Thursday, July 21, 2005

Comments on Plame and Rove; and more Deep Throat hype

Barry Sussman, who was Bob Woodward's and Carl Bernstein's every day editor on the Watergate story slams them at this post at for allegedly misrepresenting the role of Mark Felt in the Post's Watergate reporting. I have been writing much in recent weeks on the same subject, including this post here at my blog, and in a long story at the Village Voice.

Sussman writes: "Deep Throat was nice to have around, but that's about it. His role as a key Watergate source for the Post is a myth created by a movie and sustained here for almost 30 years."

The Washington Post finally takes a shot at trying to break some news regarding Valerie Plame, but falls woefully short. This was the the assessment of the Post "scoop" by Tom Grieve, who writes Salon's exceptional War Room feature:

Sound familiar? That's because the Wall Street Journal ran a similar report earlier this week. The Post fills in a few more details but there's little that is actually news. The Post's piece moves the story forward so incrementally that the notion is almost imperceptible.
So why the A1 treatment? We're guessing that the editors at the Post have had it right to here with the manipulation from the White House, and the front-page play for a not exactly earth-shattering report is a little bit of payback.

My own comments: Len Downie, an editor who is famous for saying he does not vote-- lest anyone question his journalistic objectivity-- would never engage in such conduct! What is actually going on, say sources in the Post's newsroom, is that the Post took to fronting old news-- with an increment so inconsequential that their story hardly constituted "news" at all-- has been largely the result of their having their clock cleaned on this story in recent days by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Bloomberg, and dare I say-- my own stories in the American Prospect.

Downie, and Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward-- the one and same Bob Woodward who took on the White House during Watergate-- have been telling anyone willing to listen to their complaint (a complaint made by a powerful man is always heard more reverently than one made by the rest of us!) that the Plame affair has been much ado about nothing, that the Post has bravely not given into competitive pressures by joining the rest of the journalistic pack, and that if there is real news sometime, they will be the first to publish and crack the case!

Now that that assessment has turned out to have been not particularly accurate, Downie, in attempting to correct his own mistake, has stepped down on the accelerator too hard. The result is that the White House tonight has been using this example tonight of overkill to discredit the reporting of the rest of us covering the Plame affair and breaking new ground on the story.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Plame Game: Cooper tells his side of the story

Matthew Cooper, the Time reporter, who broke his vow to his source and testified to a federal grand jury, this morning also broke his long silence to the public. His magazine ran a cover story on Rove, and Cooper contributed a first person account for Time of his adventure before the federal grand jury. Then he appeared on Meet the Press. Even among those who might support his decision, there can no denying that he has exploited this moment of notoriety for all its worth. But whether one agrees with his decision to testify or not, it is extraordinary to see the Washington media elite give Cooper a pass as to the veracity as to how he came to his decision to identify his sources.

The evidence is clear that Cooper has dissembled and spun his story as to how he came to the point of testifying to the grand jury. On the very day that Cooper was to be held in contempt and sent to jail, he dramatically informed the federal judge about to sentence him, and later a throng of reporters awaiting him outside the courthouse, that only moments earlier he had received a dramatic phone call from his source providing him "an express personal release" to testify.

That source, as we know now, was Karl Rove. But as we also now know, and Cooper later admitted, Rove never actually personally called him that morning. Rather, Cooper's attorney, Richard A. Sauber, called Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, and asked permission from Rove for Cooper to testify. Luskin pointed out that Rove had a year earlier signed a blanket waiver in lieu of a request by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, both Luskin and Sauber now say. Luskin pointedly declined to provide a more specific waiver, only saying that the former one still stood.

Of course, by the time of that telephone conversation, Time magazine had already provided Cooper's emails and notes to prosecutors. And for good measure, someone conveniently leaked Cooper's emails regarding Rove to Newsweek reporter Mike Isikoff. Cooper's sources, by then, of whom Rove was the most important, had already been identified-- not only to the prosecutors, but to the entire world.

Cooper asserted on the courtroom steps on the day of his grand jury testimony, even after all that, he was still willing to go to jail: "[E]ven when Time Incorporated over my objections, handed my notes, my emails to the grand jury, when some of those materials began to leak into the public domain revealing the source, many people.. urged me to testify. They said there was absolutely no confidentiality left to protect."

"Once a journalist makes the commitment of confidentiality, to a source, only the source can end the commitment," Cooper bravely said. He was still willing to go to jail that very morning, saying goodbye to his wife and six year old son, when he learned of his source's dramatic reversal.

The only problem was that the story of the dramatic conversation with Rove and his new waiver was not true.

How convenient how everything has worked out in the end for Cooper: It was his employer, not him, who turned over notes-- and "over his objections". (Of course, Cooper did not resign his job in protest, or even publicly denounce his employer. With a nod and a wink, Cooper even went so far as to call Time's decision "honorable"-- proving once again that being a good corporate citizen is more important to a career in the media than the First amendment.) And after Time provided his notes and emails to the grand jury, what little else there was to discern from his confidential notes was the leaked to his former colleagues at Newsweek.

And then, of course, Cooper received in "dramatic fashion" the phone call from his source the morning of his contempt hearing providing him with the new and "express personal release from my source."

We now know that Cooper's account of the dramatic phone call has turned out not to be true at all.

The issue as to whether Time's and Cooper's capitulation to the prosecutor was right or wrong, there used to be a time when it was considered wrong for a journalist to lie to the public. Apparently no longer.