Fantasy Island

Have you noticed that this site is a Karl-Rove-free zone?
Why? The raging summer controversy over Rove’s role in identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent is of great and massive interest to many, many people I know and respect as journalists. It is of no interest whatsoever to anyone living outside the Washington, D.C. beltway or off the island of Manhattan. It is a high-stakes game of inside baseball gone public. And it is boring.
It is boring because it is predictable. Even I have been having trouble getting interested in this mess. It’s that much of an inside game. Of course, Rove was the source. And of course he denied it. And of course the White House is embarrassed. But this whole mess is just another good example of why most folks think that the national press and politicians deserve each other. They see the Rove controversy as a family spat that will be settled in time for everyone to make nice at the family Christmas party. A pox on both their houses, is the thinking.
They’re right. The Affair Rove is a perfect example of how Big Media and politicians in elected office – regardless of party – feed off each other. No one individual is at fault here. It’s a corrupt system nurtured in part by systemic weaknesses in the media business, weaknesses that can be disguised by reciting supposedly absolute rules about sources, or information or how we do our jobs. The only absolute in this business is that there are no absolutes.
Here’s an example of what’s true: In spinning Time writer Matt Cooper, Karl Rove was doing his job, he was dissing a critic of the administration going to a rival publication – Time magazine – to throw a little dirt on the New York Times editorial board. Cooper had to have born this in mind when he sent a memo to his editors saying that Rove had spoken to him on “double secret” background. That’s ridiculous — Cooper was putting Rove’s name in the memo for anyone to see and read. But Cooper, too, was doing his job: Telling his boss what the White House thought of former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s New York Times op ed piece and “warning” them about that editorial. Was Rove being sleazy? Yes. How about Cooper? Well, he was showing off, that’s pretty clear. But both men were doing their jobs, playing their roles; that of powerful insiders, armed with information unavailable to the outside world. To some extent, they’re still at it.

And yes, I am leaving New York Times reporter Judy Miller out of all this. Judy Miller appears to be the only person who isn’t interested in playing games about who told her when – which is what you’re supposed to do, by the way, not stick source’s names and comments in memos – is in lock-up.
She shouldn’t be in jail. But she should – her newspaper should — have written a story like this one, detailing how the White House wasn’t holding back in attempting to discredit its critics, including its own Central Intelligence Agency. Howard Fineman took a risk in writing that story but it appears to have been a calculated one: It ran only on the web, not in the magazine, reducing the chances that Fineman or his publication, Newsweek, would be bounced from Rove’s calling circle. It’s a risk few covering politics can afford to take; it would be a step down from that powerful and treasured insider status.
The only person who might be properly charged with a crime is the columnist Bob Novak who deliberately and knowingly identified Plame as an undercover CIA agent in one of his columns. But Novak, who is both mean and smart, appears to have cut some kind of an immunity deal with federal prosecutors who are looking into this mess. So he’s sitting pretty, free to play his role in this little drama: That of informed insider and friend of the administration’s.
Rove will keep talking to Novak. Novak will keep writing columns. And even though Jay Rosen has suggested that Novak get the cold shoulder from his fellow reporters, it won’t happen. Pat Buchanan – anti-Semite, bully and former presidential candidate – gets treated with respect on and off the air. Things aren’t going to be any different for Novak. Or Rove. Or politics in general. It’s sad, really. But it’s the way things are in the tiny insular village of Big Media and Serious Politics. It’s fun to visit but you wouldn’t’ really want to live there, would you?