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Fall 2005

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Making History…Rove-style
Elizabeth Ross

"Would you trade your words for freedom?
That's a barter for a blind man…"
—"Three Hits" by The Indigo Girls

That question and answer is a paraphrase of Judith Miller's reply to a Federal subpoena demanding she reveal sources relating to the exposure of CIA agent Valerie Plame, and cause of her incarceration. It is a bitter pill to swallow for members of the press - especially for those of us who consider Miller's history of playing mouthpiece for the Bush administration reprehensible.

Former Washington insider and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ed Yoder told me, "The jailing of Judith Miller of The New York Times is a disgrace. Even if she had written about the Plame matter it would be a disgrace. But she didn't… I myself do not like the now promiscuous and excessive use of unnamed sources in news stories, especially in Washington, but the assurance of anonymity is evidently an essential reportorial tool and on balance it is more important to uncover mischief and corruption in government than it is to identify every source."

High-ranking Washington officials speaking out of school to the press is nothing new, and over the past thirty years have sometimes been the bread and butter of beltway journalists. Ironically, perhaps the best known of these, "Deep Throat", came forward this summer and identified himself as Mark Felt, former FBI official. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein precipitated the resignation of former President Richard Nixon with their reports on the Watergate scandal, and honorably kept their promises of anonymity until Felt came forward on his own.

The Valerie Plame case is a look through the keyhole into Karl Rove's Wonderland, and in spite of most the media's contention that it is purely a Freedom of the Press issue, it is actually as deep as Carroll's rabbit hole. Rove has a long history as a puppet master in GOP politics, his wake littered with destroyed careers, as demonstrated by the documentary, "Bush's Brain." Although there is a chance that Miller's true motives in keeping silent about her sources may never be publicized, it is fair to hypothesize that it may very well have been a last ditch effort to preserve some semblance of professionalism - preserve her own career. As the special prosecutor's sights moved to Miller, she could have realized she was about to become Rove's next sacrificial lamb. Not far-fetched, considering Rove's role in the dismissal of two Texas Department of Agriculture employees (and the imprisonment of one) as detailed in the aforementioned documentary.

With the First Amendment, the framers sought to ensure the people's ability to be a part of the governmental system of checks and balances. I am not a Constitutional scholar, but if one does not fall prey to pedagogue-style over analysis of the text, the common sense conclusion is that free speech and press was meant to allow the people a greater voice in their governance. Miller's refusal to comply with the Federal subpoena can be construed as an end game move from a cliff's edge - the abyss below the career graveyard of Rove's previous victims. Although admirable on a simplistic level, it is an indicator of the folly of the press becoming pawns of the government.

Yoder explains about the historical and present-day use of the Courts against the press, "The use of jail as a sanction to enlist journalists as tattle-tales and spies for prosecutors because they lack the ingenuity to make their own cases is a perennial issue. It arose in the unmemorable Nixon years under John Mitchell and it continues to be an unsavory and dishonorable practice. It is in effect a confession by our instruments of investigation and law enforcement that they cannot do what they conceive to be their duty without coercing the press. Moreover, it is bizarre that Robert Novak, who precipitated this special investigation by identifying Ms. Plame as a CIA undercover agent - and that, perhaps, as an intermediary for Bush administration sources who wanted to discredit the truth-telling of her husband - should be accorded immunity to the threat of jail while reporters who played no role in her exposure are threatened or jailed."

The Plame case is anything but a simple issue of protecting anonymous sources providing evidence of governmental graft. Unlike Watergate - the revealing of dirty political actions by official(s) who developed a conscience, the Plame case was the inverse - the act of leaking information was the unconscionable act. Rove, acting on behalf of his candidate as he always has, revealed Plame's role in the CIA, and there is little doubt about the motive - discrediting her husband Joseph Wilson who refuted the Bush administration's contention that Iraq was seeking nuclear components for weapons of mass destruction.

As the waltz moves on, the national media (rightfully so?) is being moderately cautious about drawing conclusions on Rove. The rhetoric occasionally becomes heated, but is tempered by what can only be considered fear. (What would stop Rove from making an example of other presumptuous journalists who dared to speak too harshly of him?) Although far from scientific, the poll at KarlRoveIsToast.com (http://www.karlroveistoast.com/) indicates that the vast majority of visitors do not believe Rove will ever be fired for his role in the Plame affair (59.07% as of July 22).

In spite of the nature of the situation - revealing the identity of an undercover CIA operative rendering an intelligence resource useless on one side, while screaming for more action on homeland security on the other - there is still hard-line support for the Bush administration and Rove within the RNC. Oddly enough, when I searched for information on Rove at the RNC website (http://www.gop.com/), the search yielded just twenty results - only one isn't dealing directly with covering Rove's flank on the Plame issue. I can only assume that the loyal Republicans out there are following Rove on pure faith, since it seems their own leaders don't see fit to offer them much information on the man who has so much influence on President Bush.

Sitting back watching this judiciary circus whirl by, I can only offer bitter laughter to the historians of the future. If there is justice in this world, my great-grandchildren will read about Rove and this administration in their history books - the chapter title will be something like "The Dark Age of American Politics and Journalism". The term "infamy" in American history may jump a generation, and apply itself firmly to the eight years under President George W. Bush. More eloquently than I could state it, Yoder describes these men perfectly: "…the Bush administration is easily the most mendacious in my experience; truth to them is what is expedient on a given day and no more."