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Sunday, January 15, 2006

If It Doesn't Happen With Libby Case, It Will With NSA Spy Stories

JustOneMinute's Tom Maguire notes Jeff Toobin's prediction in The New Yorker that lawyers for former Cheney Chief of Staff Lewis Libby plan to go after every possible opening in the traditional mainstream media's legal armor.

Nothing will be safe from the coming assault, according to Toobin's source near Libby's defense team, including reporters' notes, their previous record on accuracy and credibility, evidence of political bias.

That could also include reporters' performance assessments by editors, email correspondence between editors and editors, and between editors and reporters, regarding how stories were developed and what angles were or were not pursued and to what degree the results were ephasized in the subsequent stories, etc. etc. etc.

Toobin's sources is right, of course, if the Libby defense team receives a free pass to roam around in the nether world of the mainstream media newsroom reporting process. Who knows what embarrassing revelations might come from such a probe?

But Maguire points out that it is far from certain that Libby's lawyers are going to get such a free pass from the court. But even if they get only a limited pass, Libby's lawyers can indeed make things extraordinarily uncomfortable for owners, editors and reporters at The New York Times, as well as by extension those of every other mainstream news media organization. And some very big names could be caught up in a scandal they never dreamed possible.

Maguire suggests three possible such scenarios, including ..... no, you just have to click on over to JustOneMinute to get the rest of the story here. But let me just tantalize you with this: Possible scenario one involves NBC's Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell, plus her husband (Hint: He once warned of "irrational exhuberance" in the market) and Libby's former boss.

The other two scenarios involve Nick Kristoff, columnist for The New York Times, and Walter Pincus, the veteran reporter of The Washington Post. Nobody has parsed Plamegate better than Maguire and you must read this post if you hope to be able to keep score once the Libby trial starts.

My prediction is that Libby's lawyers will get to roam and that whatever territory they don't happen to traverse, other lawyers will once the NSA "domestic" spying stories result in a court case, as will surely happen.

The damage to press independence will be immense and far-reaching and it will all be the result of the inability of the mainstream media 's leadership to separate their hatred of George W. Bush from their constitutional obligation to report all the news, not just the news that fit their ideological preconceptions.


Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project has an excellent roundup of related observations, both his and those of other bloggers, here. Among Kesler's observations is this especially pointed note:

"No one seriously wants to see such a hobbled or hounded media that it is turned harmless to politicians, corruption, or blatant abuse of our freedoms – domestic or from abroad. That is a delicate line, and most of us properly prefer to err on the side of First Amendment leniency.
"However, leniency is not unmitigated license to behave without any restraint. If not self-imposed responsibly, external restraints will be imposed. As the law is an inherently clumsy instrument of restraint, and subject to abuses by advocates who seek to use it as a cudgel, it is preferable that self-policing occur by those more intimately involved with the facts and nuances.
"Simply put, The New York Times, or any other journalistic enterprise, cannot act in utter selective disrespect of the laws while seeking special protections that condone such behaviors, especially when they hypocritically seek the increased use of such blunt instruments upon their perceived foes. If the mainstream media want to behave as a self-appointed political party, it will be treated as such."

I fear that is precisely the point that is least understood by key leaders of the mainstream media.