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The Washington Post weeps for Scooter Libby

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  • Robert Sterling
    Please send as far and wide as possible. Thanks, Robert Sterling Editor, The Konformist http://www.konformist.com http://mediamatters.org/columns/200706260003
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 1, 2007
      Please send as far and wide as possible.

      Thanks,
      Robert Sterling
      Editor, The Konformist
      http://www.konformist.com

      http://mediamatters.org/columns/200706260003

      The Washington Post weeps for Scooter Libby
      Eric Boehlert
      Tuesday June 26, 2007

      Summary:

      If it weren't for the soothing tones of The Washington Post's
      opinion pages, I'm not sure how I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby would
      sustain himself in his hour of need. The paper's editorialists have
      been instrumental in bucking Libby up, reassuring him time and again
      that his conviction in connection with the Valerie Plame CIA leak
      investigation was a wild miscarriage of justice and the result of an
      out-of-control prosecutor.

      Post columnist Richard Cohen became the latest to rush to Libby's
      wounded side, calming the convicted felon, insisting he had been hit
      by a "runaway train," engineered by special counsel Patrick
      Fitzgerald.

      As Libby and his bevy of attorneys now scramble to avoid a go-to-
      jail date for perjury, obstructing justice, and lying to federal
      investigators, it's clear Libby, an architect of the Iraq war, has
      achieved martyrdom status on the Post's editorial and opinion pages.
      (And yes, both Cohen and the Post editorial page backed the war with
      Iraq.)

      Indeed, with his column, Cohen simply joined the Post's long-running
      Libby procession, attacking the investigation, demanding a halt to
      Libby's persecution, and confidently predicting his complete
      acquittal.

      Note the choice words and phrases used by Post columnists, editorial
      writers, and contributors to describe Fitzgerald's pursuit of Libby:

      "train wreck"

      "silliness"

      "A game"

      "overblown"

      "Tempest in a teapot"

      "sideshow"

      "an injustice"

      "remarkable for its lack of substance"

      "a huge, dangerous waste of time"

      "nuts"

      "bankrupt"

      "farce"

      "excessive"

      " should not have been conducted in the first place"

      "an injustice"

      "misguided"

      "Fitzgerald's Folly"

      I'm nervous Post opinion writers are this close to organizing noisy
      sidewalk protests on Libby's behalf.

      Meanwhile, searching through the Nexis news database going back more
      than 40 months, I cannot find a single outside contributor who was
      invited by the newspaper to write a piece that included sustained
      criticism of Libby during the scandal. Since the Plame story broke
      big in September 2003, the Post has likely published more than 1,000
      guest columns on all sorts of topics. None, however, was built
      around criticizing Libby or cheering Fitzgerald's investigation. Not
      one.

      By contrast, the newspaper has employed something of an open-door
      policy for outside contributors who want to use the paper's opinion
      pages to belittle the Fitzgerald investigation, wallow in pity for
      Libby, and purposefully misstate the facts of the case. (More on
      that later.)

      Not that the Post is alone. Conservative opinion outlets have been
      wailing about the unjust fate Libby has suffered, how unprincipled
      Fitzgerald is, and how the Republican-appointed federal judge,
      Reggie Walton, botched the case. Some have even compared Libby, who
      assiduously avoided military service himself, with being a "fallen
      comrade," whom President George Bush cannot leave behind on the
      battlefield. (For some reason, Libby's sob mob won't attack the
      citizen jurists who, after hearing the evidence for weeks, promptly
      found Libby guilty. Also unmentioned is the fact that nearly 70
      percent of Americans don't think Libby should receive a presidential
      pardon. That nugget gets in the way of the rogue prosecutor talking
      points.)

      But why? Why has the Post gone all-in on a loser of a case like
      Libby's? Why the waving of the arms, the name-calling, and the
      almost comical rhetoric in defense of a relatively straightforward
      white-collar crime? I think the uproar is more cultural than
      political (or even legal). It's a class thing. The Washington
      Establishment, which the Post has dutifully represented for
      generations, identifies with Libby -- empathizes with him -- and is
      aghast at the idea that he might have to serve jail time for merely
      practicing the "dark art of politics," as Cohen described it.

      As Glenn Greenwald noted at Salon last week:

      The real injustice is that prison is simply not the place for the
      most powerful and entrenched members of the Beltway royal court, no
      matter how many crimes they commit. There is a grave indignity to
      watching our brave Republican elite be dragged before such lowly
      venues as a criminal court and be threatened with prison, as though
      they are common criminals or something. How disruptive and
      disrespectful and demeaning it all is.

      Yet what's absolutely essential to note here is that during the
      previous Democratic administration, the same Washington
      Establishment, led by the apoplectic Post, turned on President
      Clinton when he was caught practicing his own version of the "dark
      art of politics" (i.e. lying about his sex life).

      At the time, the Post's society reporter Sally Quinn famously (and
      sympathetically) documented how Beltway insiders resented, in
      starkly personal terms, Clinton's rogue behavior. "He came in here
      and he trashed the place, and it's not his place," Post columnist
      David Broder told Quinn. The article stressed it was the lying that
      most offended the Establishment members.

      To date, I have not read an extended exegesis in the Post about how
      the D.C. Establishment players -- pundits, diplomats, attorneys, and
      lobbyists -- feel betrayed by the multitude of lies Bush told prior
      to invading Iraq. In fact, it's been just the opposite, with the
      Post ferociously defending Libby, despite his conviction for
      repeatedly telling war-related lies.

      The hypocrisy -- the glaring double standard -- simply highlights
      the intellectual bankruptcy at play. And perhaps nowhere has that
      factual impoverishment been more apparent than in the opinion pages
      of the Post. (Sadly, the behavior on the opinion pages has
      overshadowed some of the insightful work the Post's news team has
      produced while covering the Plame story.)

      For instance, back on April 9, 2006, the editorial page aggressively
      defended Bush's decision in 2003 to declassify parts of the National
      Intelligence Estimate in order to explain to reporters why the
      administration believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass
      destruction (WMD) prior to the war. It was Libby who was given the
      task of then huddling with a friendly reporter (paging Judith
      Miller) to spin the administration's explanation for war. The Post
      editorial, under the headline, "A Good Leak," assured
      readers, "There was nothing illegal or even particularly unusual
      about that."

      Not true. According to a Fitzgerald court filing, Libby himself told
      investigators that he could not recall a single other instance
      during his entire career in public service "when he disclosed a
      document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue
      of the President's authorization that it be declassified."

      In a June 10 Post column, David S. Broder claimed that Libby was
      charged for "denying to the FBI and the grand jury that he had
      discussed the Wilson case with reporters."

      Not true. Libby admitted in his FBI interviews and in grand jury
      testimony that he had discussed the Wilson case with reporters.

      Post columnist and knee-jerk White House defender Charles
      Krauthammer this year wrote that Bush should have pardoned
      Libby "long before this egregious case came to trial." A
      presidential pardon granted before a verdict is returned? Now that's
      creative -- pardons are not supposed to be considered until five
      years after the date of conviction. But Krauthammer's ignorance of
      federal pardon guidelines simply represented the level of legal
      debate taking place on the pages of the Post regarding the Libby
      case.

      The Post's hacktacular Victoria Toensing

      I mean, just look at what Victoria Toensing has been writing. A
      hyper-Republican partisan who served as a deputy assistant attorney
      general in the Reagan administration and who overstayed her green
      room welcome during the 1990s as she relentlessly campaigned, via
      cable news channels, to run President Clinton out of office for
      lying about his sex life, Toensing became the Post's go-to Libby
      expert. Not once but twice the Post turned to Toensing as a legal
      expert, oblivious to the fact that she simply created her own sets
      of Libby trial facts.

      For instance, Toensing's February 18 essay this year about the Libby
      case should never have been published by a serious newspaper. The
      piece was painfully unserious -- hacktacular, really. From the very
      opening, Toensing deliberately misstated the facts, which was the
      only way the subsequent 2,200 words could have even stayed afloat.

      Her angle was that since Libby was on trial for his role in the
      Plame scandal, then lots of other players should be as well: "If we
      accept Fitzgerald's low threshold for bringing a criminal case, then
      why stop at Libby?" For instance, Toensing wanted
      Fitzgerald "indicted" for granting former White House spokesman Ari
      Fleischer immunity. She wanted the media "indicted" for hypocrisy.
      She wanted the CIA "indicted" for allegedly writing up
      a "boilerplate" referral to the Justice Department for the initial
      Plame leak investigation.

      Indict the media for hypocrisy? Keep in mind that the Post published
      Toensing's under the auspice that she was a legal expert.

      When readers complained about the purposefully misleading essay that
      was dressed up as legal brief, Post editors harrumphed. Deborah
      Howell, the newspaper's ombudsman, asked associate editor Robert
      Kaiser about the piece. His condescending contempt for readers was
      hard to miss:

      After 43 years at The Post, I know that many of our readers want us
      to do our jobs with the solemnity of monks and the propriety of
      Supreme Court justices, but I've never gotten the knack of either. I
      think good journalism should be provocative and fun.

      Worse, Howell announced that Kaiser considered Toensing's piece to
      be a "huge success" because of "the many comments to [the ombudsman]
      that it provoked," as well as all the reader comments posted on the
      newspaper's website. That's right, a senior Post editor cheered that
      Toensing's piece was a "huge success" because lots of people wrote
      letters to the ombudsman and posted comments online. The fact that
      most of the correspondence filled up 40 pages of online comments
      detailing the falsehoods in Toensing's essay was of little interest
      to the Post hierarchy.

      Toensing's foolery simply matched the standard she had set for
      herself in 2005 when she co-wrote an earlier Post op-ed, which of
      course attacked the Libby prosecution. Toensing's brash claim then
      was that no crime had been committed by outing the CIA agent
      because, at the time, Plame did not meet the strict specifications
      of being classified as an undercover agent when her name was first
      published in Robert Novak's syndicated column in July 2003. And
      Toensing should have know because she helped write the legislation
      that defined who was a covert agent was. The key specification for
      being considered covert, according to Toensing, was that "she must
      have been assigned to duty outside the United States currently or in
      the past five years."

      So, had Plame been assigned to duty outside the United States five
      years prior to being outed? The truth is Toensing had no idea.

      Well, now we do know. In a May court filing, Fitzgerald confirmed
      that at the time of the first White House leak in the summer of
      2003, Plame "was a covert CIA employee for whom the CIA was taking
      affirmative measures to conceal her intelligence relationship to the
      United States." To this day, the Post editorial page has not
      acknowledged that central point, despite the fact it published
      several columns claiming, incorrectly, that Plame was not
      undercover.

      Toensing actually earned bonus points for egregious flip-flopping.
      Remember, in January 2005 Toensing told Post readers no crime had
      been committed in the leak case because Plame was not "undercover."
      But in a January 2, 2004, Post news article, Toensing was quoted as
      saying no crime had been committed in the leak case because
      despite "the fact that she was undercover," her administration
      leakers might have not known it, which technically meant it was not
      against the law. [Emphasis added.] It seems obvious that opinion
      editors at the paper were oblivious to Toensing's bold flip-flop.
      Then again, the factual standards on the paper's opinion page seem
      rather low lately. The Post recently published a column by
      conservative Andrew Ferguson that mocked Al Gore's new book, Assault
      on Reason, because it does not have footnotes. In fact, the book
      contains 20 pages of endnotes.

      Meanwhile, let's not forget the work of Post favorite Bruce Sanford,
      the Washington, D.C., attorney who was also tapped twice by opinion
      page editors to illuminate readers about the Libby case. Or, mislead
      readers, as the case may be. First, it was Sanford who teamed up
      with Toensing in 2005 to push the theory that Plame was not a covert
      agent, which meant the leak of her identity was not a crime. Sanford
      and Toensing were flat wrong there.

      Post editors invited him back in 2006 to pontificate some more about
      the Libby case. On June 20, 2006, Sanford wrote, unequivocally, that
      Libby would be acquitted of all charges against him: "The futility
      will be evident in the acquittal next year of Vice President
      Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, on charges of
      perjury and obstruction of justice."

      It got worse when Sanford detailed how it would be unfeasible for
      Fitzgerald to win a guilty verdict on charges of perjury:

      It will be virtually impossible for the government to prove
      otherwise -- beyond a reasonable doubt -- when such a plausible
      defense exists and no conclusive evidence has emerged showing that
      his recollections of his contacts with journalists were
      intentionally false.

      Oops.

      Then during the trial, the Post invited conservative Byron York of
      the conservative National Review to write a piece -- echoing GOP
      talking points -- about how utterly confused he was that the trial
      wasn't actually about Plame's covert status. Of course, Fitzgerald
      had, more than a year before, patiently explained that the case was
      a straightforward prosecution of perjury and obstruction of justice.
      But York pretended to still be thoroughly baffled, and Post
      editorial editors were only too happy to print the misinformation.

      And then there's Novak, whose syndicated column still appears in the
      Post. Newsweek confirmed that before Novak printed his infamous
      Plame column, he sent an advanced copy to longtime GOP lobbyist and
      Beltway insider Richard Hohlt, who then faxed it over to Karl
      Rove, "thereby giving the White House a heads up on the bombshell to
      come." A tip-off like that -- collusion, really -- would normally be
      a firing offense for most big-time newspaper columnists, or at least
      grounds for dropping that columnist's syndicated work. Yet the Post
      has taken no action against Novak.

      When it comes to the Plame case, the Post, like Libby, remains in
      denial.
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