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Monday, August 29, 2005

Tim Russert For Best Actor

Following up on Michael Wolff's Vanity Fair piece, Media Matters points out that Time magazine withheld information from the public and wrote articles that can only be described as cover ups in the Plame affair.

After speaking to Rove, Cooper sent an email to Michael Duffy, Time's Washington bureau chief, relating what Rove had told him about Wilson's wife and saying that Rove had spoken on "double super secret background." The next day, Cooper spoke to Libby, who confirmed Plame's identity. Two days later, Robert D. Novak's infamous column revealing Plame's identity appeared.


Duffy, Cooper, and Time not only failed to inform their readers in July 2003 that they were part of the story, but they continued to report on the leak without offering that information for more than a year. In addition to two stories in October 2003, Time wrote about the leak again on January 12, 2004.

I've been shocked by this since the beginning. But it's not just Time that's done this. An equally egregious example is none other than the Monsignor --- Tim Russert. He too was subpoenaed and has since acknowledged that he spoke with Lewis Libby during the period in question. NBC released this very lawyerlike statement after he spoke with the special prosecutor that raises as many questions as it answers:

Mr. Russert told the Special Prosecutor that, at the time of that conversation, he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby. Mr. Russert said that he first learned Ms. Plame's name and her role at the CIA when he read a column written by Robert Novak later that month.

If Bill Clinton had issued that statement, Father Tim would have been all over it for weeks. When parsed it can only lead to one conclusion. NBC's lawyers carefully left the door open for it to be revealed that Russert knew that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that he told Libby that. All this statement says is that he didn't know her name or that she was undercover.

But strangely Tim Russert has never been asked by anyone to explain that statement even as he discussed this case many times on Meet The Press. During the same period that Duffy was writing articles in which he failed to reveal Time's role in the story or the fact that he knew that the white house was lying outright, Russert was hosting hour long shows on the topic and never revealing that he was one of the journalists called --- even as he grilled Novak and leaned on other reporters to reveal their sources!

These are some of Russert's questions to Wilson, Novak and "the roundtable" from the October 5th, 2003 transcript of Meet The Press right after it was revealed that the Justice department was going to investigate the leak:

Russert: Was there a suggestion that this was cronyism, that it was your wife who had arranged the mission?

Gosh, I don't know Tim. You talked to Lewis Libby. Was there? Or were you the one who told Scooter that Joe Wilson's wife worked at the CIA?

Russert: What did journalists tell you that the White House officials were saying to them?

Wilson: Four days after Bob Novak’s article came out, which outed my wife, I was—I started receiving calls from journalists and news agencies saying, first, that “The White House is saying things about you and your wife that are so off the wall we can’t even put them up,” followed by, over the weekend—so that would have been five or six days after the Novak article —a respected journalist called me up and said, “White House sources are telling us that this story is not about the 16 words”—even though the administration had acknowledged they should not have been in the State of the Union address—”this story is about Wilson and his wife.” And finally, on Monday, a week after the Novak article, I received a call from a journalist who told me, “I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says that your wife is fair game.”

Russert: This was all after the Novak column appeared?

You tell us Tim. We know you spoke to Scooter before the Novak column came out, but did anybody call you afterwards? Do you know of any other reporters who were called?

Russert: Why would this official happen to have known that Ambassador Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent?

Novak: Well, I think senior officials know everything, don’t they?

Russert: Do you find that curious?

Novak: No. I don’t think so.

One of Novak's sources was Lewis Libby whom you also spoke with in the same period. Did you tell Libby that Wilson's wife was an employee but not that she was an agent? Your carefully worded statement certainly raises suspicions that you did. Is it possible that you told Libby that Wilson's wife was CIA and he pretended that he didn't know? Or are you saying that he really didn't know she was an agent?

Russert: When you say that it was not a partisan gunslinger, does that rule out Karl Rove?

Did it rule out Libby, the official you spoke with at the same time as Novak?

Russert: Let me turn to The Washington Post. And, well, one last thing before I—do you regret printing her name... Did you have any sense when you were being told this and you were typing it in your computer, “My God, the person that told me this may be committing a crime”?

Did you have any sense when you grilled Novak that you were leaving out a whole bunch of information about your own role in this story? Did you think "my God, I and everyone else in this room are play-acting and in doing so are betraying our profession and holding the public in total contempt?"

Russert: Let me turn to The Washington Post. Dana Priest, last Sunday you wrote a story on the front page which said this: “A senior administration official said that before Novak’s column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife. ...‘Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge,’ the senior official said of the alleged leak.” What do you make of that? What was going on?

Tim, you are a Washington journalist who we know spoke with Scooter Libby before Novak's column ran. What did you think was going on?

Russert: In your story, you say a senior administration official said that two White House officials which sent off an awful lot of people in this town scurrying, saying, a senior administration official, as opposed to White House official, this must be the CIA at war with the White House.

You are one of the scurriers. How many other reporters know a lot more than they are telling? Can you give us names? Are they protected under the reporter's privilege too?

Russert: Bob Novak, many people have come up to me on the street and said, “Why doesn’t Bob Novak simply identify who his sources are? He knows who told him. Just say—pick up the phone, call the Justice Department, go on television and say, ‘This is who committed this crime’?”

Why don't you just come clean and tell your audience that you and the people sitting around your roundtable are all putting on performances worthy of Meryl Streep and calling it news?

Russert: David Broder, explain to our viewers what you have observed, and why journalists have this code where they simply will not divulge their sources.

Broder: The principle is pretty simple. It is the government’s responsibility to keep the government’s secrets secret. It is not the press’ responsibility. Our inclination, once we have information, is to try to verify it, to amplify as much as we can, the background and the context. But our basic obligation, then, is to share information with the public.

Except, of course, in situations like this where the story involves the press corps itself --- two of the principle players are right here! --- and where its access to important Republican officials is at stake. Then you feel free to stage a revival of Waiting For Godot on the set of Meet the Press and pretend that you are asking questions that others pretend to answer.

Russert: Bill Kristol, who used to work for Vice President Quayle, now runs The Weekly Standard magazine, has written a long essay where he said the president has taken too passive a stance in this situation, that he should call in his top senior aides and demand to know exactly what happened, and then take action, fire them...David, observing the administration, what should the president be doing now, and how much disarray are we watching?

Broder: Well, I was at the Democratic National Committee meeting yesterday where Al Sharpton said the president is moonwalking this question, and I think he’s got it about right. It is hard to believe that if the president, when he was dealing with a finite universe of possible leakers, did not really put the heat on, that he couldn’t get an answer to his question...

Russert: What do you think, Bob Novak?

Novak: I don’t know. I’m in an impossible position on this and I...

Russert: That’s why you’re here.

What do you think Tim? You're in the same impossible position Novak is. You know who the leakers are --- one of them, at least, spoke to you around the same time he spoke to Novak? Why are you so cocky? Don't you find it the least bit uncomfortable suggesting that the president should fire the people who you are protecting --- while failing to inform your audience of what you know?

Give yourself a treat and read the whole transcript to get the full flavor of the utter phoniness of that show. And I think you'll particularly enjoy the end when Bob Novak get's all self-righteous about Democrats smearing Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

That show was in October of 2003. By that time everyone knew the score. Russert pretended to put on his inquisitor's robes and pretended to interview Novak. Novak pretended that he didn't know that Russert knew much more than he was saying and played the role of the injured journalist throwing himself on the first amendment pyre. Priest knew the real story of the internecine war between the CIA and the administration over the WMD and Broder knew that the president wasn't going to try to "find out" who the leakers were because he knew that the leakers were close associates of the president --- who very likely already knew.

We, the idiot Americans, watched their little pageant having no idea that the whole thing was a farce put on purely for the benefit of the poor deluded public.

Tim Russert still has never said what he knows although there is no obvious reason why he shouldn't. If reporters' highest principle is to protect their sources rather than aid a grand jury investigating a crime, then they must also agree that they cannot then use the excuse that their lawyers or the prosecutor has requested they not speak of what they know. You can't have it both ways.

At the very least reporters should not be allowed to go on television or write stories in which they are participants and not reveal that. Nor should they be allowed to stage little pageants in which everyone involved is pretending that they don't know what they know. That's not journalism. (Or is it?)

Russert recently came back to this story on Meet the Press and in a most bizarre fashion "admitted" that he was involved in the story. Here's how he did it:

Let me turn to the CIA leaked case investigation. There have been numerous newspaper reports that the investigation is now focusing on perhaps perjury as opposed to the leak because the leak is difficult to prove under the law. What we know so far is that in terms of journalists, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, Russert of NBC, Matt Cooper of Time magazine have all testified, either in deposition or before the grand jury. We assume Robert Novak has testified because Judy Miller of The Times who didn't testify is in jail. And there's been numerous newspaper reports that there's a difference between the testimony of some of the reporters and Scooter Libby of Vice President Cheney's office and Karl Rove of President Bush's office. Bill Safire, what do we make of all this?

Can you believe it? "There have been numerous newspaper reports that there's a difference in the testimony of some of the reporters and Scooter Libby." And who do you suppose is one of those reporters? Tim Russert!

None of the crack reporters on the roundtable even come close to asking about it or commenting on it. They just pretended that it was perfectly normal for Russert to talk about himself in the third person and reference stories in which he's the primary player and pretend otherwise.

But here is the real kicker:

MR. RUSSERT: There has to be an original source, somebody.



MR. RUSSERT: Even if it came from a reporter...


MR. RUSSERT: ...the reporter got it from someplace.

MS. TOTENBERG: Right. And...

MR. RUSSERT: But I was asked what I said. I did not know

Russert seems to have forgotten himself for a minute there. Once he realized what he'd gotten himself into, he quickly answered with a nonsensical "I was asked what I said. I did not know."

The question of the "who was the original source for the reporter" is a question that someobody should have asked him a long time ago. (It doesn't just apply to Judith Miller.) NBC's heavily lawyered press release is very suspicious and leads one to conclude that Russert may have told Libby that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA. He should have been pinned down on that. And if it's true, the natural follow-up is "who told Russert?"

The rest of the panel knew better than to pursue that line of questioning with the King of the Kewl Kids. They just adjusted their Kabuki masks and went back to the dance.