By Lex, Posted on March 7, 2007
Everything you need to know about the fall of a once-great newspaper – tangibly reflected in its declining market share and stock cap – can be found in the difference between the way that the editorial pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post dealt with the Scooter Libby trial result.
The Post – still holding firmly to a tether to reality – continues a welcome trend of soberly reflecting upon consequences, lamenting the fall from grace of a once-respected public figure while emphasizing the importance of the rule of law:
Particularly for a senior government official, lying under oath is a serious offense. Mr. Libby’s conviction should send a message to this and future administrations about the dangers of attempting to block official investigations.
But the Post went further, looking at the underlying “crime” that generated this investigation, trial and verdict, and admitting that the whole thing rested on a partisan tissue of lies:
Mr. Wilson was embraced by many because he was early in publicly charging that the Bush administration had “twisted,” if not invented, facts in making the case for war against Iraq. In conversations with journalists or in a July 6, 2003, op-ed, he claimed to have debunked evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had been dispatched by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that his report had circulated at the highest levels of the administration.
A bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all of these claims were false — and that Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife. When this fact, along with Ms. Plame’s name, was disclosed in a column by Robert D. Novak, Mr. Wilson advanced yet another sensational charge: that his wife was a covert CIA operative and that senior White House officials had orchestrated the leak of her name to destroy her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson.
The Times, on the other hand, continues to breathe the noxious fumes of its own hopes and fears. Having quicky dispensed with what the jury did say, the paper fantasizes about what they wish it might have said:
(Libby) appears to have been trying to cover up a smear campaign that was orchestrated by his boss against the first person to unmask one of the many untruths that President Bush used to justify invading Iraq…
In July 2003, Mr. Wilson wrote in an Op-Ed article in The Times that what he had found did not support (the SOTU “16 words”) claim. The specter of a nuclear-armed Iraq was central to Mr. Bush’s case for rushing to war. So, the trial testimony showed, Mr. Cheney orchestrated an assault on Mr. Wilson’s credibility with the help of Mr. Libby and others. They whispered to journalists that Mr. Wilson’s wife worked at the C.I.A. and that nepotism was the reason he had been chosen for the trip.
What tortured sense of logic allows the editorial page editors to color Wilson’s serial mendacity as the actions of a brave whistleblower, while labeling the adminstration’s effort to rebut his fraud as a “smear” campaign? As the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation proved (pdf), Wilson lied at every step. The administration “assaulted” his credibility because he had none, and it was because his wife worked at CIA that he was chosen for the trip. How can a newspaper – of all institutions – fault the administration for telling the truth? Especially in an Op-Ed that at least ostensibly focuses on the importance of honesty?
All of these are inconvenient facts which makes the Time’s further histrionics even more absurd – the fact that Guantanamo detainees have not been charged with crimes or afforded counsel is again brought up, but not the fact that enemy prisoners of war do not have to be charged with crimes to be detained – they never have been. Equally revealing is the paper’s dark rumination that what “we still do not know is whether a government official used Ms. Wilson’s name despite knowing that she worked undercover.”
You’d think perhaps that a lack of charges after a thorough two year investigation by a determined Special Prosecutor might at least clue the paper into the possibility that “we still do not know” because no such crime was committed. But no: It would be better to spend the rest of our twilight years trying to prove a negative than for the paper to admit that they had been the willing and eager dupes of a partisan charlatan. The Times would rather continue to be wrong rather – and continue to propagate falsehoods – than admit to having been wrong.
This is truly a foolish form of consistency.