The Washington Post weeps for Scooter Libby
- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
The Washington Post weeps for Scooter Libby
Tuesday June 26, 2007
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
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
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
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
Note the choice words and phrases used by Post columnists, editorial
writers, and contributors to describe Fitzgerald's pursuit of Libby:
"Tempest in a teapot"
"remarkable for its lack of substance"
"a huge, dangerous waste of time"
" should not have been conducted in the first place"
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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