For weeks now, the media have breathlessly hyped the possibility that presidential advisor Karl Rove might be indicted by the grand jury looking into the leak of CIA employee Valerie Plame’s identity to columnist Robert Novak. Or, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald could choose not to indict anyone, and instead issue a detailed report of who knew what, when they knew it, and from whom they heard it.
Given the ridiculously overwrought coverage of the last month, if Fitzgerald’s report confirms media suspicions that Rove and/or vice presidential aide Lewis Libby talked to reporters about Valerie Plame and weren’t completely forthcoming to investigators, you can expect the networks to go absolutely nuts, whether anyone is indicted or not.
That’s why it’s worth recalling how the networks just yawned five years ago when Hillary Clinton — who, one might recall, was a pretty high level individual in the last administration — was found to have lied to investigators looking into one of the Clintons’ very first abuses of power, the firing of White House Travel office employees.
In a report released October 18, 2000, independent counsel Robert Ray determined Hillary had given false testimony when questioned about the travel office firings, a crime that Ray declined to prosecute. FNC reporter David Shuster (now with MSNBC) explained on that night’s Special Report with Brit Hume:
“The investigation began in the administration’s first term when seven members of the Travel Office staff were terminated and replaced by a company run by Clinton friends. The issue for prosecutors was whether anybody in the White House tried to cover up alleged mismanagement of the firings.
“Under oath, Mrs. Clinton flatly denied any role and denied that she had any input, but later a memo surfaced from administration chief David Watkins suggesting Mrs. Clinton wanted the travel staff fired. Watkins said there would be hell to pay if swift action was not taken in conformity with the First Lady’s wishes. A friend of Watkins also alleged that Watkins was told to quote, ‘fire the sons of bitches.’
“While that claim could not be substantiated, Independent Counsel Robert Ray cited eight separate conversations between the First Lady and senior staff and concluded: ‘Mrs. Clinton’s input into the process was significant, if not the significant factor influencing the pace of events in the Travel Office firings and the ultimate decision to fire the employees.’”
Shuster then showed George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley: “It essentially says that she satisfies all of the components of an indictment and is ultimately safe from trial simply by the discretion of the prosecutor. That’s pretty damning.”
So what did the three networks do that night? The CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News didn’t utter a word about it, while ABC’s World News Tonight gave it just 20 seconds, less than one-sixth the time allocated to a story on the “subway series” between the New York Yankees and Mets. The October 18 Inside Politics on CNN gave the development 21 seconds.
The short item read by ABC anchor Peter Jennings: “The independent counsel investigating various activities of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton said today that Mrs. Clinton gave false testimony about her role in the firing of White House travel workers seven years ago. But Robert Ray concluded she should not be prosecuted because there was insufficient evidence that she intended to influence the decision.”
If the current special prosecutor offers a similar bottom line verdict on Rove or Libby, it’s not a stretch to suggest the networks would be at the front of the liberal lynch mob insisting that they lose their jobs. But five years ago they snoozed when they learned about Hillary Clinton’s false testimony.