Left hand, meet right hand

Two NYT reporters outline the White House spin control strategy in case Rove and Libby are indicted. A third helps execute that strategy. Ooops!

In Monday’s New York Times, Richard W. Stevenson and David Johnston report:

With a decision expected this week on possible indictments in the C.I.A. leak case, allies of the White House suggested Sunday that they intended to pursue a strategy of attacking any criminal charges as a disagreement over legal technicalities or the product of an overzealous prosecutor.


… allies of the White House have quietly been circulating talking points in recent days among Republicans sympathetic to the administration, seeking to help them make the case that bringing charges like perjury mean the prosecutor does not have a strong case, one Republican with close ties to the White House said Sunday.

In the same edition of the same newspaper, Elisabeth Bumiller reports:

Lawyers involved in the case say that the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, is focusing on whether Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case. Among the charges he is considering, they say, are perjury and obstruction of justice – both peripheral to the issue Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate, which is whether anyone in the administration revealed the identity of a covert intelligence officer, a potential crime.

(Emphasis added.)

Note how perfectly Bumiller echoes, in her own voice, the very set of GOP talking points her colleagues outline: that if White House officials are “only” accused of felonies involving interference with the investigation, that would be “peripheral” and therefore somehow not really serious. (She attributes the idea that the indictments might be for perjury and obstruction to “lawyers in the case,” but the idea that such charges are “peripheral” is presented as fact.)

It’s not impossible to make the case that perjury and obstruction of justice by senior officials is really no big deal, though I think that claim is wrong and wonder how Kay Bailey Hutchinson can make it with a straight face. But that is the view of one set of parties to this dispute: in particular, it is the viewpoint of the perpetrators and their friends, as opposed to those who are trying to bring them to justice. To report it as if it were neutral fact is a journalistic error.

Note that Stevenson and Johnston refer to Bumiller’s story in their account. They don’t explicitly point to her as a the sort of gullible reporter who can be taken in by White House spinmeisters. They don’t need to.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com