Actually, the quote in the title is not by emptywheel. It's a Ken Mehlman quote.
We wake up today with presumably identically--and single--sourced stories, appearing in the the three major "serious" media outlets in this country (the LA Times and WSJ must feel slighted). Here are the descriptions of the reliable source pitching this story:
someone who has been officially briefed on the matter
The person who provided the information about Mr. Rove's conversation with Mr. Novak declined to be identified, citing requests by Mr. Fitzgerald that no one discuss the case. The person discussed the matter in the belief that Mr. Rove was truthful in saying that he had not disclosed Ms. Wilson's identity.
[the article later includes this phrase: "Mr. Rove's allies have said" with no indication whether those allies provided new information for this story...hmmm]
a lawyer involved in the case
The lawyer, who has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors,
Sources who have reviewed some of the testimony before the grand jury
according to a source familiar with his account. [this in connection to Libby learning of Plame's identity from a journalist]
according to a person briefed on the testimony. The person, who works in the legal profession and spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy,
Now, with the exception of the WaPo, which did some reporting using an anonymous source attached to Libby and an anonymous source attached to Cooper (kudos Mike Allen!), these stories all rely on one source--presumably the same "person in the legal profession" who happens to be a "lawyer" that "has been briefed in the matter" and therefore "has knowledge of the conversations between Rove and prosecutors" (for the sake of simplicity, perhaps we should call this anonymous person "Loquacious Luskin"). These stories--coupled with Mehlman's revealing statement--typify White House behavior in this Plame Affair...and more generally.
Obviously, these stories are the product of a deliberate effort to push back against the heat on Karl Rove, to buy some time, at least until Fitzgerald makes indictments, and perhaps to throw suspicion elsewhere (Libby and Judy sitting in a tree, L-E-A-K-I-NG). As with the original Plame leak, the White House has managed to get its spin--virtually unchallenged--into the papers of record and the main newswire. Even with the issue of sourcing and spin occupying such a central role in the Plame case, these journalists couldn't resist the bait. And so I think Margaret Carlson was naive or premature when she declared in an LAT editorial yesteday,
The one good thing to come out of all this is that journalists have been reminded to say "no" to those cowards trying to get revenge or dish dirt without putting their names on it. Our promise of confidentiality should be given for information that corrects an injustice, not perpetrates one.
No one is saying no, Margaret, at least not yet.
It's not just Judy Miller who loses credibility when she relies exclusively on anonymous sources with a clear agenda. It's the whole profession. And it's a habit the press, like anonymous source junkies on a long waiting list to get into a methodone clinic, are desperate to break. Back in May, the Washington bureau chiefs proposed boycotting The White House's background-only briefings until they were allowed to go on record (The idea actually came up at a
blogger press ethics panel earlier in the year, but the final straw was a background briefing in which three administration officials gave a briefing on the President's energy policy where reporters were not only told to report on background--but they weren't even told the identity of the officials in question). Scottie, like a heroin dealer taunting his customers, said he'd do so as soon as they gave up their anonymous sources.
I told them upfront that I would be the first to sign on if we could get an end to the use of anonymous sources in the media,
And in a clarifying follow-up.
My comment to you was reflecting that I would welcome the media getting rid of anonymous sourcing -- with some rare exceptions that are more than justifiable.
Perhaps revealing trade secrets, Scottie also disparaged anonymous sources in general.
As I said, I think one of the concerns the American people have is that sources hide behind their anonymity to provide selective information to reporters in order to generate negative attacks. I think Americans naturally view such reports with great suspicion. We all have an obligation to work together to address these issues. [emphasis mine]
Scottie, I'm sure, didn't mean this sincerely. What would the White House do if they couldn't leak information on their enemies? They'd be sunk without one of their most valuable weapons. How would Karl Rove be able to build a case for his innocence in the court of public opinion if he (or his lawyer) had to go on the record to make such claims. But perhaps this was one of the rare exceptions Scottie was talking about.
The background briefing boycott didn't work. First, Robert Downie of the WaPo refused to play along (the effort was launched by the bureau chiefs of the USA Today, Knight Ridder, Cox Newspapers, ABC News, LAT, NYT and AP).Then one after another bureau chief crawled back into the backgrounder fold.
More recently, the Press did some collective soul-searching in response to the claims surrounding a single-sourced Michael Isikoff article reporting allegations that Gitmo guards flushed the Koran. That certainly hasn't stopped Isikoff from using anonymous sources. And contrary to what the Plain Dealer may say, few journalists are holding back from anonymous sources because Judy Miller is sitting in jail. While it's early yet, but I haven't seen journalists wringing any hands this morning about the NYT and AP using a single anonymous source on a story.
In response to the attempt to boycott background briefings, Jay Rosen suggested that--rather than boycott as a group--newspapers could simply stop. Stop on their own. Explain to readers they'd get fewer anonymous sources in their stories but also more credibility.
Obviously, there's reason not to totally boycott anonymous sources. Much of what we know about the lies leading up to the Iraq, for example, we owe to people leaking anonymously. Sy Hersh--many people like to point out--makes ample use anonymous sources. But then, Sy Hersh is a tough guy to spin.
Which would be a good response--to defy the spin. Matt Cooper seems to have done this when he reported that BushCo was trying to smear Plame. After all, one of the things Luskin has been willing to say on the record this week is that Cooper burned Rove by not accepting his spin as delivered. And to be fair, it seems like Mike Allen may have done a bit of this by referring to the source in this story as a lawyer when the other two stories label the source much more ambiguously (I'm not sure I heard you right, Mike, did you say Luskin?). But imagine how the story would play if Matt Cooper wrote it: Rove lawyer tries to argue his client isn't guilty.
The press has gotten rather spunky with Scottie of late, refusing to drop questions about Rove's guilt. But it's not enough to ask "hard kweschins." Nor is enough to--as Margaret Carlson suggests--just say no. With or without Karl Rove at its helm, this Administration will continue to abuse anonymous sources so long as journalists refuse to call out the spin they're getting hand-fed.