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July 16, 2005


"Openly lied to." This is the kabuki theater of the press that I've mentioned before. From the outside we think of it as a game, but the participants think of it as an art form, and take pride in their performance.

At least half a dozen of them - and possibly many more - have known for two years that Rove was lying about his non-involvement in outing Plame, but the conventions of the art form forbade them to act on it till the Cooper email became public.

(As a side note, fascinating that an internal Time email is leaked to rival Newsweek!)

Likewise, the reporters now repeating what "a lawyer" (almost certainly Lufkin) is saying to exculpate Rove almost certainly know whether or not it will hold up. The rules of the art form, however, forbid them from telling us. And from their point of view, it plays out properly either way. If Rove is in fact exculpated, they duly implied as much. If he's indicted, the smack hits that much harder.

But as discussed in the link, the Bush administration no longer participates in the kabuki's conventions. For people who dislike both intellectuals and the French, they are amazingly postmodern, regarding facts as just another form of rhetoric.

The problem for them (and, unfortunately, all of us) is that Iraq has proven stubbornly non-postmodern, and shockingly immune to the WH construction of reality.

-- Rick Robinson

Rick, the same is true for Fitzgerald.

Who's lied to? That's the question. Most of the time when the Administration lies to the media, it's not so much lying to the media as lying through the media. Which is to say, the media knows it's a lie, but it's all part of "the game," in which truth doesn't matter at all. The media knows this, and knowingly passes on lies and truths with a decided overall preference for lies, because they are simpler and better-crafted.

But for most reporters--those who weren't involved in knowingly passing it on (or off)--this is a bit different. It was not just the nation that was being lied to. It was them! There's just a slight glimmer here of the outrage that ought to have been fueling them 24/7 since election day 2000.


WRT the leak of a Time email to Newsweek. I think it's more interesting than that. I think it's a leak of the most spectacular information to Isikoff, someone who already has one President's honor under his belt and someone who has recently been spanked publicly by the Administration (on the Quran flushing story). Now that Isikoff is getting leaks from Luskin, too, I'm not entirely comfortable he'll go for the President-kill this time. But this is his MO, leak the spectacular information that can bring down an Administration.

Speaking of "knowing the players," anyone take a close look at the NYT byline for their INR memo story today?

This article was reported by Douglas Jehl, David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson and was written by Mr. Stevenson.

[emphasis mine]

As DHinMI pointed out yesterday, Richard Stevenson is "the most frequent tool of the GOP at the Times." And what a weird byline!! Normally they'd just say, by Judy Miller and Joe Schmoe, or put some of the lesser names at the bottom. Why specificy that Stevenson had written this??

maybe their guidelines on anonymous sources now extends to their staff. Thanks, Judy.

Rick, I agree there is an element of kabuki theater in the interacton between the press and the Bush Administraton, but it's not that the Busheviki have opted out, they've just switched to a new script, with new masks.

Much as I hate being in the role of press defender - especially since I agree with DHinMI about Stevenson and everybody on the left about Judith Miller (they're propaganda conduits, at best) - the average reporter doesn't get to make the decision to call somebody a liar in print or on the air waves. Even if a statement seems an obvious lie, as it has to most of us for two years in this case, editors will ask reporters, quite properly, where's your proof? Most reporters couldn't come up with any until the latest round of leaks.

Presumably, six reporter/pundits have had varying degrees of proof about Karl's lying, but once the grand jury stepped in they were in no position to say anything publicly (even if they had been so inclined previously, which they obviously had not).

But these folks aside, nothing pisses off an honest reporter more than being lied to publicly and made to seem gullible or stupid or a tool for transmitting the lie. Which is one big reason we're likely now to see some of the press corps diligence we'd all like to have seen starting around August 2002.

None of this is to imply that the media have merely been taken in by the Bush Administration. We've got a whole range of behavior, from the outright complicity of some reporters at some outlets to laziness at others, from cowardly fear of being called a biased liberal or terror-symp to being forced by editors to follow whatever is the spinning decoy du jour, from constraints caused by reduced resources put these days into serious journalism to the fear of having a tiny error blown up into a career-smashing brouhaha.

None of these are good excuses for abandoning good journalism, but I think it's a mistake to assume that no journalists are doing their job or that more journalists would fail to do their job absent some unfortunate constraints. Even in this era of too-passive journalism, a hefty chunk of the exposés we've gotten have come from reporters doing their jobs.

MB, you go with the Fineman theory?

Take my word, there has been a lot of soul searching in the so-called Main Stream Media (MSM) over its performance, or lack of performance, in the months leading up to the American-led ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Specifically, did we replace what should have been professional skepticism with a certain mindless credulousness in assessing the reality of the Bush administration’s claims of imminent danger to the country and the world from Saddam’s supposedly vast stash of weapons of mass destruction, including—only months away, it was said—the nuclear kind?

If we failed, was it out of a misplaced sense of patriotic duty, or political cowardice or sheer incompetence—or all three? The press corps was spring-loaded with self-doubt over the WMD issue, and ready to snap over any story that would allow it to revisit what now looks to have been a massive—and embarrassingly successful, from the press’s point of view—propaganda campaign.

So Rove was a spinner on the WMD front? After him!

Meteor Blades - Yeah, there's a whole range of behavior in the media. But much as it irks me to have to say anything nice about them I suspect that you are essentially right. The kabuki evolved for a reason.

Years ago I read an account by some journalist of how as a cub reporter he interviewed a prominent lawyer. The lawyer was always described in the paper as "ruddy-faced," and when they met, it finally dawned on the reporter that this was journalese for "a drunk." Of course the paper couldn't say it openly, but the reader who knew the conventions could figure it out.

I wonder if something similar is going on with this story. After all, we've been suspecting Rove for an awfully long time, and that suspicion had to come from somewhere. (A priori, the suspect could as easily have been, say, Cheney.)

And in this latest case, the round of stories seeming to exculpate Rove, and sourced to "a lawyer," we're all pretty much figuring that it is Rove's lawyer. Just from that, we can pretty much infer that we're getting the best possible construction of events - and we know to reach for the salt shaker.

One thing that has changed is the existence of the blogosphere, which means we don't have to draw all these inferences for ourselves. Instead we have to develop our BS detectors to a higher sensitivity, to identify which sets of dot-connecting are likely to hold together, and which sets aren't.

One more thought, on the press's original failure of criticism when it came to the whole prewar WMD case. Am I the only person here who was surprised when Saddam turned out to have NO WMD at all? I thought the threat was grossly hyped, but I pretty much assumed that *some* of the stuff would turn up, left over from 1991. Even if it were a handful of rusty gas shells, they would have made for a very different debate now. That may have been a factor in the media's, ah, cautious response at the time.

-- Rick Robinson

A somewhat different take. The U.S. war in Iraq is effectively over, since the American public is now rejecting it. The media appear now to be acting as surrogates for all those in our country who failed to scrutinize the reasons the Bush Republicans gave for invading Iraq. Now that public opinion is turning against the war, they are crying out "You deceived us", an accusation embodied in the Karl Rove leak scandal, which is really about the war itself and not just about the Plame affair. Bush and company did try shamelessly to deceive the country, and it wasn't difficult to do. So many in the media and the public were so willing to be deceived. The country leapt at the chance to buy into a pack of lies. Now the guilty public and its press want to attack someone for their own failing. Scott McClellan is a very available administration scapegoat and his smugness just invites retaliation. At least this formulation may be part of the dynamic that is going on.
One problem with this reaction is that the next easy step is to rely on the "few bad apples" theory of responsibility, i.e. get rid of Bush/Cheney and everything will be fine.

Dean, I disagree on one important point. The country never really leapt at this war - the whole fabric of lies arose from the Bushies' need to overcome an underlying reluctance.

The very slogan "support the troops" is more a statement that we're stuck with this thing than any real enthusiasm for it.

-- Rick Robinson

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