What Do You Think?
Is "Libbygate" Becoming a Cover Up of a Cover Up?
Danny Schechter of MediaChannel.org asks the question.
The Libby Indictment: Was It a "Cover-up of a Cover-up?"
By Danny Schechter
In the community I grew up in, much of the news, especially the bad news, prompted a defensive inward-looking response: "Yes but what does it mean for the Jews?" The indictment of Irving Lewis "Scooter" Libby raised another question for those of us in the media -- what does it mean for reporters and say about our profession today.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing. "Novel Strategy Pits Journalists Against Source" was how the New York Times framed the issue on page one. "It is all but unheard of for reporters to turn publicly on their sources of for prosecutors to succeed in conscripting members of a profession that prizes its independence," was the argument.
Media writer Dan Kennedy believes that the "indictment of Lewis 'Scooter' Libby could prove to be a dark day for any notion that reporters have a right to protect their confidential sources." In fact, he reports, that if and when the case goes to trial, "Judith Miller, NBC's Tim Russert and Time magazine's Matthew Cooper will all have to take the stand and testify against their once-confidential source -- a pretty unappetizing prospect."
Yet just as this indictment was akin to accusing Al Capone of income tax invasion instead of the murders he committed, the real issues facing journalists go deeper. The federal prosecutor not only did NOT find out who leaked name of the CIA's Valerie Plame -- the reason for his probe in the first place -- but he did not place the lies told by Libby in the context of the greater lie -- the conspiracy to wage an illegal war. (And note how all the focus is still on the lies before the war not the crimes committed in Iraq and the way they have been masked.)
That's the crime that demands investigation and prosecution. Libby's lies were a misdemeanor in the face of multiple felonies that are still unpunished. Crimes against the truth are important to prosecute, but so are war crimes against humanity.
COVER-UP FOR A COVER-UP
We kept hearing the mantra that the "cover-up" is always worse than the crime, but is it possible that this very investigation, which so many hailed for its courage and independence, is actually a cover-up itself?
Sheldon Drobny a founder of Air America and someone who "helped prosecute and defend white collar crime offenses for 38 years including experience with Mr. Fitzgerald's office in my home town Chicago," questions the prosecutor's independence and focus.
"Essentially Fitzgerald indicted Libby for preventing his prosecutors from proving the underlying crimes he was investigating by using a baseball metaphor in that Libby 'threw sand in the umpires eyes,'" he writes. "That part is patently absurd.... Those of us who know about prosecutors and Grand Jury investigations would tell you that Fitzgerald, using a baseball metaphor, threw the Bush cabal a 'softball.'" And using a football metaphor, he "fumbled the ball."
Leave aside this one relatively small fry indictment and consider the larger problem in press-government relations. If you have seen the new George Clooney film "Good Night and Good Luck," you will know exactly what I mean.
JOURNALISTS AND THE GOVERMENT
That movie dramatizes the investigation of Senator Joseph McCarthy by Edward R. Murrow. It showed how the CBS journalist helped demolish McCarthy's reputation which led to his later censure by the Senate. The report struck a blow against the rapacious red-baiting Senator and the fear he spread in every part of American life.
At one point, as he prepared his program, some of his colleagues were worried and suggested the program be killed. Murrow said no, pointing out "that the fear is right here in this room." The New York Times of that era applauded the CBS stand.
In many ways, that expose represented TV's finest hour and highest hopes. What Ed Murrow's work showed was that it was possible for TV News to investigate and confront liars in high places. In those years, journalists saw themselves as crusaders, watchdogs and members of a fourth estate. They challenged wrong doers and did not collude with them.
That CBS is long gone. Last week CBS fired its News President in connection with Dan Rather's story exposing President Bush's military record. He was replaced by a sports executive who donated to the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the invasion of Iraq CBS's news coverage was hailed as best for network by a right-wing media monitoring group.
A FOURTH ESTATE OR A FOURTH FRONT?
Today, that fourth estate is more like a fourth front where compliant journalists genuflect to those in power in what is now a military-industrial-media complex. Judith Miller echoed Administration claims about WMDs and then went to jail to protect Libby as a source. Matt Cooper's Time Magazine sold the war along with most media outlets. Tim Russert's Meet the Press on most weeks is a salon for the elite, a platform for Beltway blather, acceptable middle of the road opinion, conventional wisdom, and spinning by the rationalizers in suits.
The real problem is that much of our media has become ensconced in the system. It has lost critical distance. Too many Journalists trade information for access and front for failed policies.
It's clear that these insiders -- in courts of law and courts of public opinion -- have forfeited our nation's trust. The challenge is what to do about it.
- News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Medichannel.org which has launched a "Tell the Truth About the War" campaign. His new books are the Death of Media (Melville) and When News Lies (SelectBooks). Comments to email@example.com
Post-Indictment, A Glut of Glee?
By Howard Kurtz
Source: The Washington Post
The drumbeat of media speculation was so loud last week that at times it sounded as though Karl Rove was on the verge of being thrown in the slammer. "Is the man some call Bush's brain about to be indicted?" CNN anchor Heidi Collins asked Thursday night. MSNBC's Chris Matthews asked whether Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby might receive a presidential pardon "if they get indicted."
ABC's Ted Koppel said the possibility of a Rove or Libby indictment "had risen to the level of expectation," while pundit Paul Begala said on CNN: "If, in fact, the news reports are true, Karl could be in a lot of trouble."
So when Rove was not indicted in the CIA leak case Friday, it almost seemed like a victory for the White House. But it was clearly not a victory for the reporters and commentators who climbed far out on the limb of handicapping what a special prosecutor operating in secret might do.
Now that an indictment has reached the highest level of the White House for the first time since Watergate, journalists face a minefield of potentially explosive questions: Are they enjoying a bit too much the spectacle of Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, having to resign over the charges of perjury and obstruction of justice? What happened to the normal journalistic skepticism toward a single-minded special prosecutor, as was on display when Ken Starr was pursuing Bill Clinton?
The hostility directed at Patrick Fitzgerald when he was threatening reporters with jail seems to have faded now that his targets are senior aides to President Bush. Perhaps most important, are reporters, commentators, bloggers and partisans using the outing of Valerie Plame as a proxy war for rehashing the decision to invade Iraq? The vitriol directed at New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whether deserved or not, seems motivated as much by her role in touting the administration's erroneous WMD claims as in her decision to be jailed, at least for a time, to protect Libby.
In short, the leak prosecution is shaping up as a test of media fairness and responsibility in a polarizing age when many people on the left and right think the news business is hopelessly biased.
More than two years after the Bush administration took the country to war based in part on inflated weapons claims that turned out to be wrong, the wounds still haven't healed. That's why liberal commentators such as Arianna Huffington proclaim the so-called Plamegate scandal "worse than Watergate": They're not just talking about the outing of the wife of a White House critic; they're charging the administration with a campaign of deception that, in this view, is responsible for the deaths of more than 2,000 Americans.
The press deserves some of the blame because, as editors at the New York Times, Washington Post and other news organizations have acknowledged, journalists were not nearly aggressive enough in questioning administration claims about Saddam Hussein during the run-up to war. And although Miller was a particularly prominent offender, she was hardly the only one.
If the media pound Bush over the Fitzgerald probe for months, they risk a public backlash. The president is already showing signs of following his predecessor's playbook in trying to deflect the scandal by focusing on other issues, a tactic that helped Clinton maintain his popularity despite the huge embarrassment of his dissembling about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Many people forget how much antagonism there was between the Clinton White House and the press corps, and how polls showed considerable public anger at journalists for obsessing on a sex scandal that a majority had decided was tawdry but not worthy of impeachment.
The underlying issue in the Plame debacle -- the alleged manipulation of intelligence used to justify a war and retaliating against a critic, Joe Wilson, who challenged that effort -- is arguably more important than the Clinton-era debates over whether oral sex was sex. And it was Cheney who told his aide that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA's Counterproliferation Division. But as Republicans have been quick to point out, there is no evidence that Bush was personally involved.
A few liberal commentators have cautioned their side against embracing the special prosecutor now that high-level Republicans are the target. Slate Editor Jacob Weisberg wrote: "Rooting for Rove's indictment in this case isn't just unseemly, it's unthinking and ultimately self-destructive. Anyone who cares about civil liberties, freedom of information, or even just fair play should have been skeptical about Fitzgerald's investigation from the start." Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen said Fitzgerald should "return to Chicago and prosecute some real criminals." And New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote: "I find myself repulsed by the glee that some Democrats show at the possibility of Karl Rove and Mr. Libby being dragged off in handcuffs."
In the end, journalists might stir more hostility this time than when they were publishing every allegation that could be vacuumed up from Starr's shop. Some leaks, of course, are important. In this case, reporters, led by columnist Robert Novak, were the conduits for what the indictment makes clear was an administration smear campaign against Wilson. That's why Fitzgerald dragged them before a grand jury, and that's why Tim Russert, Matt Cooper and Miller -- the Times reporter who agreed to misleadingly describe Libby as a "former Hill staffer" -- will undoubtedly be called as witnesses if Libby goes to trial.
Libby may be charged with lying about his conversations with journalists, but much of the public resents the coziness that allowed those discussions to take place under a cloak of anonymity.
Less Than Flattering
USA Today looked to be playing an early Halloween prank on Condoleezza Rice. In a routine wire photo on the paper's Web site, the secretary of state looked downright ghoulish, with demonic eyes reminiscent of a vampire's. It turns out USA Today had electronically manipulated the picture, taking it down only after blogger Michelle Malkin uncovered the deception.
USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson says the doctored picture was an inadvertent error. "This is just the case of a newly hired dot-com staffer who sharpened the photo and brightened her face," he says. That, says Anderson, "certainly failed to meet our editorial standards."
It was not the kind of e-mail you want to get from your boss. "Lloyd Grove is a [bleep]ing idiot. His page is stupid," wrote Martin Dunn, editorial director of the New York Daily News, where Grove plies his gossip trade. Grove discovered the missive -- first reported by New York Post rival Richard Johnson -- because Dunn mistakenly forwarded it to him. The back story: Grove had written about "an apparent case of mistaken identity" when People had to stop the presses to correct a caption on a photo of Jennifer Aniston and her new squeeze, Vince Vaughn, to reflect the fact that it was actually Aniston's movie double.
People Deputy Managing Editor Larry Hackett says Grove's item was "ridiculous" -- though accurate -- because inaccurate captions are fixed all the time. Hackett says he e-mailed Dunn to "express my displeasure" at the "nyahh nyahh" bit of journalism. Dunn then sent his friend Hackett the obscene response that also wound up in Grove's in-box.
"It's not worth worrying about," insists Grove, a former Washington Post gossip columnist, who says he walked into Dunn's office and jokingly threw the same epithet at him. "It wasn't pleasant, but both Martin and I are past it. We plan to have a wine-soaked dinner in the near future."
After the Libby Indictment, the Press Is Acquitting Itself
By Norman Solomon
A lot of media outlets are now scrutinizing some of the lies told by the Bush administration before the invasion of Iraq. Yet the same news organizations are bypassing their own key roles in the marketing of those lies. A case in point is the New York Times.
On Saturday, hours after the indictment of Lewis Libby, the lead editorial of the Times ended by declaring that "the big point Americans need to keep in mind is this: There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." On Sunday, the Times columnist Frank Rich referred to "Colin Powell's notorious presentation of WMD 'evidence' to the UN on the eve of war."
And so it goes in the opinion section of the New York Times. There's now eagerness to blast the Bush administration for some aspects of false prewar propaganda -- while the newspaper continues to dodge its own crucial role in promoting that propaganda.
Many people have become aware that news articles by Judith Miller and other Times reporters -- often splashed on the front page -- were conduits for the administration's deceptive claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The New York Times has portrayed itself as a victim of misinformation, as though a conveyor of falsehoods has scant responsibility.
But bogus news reporting was not the only way that the Times helped to push the United States into invading Iraq. Despite its reputation as a strong opponent of going to war, the paper's editorial voice capitulated when it was needed most.
Let's reach down into the Orwellian memory hole and retrieve what the New York Times had to say -- in an editorial headlined "The Case Against Iraq" -- the day after what Frank Rich now calls Colin Powell's "notorious presentation."
The Times declared that Powell "presented the United Nations and a global television audience yesterday with the most powerful case to date that Saddam Hussein stands in defiance of Security Council resolutions and has no intention of revealing or surrendering whatever unconventional weapons he may have."
The Feb. 6, 2003, editorial by the Times also proclaimed: "President Bush's decision to dispatch Mr. Powell to present the administration's case before the Security Council showed a wise concern for international opinion. Since Mr. Bush's own address to the UN last September, he has kept faith with his commitment to work through the Security Council."
And the Times editorial gushed: "Mr. Powell's presentation was all the more convincing because he dispensed with apocalyptic invocations of a struggle of good and evil and focused on shaping a sober, factual case against Mr. Hussein's regime."
For a "notorious presentation," Powell's performance at the UN got a rave review from a newspaper supposedly objecting to the momentum for war.
Now, while the New York Times is busily clucking at deceptive prewar maneuvers by Dick Cheney's office, the Times refuses to own up to how effectively the Cheney operation gained its support, from page-one stories about WMDs to editorials assisting Washington's war makers.
Meanwhile, a distinct rhythm of drumming for a war dance is audible in the present. Consider a statement that appeared a couple of inches under the close of the New York Times editorial declaring on Saturday that "there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq." In an editorial just below, the Times flatly stated conjecture as fact: "Iran has a nuclear weapons program."
Time Reporter Says He Learned Agent's Identity From Rove
Source: ABC News
Oct. 31 2005 One of the reporters at the center of the investigation into the leak of the identity of an undercover CIA officer, says he first learned the agent's name from President Bush's top political advisor, Karl Rove.
Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper also said today in an interview with "Good Morning America," that the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, confirmed to him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA operative.
A grand jury charged Libby on Friday with five felonies alleging obstruction of justice, perjury to a grand jury and making false statements to FBI agents. If convicted, he could face a maximum of 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines. Libby was not charged with the crime that the grand jury was created to investigate specifically, who leaked the name of Plame to reporters in 2003. Rove has not been charged.
Wilson, who went to Nigeria in 2002 to investigate whether or not the country was supplying Iraq with uranium to make weapons of mass destruction, opposed the war. He said he found no evidence of such an exchange in an op-ed in The New York Times. Wilson has argued that the Bush administration revealed his wife's identity in order to silence his opposition to the war.
"There is no question. I first learned about Valerie Plame working at the CIA from Karl Rove," Cooper said.
Libby has since claimed that he heard the Plame rumors from other reporters. Cooper disputed that version of events. "I don't remember it happening that way," he said. "I was taking notes at the time and I feel confident."
If a trial goes ahead, Cooper said he would name Rove as his source of the information.
"Before I spoke to Karl Rove I didn't know Mr. Wilson had a wife and that she had been involved in sending him to Africa."
What We Don't Know
By Geov Parrish
Source: Working For Change
In my column of June 9, 2003, I led with the assertion that:
"The Bush Administration's case for invading Iraq was a combination of willfully gross exaggerations and flat-out lies."
Even at the time, this was nothing new; it was a claim critics of the war had been making for nearly a year. The lack of discovery of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was simply confirming what war opponents knew all along.
Now, with Friday's five-count felony indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the investigation of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has parted the curtains on some of the mechanisms of that campaign of lies -- specifically, the lengths to which the Vice President's chief of staff was willing to go to in an attempt to smear an ex-ambassador, Joseph Wilson, who had meticulously disproven a key administration claim. Those lengths allegedly included lying twice to a grand jury, and twice more to FBI investigators, about whether he had leaked to the press that Valerie Wilson, the wife of the ex-ambassador, was a CIA operative.
There seems little room for doubt in Fitzgerald's indictment that Libby was, indeed, caught telling a whopper -- and a particularly clumsy one at that. It's a far more serious matter than the lie that got President Bill Clinton hauled up before an impeachment tribunal -- involving not just marital infidelity, but a key justification for putting the lives of hundreds of thousands of American soldiers -- and millions of
Iraqis -- at risk.
But in prosecuting the cover-up of the crime, rather than the original crime itself, Fitzgerald's indictment raises or leaves unanswered more questions than it settles. Here are a few of the biggest:
Who actually leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Wilson to conservative columnist Robert Novak, whose July 2003 column first unmasked Wilson? The figure is referred to in Fitzgerald's indictment as "Official A" -- probably Karl Rove. Prosecution of Rove would seem to hinge on the ability to prove that Rove knew of Wilson's covert status, a difficult proposition. But there seems little doubt that Rove, as one of the leakers alongside Libby, acted in a highly unethical (if not treasonous) manner. President Bush once averred that there was no room for unethical behavior in his administration. He also said he'd fire anyone who leaked Wilson's name. He has been conspicuously silent on such topics of late, but if he's serious about upholding ethical standards Bush should fire Rove.
Why did Scooter Libby lie to the grand jury? Did he do so on his own initiative? Was he acting as part of an intentional White House strategy, and if so, who was in on the formulation of that strategy? Was he trying to protect Cheney? Bush?
What was Dick Cheney's role in the Wilson smear campaign? We now know that both Libby and Cheney were independently gathering dirt on Joe Wilson; both discovered independently that his wife worked at the CIA, and it was from Cheney that Libby learned that Valerie Wilson worked in the counter-proliferation division. From the beginning of the war campaign, Cheney has been spewing disinformation and outrageous claims about Iraq, particularly its alleged weapons programs and (nonexistent) links to Al-Qaeda. We now know that Cheney simply lied when he told a 2003 television interviewer that he had no idea Joseph Wilson even had a wife. What other intentional lies did he tell?
Who forged the documents alleging Niger sold yellowcake uranium to Saddam Hussein's Iraq? Joseph Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger disproved that claim, but only later was it concluded by the International Atomic Energy Agency that the documents the claim was based on were crude forgeries. An investigative series last week in the Italian daily La Republica traces the origins of that document back through the Italian intelligence agency SISMI -- and points also to the possible involvement of CIA and FBI officials. Did the Bush Administration or its allies plant the forgery in the intelligence stream in the first place, for use in justifying claims of an imminent threat to American security?
How much of all this did George Bush know, and when? We now know that an alternative intelligence cabal, operating primarily out of the Vice President's office, was bypassing the usual channels of the CIA and State Department to cherry-pick (if not generate) intelligence that could justify an invasion. Did Bush know that much of this information was fictitious? How long has he known that Libby and Rove leaked Valerie Wilson's CIA identity? It seems likely he's known since the beginning of Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation, which begs the question of why either of them have continued to work at the White House for the past two years.
It was no secret in 2002 and 2003 that the claims of the Bush Administration in making the case of war against Iraq ranged from highly improbable to ludicrous. They achieved something resembling received Beltway wisdom through a combination of endless repetition, a credulous media, and the lack of any spine whatsoever in the opposition party. The indictment of I. Lewis Libby is a saga of a campaign of lies, orchestrated by the inner sanctum of the White House, and used to justify a flagrantly illegal war. Libby should go down hard for his misdeeds.
But he did not act alone. This entire administration sold the invasion of Iraq, and, as the Downing Street Memo suggested, fixed the intelligence around the predetermined policy. They lied about whether they were going to war, and they lied about the reasons for going to war.
The decision to engage in war is the most serious a president can make. The more we learn, the more we confirm that George Bush, Dick Cheney, and every single one of their senior advisors participated in a campaign of lies. They lied to Congress, they lied to the U.N., they lied to international allies, and they lied to the American public. And if only one of them lied to a grand jury, that's hardly where the criminality of the matter stops.
Libby lied to investigators in order to protect somebody, and there are really only two possibilities as to who: the Vice President of the United States, and the President of the United States. There's a lot more we still need to find out -- if not from Fitzgerald's ongoing probe, then from a Congressional inquiry. If a president can be impeached for lying about sex, what is the proper fate for a president who lies about war?