Saturday, February 11, 2006

Plamegate: How Time could have told the truth without identifying its source

Media Matters picks up on Al Franken's radio discussion with Time Magazine reporter John Dickerson. Dickerson was recently all over the news for his recent Slate piece, Where's My Subpoena?", which reveals that Dickerson has known a lot more about what was really going on with the White House efforts to smear Joe Wilson on the Niger yellow cake story than he fessed up to until now. MediaMatters lays out some context:

When the article was written and published, all three reporters knew for a fact that White House senior adviser Karl Rove had outed undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. They knew this because Cooper was one of the reporters to whom Rove leaked Plame's identity in July 2003; at the time, Cooper told Duffy and Dickerson about the leak. But the October 2003 article reported that Rove had "initially" been suspected to be the source of the leak, falsely suggesting that these suspicions were no longer valid. Worse, the article quoted White House press secretary Scott McClellan describing the accusations as "ridiculous" and saying, "There is simply no truth to that suggestion." As Media Matters demonstrated, Cooper, Duffy, and Dickerson all knew that McClellan's statement was false, yet their article presented it without rebuttal.

Franken went after Dickerson on Time's failure to tell the truth (or rather their willingness to print things they knew were materially false). Here's what Dickerson offered as his justification:

And the reason you can't just come out and say, "They're big liars, they're big liars," is because you end up giving up a source.

I've written elsewhere about why Time should have been under no obligation to protect Rove in this case. But for the sake of argument, let's grant that they needed to protect their anonymous source here. It seems to me that the question a reporter should ask at that point is, "Is there a way to get the truth out there without burning the source?" Keep in mind that the story is (or at least should be) that the White House is lying about a breach of national security. This Time knew. And how did Time know this? Karl Rove -- the epitome of a Senior Administration Official -- told Matt Cooper the factual predicate to that clear conclusion.

I know I'm just one of those unwashed, troglodytic bloggers, but can someone explain to me why Time could not have countered McClellan's falsehood by adding a line that said, "Contrary to McClellan's claims, Time has learned from a Senior Administration official that Plame's identity was in fact leaked from inside the White House"?

It's absolutely true. It lets the world know that they are indeed "big liars." And it doesn't explicitly finger Rove. If there is something wrong with this solution -- other than the obvious fact that it would have made Rove unhappy -- I'd sure like to know what it is.

I expect to receive the knock at the door ordering me to report to blogger ethics re-education camp any day now.


Blogger Ron Brynaert said...

This is the Time Magazine article written on October 13, 2003: link.

Read that article in its entirety...and then maybe you'll reconsider this post...and maybe you'll see how Media Matter - as usual - selectively cherry-picks quotes when they pen their attack pieces.

Read that article in its entirety and then decide if the gist of that article was that Rove had nothing to do with the leak.

Read that article in its entirety and then decide if the quote by the White House spokesman really needed to be directly countered...since the gist of the article was that what he said was completely ridiculous.

Read that article in its entirety and then decide if Dickerson's seemingly strange defense seems to make more sense.

Since there doesn't appear to be an mp3 of the Franken show...who knows what Media Matters left out of the interview.

I do know that what Media Matters left out of their attack piece on Dickerson was a link to the very first article which came out and said what the Bush Administration was doing. An article written by Time.

2:58 PM  
Blogger bluememe said...


You are absolutely right that I should have read the original article again before putting this up.

OK, I just read it again. And I agree that the article is not a whitewash. But I still don't see the kind of vindication of Time that you seem to see.

The closest thing I saw to an unmasking of Rove or a direct contradiction of McClellan was this:

"In the days after Wilson's essay appeared, government officials began to steer reporters away from Wilson's conclusions, raising questions about his veracity and the agency's reasons for sending him in the first place. They told reporters that Wilson's evidence was thin, said his homework was shoddy and suggested that he had been sent to Niger by the CIA only because his wife had nominated him for the job."

A couple of things: first, this information comes very late in the article -- seven grafs after the McClellan quote. But more importantly, Cooper knew for a fact -- as a percipient witness -- that what McClellan said was false, and this passage does not share that knowledge. It does not even contradict what Scottie said. To me, it smacks of the inside-the-Beltway, "Dangerous Liasons" crap that must tittilate those in the know, but fails utterly in the primary purpose of the media.

They knew McClellan was wrong at best, lying at worst. We didn't, at least until Fitzgerald forced it out of them.

In the former Soviet Union, sneaking scraps of cryptic information into Pravda or Izvestia like those Time allowed us to see would have been a great and dangerous achievement. If we are now judging the American press with that yardstick, we are in serious trouble.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Ron Brynaert said...

i dunno...

to me nearly every line in that entire article makes the case that Bush Administration officials were responsible for leak...and it more than implies that Rove is in hot seat.

There's a great article in today's La Times about a former biology teacher who teaches kids how to question their teachers on evolution and get them to push creationism.

Nearly every line in that article contains quotes from the crazy dude (Ham) and only a few sentences are devoted to showing how loony he is and talking about evolution.

But any reasonable person would read that article and see that they are firmly on the side of science.

The Time articles in 2003 were rather strong on the leak...and it's the Post and NY Times who deserve to be attacked for the little reporting that they did back then (but at the same time Cooper and Viveca deserve criticism for their roles in the scandal).

For Media Matters to claim that Time Magazine deceived their readers is so far off-base and wingnutty that it's almost stranger than the attacks on the Wash Post for their incredible work on Abramoff.

Media Matters has an agenda...along with the bloggers connected to them. They are partisan media critics...not that much different than the ones on the right. While they do fine work sometimes...mostly they seem to attack journalists for not being as one-sided as they want them to be.

If it wasn't for Time Magazine in 2003...I think the case could be made that there would be no Plame investigation. Their article in July was the impetus for most of the actions taken by Democrats...and probably even the CIA.

I think it's fair to criticize not countering McClellan's quote directly...but not in the manner that media matters choosed to operate.

By making ridiculous accusations of shilling and lying...about a magazine that helped expose the Plame leak...they look just plain silly and the small points they make are just ignored.

Just like with the Washington Post.

peace, buddy

6:06 PM  

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