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Ex-Cheney Aide Details Media Tactics

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://apnews.myway.com/article/20070128/D8MU169G0.html Ex-Cheney Aide Details Media Tactics Jan 27, 10:05 PM (ET) By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN WASHINGTON (AP) - A
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      http://apnews.myway.com/article/20070128/D8MU169G0.html

      Ex-Cheney Aide Details Media Tactics

      Jan 27, 10:05 PM (ET)

      By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN

      WASHINGTON (AP) - A smorgasbord of Washington insider
      details has emerged during the perjury trial of the
      vice president's former chief of staff.

      For example, when Dick Cheney really needed friends in
      the news media, his staff was short of phone numbers.

      No one served up spicier morsels than Cheney's former
      top press assistant. Cathie Martin described the craft
      of media manipulation - under oath and in blunter
      terms than politicians like to hear in public.

      The uses of leaks and exclusives. When to let one's
      name be used and when to hide in anonymity. Which news
      medium was seen as more susceptible to control and
      what timing was most propitious. All candidly
      described. Even the rating of certain journalists as
      friends to favor and critics to shun - a faint echo of
      the enemies list drawn up in Richard Nixon's White
      House more than 30 years ago.

      The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby owes its very
      existence to a news leak, the public disclosure four
      summers ago of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity.

      A private brainstorm of Plame's in 2002 brought a rain
      of public attacks on Cheney the following year. Cheney
      was accused of suppressing intelligence and allowing
      President Bush to present false information about
      weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

      Plame's husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, started
      the attack. Her unit at the CIA had sent him to Niger
      in 2002 to check a report Iraq was buying uranium for
      nuclear weapons. Cheney and the departments of State
      and Defense wanted to verify that.

      Wilson thought he had debunked the report, but Bush
      mentioned it anyway in his State of the Union address
      in 2003. The story helped justify war with Iraq.

      Wilson claimed Cheney's questions prompted his trip
      and Cheney should have received his report long before
      Bush spoke.

      Wilson's charges first surfaced, attributed to an
      unnamed ex-ambassador, in Nicholas Kristof's New York
      Times column. But Martin testified she felt no urgency
      to set him straight because Kristof "attacked us, our
      administration fairly regularly."

      But by July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote his own account in
      the Times and appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

      After that much exposure, Cheney, Libby and Martin
      spent the next week trying get out word that Cheney
      did not know Wilson, did not ask for the mission to
      Niger, never got Wilson's report and only learned
      about the trip from news stories in 2003.

      Cheney personally dictated these points to Martin. She
      e-mailed them to the White House press secretary for
      relay to reporters.

      When the story did not die, Martin found herself in a
      bind because Cheney's office was known for disclosing
      so little.

      "Often the press stopped calling our office," Martin
      testified. "At this point, they weren't calling me
      asking me for comment."

      So she had to call National Security Council and CIA
      press officers to learn which reporters were still
      working on stories.

      Once Martin got names, Cheney ordered his right-hand
      man, Libby, rather than lowly press officers, to call
      - a signal of the topic's importance.

      Top levels of the Bush administration decided that CIA
      Director George Tenet would issue a statement taking
      the blame for allowing Bush to mention the Niger
      story. Cheney and Libby worried Tenet would not go far
      enough to distance the vice president from the affair.

      Libby asked Martin to map a media strategy in case
      Tenet fell short.

      A Harvard law school graduate, Martin had succeeded
      legendary Republican operative Mary Matalin as
      Cheney's political and public affairs assistant.
      Matalin had brought Martin to Cheney's office as her
      deputy and trained her.

      Martin offered these options in order:

      _Put Cheney on "Meet the Press."

      _Leak an exclusive version to a selected reporter or
      the weekly news magazines.

      _Have national security adviser Condoleezza Rice or
      Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld hold a news
      conference.

      _Persuade a third party or columnist to write an
      opinion piece that would appear in newspapers on the
      page opposite the editorials.

      Not only did Tenet leave unanswered questions about
      Cheney, his remarks came out late on a Friday, the
      government's favorite moment to deliver bad news.

      Why?

      "Fewer people pay attention to it later on Friday,"
      Martin testified. "And in our view, fewer people are
      paying attention on Saturday, when it's reported."

      As Martin rated their options, putting Cheney on "Meet
      the Press," NBC's Sunday morning talk show, "is our
      best format." Cheney was their best person for the
      show and "we control the message a little bit more,"
      according to Martin.

      The downside was that Cheney could "get pulled into
      the weeds and specifics. We like to keep him at a
      pretty high level," she said. Also, it "looks
      defensive to rush him out on 'Meet the Press.'"

      Next they could give an exclusive or leak to one
      reporter and she considered David Sanger of The New
      York Times, Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, or
      Time or Newsweek.

      Because reporters are competitive, "if you give it to
      one reporter, they're more likely to write the story,"
      Martin testified.

      Plus an official can demand anonymity in return for
      the favor. "You can give it to them as a senior
      administration official," she said. "You don't have to
      say this is coming directly from the White House."

      The news weeklies offered a focus on the big picture
      and opinion-editorial writers and columnists could
      voice opinions.

      Ultimately, Cheney crafted an on-the-record statement
      to be attributed to Libby by name along with some
      anonymous background information. Libby personally
      called Matt Cooper of Time, who had e-mailed questions
      to Martin earlier.

      But when Libby suggested calling Newsweek in fairness,
      Cheney's aides were at a loss.

      "We were scrambling for a number for a reporter that
      we know there named Evan Thomas," Martin testified.
      "We were looking around for a number. I didn't have it
      with me." Eventually, they found a number and left a
      message.

      But Cooper did not use the full quote and Martin
      called to complain. "I put Scooter on the phone with
      him, which we didn't do very often on the record with
      a quote," she testified, "and he took just a piece of
      it." The result "wasn't helpful" and the story did not
      fade away.

      So the following week, two senior Bush aides -
      communications director Dan Bartlett and Rice's
      deputy, Steve Hadley - briefed White House reporters.
      Cheney invited a group of conservative columnists to
      lunch at his residence.

      ---

      On the Net:

      Documents for the Libby trial may be found at:
      http://wid.ap.org/documents/libbytrial/index.html
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