Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Journalistic Curiosities

Writing in OpinionJournal's Political Diary, a daily e-mail service not available on the net, John Fund perceptively notes:
It's a safe bet that the kind of story that Washington journalists cover least well is one in which they play a starring role. That helps explain why the reporting in the Valerie Plame scandal has been so myopic and limited ... What's more, the audience is left with the suspicion that many journalists "reporting" on the scandal know more of the truth than they're telling their readers and viewers. .... Isn't it about time that the Beltway media turn ever so slightly away from their obsession with Karl Rove and ask a few questions about journalists involved in the Plame story who are not named Robert Novak?
I completely agree. Such questions should be asked, and with a very healthy and heavy dose of skepticism directed at such Nonvaks. Currently, the audience is not left just with the suspicion that many journalists "reporting" on the scandal know more of the truth than they're telling their readers and viewers. The audience, if it is paying attention, is left with the impression that many of those same reporters are employing seriously misleading language and playing cute rhetorical games, starting with TIME magazine's Matt Cooper (see here and here and here, for example). New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller has been laughably elliptical and disingenuous in discussing his reporter, Judith Miller. And what is known about the Plame affair suggests strongly that Washington reporters routinely grossly exaggerate the extent of their nameless leaks. A single "I've heard that, too," seems to effortlessly become "Senior White House sources noted ..."

And there's worse. Remember Howard Fineman's central role in the Plame matter? I can hardly remember myself. But as I noted not so long ago, a 2003 Web article by Howard Fineman purported to provide some backstory for the Plame affair explain why the White House might have considered it particularly significant that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA:

I am told by what I regard as a very reliable source inside the White House that aides there did, in fact, try to peddle the identity of Joe Wilson's wife to several reporters. But the motive wasn't revenge or intimidation so much as a desire to explain why, in their view, Wilson wasn't a neutral investigator, but, a member of the CIA's leave-Saddam-in-place team.
Have we heard much of Mr. Fineman's "inside story" or his theory or of him in the Plame matter recently? How about his book deal - since he has the "inside scoop?" How about the White House "aides"(note the plural)? Has Mr. Fineman disgorged his infomation to the special prosecutors or is he now sharing a cell with Judith Miller for refusing to do so with Newsweek's support? Answer: None of the above. All of which strongly suggests that Mr. Fineman knew and knows nothing special.

[UPDATE: More possible disingenuousness from the Nonvaks is noted by Kausfiles (channelling Maguire):
[Tim] Russert may have gone beyond simply remaining silent and actually misdirected the public, allowing NBC to suggest, with its Luskinesque denial, that he didn't tell Libby anything about Plame.
More reasons why parsing Mr. Russert's casual offerings (or those of Messrs. Cooper or Fineman) is a waste of time. If one wants to make something of Mr. Russert, place him under the journalistic equivalent of an oath and ask close, precise questions in a context in which he cannot later claim he was "speaking informally" or the like.

Of course, before Bill Clinton ran for president the particular brand of skepticism being practiced here by Kaus/Maguire wasn't even thought necessary. In the years B.C. (Before Clinton) the mainstream media did not broadly consider "misleading by material omission" of a type prohibited in the public securities context by SEC Rule 10-b-5 to be acceptable, clever and even "brilliant" in the national political context. But the mainstream media got very comfortable with accepting and advancing such manipulative devices in its coverage of Mr. Clinton and his people. Now the mainstream media includes some of the major practitioners of the dark art among it's top Washington reporters, editors and columnists! Charming.]

Mr. Fund is right on target. And there is a second-order conclusion that derives from his analysis: Carefully collecting and analyzing the fine structure of what is being reported about the Plame/Rove/Wilson matter is a fool's errand unless one enjoys sniffing red herrings willfully dragged across one's path by journalists involved in the Plame story who are not named Robert Novak (Nonvaks). For example, some quite reasonably ask whether Plame "authorized" her husband's Niger trip or merely "suggested" it - but then go to Nonvak transcripts and articles for answers or evidence. Please. Lots more of that kind of labor is being performed. The laborers should save the time, memory chips and bandwidth. It would be more profitable and productive to sip a margarita by the pool.

Comments: Post a Comment