Wednesday, July 20, 2005

What, Exactly, Is Going On Here?

I think the award for most convoluted news event of recent months (and years) goes to the CIA leak investigation. The players are many, the back-handed goings on are several and the implications are quite yet to be seen in full.

I could not possibly bring together all of the news sources on this topic as they multiply like cancer cells. A few of particular use are this exhaustive timeline which helps in understanding how the situation unfolded. Use this as your guide. What I intend to do is comment on a few of the strands of this situation and speculate as to the long-term effects.

First and foremost is Robert Novak. In the most unfair of turns in this case, Novak remains free and wrote the article on July 14, 2003 that leaked Valerie Plame's name and situation. Judith Miller researched but never wrote such an article as an expansion and follow-up to Joseph Wilson's February 2002 New York Times op-ed (the title of which "What I Didn't Find in Africa," tells the whole story). They were both subpoenaed by the same grand jury (as was Matthew Cooper), testified and we all know the results. It seems to me that Novak has more questions to answer and perhaps Patrick Fitzgerald has talked to him on this subject. I think just about all of the participants have more explaining to do.

Second is Karl Rove. Does this mean that his career in Washington and with the Bush Administration could come to an end, thus ending the influence of the "Architect?" I suspect that Rove, who has shown his mettle in the past, will do everything that he can to survive. He also has the legendary loyalty of the president. As I see it, however, Karl Rove could follow one of two paths. He could, after 2008, become like Paul Begala, James Carville and Dick Morris all rolled into one. He could play the role of the GOP kingmaker, being instrumental in building other marginal presidential candidates into electable politicians. Look what he did for George Bush in his campaigns in Texas, not to mention the 2000 and 2004 campaigns for president. He could very well play the "Architect" for years to come and to many Republican hopefuls to come.

On the other side, he could increasingly become a latter-day Spiro Agnew. As was Agnew to the Nixon Administration, Rove could become a real albatross around the Bush Administration's neck. He could, and there are signs that this may be the case, become the Democrat's best friend and a gift that just keeps giving. It seems that, Reublicans and Democrats (they never mention the rest of us), Americans (or at least those who answer news polls) don't think that the White House is participating fully. They also think that Karl Rove should lose his job if he leaked classified information. Read the full story at ABC News.

This naturally has broader implications for journalists, partially discussed in this space a few months back. Journalism as we know it relies in large part on un-named sources and undisclosed chains of information. This is the basis of investigative journalism. It becomes problematic, however, when classified information enters the picture. In one way, these leaks are necessary to show the inner workings of government and media and the connections between the two. This is the stuff of legendary journalism (as Woodward and Bernstein exhibited). On the other side, where does the line need to be between classified information and the public's right to know and the media's right to report? In the Plame case, there may be legal implications with leaking the identity of undercover agents (willingly, at least). I am in favor of full transparency for the government, but I can't shake a nagging suspicion that there is some information that would be dangerous if it were in the public square. I guess that this dynamic is not dead and will develop as times and situations change both in the U.S. and abroad.

Lastly, this particular case has implications for the ongoing and deteriorating situation in Iraq. For this, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek wrote an excellent piece about why this probe matters. He gets at the real importance of this matter: the fact that this information, that sought and not found by Wilson in 2002, helped lead us into war and languishing hostility and conflict in Iraq. This is really a story about how easily marched to war and how difficult it will be to walk away.

It is not about articles, grand juries, revelations and White House intransigence. It is about the lies that a government is willing to erect in front of the people in order to pursue an agenda without basis in fact or reality. The media is the willing accomplice of this deception and will be the first to pick at the bones of those who get caught.

This is the classic illustration of the famous quotation by newspaper tycoon and media prime mover William Randolph Hearst.

"You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the war."

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