Daily Howler logo
MEETING THE PRESS! Puzzled pundits poured milque on toast in the wake of the Libby indictment: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, OCTOBER 31, 2005

FOOTBALL—WE DO THE MATH: Some were shocked when the hapless 49ers “upset” the Tampa Bay Bucs on Sunday. But shouldn’t the 49ers always win on the weekend when we pick up an hour?

Meanwhile, for college football fans, we’ve finally answered a powerful question: How bad does Tennessee have to get before they’re dropped from the Top 25? Answer: They have to fall to 3-4 with a home field loss to a mediocre opponent. Until they do so, the pro-SEC bias will continue to rule. A region will vote with one thought in mind: Trying to please Miss Scarlett.

MEETING THE PRESS: Amazing. In today’s Post, Howard Kurtz says the press is showing great glee at the Libby indictment. Here’s our favorite ludicrous passage, among many (check the word we’ve highlighted):

KURTZ (10/31/05): If the media pound Bush over the Fitzgerald probe for months, they risk a public backlash...Many people forget how much antagonism there was between the Clinton White House and the press corps, and how polls showed considerable public anger at journalists for obsessing on a sex scandal that a majority had decided was tawdry but not worthy of impeachment.

The underlying issue in the Plame debacle—the alleged manipulation of intelligence used to justify a war and retaliating against a critic, Joe Wilson, who challenged that effort—is arguably more important than the Clinton-era debates over whether oral sex was sex. And it was Cheney who told his aide that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA's Counterproliferation Division. But as Republicans have been quick to point out, there is no evidence that Bush was personally involved.

No, we didn’t make that up. According to Kurtz, “the alleged manipulation of intelligence to justify a war” is arguably more important than last decade’s debate over whether oral sex was sex. Yes, that’s what he actually wrote. Yes, his editor published it.

Meanwhile, what’s on Elisabeth Bumiller’s mind? Of course! She discusses the feelings of embattled White House aides—embattled Clinton aides, that is, during the last decade’s Clinton scandals! In writing her laughable “White House Letter,” Bumiller has constantly pandered and fawned to Bush. Today, it suddenly enters her head to discuss someone else’s “White House.” Meanwhile, on the Post’s front page, Lois Romano writes a profile of Libby so fawning that Libby’s mom would have been embarrassed to write it if she’d been asked to do the profile herself.

So yes, mainstream press toadies have been out in force in the wake of Friday’s indictment. But nothing could match the Sunday performance of Tim Russert’s Meet the Press panel. Russert had assembled a typical gaggle, in which two movement conservatives (William Safire, David Brooks) were “balanced” by a pair of somnolent milquetoasts (David Broder, Judy Woodruff). Just like that, Safire fired off this characterization of “the most important single fact” to emerge from Friday’s indictment:

SAFIRE (10/30/05): The most important single fact that emerged from the indictment is what was not in it. This whole thing started as an investigation of the violation of a law. And the law that was violated was, “You must not deliberately out an agent who is undercover.” And what the special counsel found is, that law was not broken.
That’s technically true—but a bit misleading. It’s true; to date, Fitzgerald hasn’t charged anyone with a crime in the actual outing of Plame. But he did make it clear that Plame’s CIA status was “classified,” and it’s perfectly clear, from the indictment, that Rove and Libby were actively engaged in revealing it. But so what? In his next statement, Safire made it sound like there had been no uncovering of Plame at all:
SAFIRE: The most important thing is the whole basis of the political charge that came out of the CIA, which was desperate to try to cover up its own mistakes and its own huge failure in this case, this was an attempt by the CIA to get a Justice Department investigation of a law that had not been prosecuted in—once, perhaps in 25 years. And everybody is walking around thinking, "Well, you see? There was a conspiracy to undermine or uncover an agent." Well, there wasn't. It was not. And he said it very clearly. And so I think we ought to keep that in mind. This was a cover-up of a non-crime.
No, Fitzgerald hasn’t alleged a crime. But it’s absurd for Safire to say that there was no “conspiracy to uncover an agent”—ands that Fitzgerald has “said it very clearly.” In fact, Fitzgerald’s indictment says something quite different. Plainly, Libby did “uncover an agent.” Fitzgerald just said that it’s very hard to charge a crime under relevant statutes.

No, Fitzgerald hasn’t charged a crime. But in great detail, he did describe Libby “uncovering an agent.” But so what? In a matter of moments, David Brooks got all “Clintonesque” too:

BROOKS: Listen, nobody's going to remember most of the details of this six months from now. What people want to know, is there a dark, malevolent conspiracy in the middle of the White House? Is there a cancer on the presidency, to use John Dean's phrase. And I think what Fitzgerald showed, you know, he was in there for 22 months. He had full cooperation from everybody. And what he found was no criminal conspiracy to out a covert agent. He indicted one person of perjury, which is serious. But the White House has to be breathing a sigh of relief, and the American people have to know that the wave of hysteria, the wave of paranoia, the wave of charges and allegations about Karl Rove and everybody else so far is unsupported by the facts. So what we have is a serious indictment of a senior government official, but we do not have a cancer on the presidency.
Slick! There was no “criminal” conspiracy, the scribe slickly said. But Fitzgerald had plainly said that Libby was involved in uncovering an agent whose identity was classified. And Fitzgerald had made it perfectly clear that he thought this was a very serious matter—an offense against us all. In saying this, he even did what he swore he wasn’t doing—he went well beyond “the four corners of his indictment” to state his view of this conduct.

No, he didn’t describe a criminal conspiracy. But he clearly did describe an “uncovering”—an uncovering of an agent whose ID was classified. Did Russert’s viewers deserve to hear this basic, elementary matter made clear? Sorry. Broder and Woodruff, whole milque to the end, knew they had to stay silent and soggy—and Russert didn’t challenge this slick package either. This morning, Bumiller was thinking about troubled aides—Clinton’s!—and Kurtz acknowledged a major fact: Lying a country into a war might be worse than debating oral sex.

PURDUM PUZZLED TOO: Then there was poor puzzled Todd Purdum. On the front page of today’s Times, he can’t begin to figure out why Libby would have done it:

PURDUM (10/31/05): If the charges in the indictment are true, it is by no means clear why Mr. Libby would have told investigators and the grand jury in March of last year that Mr. Russert was his source, except that he might have believed that Mr. Russert and the other journalists involved would not testify.
But it’s perfectly clear why Libby might have told the grand jury this. Duh. Libby knew his (subpoenaed) notes showed that Cheney had told him about Plame. He had to find a way to pretend that this was not the route that put this information in play. And then, he had it! Here’s what he would do! As Fitzgerald explains in the indictment: Libby told the grand jury that he forgot what Cheney told him—then later heard about Plame from Russert, and thought this was the first he’d heard it. This meant that he’d heard it from a scribe—not from an official source! This was Libby’s only possible way to shield Cheney in the face of those subpoenaed notes. No, this story makes no earthly sense. But it was the best he could manage.

But Purdum couldn’t quite figure it out. He didn’t know why Libby would have done it! Note: Purdum is married to Dee Dee Myers. Apparently this eluded her too.