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NYT Punk’d—Twice in One Day

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The dog days of the news season are just about to arrive, but the editors at the nation’s newspaper of record already seem to have gone on vacation. This morning’s issue leads with Michael Gordon breathlessly recounting a real scoop: a sensitive memo by a senior military advisor to the Baghdad command who advocates an immediate pull-out of U.S. forces from Iraq. Just one problem—which the Times later had to adjust their account to reflect—the memo was nothing more than the private thoughts of a blogger, Col. Timothy R. Reese, which had already been posted to the rightwing TownHall website, where he is a regular contributor. Although it was pulled from the TownHall site, it was reposted at several other sites, including the invaluable Washington Independent. Reese’s analysis is pretty interesting; it reflects far more serious thought than his recent tirade against healthcare reform, for instance. I agree that the memo is worth a mention and some discussion. What I don’t understand is the editorial judgment underlying making a rightwing blog post the lead news story of the day. Perhaps this should be balanced by giving tomorrow’s lead to a post at the Daily Kos…

Turning the page we find the Times punk’d yet a second time, in the more conventional way. Karl Rove, violating his agreement with the House Judiciary Committee (which I discussed here), gave “exclusive” interviews to the Times and the Washington Post, in a determined effort to spin the bad news about his role in the firing of the U.S. attorneys and his unseen hand in the work of the Justice Department generally. The Post’s piece, by Carrie Johnson, shows an appropriate level of balance and skepticism about Rove’s self-serving and highly misleading claims. Not so the Times. Indeed, the headline tells the whole story: “Rove Says His Role in Prosecutor Firings Was Small.” The problem, of course, is that the evidence the Judiciary Committee has collected, and the investigation by special prosecutor Nora Dannehy, show precisely the opposite. They put Karl Rove squarely in the center of the effort to remove the U.S. attorneys fired in the December 7, 2006 massacre, and they show that the firings were motivated by improper partisan political considerations. Rove was positioned as the enforcer of Republican Party discipline—ensuring that U.S. attorneys implement the party’s electoral program, including voter intimidation and suppression, or be forced to walk the plank.

I furnish some insights into the twin investigations and where they’re headed in “Will She or Won’t She?,”(sub. req’d) a piece appearing tomorrow in the August American Lawyer. Bottom line: the special prosecutor is studying possible indictments, recognizes that she is in essentially uncharted territory, and is still some distance short of a final decision to seek them. Alberto Gonzales, Karl Rove, and New Mexico politicians Pete Domenici and Heather Wilson are names that figure prominently in the probe.

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