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Monday, January 29, 2007

Trial exposes Washington journalism

How will journalism emerge from the Scooter Libby Trial? It remains to be seen, but here are some early snippets that don't bode well.

Dana Millbank of the Washington Post reports from former Cheney communications director Cathie Martin's testimony just how the Office of the Vice President sought to control its message. Whether or not Russert thinks he's being controlled, the perception in the White House is that he can be. That's strike one for his credibility.

Memo to Tim Russert: Dick Cheney thinks he controls you.

This delicious morsel about the "Meet the Press" host and the vice president was part of the extensive dish Cathie Martin served up yesterday when the former Cheney communications director took the stand in the perjury trial of former Cheney chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Flashed on the courtroom computer screens were her notes from 2004 about how Cheney could respond to allegations that the Bush administration had played fast and loose with evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions. Option 1: "MTP-VP," she wrote, then listed the pros and cons of a vice presidential appearance on the Sunday show. Under "pro," she wrote: "control message."

"I suggested we put the vice president on 'Meet the Press,' which was a tactic we often used," Martin testified. "It's our best format."

And then there's this from BTC News that I'll explore in more detail in follow up post this morning.

There may in fact have been not a single Washington reporter who didn’t know more or less who leaked what, and when, and why, at least a year before their readers did.

In the meantime they reported statements from the administration that they knew to be false. The most notable of those involve Fleischer’s successor, Scott McClellan, and his carefully worded self-exculpatory assurances that no one in the White House was responsible for the leak — and specifically Rove, Libby and Elliot Abrams, the national security advisor who was pardoned by the elder Bush after his conviction on charges of lying to Congress in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal — but even the most cursory review of stories on the case during the period between the beginning of the investigation and the indictment of Libby will turn up a host of others.

And of course there remains much that reporters know and we don’t. If the Cooper to Dickerson to Viveca Novak relay of Rove’s involvement is any guide, a whole bunch of reporters know which senior administration official blew the whistle to the Post’s Mike Allen and Dana Priest on the two “top White House officials” who leaked Wilson’s identity to a half-dozen journalists before her name was revealed in print. The Allen-Priest story motivated Fleischer to seek immunity from Fitzgerald, which is how Dickerson’s face wound up on a big screen monitor at the trial today.

Confidential sources can play an important role in reporting. Very few press watchers would advocate doing away with them. But reporters should not allow confidentiality to force them into reporting lies. Reporters who find themselves in that position should recuse themselves from writing those stories. In this case that apparently might have precluded most of the Washington press corps from covering the leak.

What do journalists know? When do they know it? How do they know it? When do they report it? Are they obligated to report it when they know it? If not, whose interest are they serving? All legitimate questions to be asked.


Jill said...

This is why MSM's constantly stated point about how blogs are bad because they aren't edited is precisely wrong (I've said that before, I know, but this shows why).

redhorse said...

Cheney wasn't the only one who thought he owned Russert...