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Let's get on with the Novak/Plame case

ASK THIS | July 04, 2005

The secrets in the Valerie Plame outing case may finally be coming to light. As they do, here are some questions that need answering.

By Barry Sussman



Q. President Bush said he wanted to get to the bottom of this case. He could have done so, regardless of any court action, long before now. Has he? If not, why not? If yes, what action has he taken?


Q. Reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper seem to have been protecting malicious political hatchet throwers, not exactly whistleblowers deserving of protection in the traditional sense. The theory for protecting them is that if reporters reveal their names, there will be a chilling effect on real whistleblowers in the future. But do these sources deserve protecting?


Q. In the face of all that has gone on in the past two years, why haven’t these sources gone public and come out with their versions of what happened? Why have they instead let the two reporters twist slowly in the wind?


Q. Was Time Magazine correct to turn its reporter’s notes over to the court? Would Time’s CEO, Norman Pearlstine, have taken the same action if the sources seemed more deserving of protection?


We may know the answer to some of these questions soon, as reporters Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine go before U.S. District Court judge Thomas Hogan once again. The chances are, however, that we won’t know the answers to all of them, and all are important. This story isn’t over until they are answered. When the facts are out, some of the questions may seem naïve, or even stupid. But they aren’t naïve or stupid now.


As I write, some of the latest developments are these: First, Time Inc., in a decision by its editor in chief, Norman Pearlstine, said it would turn over to a grand jury documents concerning its reporter Cooper’s confidential sources. Pearlstine said that Time had pursued the matter in court as far as it could and that, in the end, “We are not above the law and we have to behave the way ordinary citizens do.”


Second, in a July 1 editorial supporting a shield law for journalists, the Washington Post said that damage from the blowing of Valerie Plame’s cover, “If there was any, was not the result of misconduct by Mr. Cooper or Ms. Miller—or by columnist Robert D. Novak, who originally reported the story.” Such phrasing suggests the Post knows a lot about this case, a necessary requirement for virtually absolving Novak of any wrongdoing.


Also, after Time turned over Cooper’s documents, a lawyer for Karl Rove, senior adviser to Bush, said Rove was one of the people Cooper called during the week before Novak's story appeared. According to the lawyer, Rove "has never knowingly disclosed classified information." In an account in Time, the lawyer also said he has received repeated assurances from the special prosecutor’s office that Rove is not a target in the case.


Some have said the Administration sources who outed Valerie Plame, regardless of malicious intent, are not guilty under the law as long as they didn’t know she was an undercover agent. That seems to me a very thin reed. After all, had these sources exerted due diligence, they would have known. So how will the special counsel handle that? Indict or not indict? If not, is that treatment less highly placed officials would get?


The Administration sources may have testified before the grand jury, or at least talked to the special counsel, but in their long public silence they have let Miller and Cooper twist in the wind. Such conduct seems indecent. What’s the explanation for it? Who gained from it, and what was gained, aside from the buying of time? Who in the Administration, aside from their legal counsel, did they consult as they decided to stonewall it?


As for President Bush wanting to get to the bottom of it: Well, he has had plenty of time to do that; there has been no need for him to wait for court action. In February 2004, Bush told reporters, ”If there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is." He’s been waiting all this time to find out? Do you think the leakers would still be around if the leaks were damaging to Bush, instead of supportive? So as stories begin to flow from whatever court action takes place, one important feature should be: What did Bush know and when did he know it, and what did he do about it?


There is also more to be heard from Time Inc. On July 1, The New York Times, recounting an interview with Pearlstine (who is a Nieman Foundation board member), said “he still believed in the confidentiality of sources but that each situation had to be determined on its merits.” The suggestion, at least to me, is that he left some wiggle room and might have made a different decision had he felt the sources worthy of protection. At some point it might be worth hearing more from Pearlstine on this.


As for Novak, perhaps after the next round of legal activities there will be a set of questions for him. And the Washington Post, along with others who published the Novak column, can, at long last, give their account of events, explaining what they did when they found out their pages had been used to out a CIA secret agent. Did they interrogate Novak afterward? Set down any rules or guidelines for him or for other columnists?

Rove/Cooper/Miller/Plame – July 5, 2005
Posted by Bill Israel, Ph.D. - Department of Communication (Journalism), The University of Massachusetts Amherst
07/05/2005, 02:28 PM

In 99.9 percent of cases I know, journalists must not break the bonds of appropriate confidentiality, to protect their ability to report, and to defend the First Amendment. I’ve testified in court to that end, and would do so again. But the Valerie Plame-CIA case that threatens jail time for reporters from Time and The New York Times this week is the exception that shatters the rule. In this case, journalists as a community have been played for patsies by the president’s chief strategist, Karl Rove, and are enabling him to abuse the First Amendment, by their invoking it.

To understand why this case is exceptional, one must grasp the extent of Rove’s political mastery, which became clearer to me by working with him. When we taught “Politics and the Press” together at The University of Texas at Austin seven years ago, Rove showed an amazing disdain for Texas political reporters. At the same time, he actively cultivated national reporters who could help him promote a Bush presidency. In teaching with him, I learned Rove assumes command over any political enterprise he engages. He insists on absolute discipline from staff: nothing escapes him; no one who works with him moves without his direction. In Texas, though he was called “the prime minister” to Gov. George W. Bush, it might have been “Lord,” as in the divine, for when it came to politics and policy, it was Rove who gave, and Rove who took away. Little has changed since the Bush presidency; all roads still lead to Rove.

Consequently, when former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson challenged President Bush’s lie that Saddam Hussein imported yellow-cake uranium from Niger to produce nuclear weapons, retaliation by Rove was never in doubt. While it is reporters Matthew Cooper of Time and Judith Miller of The New York Times now potentially face jail time, the retaliation came through Rove-uber-outlet Robert Novak, who blew the cover of Wilson’s wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame.

The problem, as always, in dealing with Rove, is establishing a clear chain of culpability. Rove once described himself as a die-hard Nixonite; he is, like the former president, both student and master of plausible deniability. That is precisely why prosecutor Fitzgerald in this case must document the pattern of Rove’s behavior, whether journalists published, or not. For in this case, Rove, improving on Macchiavelli, has bet that reporters won’t rat their relationship with the administration’s most important political source. How better for him to operate without constraint, or to camouflage breaking the law, than under the cover of journalists and journalism, protected by the First Amendment?

Karl Rove is in my experience with him the brightest and most affable of companions; perhaps I have been coopted, for I genuinely treasure his friendship. But neither charm nor political power should be permitted to subvert the First Amendment, which is intended to insure that reporters and citizens burrow fully and publicly into government, not insulate its players from felony, or reality. Reporters with a gut fear of breaching confidential sources must fight like tigers to protect them. But neither reporters Cooper nor Miller, nor their publications, nor anyone in journalism should protect the behavior of Rove (or anyone else) through an undiscerning, blanket use of the First Amendment that weaken its protections by its gross misuse.

Plame as soccer mom
The New York Times focuses on the personal side of Valerie Plame, whose incredulous neighbors had thought of her as “a working soccer mom.’

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