More Journamalism! Irony is dead!

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Slate Edition)

Over at Slate, Seth Stevenson writes about Tim Russert's testimony in the Libby trial:

Tim Russert takes the stand: Twelve minutes after calling Russert to the stand, the prosecutor has no more questions for him. Russert's testimony is clean and simple: He never talked about Valerie Plame with Scooter Libby. Ever. And with that, Russert--a compelling, likable witness if there ever was one--may have buried Libby. Libby has said in his testimony, again and again, that Russert mentioned during this call that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and that "all the reporters" knew it. Now Russert is testifying, with obvious conviction, that Libby invented this part of the conversation. The jurors will have to decide who to believe. This is the most pointed he said/he said dispute of the case.

Let's assume for a moment that Libby made up his story. Why on earth would he have done so? Here's the prosecution's theory: Libby really learned about Valerie Plame from Vice President Dick Cheney (and other government sources). And he then passed Cheney's information on to various reporters (including Matt Cooper of Time and Judy Miller of the New York Times). Libby worried that this leak constituted a crime (revealing the identity of a covert CIA agent), and that both he and Cheney might face criminal charges for it. So, when the FBI questioned him about it, he said he was simply passing on a tidbit that he'd learned from Tim Russert. If it came from Russert, and not Cheney, there would be no problem. (Fitzgerald describes this as Libby switching the story from "an official to a non-official source.")

Why did Libby think he could concoct a fake conversation with Russert, yet never have Russert contradict him? Because Libby assumed that Russert, as a member of the press, would protect Libby as a source. And in fact Russert did try to get out of testifying--fighting his subpoena on the grounds that testifying would have a "chilling effect" on his ability to get sources to talk to him. Unfortunately for Scooter, Russert lost this battle. And now he's here in court, calling Libby a liar...

And then Stevenson plays what I can only regard as a game of journamalistic three-card monte:

But now let's imagine Libby's telling the truth--that he did talk about Plame with Russert, and that Russert is just misremembering their phone call. Can you imagine how nightmarish today must be for Libby, if this is the case? He's watching Russert throw him under the bus as the result of nothing more than a faulty memory. Russert is stubbornly standing by his hazy recollection of one three-year-old phone call. And Scooter might go to jail over it.

I'm not a journalist. If I were a journalist, I would at this point act differently than Stevenson. I would at this point remind my readers that the case is not about one single he said/he said dispute to which there were no witnesses. It's not about whether Fitzgerald can show beyond a reasonable doubt that Russert accurately remembers this phone call and Libby is lying. According to the indictment, Fitzgerald's case is that Libby has told a story different from all of:

  1. An Under Secretary of State
  2. A senior officer of the Central Intelligence Agency
  3. The Vice President of the United States
  4. Libby's own notes of his meeting with the Vice President.
  5. A briefer from the Central Intelligence Agency.
  6. Libby's then-principal deputy.
  7. Judith Miller.
  8. Tim Russert.
  9. The White House Press Secretary.
  10. The Counsel to the Vice President.
  11. The Assistant to the Vice President for Public Affairs.
  12. "White House Officlal A".
  13. Matthew Cooper.

As I said, I would feel honor bound to remind my readers of this if I were a journalist.

But I'm not a journalist.

Stevenson doesn't remind us. He leaves us with the image of Scotter Libby living a nightmare--"watching Russert throw him under the bus as the result of nothing more than a faulty memory... his hazy recollection of one three-year-old phone call."