Thursday, October 20, 2005

Genco Olive Oil

I picked up the New York Times at the Raleigh airport on Sunday morning, looking for the Judith Miller postmortem. Alas, it wasn't in the national print edition. I did finally track it down online, but after reading Tina Brown give the highlights and lowlights here (including a juicy quote that the Times didn't use), I may not bother to plow through the official version. Clearly, Judy ain't telling the whole truth (darn those Secret Service logbooks!), and the Times itself hasn't come to grips with the self-inflicted harm that came with letting Miller "run amok."

Judy Miller is no First Amendment martyr, she's a conniver and a dupe. Miller's name is tarnished for all time. Good. The Times's reputation has taken a beating. That's a shame, although their reputation hasn't cut all that much ice with me for quite a while. I still wish they would be the great paper they can be. If Dick Cheney departs in disgrace, well, he's done his damage already and he'll live out his few remaining sclerotic years counting his Halliburton profits. If bringing down Karl Rove will mean the end of Karl Roveism, great, but I'm not certain that genie can be put back in the bottle easily.

Inasmuch as the unfolding of Plamegate has sapped the momentum and vitality of that ongoing disaster we call the Bush Administration--hurray. Personally, though, the emotion I take from it is less satisfaction than dismay at how long it's taken, how much effort it's taken, how much resistance and denial there's been--dismay to be reminded how completely screwed up American national politics are. Official Washington is decadent. That's a funny word to use for such an uptight, near-beer sort of city, but it fits when standards of truth and decency have collapsed the way they have on the banks of the Potomac. It's remarkable how the earnest Rhodes Scholars of the Bill Clinton administration were scorned as outsiders and naifs by the semi-permanent D.C. social gatekeepers, but the Mayberry Machiavellis of the G.W. Bush team were accepted. It isn't obvious to me that it should've worked out that way. The Bush crew had a shrewd understanding of D.C. tribal rites, but they also applied bullying tactics very effectively. There's a Stockholm Syndrome quality to the media's acquiescence.

It's especially dismaying to people (like me) who imagine that being a New York Times reporter would be a fantastic thing to be. Simply covering national politics for America's leading newspaper, and doing it with integrity, doesn't slake some people's ambitions. This Miller creature was using her NYT credential to pursue some other agenda. She was a spy, essentially, or agent provocateur--a shadowy political operator, and the New York Times was her front. Remember, she didn't even write about Valerie Plame, she just stirred the pot in some yet-unknown way--propelled the story forward while keeping her by-line off of it.

Remember Genco Olive Oil Importers? It was the Corleone family business in "The Godfather," the legitimate facade for their real business of extortion, prostitution, etc. The New York Times and who knows who else (all Robert Novak's outlets for sure; Meet the Press, perhaps?) are like Genco in this case, and the real business is ratfucking and state propaganda. Of course, as Gene Lyons commented, even the Mob has more honor than to go after somebody's wife.


This verdict on Judy Miller is indisputable as far as I'm concerned. So it boggles my mind when Beltway mavens like Richard Cohen and Jacob Weisberg defend Miller and the Plamegate conspirators, and chastise special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

These guys are geniuses of self-promotion, in their way: calculatedly provocative, they are card carrying liberals who go against the grain of liberal conventional wisdom, in a way that might seem brave to their readers, but keeps them in the good graces of their sources and the Washington social scene. On the very day when anticipation over Plamegate indictments is at its height, both of them come out with columns saying that Fitzgerald's investigation is bad for liberal principles and he should shut it down. They're going for their "contrarian's merit badge," in James Wolcott's phrase.

Cohen urges Fitzgerald to close up shop and leave town, and leave politics to the Roves and Libbys --you know, the professionals: "Do not bring trivial charges -- nothing about conspiracies, please -- and nothing about official secrets, most of which are known to hairdressers, mistresses and dog walkers all over town." This pisses me off to no end, and it's something that I've written about in this space before: the notion that lots of people in the Washington politico-media establishment knew that Rove and Libby were engaged in reckless character assassination, and none of them deigned to let the other 290 million of us know. Washington hairdressers can be trusted to know what to do with "official secrets" but a federal prosecutor can't, and Joe and Jane Voter aren't even worth mentioning.

Weisberg and Cohen both allude to Ken Starr and the prosecutorial excesses of the Clinton years--which is the worst case of fighting the last war I've ever seen. Where is the proportionality? Clinton was trying to get his dick wet. Bush's minions were trying to fight a baseless, illegitimate war. Weisberg makes a big point that Libby certainly didn't blow Valerie Plame's cover intentionally, merely recklessly. I guess that makes a difference as to what particular statute Scooter will be charged under, but it hardly makes it less despicable.

Weisberg objects that Plamegate was not a mere attempt to hurt Joe Wilson--it was not simple retaliation, eye-for-an-eye. It was to score a point in the DOD v. CIA dispute over Iraqi WMDs: "Bush officials were in the middle of an argument in which they were largely wrong, and which they lost, but in which they thought they were right and were trying to win." Again, whether the harm to Wilson and Plame was Libby/Rove's pure intent or merely a side effect hardly matters. But I would also like to remind Mr. Weisberg of Slate magazine of the difference between a lie and a political position. By June 2003, only a fool or a dreamer could believe in the existence of Iraqi WMDs. Scooter Libby is a snake, but he is no fool nor dreamer. Good ideas don't need to have lies told about them in order to gain support.

Half of what really gripes Cohen, Weisberg, and their ilk is that Patrick Fitzgerald doesn't leak, and that makes their job as journalists harder. They are content with the status quo, where "senior administration officials" like Scooter and Turd Blossom call them up and feed them disinformation. Leaks are the lube in the gears of Washington society and career-making. Who cares that a leaked story will likely be bullshit, and may have barbaric consequences. It was Page One!


Voices of reason--

James Wolcott: If the shit really hits the fan, e.g. Cheney has to resign, "we'll hear the same frets and cries from the pundit shows about the country being torn apart and Americans losing faith in their government. But it isn't the country that will be torn apart by Plamegate any more than the country was torn apart during Watergate (which provided daily thrilling news entertainment value that bound citizens together); it's the Washington establishment that will be torn apart. And it should be torn apart." [Emphasis in the original]

Gene Lyons: Miller is wrong, it was possible to see the WMD intel was bogus -- "Maybe that’s the story Scooter Lewis and the country-club toughs in the White House really feared. What’s more, it was always there to be written, but not by Washington courtier-journalists who pride themselves more on the quality of their dinner party invitations and TV appearances than their professional integrity and skepticism. Do I believe that Miller can’t remember who told her “Valerie Flame’s” name ? A child wouldn’t believe it. The more clever of my two basset hounds would be suspicious. The real shame is that, absent an aggressive prosecutor, none of this would have become known." [Emphasis mine]

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