On Wednesday the normally fine Douglas Jehl of the NY Times went into the tank on the Tim Russert question, which is, did Tim Russert tell Libby Lewis that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and was involved in his selection for the Niger trip. From Mr. Jehl:
But over an 18-month period in 2004 and 2005, Mr. Fitzgerald has succeeded in obtaining testimony from five reporters about their conversations with senior White House officials, gleaning details about discussions over breakfast, on the telephone and in government offices. The reporters included Tim Russert of NBC News, Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus of The Washington Post, Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, and, ultimately, Judith Miller of The New York Times, who testified earlier this month after spending 85 days in jail for refusing a court order that compelled her to answer questions from the grand jury.
The reporters' testimony, focusing on discussions with I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, and Karl Rove, President Bush's top political adviser, appears to have provided Mr. Fitzgerald with a means to corroborate or challenge the accounts provided by the White House officials about the conversations. In the case of Mr. Libby, the journalists' accounts are likely to be central to any case brought by Mr. Fitzgerald, because they have failed to substantiate Mr. Libby's initial assertion that he learned about Ms. Wilson from reporters.
Does Mr. Jehl really not know that there is a lack of clarity about Russert's situation? Perhaps he could come up to speed by reading Atrios, Reddhedd of firedoglake, Eric Boehlert, the Newsguy, or Digby.
Or, if he is a truly intrepid sleuth, perhaps he could refer directly to the NBC news release explaining Tim Russert's cooperation with Fitzgerald's investigation. Folks who are willing to search high and low, or even open their eyes, will find the statement at Arianna Huffington's superb timeline of the Russert saga, and it says this:
As NBC News previously reported, Mr. Russert was not a recipient of the leak, which resulted in the public disclosure of the name and CIA employment of Valerie Plame, the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
During the interview, Mr. Russert was asked limited questions by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about a telephone conversation initiated by Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, in early July of last year. Mr. Russert told the Special Prosecutor that, at the time of that conversation, he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby. Mr. Russert said that he first learned Ms. Plame's name and her role at the CIA when he read a column written by Robert Novak later that month.
We are delighted to be reassured that Mr. Russert did not pass to Mr. Libby news of Ms. Plame's name or job description. But did he say "Wilson's wife is at the CIA"?
Mr. Jehl, your public waits!
Since Mr. Jehl is now in the tank for Russert with Mike Isikoff and Pete Yost and John Solomon of the AP, one wonders - have all of these guys actually failed to read either some blog coverage of Russert's situation, or the original press release?
Or is this a main stream media mutual backscratching scenario - the Times will look past Russert if NBC looks past Miller and Kristof? Fox or CNN could get a great visual today - while everyone else is staking out the White House and the Washington Courthouse, they could put a camera crew outside NBC headquarters and let Russert play the perp walk. But one presumes that Fox and CNN realize that their day could come soon enough.
Thus, a code of mutual professional respect may have led to a media stalemate akin to the old Soviet-US standoff - let's say that the media version of MAD has resulted in Mutual Assured Dummification. (As an aside, the Washington Post and ABC News were quite energetic in tackling RatherGate so we know that MAD can be overcome.)
And we have seen scattered reports that one or two NY Times reporters are disappointed that their paper seemed to spend some time
covering up failing to diligently report on the Judy Miller story. How do these investigative aces feel about covering for Tim?
To be fair, another possibility is that all of these people received off-the-record assurances that go beyond the original NBC press release. Well, what about the public's right to know? Some sourcing for a stronger denial would be appropriate, if that is what is going on.
Meanwhile the Times is doing a disservice to its readers, who may one day be shocked to see Russert called as a defense witness for Libby. Well, the Times readers who have not learned to check the blogs will be shocked, anyway.
And since time seems to be hanging heavy, maybe a few minutes devotion to the Russert angle could lead to some insight.