Thursday, September 07, 2006

Broderius Ignoramus

I once read every column by David Broder that I could get my hands on, believing his work to be the pinnacle of fairness and objectivity in journalism.

Boy, was I dumb (as illustrated by this Washington Post column that appeared in the Bucks County Courier Times today).

Conspiracy theories flourish in politics, and most of them have no more basis than spring training hopes for the Chicago Cubs.
This is the immediate nod from “the august Beltway journalist” to “the heartland of America,” trying to trivialize political chicanery to the same level as a spectator sport. I realize that they both have a few things in common, but as you will see, Broder is completely uninterested in the fact that a covert CIA operative was outed for political gain, possibly endangering her life and certainly compromising her cover, as well as possibly those of other agents.

Whenever things turn dicey for Republicans, they complain about the "liberal media" sabotaging them. And when Democrats get in a jam, they take up Hillary Clinton's warnings about a "vast right-wing conspiracy."
Perhaps, but consider this; the result of the media mergers involving G.E., Time Warner and other corporate entities in the ‘90s did not result in increased subscriptions to the Village Voice, The Nation or Mother Jones Magazine. What resulted was consolidation and proliferation of media entities dedicated exclusively to promulgating the conservative right-wing message primarily across the south and the west, pushing out the voice of any media which dared to confront or contradict it (you can argue about how inherently receptive the audience was to those messages, I’ll admit).

For much of the past five years, dark suspicions have been voiced about the Bush White House undermining its critics, and Karl Rove has been fingered as the chief culprit in this supposed plot to suppress the opposition.
“Supposed” plot? Consider this from Joe Conason...

“…less than four months after Bush's Sept. 20 address to the joint session of Congress (after the 9/11 attacks), he (Rove) was scheming to win the midterm elections by transforming the ‘war on terror’ into a war on Democrats.

"We can go to the country on this issue, because they trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and thereby protecting America," he said. Provocative as those remarks were, they were mild compared with the kind of slanders that ensued against (former Senate majority leader Tom) Daschle -- who was paired with Saddam and bin Laden -- and many other Democratic candidates.
Back to Broder...

Now at least one count in that indictment has been substantially weakened -- the charge that Rove masterminded a conspiracy to discredit Iraq intelligence critic Joseph Wilson by "outing" his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame.
At this time, Broder is right because no indictment against Rove has been handed down (despite all of the Jason Leopold/truthout/other posts that have emerged, which may or may not be vindicated eventually).

I have written almost nothing about the Wilson-Plame case, because it seemed overblown to me from the start.
That’s an absolutely staggering admission from someone who is supposedly the dean of Beltway journalists. Broder just chucked any trace or hint of objectivity right out the window.

Wilson's claim in a New York Times op-ed about his memo on the supposed Iraqi purchase of uranium yellowcake from Niger; the Robert D. Novak column naming Plame as the person who had recommended Wilson to check up on the reported sale; the call for a special prosecutor and the lengthy interrogation that led to the jailing of Judith Miller of the New York Times and the deposition of several other reporters; and, finally, the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff -- all of this struck me as being a tempest in a teapot.
Broder should have stopped writing this column right now and instead focused on a topic he supposedly knows something about (the Chicago Cubs maybe?). In my first responding paragraph, I reiterated why this matter is important.

No one behaved well in the whole mess -- not Wilson, not Libby, not special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and not the reporters involved.
He considers this “a tempest in a teapot,” and has written “almost nothing” about it…but he believes he knows enough about it to state that “no one behaved well in the whole mess”?

The only time I commented on the case was to caution reporters who offered bold First Amendment defenses for keeping their sources' names secret that they had better examine the motivations of the people leaking the information to be sure they deserve protection.
I would accept Broder’s patronizing pose here as some journalistic sage if it weren’t for this item (however imperfect he is as a messenger, though, I admit his message is correct).

But caution has been notably lacking in some of the press treatment of this subject -- especially when it comes to Karl Rove. And it behooves us in the media to examine that behavior, not just sweep it under the rug.
Speaking of “examining behavior” Mr. Broder, are you going to respond to the question posed by Media Matters for America here?

Sidney Blumenthal, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and now a columnist for several publications, has just published a book titled, "How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime." It is a collection of his columns for Salon, including one originally published on July 14, 2005, titled "Rove's War."

It was occasioned by the disclosure of a memo from Time magazine's Matt Cooper, saying that Rove had confirmed to him the identity of Valerie Plame. To Blumenthal, that was proof that this "was political payback against Wilson by a White House that wanted to shift the public focus from the Iraq War to Wilson's motives."
I duuno…sounds pretty obvious to me that Blumenthal would be right.

Then Blumenthal went off on a rant: "While the White House stonewalls, Rove has license to run his own damage control operation. His surrogates argue that if Rove did anything, it wasn't a crime. . . . Rove is fighting his war as though it will be settled in a court of Washington pundits. Brandishing his formidable political weapons, he seeks to demonstrate his prowess once again. His corps of agents raises a din in which their voices drown out individual dissidents. His frantic massing of forces dominates the capital by winning the communications battle. Indeed, Rove may succeed momentarily in quelling the storm. But the stillness may be illusory. Before the prosecutor, Rove's arsenal is useless."

In fact, the prosecutor concluded that there was no crime; hence, no indictment. And we now know that the original "leak," in casual conversations with reporters Novak and Bob Woodward, came not from the conspiracy theorists' target in the White House but from the deputy secretary of state at the time, Richard Armitage, an esteemed member of the Washington establishment and no pal of Rove or President Bush.
Broder “takes the bait” and falls hook, line and sinker on this one.

Armitage is nothing but a scapegoat here – I’m not a legal genius under any stretch of the imagination, but even I can see that. What is the relationship between Armitage and Libby then? How did Libby find out about Plame unless it was either through Cheney or Rove? Does Broder seriously think that anything happens in this administration without Cheney or (especially) Rove’s knowledge (but with the knowledge of Richard Armitage)?

Let me put it this way; how could Armitage know something like this while Rove or Cheney didn’t? And if by some improbability that’s true, then what does that say about this administration’s treatment of classified information?

Better yet, I should wonder why some obscure blogger like yours truly is asking these questions instead of The Dean Of Beltway Journalism.

Blumenthal's example is far from unique. Newsweek, in a July 25, 2005, cover story on Rove, after dutifully noting that Rove's lawyer said the prosecutor had told him that Rove was not a target of the investigation, added: "But this isn't just about the Facts, it's about what Rove's foes regard as a higher Truth: That he is a one-man epicenter of a narrative of Evil."
That’s legitimate reporting of an editorial opinion by people (like me) who oppose Rove, and it is correctly labeled as such. What is Broder’s problem with it?

And in the American Prospect's cover story for August 2005, Joe Conason wrote that Rove "is a powerful bully. Fear of retribution has stifled those who might have revealed his secrets. He has enjoyed the impunity of a malefactor who could always claim, however implausibly, deniability -- until now."

These and other publications owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts.

So you want facts, Broder? Here you go (the following appeared in the Atlantic Monthly article...a long excerpt, but important).

Some of Rove's darker tactics cut even closer to the bone. One constant throughout his career is the prevalence of whisper campaigns against opponents. The 2000 primary campaign, for example, featured a widely disseminated rumor that John McCain, tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, had betrayed his country under interrogation and been rendered mentally unfit for office. More often a Rove campaign questions an opponent's sexual orientation. Bush's 1994 race against Ann Richards featured a rumor that she was a lesbian, along with a rare instance of such a tactic's making it into the public record—when a regional chairman of the Bush campaign allowed himself, perhaps inadvertently, to be quoted criticizing Richards for "appointing avowed homosexual activists" to state jobs.

Another example of Rove's methods involves a former ally of Rove's from Texas, John Weaver, who, coincidentally, managed McCain's bid in 2000. Many Republican operatives in Texas tell the story of another close race of sorts: a competition in the 1980s to become the dominant Republican consultant in Texas. In 1986 Weaver and Rove both worked on Bill Clements's successful campaign for governor, after which Weaver was named executive director of the state Republican Party. Both were emerging as leading consultants, but Weaver's star seemed to be rising faster. The details vary slightly according to which insider tells the story, but the main point is always the same: after Weaver went into business for himself and lured away one of Rove's top employees, Rove spread a rumor that Weaver had made a pass at a young man at a state Republican function. Weaver won't reply to the smear, but those close to him told me of their outrage at the nearly two-decades-old lie. Weaver was first made unwelcome in some Texas Republican circles, and eventually, following McCain's 2000 campaign, he left the Republican Party altogether. He has continued an active and successful career as a political consultant—in Texas and Alabama, among other states—and is currently working for McCain as a Democrat.

But no other example of Rove's extreme tactics that I encountered quite compares to what occurred during another 1994 judicial campaign in Alabama. In that year Harold See first ran for the supreme court, becoming the rare Rove client to lose a close race. His opponent, Mark Kennedy, an incumbent Democratic justice and, as George Wallace's son-in-law, a member in good standing of Alabama's first family of politics, was no stranger to hardball politics. "The Wallace family history and what they all went through, that's pretty rough politics," says Joe Perkins, who managed Kennedy's campaign. "But it was a whole new dimension with Rove."

This August, I had lunch with Kennedy near his office in Montgomery. I had hoped to discuss how it was that he had beaten one of the savviest political strategists in modern history, and I expected to hear more of the raucous campaign tales that are a staple of Alabama politics. Neither Kennedy nor our meeting was anything like what I had anticipated. A small man, impeccably dressed and well-mannered, Kennedy appeared to derive little satisfaction from having beaten Rove. In fact, he seemed shaken, even ten years later. He quietly explained how Rove's arrival had poisoned the judicial climate by putting politics above matters of law and justice—"collateral damage," he called it, from the win-at-all-costs attitude that now prevails in judicial races.

He talked about the viciousness of the "slash-and-burn" campaign, and how Rove appealed to the worst elements of human nature. "People vote in Alabama for two reasons," Kennedy told me. "Anger and fear. It's a state that votes against somebody rather than for them. Rove understood how to put his finger right on the trigger point." Kennedy seemed most bothered by the personal nature of the attacks, which, in addition to the usual anti-trial-lawyer litany, had included charges that he was mingling campaign funds with those of a nonprofit children's foundation he was involved with. In the end he eked out a victory by less than one percentage point.

Kennedy leaned forward and said, "After the race my wife, Peggy, was at the supermarket checkout line. She picked up a copy of Reader's Digest and nearly collapsed on her watermelon. She called me and said, 'Sit down. You're not going to believe this.'" Her husband was featured in an article on "America's worst judges." Kennedy attributed this to Rove's attacks.

When his term on the court ended, he chose not to run for re-election. I later learned another reason why. Kennedy had spent years on the bench as a juvenile and family-court judge, during which time he had developed a strong interest in aiding abused children. In the early 1980s he had helped to start the Children's Trust Fund of Alabama, and he later established the Corporate Foundation for Children, a private, nonprofit organization. At the time of the race he had just served a term as president of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect. One of Rove's signature tactics is to attack an opponent on the very front that seems unassailable. Kennedy was no exception.

Some of Kennedy's campaign commercials touted his volunteer work, including one that showed him holding hands with children. "We were trying to counter the positives from that ad," a former Rove staffer told me, explaining that some within the See camp initiated a whisper campaign that Kennedy was a pedophile. "It was our standard practice to use the University of Alabama Law School to disseminate whisper-campaign information," the staffer went on. "That was a major device we used for the transmission of this stuff. The students at the law school are from all over the state, and that's one of the ways that Karl got the information out—he knew the law students would take it back to their home towns and it would get out." This would create the impression that the lie was in fact common knowledge across the state. "What Rove does," says Joe Perkins, "is try to make something so bad for a family that the candidate will not subject the family to the hardship. Mark is not your typical Alabama macho, beer-drinkin', tobacco-chewin', pickup-drivin' kind of guy. He is a small, well-groomed, well-educated family man, and what they tried to do was make him look like a homosexual pedophile. That was really, really hard to take."
Oh, and here’s something else to consider about Broder (again, courtesy of Media Matters for America…these people are truly doing God’s work). It’s funny to read Broder chastising other reporters, telling them to “stick to the facts” when he decides to speculate on the status of the marriage between Bill and Hillary Clinton, believing it is “fair game.”

I don’t know if Broder has any kind of an agenda at this point or not. I don’t know if he is morally or ethically compromised or suffering from senility or any other health impairment at this point.

I do know, however, that based on this column and others like it, it’s time for him to retire.

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