Friday, July 15, 2005

Rove-ing Reporters

The most amusing moment in the recent coverage of the Karl Rove-Valerie Plame story was Jon Stewart's stage-whispered comment, after showing a clip of a testy White House press briefing, to the effect that, "We've secretly replaced the White House press corps with real reporters."
It shouldn't be surprising that the most pointed commentary on the story has come from The Daily Show. We've grown used to that. There would have been no worthwhile televised commentary on the 2004 presidential election campaign had it not been for Stewart and company.
There has been some other good writing about the Rove-Plame story. Andrew O'Hehir's two pieces this week in Salon, arguing that the jailing of Judy Miller is an outrage that should transcend whatever negative feelings we may have about her and her reporting, were very fine.
But there really isn't a whole lot to say about the actual coverage in the daily newspapers and on the scream channels. True, The New York Times has led twice this week with stories on Rove's involvement. But today's story actually has given the mad screamers comfort -- they're using it to try to sell the angle that Rove was the recipient, rather than the source, of information about the identity of Valerie Plame (or Valerie Wilson, as she prefers to be called) as a covert CIA operative.
That argument, by the way, is plain ridiculous. The account of the conversation between Karl Rove and right-wing columnist Bob Novak clearly shows that Rove was confirming this information to Novak, thus removing any doubt that he was one of the two senior administration officials Novak relied on for his column outing Mrs. Wilson. And it does nothing to erase the fact that Rove also discussed this information with Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper.
We still have a lot to find out before this story can be put to rest. If Mr. Rove was the second source for Novak's story, who was the first? There has been speculation -- including some from me -- that Judy Miller herself was responsible for helping to spread the word on Valerie Wilson. But surely Miller cannot be considered a "senior administration official" even despite havinghe foolishly trumpeted the Bush/Chalabi line on WMDs in the buildup to the Iraq invasion. Besides, she had to get the information from someone.
So far, there's nothing to suggest that anyone in the MSM is interested in pursuing that angle, other than a few columnists. That would be investigative reporting; that would be hard work, and the U.S. press hasn't been up to that kind of labor for at least a decade.
Already, the TV screamers are beginning to parrot the White House's Through The Looking Glass spin that reporters leaked Plame's identity to Rove. If that story gets traction, everyone is off the hook and we can go back to worrying about shark attacks, runaway brides and pedophiliac entertainers.
As for Judy Miller, we will need much more information to understand why a reporter who wrote nothing about the leak is sitting in jail while Rove, Novak and George W. Bush are at liberty to terrorize the nation and the world.
There's a lot to say about Judy Miller, not much of it good. I even have a personal connection to her that justifies my saying that. More than 25 years ago, I was a research clerk in The New York Times Washington bureau, where Miller was a reporter. After all these years, I still remember her as one of the most unpleasant characters with whom I have ever had to deal -- rude, demanding, self-centered. I have heard suggestions that she shares these traits with Sy Hersh, but I have to differ. I also worked in the newsroom with Sy, and even did research on the side for his book about Kissinger, The Price of Power. Sy was demanding and opinionated, but also good humored and quick to express gratitude for a task well done. Judy, by contrast, seemed to be in a constant huff, perpetually ungrateful and just plain nasty to those around her.
There also are serious questions about the intersection between her professional and personal lives. Others have written recently -- and I recall from office gossip -- that she made a habit of dating men in powerful positions in government and the media. David Stockman, Les Aspin, Richard Burt, Steve Rattner and others. This even led, at one point, to Arthur Sulzburger Jr., then a young reporter in the Washington bureau, commenting on a Washingtonian magazine cover story on the "50 Hottest Couples in Washington": "They're all Judy Miller."
However, having said that, her personality -- or even her journalistic ethics -- are not the story here. What is important is that a reporter has been jailed for ostensibly receiving information from someone during a confidential conversation. It could be any reporter. Judy at least deserves some credit for not caving in the face of impending jail time, and for standing on principle.
I have written here before that I am a First Amendment absolutist. Because of that, I salute Judy Miller today (although I wouldn't care to hear from her).