000, and that links directly back to the argument at the heart of the leak investigation, the justification for the war. Hannah?
Yet the particular political tussle which sparked the leak and hence the investigation---the assertions of Valerie Plame's husband Joseph Wilson--- has since been discredited or severely questioned in a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, a fact Plante doesn't mention but was reported prominently at the time, including Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post on July 10, 2004:
On Today, at 8:52am Al Franken was on to promote his new book The Truth and repeated his twisted joke from Friday's Letterman in which he predicted that Rove and Libby will be executed for treason. Franken's "joke," drew laughter from Matt Lauer and the rest of the Today show studio. The following is just a portion of this morning's interview:
Matt Lauer: "All right, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby what’s their future? What’s your prediction in terms of indictments? Yes or no?"
Franken: "Oh they, they’ll be indicted. I, I am absolutely sure and this is about, of course, the war in Iraq really. It’s about the justification for the war and smearing Joe Wilson by outing his wife who’s a CIA agent. George H.W. Bush, the President’s father, said, as, when he was head of the CIA, that outing a CIA agent is treason. I, I agree. So I think that Rove and Libby will be executed." Lauer laughed along with those in the studio.
Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post pulled no punches in their front-page article this morning about the challenges currently facing President Bush:
“Rarely has a president confronted as many damaging developments that could all come to a head in this week. A special counsel appears poised to indict one or more administration officials within days. Pressure is building on Bush from within his own party to withdraw the faltering Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. And any day the death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq will pass the symbolically important 2,000 mark.”
Rarely? I guess 9/11 doesn't count, for regardless of what happens this week, it’s got to be a cakewalk by comparison to the days following the first attacks on this country since Pearl Harbor.
In "Bushies Feeling the Boss' Wrath" Thomas M. DeFrank, the New York Daily News Washington bureau chief portrays President Bush as "frustrated, sometimes angry, and even bitter" of late.
And in case you don't get DeFrank's drift from his litany of setbacks for the Bush administration interspersed with anonymous administration sources, the editors at the Daily News were kind enough to offer this unflattering photo of the President, available here.
You'll note the filename 906-w_scowl.jpg. I guess the first 905 takes just wouldn't do?
Four days after Keith Olbermann first suggested a parallel between the Clinton White House “in crisis” during the Lewinsky afffair and the Bush one now, on Monday night's Countdown he resurrected Clinton-era MSNBC video of the introduction of a “White House in Crisis” special. He set it up, with his voice getting lower and more dramatic after his “or” option, as well as a smirk: “Is this just another in the endless historical parade of political controversies through which every President since Washington has had to steer, or is it in fact, the White House in crisis?"
A Thursday night NewsBusters item recounted how Olbermann “forwarded the notion that the Bush White House is in a 'crisis' similar to that which enveloped the Clinton White House after the Monica Lewinsky revelation. Interviewing former Clinton Chief-of-Staff Leon Panetta, Olbermann pointed out how “the rundown for tonight's show was given a title by our producer that shook me. The title simply was, 'White House in Crisis.' I already hosted a news show on this network that had that title some years ago. Is it applicable now? Is in fact in your opinion this White House in crisis?" (Brief transcript and vintage picture of Olbermann follows.)
A presumptuous Bob Schieffer? A Freudian slip? Or merely a stumble? With pictures of Karl Rove, Lewis “Scooter” Libby and President Bush over a shot of the White House, the CBS Evening News anchor on Monday plugged an upcoming piece on the 6:30pm EDT feed: “Coming up, playing the waiting game. Indictments are soon to come in the CIA leak investigation.” Schieffer then backtracked, “or there's word they may. White House insiders most at risk in tonight's 'Inside Story.'” The closed-captioning provided what Schieffer was probably supposed to say: “Coming up, playing the waiting game. Indictments are expected soon in the CIA leak investigation. White House insiders most at risk in tonight's 'Inside Story.'”
Times columnist Maureen Dowd (TimesSelect $ required) strikes the first inside blow against Judy Miller in her Saturday column, "Woman Of Mass Destruction," which opens with this piece of poisoned candy: "I've always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate's Becky Sharp. The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy -- her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur -- have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types."
Then she puts the knife in: "She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet 'Miss Run Amok.' Judy's stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House's case for war."
Filing a report from the White House lawn shortly after 7:30 this morning on CBS's Early Show, White House correspondent Bill Plante described Vice President Cheney's chief-of-staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby as both high-profile and little-known:
Fitzgerald has turned out to be more thorough than just about anyone has anticipated. He has focused on two of the President's highest-profile aides: Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Both of whom talked to reporters about the Valerie Plame case and her husband Joseph Wilson. Libby is the Vice President's chief-of-staff and his national security adviser. A little-known but key analyst and confidante. A major proponent of the war in Iraq, Libby was reportedly enraged by Valerie Plame's husband Joseph Wilson's criticism of the war. His testimony to the grand jury about what he said and when may be at odds with that of some reporters.
Of course, Rove has been a source of mainstream media fascination as well as a left-wing bogeyman since President Bush took office. Lewis Libby, however, has not had the same cachet. A search in Nexis of "Karl Rove" in CBS News transcripts from January 20, 2001 (President Bush's first inauguration) to October 1, 2005 produced 178 hits while a search for "Lewis Libby" in the same time frame produced only 25 hits, with all but six of them occurring since June 2004. A search for "Scooter Libby" produced 17 hits, some of which were duplicates of the "Lewis" search.
On this morning’s “The Chris Matthews Show,” Matthews played a videotape of British broadcaster David Frost interviewing former president Richard M. Nixon. In that interview, Nixon spoke about anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg. After the clip, Matthews suggested that the “outing” of CIA agent Valerie Plame was the current White House’s attempt to eliminate dissention to the Iraq war:
Chris: Sometimes you do things on your own and the boss afterwards says things like “Is this one of yours?” Or sometimes you know you're supposed to do something, and you do it. Could this be the story -- the pattern we see here of how a White House gets into trouble? Of course, the reigning champion of White House scandals was Watergate. Here is Richard Nixon telling David Frost years later that the scheme to trash anti-war activist Daniel Ellsberg was really to discredit all opponents of the Vietnam War.
John Dean, former counsel to president Richard M. Nixon, wrote a column for FindLaw yesterday that is an absolute must read. In it, he gave a thorough analysis of the issues facing special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, while indirectly discrediting the parade of media representatives who have declared in the past couple of weeks that chief White House aide Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, will be indicted next week.
The crux of his argument is that unless Libby and or Rove perjured themselves or suborned perjury, it would be difficult to prove that their actions were not in the interest of national security:
“It is difficult to envision Patrick Fitzgerald prosecuting anyone, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney, who believed they were acting for reasons of national security. While hindsight may find their judgment was wrong, and there is no question their tactics were very heavy-handed and dangerous, I am not certain that they were acting from other than what they believed to be reasons of national security. They were selling a war they felt needed to be undertaken.
“In short, I cannot imagine any of them being indicted, unless they were acting for reasons other than national security. Because national security is such a gray area of the law, come next week, I can see this entire investigation coming to a remarkable anti-climax, as Fitzgerald closes down his Washington Office and returns to Chicago.
“In short, I think the frenzy is about to end -- and it will not go any further.”
"And so basically, what it looks like is going to happen is that Libby and Karl Rove are going to be executed” because “outing a CIA agent is treason,” left-wing author and radio talk show host Al Franken asserted Friday night, to audience laughter, on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman. Franken qualified his hard-edged satire: "Yeah. And I don't know how I feel about it because I'm basically against the death penalty, but they are going to be executed it looks like." Franken later suggested that President Bush is at risk of receiving the same punishment, since Karl Rove likely told him what he did, but he added a caveat: “I think, by the way, that we should never ever, ever, ever execute a sitting President."
The introductory spread for the lead story in U.S. News & World Report’s October 24 issue could serve as bulletin-board or even wall-poster fodder for fans of the media’s things-just-keep-getting-worse-and-worse-for-President-Bush narrative. Against a black background, a striking mustard-yellow headline and white subhead read, “FACING THE MUSIC/It started with the New Orleans blues. Now it’s sounding like a real dirge.”
David Gergen was questioned this morning during a CBS segment concerning the possibility of indictments to White House chief aide Karl Rove and Dick Cheney chief of staff Scooter Libby. The “Early Show's” Bill Plante mentioned that the White House is behaving like it’s business as usual. Gergen responded: “Bill, I was in the Nixon White House during Watergate, and we pretended that we were all about business as usual. And we had a president who was talking to the portraits. It was not business as usual, but you have to say it.”
Gergen later in the interview said: “This is a presidency that has almost collapsed.”
What follows is a full transcript of this report, and a video link.
MSNBC's Keith Olbermann led Countdown again Thursday with what he's whittled down to the simple heading as “The Leak,” and soon forwarded the notion that the Bush White House is in a “crisis” similar to that which enveloped the Clinton White House after the Monica Lewinsky revelation. Interviewing former Clinton Chief-of-Staff Leon Panetta, Olbermann pointed out how “the rundown for tonight's show was given a title by our producer that shook me. The title simply was, 'White House in Crisis.' I already hosted a news show on this network that had that title some years ago. Is it applicable now? Is in fact in your opinion this White House in crisis?" Panetta agreed.
Maybe Olbermann's old 1998-99 show carried that title for a while or was a sub-title, but I believe his 8pm EDT show back then was titled The Big Show. And on that program in the summer of 1998, Olbermann infamously ruminated about how “it finally dawned on me that the person Ken Starr has reminded me of facially all this time was Heinrich Himmler, including the glasses.” Olbermann also wondered, “would not there be some sort of comparison to a persecutor as opposed to a prosecutor for Mr. Starr?" (Fuller quotations follow, as well as a link to video of Olbermann's 1998 smear.)
A Newsweek article written by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball currently posted at MSNBC.com once again offered the view that the Bush administration lied to journalists about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the March 2003 invasion:
“Oct. 19, 2005 - The lengthy account by New York Times reporter Judy Miller about her grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case inadvertently provides a revealing window into how the Bush administration manipulated journalists about intelligence on Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.”
To bolster their view, Isikoff and Hosenball cited the opinion of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
“The assertion that still-secret material would bolster the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD was ‘certainly not accurate, it was not true,’ says Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who coauthored a study last year, titled ‘A Tale of Two Intelligence Estimates,’ about different versions of the NIE that were released. If Miller’s account is correct, Libby was ‘misrepresenting the intelligence’ that was contained in the document, she said.”
Yet, like many journalists that have used CEIP as a reference, Isikoff and Hosenball neglected to inform their readers that CEIP wasn’t always so convinced about the absence of WMD in Iraq. In fact, Eric Pfeiffer of National Journal’s “Hotline” wrote about this very issue in a January 2004 op-ed for National Review:
The first words out of Chris Matthews' mouth, at the top of Wednesday's Hardball on MSNBC, raised the specter of Watergate: "What did the President know and when did he know it?” Matthews proceeded to trumpet “the New York Daily News now out in front on this story, reported this morning that President Bush rebuked ramrod Karl Rove over the leak story.” Repeating his tease, Matthews previewed his first segment: “So tonight on Hardball, we try to figure it out again if people in the Bush administration crossed the line separating political hardball -- tough, clean, Machiavellian politics -- and criminality. We're led tonight by the news coverage to that unsavory tandem of questions: What did the President know and when did he know it?”
On Tuesday night, Matthews opened with a dire scenario for a Vice President with a bad temper: “Did the fierce battle of leaks between elements of the Central Intelligence Agency who opposed going to war in Iraq and the hawks in the Vice President's office escalate to actual law breaking? Did the Vice President in an effort to defend himself from an onslaught of charges by Joseph Wilson urge his staff to silence the former ambassador? Did Cheney, through anger or loss of temper, create a climate for political hardball and worse? Did he stoke his staff in the late spring and early summer of 2003 to such a level of ferocity that some of its members crossed the line into illegality? And will Patrick Fitzgerald determine that in doing so, he crossed that dire line himself?"
To read their bios, there are some remarkable similarities between Ken Starr and Pat Fitzgerald. But not in their media treatment.
Starr was born into humble circumstances, the son of a part-time barber who worked his way through college, got an Ivy League degree along the way, and went on to a brilliant legal career. He clerked for a Supreme Court justice, was a judge on the federal Appeals Court [the level just below the Supreme Court] and served as the United States Solicitor General. Viewed as a brilliant, moderate conservative, earlier in his career he was frequently mentioned as a possible Supreme Court nominee.
Pat Fitzgerald also came from a modest background, the son of a doorman in Brooklyn, and went on to Amherst and Harvard Law. After serving as an Assistant US Attorney in New York, he was later named US Attorney for Northern Illinois, a key position with jurisdiction over the Chicago area.
Recalling how Watergate “didn't take off until people started talking about higher ups” in the White House, on Tuesday night’s The Colbert Report on Comedy Central, CBS’s Lesley Stahl predicted that the Valerie Plame case “could possibly take off the way the Watergate one did." Stahl fondly remembered how Watergate “really took off as a big story when it went into the Senate and there were hearings held by the opposition party.” That, she dejectedly noted, “isn't likely to happen in this case" given GOP control of both houses of Congress. When Stephen Colbert, a veteran of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, whimsically pointed out on the second night of his new 11:30pm EDT/PDT show that “if you look at the issues, Nixon was a pinko. I mean, it was education and stopping the draft and women's rights and the environment. I mean, he was the boogie man at the time. But he's way to the left of John Kerry," Stahl disagreed and credited (or is it blamed?) Reagan for moving America to the right: "I wouldn't say that necessarily. But the whole country shifted right ever since Reagan. Reagan really moved us off to the right." A resigned Stahl soon added: "The center of the country has definitely shifted to the right. And there we sit." She didn’t seem pleased about it.
CNN's Jack Cafferty, on Monday afternoon's The Situation Room, took a cheap shot at Karl Rove's weight and expressed delight in the possibility Rove will be indicted. Just past 3pm EDT, Cafferty announced his question of the hour: “What should Karl Rove do if he is indicted?” Cafferty then answered his own question: “He might want to get measured for one of those extra large orange jump suits, Wolf, 'cause looking at old Karl, I'm not sure that he'd, they'd be able to zip him into the regular size one." Wolf Blitzer pointed out: “He's actually lost some weight. I think he's in pretty good shape." Cafferty conceded: "Oh, well then maybe just the regular off the shelf large would handle it for him." Blitzer then cautioned the indictment might not come: "Yeah, but you know, it's still a big if. It's still a big if." A giddy Cafferty replied: "Oh, I understand. I'm, I'm just hoping you know. I love, I love to see those kinds of things happen. It does wonders for me."
Just under a month ago, Cafferty took a shot at Tom Delay: "Has he been indicted yet?" And then a week later insisted that "I had no inside information on DeLay's upcoming indictment,” but boasted of how “it's probably a piece of videotape that I'm going to hang onto." (Full transcript, and links to his earlier comments, follow.)