Nasty Letters To Crooked Politicians

As we enter a new era of politics, we hope to see that Obama has the courage to fight the policies that Progressives hate. Will he have the fortitude to turn the economic future of America to help the working man? Or will he turn out to be just a pawn of big money, as he seems to be right now.

Monday, December 06, 2004

AlterNet: Little Big Man

MediaCulture: Little Big Man

By Amy Sullivan, Washington Monthly. Posted December 6, 2004.

Conservative columnist and pundit Bob Novak's privileged position would count for nothing if his peers and colleagues held him accountable for his ethical lapses.
Robert Novak was in high dudgeon. He and his colleagues on CNN's "The Capital Gang" were squabbling over whether CBS should have run a story on President George W. Bush's National Guard service, a story which relied on documents whose authenticity had come into question. Novak – the show's resident curmudgeon, outfitted with a three-piece suit and permanently arched eyebrow – delivered his verdict. "I'd like CBS, at this point, to say where they got those documents from," he growled. "I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS."

Resident liberal Al Hunt jumped in to clarify. "Robert Novak," he asked, "you're saying CBS should reveal its source?" When Novak replied that he was, Hunt pressed him further. "You think reporters ought to reveal sources?" In a flash, Novak realized he had made a mistake; he began to backtrack. "No, no, wait a minute," he said. "I'm just saying in that case." So in some cases, Hunt continued, reporters should reveal their sources – but not in all cases? "That's right," said Novak.

What Novak's fellow panelists on "The Capital Gang" knew that day, but most of the show's viewers probably didn't, was that much of Washington has spent the better part of a year waiting for Novak to reveal a source of his own. During the summer of 2003, someone in the Bush White House decided to extract a pound of flesh from former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a critic of the administration's rationale for the Iraq war, by revealing to members of the press that Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA agent. And though the leak was peddled to several journalists, only one was willing to actually print it: Robert Novak.

By exposing the name of Wilson's wife – Valerie Plame – Novak not only put an end to her undercover work on weapons of mass destruction issues, possibly putting at risk the lives of any foreign sources who may have cooperated with her. He also may have abetted a federal crime: It's a felony for a government official to knowingly disclose the name of any undercover agency operative, an act serious enough that the Bush administration eventually agreed to name an independent prosecutor (the only one appointed during Bush's first term) to find out who was responsible. That prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, has since subpoenaed other journalists who received the leaked information. Two of them – Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine – ran the information only after Novak first publicized Plame's name; both refused to disclose their sources, were held in contempt of court, and face prison time if their appeals don't succeed.

And what about Novak? That's hard to say, because while Miller and Cooper (who is also a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly) have publicly disclosed the essence of their interactions with Fitzgerald, Novak has remained mum. The columnist has made hundreds of appearances on television since he printed Plame's name, but Al Hunt's tweak on "The Capital Gang" was the closest any of Novak's colleagues have ever come to asking him about the case on the air. Even Hunt's challenge was more of a reportorial reflex than anything else. He told me recently that he has "conspicuously avoided the topic" because Novak is "a close friend ... it's uncomfortable."

This exquisite sensitivity is shared by much of Washington. For about as long as Novak has been a first-string Washington pundit and raconteur, after all, he's been dealing in factual mistakes, ethical slips and personal attacks that would have done in a less well-positioned journalist. Today, he thrives thanks largely to his prominence, his independence, and the clubby support of a media elite whose standards he openly mocks. Novak has created for himself a Cayman Islands like, ethics-free zone where the normal rules simply don't apply.



Post a Comment

<< Home