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JOHN ROBERTS WAS BORN IN A SMALL TOWN! The Bush Admin started framing their man—and some scribes hurried to help them: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JULY 20, 2005

JOHN ROBERTS WAS BORN IN A SMALL TOWN: After the inane speculation, we move ahead to the character studies. In today’s Post, Jeffrey Smith nails down the inner John Roberts:
SMITH (7/20/05): Roberts then excelled at Harvard Law School, becoming managing editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review, where he was known as something of a straight arrow. David W. Leebron, who is the president of Rice University and was the editor of the review at the time, recalls that after working late they would often stop for ice cream. Roberts always chose the same flavor: chocolate chip. "I'm the type of person who wants to try other things, but he makes his choices and gets comfortable with them," Leebron said.
Huh! Of course, that’s the Post’s bowderlized, on-line edition. In our hard-copy edition, Smith was a bit more frank; the flavor was “vanilla chocolate chip.”

Over at the Times, meanwhile, Elisabeth Bumiller is safely on-message concerning the nominee’s humble, red origins. In paragraph 4, she gets out the word—John Roberts was raised in a small town:

BUMILLER (7/20/05): The president and Judge Roberts spoke in the sitting room of the White House residence for an hour on Thursday, Mr. Bartlett said, and the president asked him a number of personal questions about his upbringing in small-town Indiana. Mr. Bartlett would not say if the two talked about Judge Roberts's positions on abortion and other divisive issues before the court.
In the Post, though, Smith spills some extra beans about John Roberts’ small town:
SMITH: Roberts was born in Buffalo and grew up in Long Beach, Ind., an affluent beachside town on Lake Michigan. The son of a Bethlehem Steel executive, he graduated first in his high school class and in 1973 went to Harvard University...
Not that’s there’s anything wrong with it—although the statement about that beachside affluence is gone in the Post’s on-line edition. By the way—according to the Times’ Neil Lewis, Roberts’ high school was “the La Lumiere School, a small, nominally Catholic boys' boarding school in La Porte, Ind.”

Silly silly silly silly! In our modern discourse, framing is all—and some helpful scribes will hammer the frame. In the Times, though, Lewis tattles. Lewis rats out the whole process:

LEWIS (7/20/05): John Glover Roberts was born in Buffalo and grew up in Indiana, the son of an executive for the Bethlehem Steel Company and a homemaker. When Mr. Bush presented Judge Roberts in the Cross Hall on Tuesday night, he made special mention of the judge's having worked summers in steel mills, an apparent effort to give him some working-class cachet.
That “apparent effort” paid off nicely in paragraph 4 of Bumiller’s piece. But here’s our question: Would an authentic small-town prole attend a high school whose name was in French? And further: Is there any chance that Roberts’ ice cream of choice was actually French vanilla?

EASY-TO-SCRIPT: On Monday evening and morning respectively, Gwen Ifill and Jon Meacham stunk out the joint in their handling of the Rove leak case (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/19/05). But Campbell Brown was awful too, guest hosting on Monday night’s Hardball. How easy-to-script are Washington’s scribes? At one point in the program, Brown asked Wilson lawyer Christopher Wolf if Wilson has “a credibility problem.” (No, he does not, Wolf replied.) But when Brown rattled off her three examples, they all came straight from the RNC list—and she didn’t seem especially ready to back up her accusations. She started at the top of the RNC list. Here was her full presentation:

BROWN (7/18/05): But there are—there are other questions here, because he suggested that he was sent on this mission by the vice president`s office.

WOLF: No, he never did. He never did. And that`s one of the—

BROWN: He said he thought he may have been—

WOLF: No.

BROWN: He wasn`t unclear on it.

WOLF: No.

BROWN: Hey, look, come on! I talked to him. I interviewed him right after his book came out.

WOLF: I understand, but if you read his book—if you read his book and if you read—

At this point, Brown simply moved ahead to her second accusation. But when exactly had Wilson “suggested” that he was “sent on this mission by the VP`s office?” Brown offered the vaguest possible support for her claim, then moved ahead to claim 2.

How inept did the Hardball host get? Here was her third accusation:

BROWN: Also, at the time that he wrote his op-ed, he was advising Senator Kerry and the Kerry campaign, correct?

WOLF: I don`t believe that`s right. At—the time he wrote his op-ed was 2003. In 2004, he became involved in the campaign.

BROWN: And that`s when he became a partisan, based on the reaction to his op-ed and what he viewed as a smear campaign?

WOLF: He became a partisan—he`s spoken for himself on this, but as I understand it, he became—he became a partisan because he believed the American people had been lied to about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, and he disagreed with going to war in Iraq.

Was Wilson “advising Kerry and the Kerry campaign” in July 2003? We’re fairly sure that that’s inaccurate—but it has become a standard RNC claim, and Brown repeated it Monday night, although she offered no support for the notion. By the way, in his inexcusable Imus performance, Meacham flatly asserted this as a fact, citing as his source a Newsweek article which only says that Rove “had heard” that Wilson “was friendly” with Kerry at the time of the op-ed column. No, the article doesn’t establish that this was actually true (or that Rove had actually heard it. But so what? Meacham recited the claim as a fact, and Brown made it her third accusation, although she didn’t show any sign of being able to establish the claim.

Brown was pathetic in this part of her interview. In fact, Wilson has made plenty of misstatements along the way, to the extent that it’s relevant to the leak probe. But Brown worked straight from the RNC book, and she seemed to have no idea whether her claims were true or false. Brown is young and attractive, and she has a nice manner. And good Lord! Is she easy to script!

WHEN PUNDITS OVERSTATE: Yesterday, Atrios praised Michael Hiltzik for his thoughts on anonymous sourcing. For ourselves, we don’t have firm views on that subject, although we’d guess that Hiltzik was raising good points. But we were struck by the paragraph in Hiltzik’s piece which came immediately before the passage Atrios quoted. (WARNING: If you want to hear the world described only one way, you must stop reading now.) Here’s the paragraph which caught our eye. We highlight three tangy words:

HILTZIK (7/19/05): Matt Cooper wrote over the weekend that one reason he made his fateful call to Rove was to learn why the administration (i.e., Rove) was smearing Wilson. Under the cover of anonymity, Rove then proceeded to smear Wilson. What did Cooper gain from this conversation that warranted bestowing the journalist’s most precious gift, the promise of confidentiality? (He certainly didn’t get an answer to his question.) Sure, if not for “double super secret backround” Rove would not have taken the call. With all we know now, we can ask, So what? Rove used the gift to point Cooper down a road that led, inevitably, to a lie.
Hiltzik being a sensible type, we were struck by those three tangy words—tangy words we then checked out.

First, did Cooper really say that? Did he say he called Rove in 2003 to learn why Rove was “smearing” Wilson? No, that isn’t what Cooper said. Here’s his actual language:

COOPER (7/25/05): The grand jurors wanted to know what was on my mind, and I told them. The White House had done something it hardly ever does: it admitted a mistake. Shortly after Wilson's piece appeared, the White House said that the African uranium claim, while probably still true, should not have been in the President's State of the Union address because it hadn't been proved well enough. That was big news as the media flocked to find out who had vetted the President's speech. But at the same time, I was interested in an ancillary question about why government officials, publicly and privately, seemed to be disparaging Wilson. It struck me, as I told the grand jury, as odd and unnecessary, especially after their saying the President's address should not have included the 16-word claim about Saddam and African uranium.
In fact, Cooper said he wanted to know why Rove types were (seemed to be) “disparaging” Wilson. He didn’t say a “smear” was involved. The grand jurors heard what was on Coop’s mind—but Hiltzik’s readers weren’t so lucky. Cooper didn’t use the tangy word “smear.” So Hiltzik spun his language up for him.

Then Hiltzik used the word himself. During the phone call, Rove “proceeded to smear Wilson,” he said—without explaining what the “smear” was. Later, he said that Cooper’s conversation with Rove “led, inevitably, to a lie.” But what was the “smear”—and what was the “lie?” Here’s the passage from Cooper’s original (July 2003) report that derived from his chat with King Karl:

COOPER (7/18/03): [S]ome government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore, sometimes referred to as yellow cake, which is used to build nuclear devices.
Where is the “lie” to which Hiltzik refers? Cooper attributes two claims to those government officials—and each claim seems to be accurate. In fact, Wilson’s wife was “a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.” And she was “involved in her husband's being dispatched to Niger,” although there is a still a minor (essentially pointless) dispute about the degree of her involvement. If we’re reading his paragraph correctly, Hiltzik said that Cooper’s conversation with Rove “led, inevitably, to a lie.” But this part of Cooper’s piece seems to be accurate. So what exactly was the “smear?” And what was the “lie?”

“What did Cooper gain from this conversation?” Hiltzik asks. We hate to play the killjoy here, but it seems he eventually gained some accurate information. (Those “government officials” may have committed a crime when they provided it.) For the record, the same thing can’t necessarily be said of Cooper’s contemporaneous conversation with Wilson. Cooper reported that in his next paragraph:

COOPER (continuing directly): In an interview with TIME, Wilson, who served as an ambassador to Gabon and as a senior American diplomat in Baghdad under the current president's father, angrily said that his wife had nothing to do with his trip to Africa. "That is bulls__t. That is absolutely not the case," Wilson told TIME. "I met with between six and eight analysts and operators from CIA and elsewhere [before the Feb 2002 trip]. None of the people in that meeting did I know, and they took the decision to send me. This is a smear job."
At the time, Wilson was at a disadvantage, since he presumably didn’t want to discuss his wife’s status at the CIA. (Elsewhere, he simply said that he wouldn’t discuss it.) But it just wasn’t true when he said that his wife “had nothing to do with his trip to Africa.” Plame didn’t play a gigantic or inappropriate role, but, in fact, she was involved. In his quoted statement, Wilson was describing a 2/19/02 meeting—and Plame briefly appeared at the session, introducing Wilson to the “eight analysts and operators” who ended up sending him to Niger. (According to the Senate Intelligence report, Plame told committee staff “that she only attended the meeting to introduce her husband and left after about three minutes.”) According to the committee report, she had played a slightly larger role a week earlier, summarizing Wilson’s experience and Nigerien contacts in a memorandum. We don’t see anything wrong with this, and Wilson was qualified for this assignment. But the paragraph which derived from Rove seemed to issue in accurate statements. The paragraph which derived from Wilson ended up, perhaps understandably, with an apparent misstatement. Yet Hiltzik says that the Rove conversation led to a “lie” and that Rove was “smearing” Wilson. In saying that, Hiltzik, of course, was echoing what Wilson had said.

Readers will say that Rove shouldn’t have discussed this matter at all. Indeed, Patrick Fitzgerald may end up agreeing; he may end up charging Rove with a crime for discussing Plame’s employment. But that isn’t what Hiltzik said as he used those three tangy words. He put the word “smear” into Cooper’s mouth, although that isn’t what Cooper said; then he said Rove was “smearing” Wilson, and seemed to say the conversation ended up in a “lie.” Later, he also said this:

HILTZIK: Washington confidentiality in the modern era is all about maintaining access, even if that access yields scarcely anything worth publishing. If you have a confidential chat with Karl Rove, and he leads you down the garden path, do you end up with anything worthwhile other than DC cocktail party chatter about your last conversation with Karl Rove? And should we be appalled and surprised that Rove used the occasion to mislead? To paraphrase George Orwell, you can’t blame Rove for taking such an opportunity to further his own interests, any more than you can blame a skunk for stinking.
According to Hiltzik, Rove “used the occasion to mislead.” But how exactly was Cooper “misled?” He ended up writing things that were accurate.

Hiltzik put a word in Cooper’s mouth—a tangy word Cooper hadn’t used. He then used a few tangy words of his own—words he never quite explained. Our question: What exactly does it mean when a scribe seems to spin up his language this way? It makes us feel that we’re being played—a feeling many readers enjoy.