21 July 2005

Rove-Gate and the Scrambling Media

The case surrounding Karl Rove and the CIA leak has all the appearances of a storm in a tea cup. When word first started to trickle into the news media that the secret source of Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper and New York Times reporter Judith Miller was none other than White House Advisor Karl Rove, the feeding frenzy soon began.

What was most disheartening about the whole affair was that it was (and is) all so predictable. Leftist media outlets, the New York Times leading the way, accused Karl Rove of breaking the law and called for his resignation. Conservative commentators defended Mr. Rove merely on principle without going into the case at all.

The New York Times had it right when they wrote, “[T]his isn’t just about Mr. Rove” (July 15). And yet, would that the New York Times had been able to show the same kind of wisdom as professed by the National Review, which declared openly that the jury is still out on the question whether Karl Rove broke the law (July 14). Instead, the Times complained that the whole affair was about Bush and his broken policies.

But then again, they are right: this isn’t just about Mr. Rove. It’s also about Judith Miller and the Times’s thirst for revenge. Because when Judith Miller was sentenced to a stint in prison for contempt of court, her employer immediately turned around and went for the jugular. According to the New York Times, it was Mr. Rove’s evil genius who plotted the whole affair. Mr. Rove leaked to Ms. Miller something to leak for which she could then be forced into an awkward position.

Now they want Rove’s job. Paul Krugman, never short of venom, avowed that Karl Rove is a criminal and belongs in jail. In an editorial on July 13, the newspaper put out a complicated argument in which they tried to reconcile the irreconcileable. The first is that Judith Miller, their jailed reporter, did the right thing to protect her source’s identity (presumably Karl Rove). The second that Karl Rove did not have the right to leak this kind of things to the press because, well, no reason really, except that they can’t stand Karl Rove having any rights, because, well, he’s a conservative toad, and, well, you get the picture.

But Mr. Rove has not broken any laws and morally he also seems to be in the clear. All the accusations that claimed he had somehow engineered the affair as part of a political plot seem now, with the hindsight of a few weeks, to have been dreamed up at the New York Times headquarters, with many of the major news media jumping on the bandwagon. “Didn’t the president promise to fire leakers?” they all asked, implying that the president was breaking his word by not axing Rove. In fact, the president remained resolved to display a close relationship with Rove. The special prosecutor who is investigating the CIA leak also announced explicitly that Karl Rove is not being investigated. Thus, even the cautious statements by conservative news outlets such as the National Review are unnecessary because, I repeat: Rove is not being investigated.

Let us not pretend that Karl Rove is not a slippery guy. As an advisor to the president, he has not exactly succeeded in making Bush seem wise. A host of policies, especially in the war on Iraq, policies that conservative Christians could not in their right minds subscribe to, are frequently being endorsed by the president. Rove ought to have given better advice. But that is hardly a cause for dismissal. But one can hope.

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