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IS IT TIME FOR TIM TO GO (PART 1)? Tim rolled over for Condi again. Is it time for Tim Russert to go?


TOUGH GUY’S DEMISE: If you wanted to see Icon Condi pushed, you had to watch Fox this past Sunday. On Fox News Sunday, Tony Snow and Brit Hume pushed the untouchable Rice—pushed her hard about the report that someone inside the Bush Admin had “outed” Joe Wilson’s wife. Indeed, the pair of scribes played bad cop/bad cop; first Hume pushed, then Snow pushed harder. Eventually, Snow elicited the most striking statement from Rice. He repeatedly asked how Bushmen reacted when this story appeared in July. Were White House officials upset by the story? Finally, Icon Condi said this:

SNOW: But there was nobody at the White House at the time who was saying, “Oh, we’ve got a problem here?”

RICE: Tony, I don’t remember any such conversation.

Weird, isn’t it? Back in July, Bob Novak reported that “senior officials” had leaked a CIA operative’s name. A mini-flap blew up in the press. And Rice couldn’t recall any White House official voicing a word of concern.

Yes, Snow and Hume pushed hard this day. As Josh Marshall did in a Monday post, we’ll show you their questions in full:

HUME: Former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who was asked to inquire in Africa about what Saddam Hussein might have been doing there in terms of acquiring nuclear materials, ended up with his wife’s name in the paper as a CIA person. There are now suggestions that the name and her identity and her CIA work had been revealed by the White House. What do you know about that?

RICE: I know nothing of any such White House effort to reveal any of this, and it certainly would not be the way that the president would expect his White House to operate. My understanding is that, in matters like this, as a matter of routine, a question like this is referred to the Justice Department for appropriate action, and that's what's going to be done.

SNOW: Well, when the story came out—his wife’s name is in the paper—was it known in the White House that she was a CIA employee?

RICE: I’m not going to go into this, Tony, because the problem here is this has been referred to the Justice Department. I think that’s the appropriate place—

SNOW: Well, but it is revealing, or it’s important to figure out what the White House reaction was at the time. For years and years and years, for instance, the administrations chased Phillip Agee all around the globe because he had revealed the name of a CIA officer. This is a grave offense, if you have CIA officers. Was there, at least within the White House, a gasp when somebody said, “Uh oh?” And if so, did the White House take any action, back then in June, when the story appeared?

RICE: Well, it was well known that the president of the United States does not expect the White House to get involved in such things. We will see—

HUME: You mean the revelation of names?

RICE: —anything of this kind. But let’s just see what the Justice Department does. It’s with the appropriate channels now, and we’ll see what the Justice Department—how the Justice Department disposes of it.

SNOW: But there was nobody at the White House at the time who was saying, “Oh, we’ve got a problem here?”

RICE: Tony, I don’t remember any such conversation. But I will say this: The Justice Department gets these things as a matter of routine. They will determine the facts. They will determine what happened, they will determine if anything happened. And they’ll take appropriate action.

SNOW: Do you think the White House should release phone logs, if necessary, to figure out who talked to whom?

RICE: Tony, as a matter of course, when the Justice Department is looking into something, of course the White House cooperates.

Snow and Rice kept pushing and poking. They behaved much as journalists should.

Yep! That’s the way the pair of scribes worked—on Fox. But if you didn’t watch Hume and Snow, you didn’t see similar questioning. Over at Meet the Press, for example, a famous “tough guy” hid in the weeds. He showed little interest in this report. Here was his complete interrogation:

TIM RUSSERT: Ambassador Joe Wilson was sent over to Niger by the CIA to look into this whole matter of selling uranium to Iraq. He came back with a report which was given to the administration. Then there was an article by columnist Robert Novak which cited two administration sources and identified Ambassador Wilson’s wife by name. She was an undercover agent at the CIA. There is now an investigation. The CIA has requested the Justice Department to look into this. It’s a crime to identify an undercover agent. And in this article in today’s Washington Post, a senior administration official said that White House officials called six reporters to identify, to out, if you will, Joe Wilson’s wife. What can you tell us about that?

RICE: Tim, I know nothing about any such calls, and I do know that the president of the United States would not expect his White House to behave in that way. It’s my understanding that when a question like this is raised before the agency, that they refer it as a matter of course, a matter of routine to the Justice Department. The Justice Department will now take appropriate action, whatever that is, and that will be up to the Justice Department to determine what that action is.

RUSSERT: What will the president do? Will he bring people in and ask them what they did?

RICE: I think it’s best since it’s in the hands of the Justice Department to let it remain there.

That was it! No, Bush wouldn’t question his staff, Rice said. And Russert moved to the next topic.

Amazing, isn’t it, to see the difference between Fox and Meet the Press? At Fox, two conservatives were willing to push and prod about the emerging story. At NBC, by notable contrast, a tough-talker posed two perfunctory questions, then very tamely moved on. But Russert’s weak questions were only one part of a woeful performance with Rice this past Sunday. The fearless tormentor of Candidate Gore rolled over before the Bush White House again. Here at THE HOWLER, we found ourselves wondering: Is it time for Tim Russert to leave?

TOMORROW: More of his Tim-orous questioning

BACK TO NORMAL: By last evening’s Special Report, order had been restored at Fox. The “all-stars” spun and respun, then tortured the facts, trying to prove that the story was worthless. According to the all-star panel, Wilson’s wife was an analyst, not an operative; therefore, no crime had occurred. (No one explained why Tenet—who surely understands his employee’s status—had referred the case to Justice.) And no one “leaked” anything to Novak, Fred Barnes kept insisting. Fred’s reasoning? Novak called them, not vice versa! The whole reason for the flap, Mort Kondracke assured, “obviously is that the Democrats have been trying to make the 16-word issue, which this is connected to, from the president’s State of the Union message, into Watergate.” Fox News viewers were put at ease as their minders assured them: All is well.

CHAIT COULDN’T WAIT: Yes, we’re eager to return to our incomparable “Trashing Bush-bashing” series. But for now, to see fakery and the faking fakers who provide it, be sure to read David Brooks today in the New York Times. Brooks becomes the ten millionth con to lament all this deeply disturbing “Bush-hating,” which he makes equivalent to the past decade’s trashing of Clinton. (I didn’t do enough then, Brooks laments. Quoting Tonto: No sh*t, kemosabe!) Brooks—faking very hard—regrets the well-researched Ivins/Dubose book, Shrub, as it if were somehow equivalent to those Clinton murder lists we all saw on TV (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 9/26/03). And one more key point: Completely predictably, Brooks makes a tool out of Jonathan Chait, who ran to hand his head to the cons with last week’s ill-advised New Republic piece. In fact, Chait’s the most popular “good guy” in town for his gift to conservative spinners. Conservative spinners wanted to say that these liberals crazily hate George Bush. Chait couldn’t wait to oblige them.

Chait begins his piece in a merry way. “I hate President George W. Bush,” he proclaims. “There, I said it.” That’s right, readers—Chait has said it. And so will every conservative spinner from now until Kingdom Come. Where on earth do we get these lads, who run to surrender your interests to men? Conservative spinners prayed for this column. Chait couldn’t wait to provide it.