Thursday, October 13, 2005
Thu Oct 13, 2005 at 02:34:52 PM PDT
This week, Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball has been exploring the Plame affair; or, more accurately, the implications and possible charges to be brought in the Plame affair. While I presume the media expects us to shut up and be grateful that they are devoting premium punditry time to something of more substantial national import than Aruba Girl or court testimony about Michael Jackson's masturbation habits, the "reporting" in this case, perhaps more than any other, tears into shreds and tatters whatever thin premise of integrity the various media figures involved in this case have clung to.
The Plame case isn't just a story about potential espionage in the White House. It isn't just about the hamfisted protections of the flimsy pretexts, and some would say outright fabrications, used to "sell" the Iraq War to a skeptical public. And it isn't just about the crass nature in which the politics of personal destruction is used by political strategists, and worshipped by media pundits.
A large -- very large -- part of the Plamegate story is the role of the media not as investigators or defenders of the public interest, but as self-appointed and self-interested filters of what they deem the public should or should not know. Plamegate, for them, is an inside game.
Chris Matthews, in particular, has a direct tie to the Plame case. One that, curiously enough, none of the Hardball shows this week has managed to touch on -- in spite of the fact that Matthews has personal evidence directly pertaining to the very questions his show is ostensibly asking. Evidence that, in fact, a number of Matthew's guests apparently share between them.
In July of 2003, Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff reported on the Plame story. Among the information that, at that time, seemed justifiably pertinent to their readers were the contacts between Karl Rove and major media figures, as Rove tried to "sell" them on the Plame outing:
Wilson told NEWSWEEK that in the days after the Novak story appeared, he got calls from several well-connected Washington reporters. One was NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell. She told NEWSWEEK that she said to Wilson: "I heard in the White House that people were touting the Novak column and that that was the real story." The next day Wilson got a call from Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC show "Hardball." According to a source close to Wilson, Matthews said, "I just got off the phone with Karl Rove, who said your wife was fair game."
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah for Mitchell, and Matthews to appear on television together, furrowing their brows intently as they try to "ask the hard questions", all the while avoiding mention of their own involvement in the very case they are reporting on. To add Isikoff himself to the mix -- and yet, never bring up one of the more compelling publicly known demonstrations of how the Plame outing unfolded -- crosses the thin line from scandal to outright farce.
Matthews is just now exploring the implications, evidence, and potential for indictments in the Plame story?
Why now? Why not two years ago?
And why the self-serving implicit assertion, by Matthews, by Mitchell, by their producers, by the executives of their network, and in fact by all of the involved parties -- Cooper and Judy Miller excepted, not of their own free will -- that their own involvement in the story is not something the public has a right to have reported?
Pardon my bluntness, O heroes of journalism, O pundits who are constantly droning on about the importance of blogger ethics and journalistic integrity, but give us a eyebrow-raising, eye-rolling, burger-flipping, cow-tipping break. In a case where political figures took multiple concrete actions to push the identity of a CIA NOC operative into public view, using your resources to do it, you are an integral part of your own story.
And you'd better figure out how to deal with it. Because two years after the Plame leak, your integrity is shot. You're being openly mocked as airheaded, self-absorbed journalistic frauds. You're being roundly denounced as willing accomplices to a crime -- willing to cover up evidence of the scope and intent of the actions of your sources, in exchange for future access to the same deals and actions.
And you deserve to be. Because, quite frankly, the shoe fits.
What is particularly galling about the so-called Hardball coverage is that it purports to ask questions to which the journalists in question have hard evidence of the answers. From this Tuesday's Hardball, a truly bizarre piece of Kabuki journalism:
MATTHEWS: Mike Isikoff is an investigative correspondent with "Newsweek" magazine. Andrea Mitchell is chief foreign affairs correspondent for NBC News and author of the booming book "Talking Back to Presidents, Dictators and Assorted Scoundrels." And Jim Warren is deputy managing editor of "The Chicago Tribune."
Let me go to Mike Isikoff. You've been owning this story for years now. After two years of investigation, what do we really know that might incriminate the people around the president?
Good freakin' question, Matthews. I mean, you've really hit it on the head with that one. If only there was someone or someone(s) on your show who directly talked to people around the president about Joseph Wilson's wife, and why her identity was suddenly important, and could clue us in on that information!
But in large part, these Hardball stories have existed largely so that Matthews could play the part of his own Greek chorus, postulating theories of the case while feigning innocence at the evidence that he, as an arguable 'journalist', deems it unproductive to report on himself.
Both he and Andrea Mitchell do the public the slightest of favors, however, by opining aloud on what is probably the central hub of the entire Plame case:
MITCHELL: Absolutely. But, Chris, we should point out that there is a difference between playing political hardball, which people in Washington play and people in this White House play, and anything that approaches a crime.
I don't think they knew about this statute and were probably as shocked as anyone when this whole statute came up of disclosing the identity of a covert operative.
MATTHEWS: I'm not sure you are right. Because I think this guy, Fitzgerald, may see what we call political hardball, misuse of public authority because the people who are accused here, perhaps, are people who are getting government salaries to work for the interest of the whole country.
And they go after a person to defame and discredit him and hurt his family to the point of what they did, then he could argue, I don't care if this hasn`t been enforced before, I'm going to enforce it, this is breaking the spirit of the country.
Given that both Matthews and Mitchell were directly privy to that effort, I think we can take this "hypothesizing" as rather more informed than they're willing to let on. This was likely, in a nutshell, politics as usual for both White House and reporters. Mitchell rather incredulously opines that nobody figured that outing an operative might be illegal -- in spite of vigorous warnings stating just that signed by all recipients of such classified information -- but more importantly, nobody involved in the case figured that outing a CIA NOC operative would be prosecuted. When supposed business as usual runs starkly afoul of the law, it is a shock to government figures and reporters alike that the public interest might demand accountability for the crime. That serious federal crimes by political figures might actually be pursued is, apparently, a new and controversial idea, and not one that the national media corps, to this day, is fully ready to sign off on.
But the core of the matter, the central point that the entirety of the Washington press corps refuses to engage on, if it means exploring their own involvement in the case, is the matter of motive: the rather pivotal question of why Plame's name came into public view, and towards what ends the leak was being used by very high-level political figures.
On Wednesday, Matthews asked as part of his lead in:
Did a so-called Iraq group in Bush White House that included Karl Rove and Scooter Libby sell the Iraq war with the claim that Saddam Hussein was buying nuclear materials from Africa? Did this same inner White House group try to destroy Former Ambassador Joe Wilson for undercutting that claim? Did the same White House group act to cover up their activities by holding one reporter to her promise of confidentiality that slams her into jail for nearly three months?
Important questions, all. But to at least the second of them, Chris Matthews himself has evidence that directly answers his own mushy-headed "suggestion" of impropriety. If, as Matthews asserted to Joseph Wilson, Karl Rove directly told Matthews that Wilson's wife was "fair game" for reporters to ask questions, that bears rather emphatically on the question of White House motive. Ya think?
So exploring the behaviors and motives of the reporters in question -- a question that apparently nobody in the national news business has the slightest interest in taking up -- would seem to be a legitimate inquiry here.
In future textbooks, the Plame espionage case may hopefully be someday referred to as a prime example of when and how journalism fails. But we'll see. The question becomes whether or not the sheepish and dishonest self-interest of the dozen or so most involved reporters outweighs the now-primitive notion of journalism for the public interest. To wit: when are journalists justified in not reporting central facts of a story?
As for me, I'm about done hearing about journalistic integrity. Save the highminded, self-important drivel; the "journalism" of this major story has been on display for two solid years now, and the selective omissions and soft-shelled "analysis" have been apparent to all. The national reporters and pundits that make up the upper ranks of political journalism see themselves as part and parcel of the government circles they report on, and act as such; therefore, they should be treated -- and critiqued, and investigated, and when the situation demands it, condemmed -- as such.
Update [2005-10-13 19:51:33 by Hunter]: Digby found the exact same word -- Kabuki -- to describe the Hardball situation. And correctly points out via The Anonymous Liberal that NBC's Tim Russert is a very key player in this extended story:
A deal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald cut last year for NBC "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert's testimony may shed light on the emerging White House defense in the Valerie Plame leak case. The agreement between Fitzgerald and NBC avoided a court fight over a subpoena for Russert's testimony about his July 2003 talk with Dick Cheney's top aide, Lewis (Scooter) Libby. The deal was not, as many assumed, for Russert's testimony about what Libby told him: it focused on what Russert told Libby.That's also a story brought to us by Michael Isikoff as it turns out. (Russert allegedly told the grand jury that he did not give information to Libby about Plame or her CIA status.)
So Matthews, Mitchell, and Russert. NBC -- just as much as the New York Times -- is up to their well-groomed eyebrows in the Plame outing effort. Think there will be an accounting there? No, neither do I.