Nets Frame Libby Verdict Around Vile Scheming, Never Mention Armitage, Tie in Reagan

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.”

With Brian Williams in Iraq, the NBC Nightly News led with Libby but spent less time on the verdict than did ABC and CBS, though NBC provided time to Tim Russert, a witness for the prosecution, to express how “I take no joy in this, Brian. It was not our doing. We didn't ask to be involved. But when you are asked to testify under oath, you tell the truth.”

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell began her report:
“Brian, to give this some perspective, 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. Today aides say President Bush stopped to watch TV as the guilty verdicts were read. Once the ultimate White House insider, today Scooter Libby walked out of court a convicted felon.”
The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the video against the closed-captioning to provide transcripts of the March 6 ABC and CBS evening newscast coverage:

ABC's World News with Charles Gibson. Tease from substitute anchor Elizabeth Vargas:
"Welcome to World News. Tonight, a high-ranking White House official found guilty of lying in the investigation of who leaked a CIA agent's name, a case that leads to the highest levels of government."
Vargas led the newscast:
"Good evening. A man who was once in the Bush administration's circle of most-trusted advisors is tonight a convicted felon. A jury found Vice President Cheney's former Chief-of-Staff, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, guilty of four counts of obstruction of justice, making false statements, and perjury. It happened during the investigation into who leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer, whose husband was an outspoken critic of the President's case for war in Iraq. The trial has shed new light on how the administration dealt with tough questions about the war when it became apparent Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. ABC's Pierre Thomas was in the courtroom today."

Pierre Thomas: "Scooter Libby was stone-faced as the verdict was read. But his wife was visibly shaken, fighting back tears as each guilty count was announced."

Ted Wells, attorney of Lewis Libby: "We are very disappointed in the verdict of the jurors. He is totally innocent, totally innocent."

Thomas: "Vice President Cheney released a statement saying he was 'very disappointed with the verdict' and that he was 'saddened for Scooter and his family.' But the jury believed the prosecution's argument that Libby lied to cover up a campaign by the Vice President's office to discredit a critic of the administration's Iraq war policy."

Patrick Fitzgerald, special prosecutor: "It's sad that we had a situation where a high-level official, a person who worked in the office of Vice President, obstructed justice and lied under oath."

Thomas: "At its heart, the prosecution said, the Libby trial was about a Vice President and his staff obsessed with pushing back against critics. Back in 2003, Vice President Cheney was apparently furious about an opinion article written by Ambassador Joe Wilson that challenged the case for war. The Vice President was concerned enough to cut the Wilson article out of the newspaper and make notes on it. Within eight days of the article's publication, Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, had been outed as a CIA operative in a column by Robert Novak. The prosecution said Libby lied to impede their investigation into who leaked Plame's identity. Today at least one of the jurors said Libby was not the only one involved."

Denis Collins, Libby trial juror: "He was the fall guy. He was tasked by the Vice President to go and talk to reporters."

Thomas: "Throughout the trial, prosecutor Fitzgerald used Libby's recorded grand jury testimony to detail the Vice President's fixation with Wilson's charge. Mr. Cheney even micro-managed the media response to Wilson."

Lewis Libby, former Cheney Chief-of-Staff, in audio of testimony: "Vice President dictated to me what he wanted me to say to the press."

Thomas: "Mr. Cheney also asked President Bush to release the details of a highly classified national intelligence estimate, or NIE, to select reporters without informing the Defense Secretary, CIA Director, or the National Security Advisor. Ultimately, no one was ever charged with leaking Miss Plame's identity, something not lost on at least one of the jurors today."

Collins: "There was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby on the jury. It was said a number of times, 'What are we doing with this guy here?' Where's Rove? Where's, you know, where are these other guys?"

Thomas: "Libby's defense attorneys say any false statements were due to a bad memory. They plan to appeal. But if this conviction stands, Libby faces up to 25 years in prison. Elizabeth?"

Vargas: "All right. Pierre Thomas, thank you. And our chief Washington correspondent George Stephanopoulos joins us. The Vice President, as Pierre reported, said he was disappointed in the verdict today. We had a different statement from the President."

Stephanopoulos: "Oh, definitely. The President's staff came out and said he respected the jury's verdict even though he was saddened by it. And it is really unusual, Elizabeth, for someone like the Vice President to actually criticize a jury's verdict. But a senior White House official told me they recognize the Vice President was very close to Scooter Libby, and he felt strongly about it."

Vargas: "There's already debate, meantime, about whether there will be a presidential pardon of Scooter Libby. What are the chances of that? Democrats are today calling on the President to promise not to pardon him."

Stephanopoulos: "They're calling on him to pledge not to pardon him. But Scooter Libby's allies are already saying the President should pardon him and should do it fast. The White House is just not going to talk about this, Elizabeth. They're not going to touch it. But they're not going to rule out a pardon down the road."

Vargas: "In the meantime, Democrats are also calling on the President to, quote, 'do something' in light of today's guilty verdict. Ambassador Joe Wilson, who wrote the editorial that started this whole thing, said today he wants Karl Rove fired from the White House. Do you think that might happen?"

Stephanopoulos: "No. It ain't going to happen. The White House is going to try to hold the line. They're going to try to hold the line on not commenting about this at all, but the Democrats will keep up the pressure. Meantime, though, they know they can't do much about it. So they're going to also continue to use their oversight power on the scandal at Walter Reed and the problems with wounded vets throughout the veteran system."

Vargas: "But is the verdict and the reactions today another sign of the schism between the President and the Vice President?"

Stephanopoulos: "It sure is. It does show a little daylight between them. But a White House official told me there are absolutely no plans, no plans at all for the Vice President to leave."

CBS Evening News. Katie Couric, in opening teaser:
"I'm Katie Couric. Guilty: Scooter Libby is convicted in the CIA leak case, the highest ranking White House official found guilty of a felony since the Iran-Contra scandal."
Couric led:
"Hello, everyone. After ten days of deliberations, a federal jury in Washington convicted Vice President Cheney's former Chief-of-Staff, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, of four criminal charges in the CIA leak case. Libby is the highest ranking White House official convicted of a felony in two decades ..."

Gloria Borger: "It was a verdict that shook the White House, and ground zero was Dick Cheney's office."

Patrick Fitzgerald: "The results are actually sad. It's sad that we had a situation where a high-level official, a person who worked in the office of Vice President, obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that had not happened, but it did."

Borger: "The jury found that Lewis 'Scooter' Libby lied about his conversations with reporters regarding the identity of an undercover CIA agent. The Vice President's former chief of staff, who sat motionless when the verdict was read, said he simply forgot the conversations because he was so busy with national security matters. The jury didn't buy it."

Denis Collins, Libby trial juror: "How he could remember it on a Tuesday, and then forget it on a Thursday, and then remember it two days later-"

Borger: "His lawyer will ask for a new trial, and if that fails, Libby will appeal."

Ted Wells, attorney of Lewis Libby: "We have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated."

Borger: "Like most things in Washington, the heart of this case involves a political dispute. Libby was at the center of the White House's case for war in Iraq. His boss, the Vice President, was rattled by this, an article in July 2003 attacking the administration's rationale for war, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It was written by Ambassador Joe Wilson, who was sent to Africa by the CIA to look into whether Saddam was buying ingredients there to make a nuclear weapon. Wilson said he was not. Cheney wanted Wilson discredited. He knew that his wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the CIA. On a clipping of Wilson's column, he wrote, 'Did his wife send him on a junket?' To undermine the importance of the mission, Cheney wanted to spread the word that Wilson's wife sent him, and he asked Libby to do it. Today Wilson said he still wants answers."

Joseph Wilson, former U.S. Ambassador: "Well, I think the President and the Vice President both owe the American people a full explanation of what they know about this matter."

Borger: "Libby, who is 63, now faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison. He's not likely to get the full sentence."

Andrew Cohen, CBS News legal analyst: "I think the judge will want to make an example of him, so it wouldn't surprise me if he gets a sentence of a year and a half or two or even three years."

Borger: "During the trial, the jury never heard from Cheney, but 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."

Couric: "And, Gloria, why didn't the Vice President end up testifying?"

Borger: "Because it could have backfired, Katie. He was a witness for the defense. There was a always the chance that if he took the stand, he could have been ripped apart by the prosecution. And that could have made Libby really look even worse."
After asking Jim Axelrod about the possibility of a pardon, Couric turned to Bob Schieffer:
"And, Bob, Scooter Libby was the Vice President's right-hand man. How badly does this reflect on Mr. Cheney, in your view?"

Bob Schieffer: "Well, I think very badly, and it's hard to conclude otherwise. I mean, the prosecutor did not prove any underlying crime here, but he convinced this jury that Scooter Libby lied. Well, you have to ask, 'Why would he lie?' Clearly, because he did not want what was going on in his office and in the Vice President's office, where he worked, to come out. He was talking to the Vice President. He was getting memos from the Vice President. He was saying this and that and trying to work with the Vice President, so there are a lot of fingers pointing tonight at Dick Cheney, and I think this is not only going to hurt the Vice President, Katie, 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."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center