So often I find myself asking - is it true, or is that a report from David Shuster? In the brutally competitive world of television news David Shuster of NBC has hit upon a winning formula - make stuff up that appeals to his left wing audience. Below I have highlighted five dubious reports, all related to the Plame case and all slanted against Bush and Cheney. In multiple misadventures with Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews Mr. Shuster has
(1) edited away a key qualifier to make it appear that Cheney authorized the Plame leak;
(2) misrepresented the contents of a the publicly-available portion of a National Intelligence Estimate;
(3) walked out of a courtroom with "news" everyone else missed, attributing to the Libby defense announcements made by the prosecution (and later clarified);
(4) aired an "exclusive" originally broken by Raw Story but confirmed by no one else; and
(5) again walked out of a courtroom with "news" everyone else missed, turning a Fitzgerald metaphor into a literal charge.
Here we go:
(1) Qualifiers keeping you from bashing Bush? Drop em!
This is a document released by the court. It's a letter from Patrick Fitzgerald to Scooter Libby's legal team. And it says, "As we discussed during our telephone conversation, Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose information to the press by his superiors."
Here is what Shuster did not report - the document actually said that Libby "was authorized to disclose information about the NIE to the press by his superiors". By dropping the qualifier both Olbermann and Shuster were able to pretend that Libby was going to use the "Cheney authorized it" as a defense of the Plame leak. Here, for example, is Olbermann's intro:
OLBERMANN: ...the questionable disclosure of classified information is at the heart of major new developments tonight in the CIA leak investigation, reports that Scooter Libby is planning to defend himself by saying his boss, the vice president of the United States, encouraged him to leak secrets to reporters.
Jeff and the EmptyWheel, neither of whom have a detectable rightward tilt, noted Shuster's flair for drama at the time.
(2) If what's actually in the NIE contradicts you, ignore it!
Here is Bob Somerby on the reporting about the declassification and leaking of the NIE:
How bad would the factual bungling get? Our analysts nearly fell off their chairs when they heard David Shuster say the following on last evening’s Hardball:
SHUSTER (4/10/06): Based on Libby’s grand jury testimony, much of what Libby told New York Times reporter Judith Miller about the intelligence document was wrong.
In their crucial July 8, 2003 meeting, Libby told her, quote, “one key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was vigorously trying to procure uranium.” But that was not a judgment at all, much less a key judgment, according to CIA officials who wrote the document. And they said the "vigorously trying to pursue" language was not in the document at all.
In other words, it may have been the same selective use of intelligence to justify the war that was used to sell the war. Ignoring the views of several government agencies, while accepting the views of one.
Say what? The claim that Iraq had been “vigorously trying to procure uranium” wasn’t in the NIE at all? Shuster’s statement was amazingly wrong; as we noted in yesterday’s HOWLER, the NIE stated (on page 24) that Iraq had been “vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake; acquiring either would shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons” (click here, then scroll down). Somehow, Shuster had managed to bungle this elementary fact. And omigod! An hour later, MSNBC sports expert Keith Olbermann bungled it too:
OLBERMANN (4/10/06): According to the testimony of the former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, Mr. Libby exaggerated—if not outright lied—about the importance of the Niger connection in the NIE, telling her it was a “key judgment” of the document and that Iraq was, quote, vigorously trying to obtain uranium. In fact, the claim was not a judgment at all, and the NIE contained nothing about Iraq vigorously pursuing uranium.
Good grief! But then, this is the process we warned you about when it began at the end of last week. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/8/06.
Olbermann and Shuster are heroes amongst a subset of left-wing bloggers and viewers. But aren't basic reading skills part of Shuster's job description?
(3) All those lawyers look alike to me...
In this installment Mr. Shuster attributed to the Libby defense team the blockbuster news that Libby had been "warned about the implication of outing Valerie Plame's name" (I'm quoting Olbermann's summary there). As a subsequent transcript and court filing made clear, several different things had blurred together in Shuster's imagination:
(a) Libby's defense team said that Libby had been advised, briefly, to hold off on leaking the NIE;
(b) Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, said that
"In a different conversation that Mr. Libby was present for, a witness did describe to Mr. Libby and another person the damage that can be caused specifically by the outing of Ms. Wilson."
The July 14 Chicago Sun Times column by Mr. Novak is relevant because on the day the article was published, a CIA official was asked in the defendant's presence, by another person in the OVP, whether that CIA official had read that column. (The CIA official has not.) At some time thereafter, as discussed briefly at the March [sic: should be "May"] 5 oral argument, the CIA official discussed in the defendant's presence the dangers posed by disclosure of the CIA affiliation of one of its employees as had occurred in the Novak column.
We can't fault Mr. Shuster for being unaware of the timing of the warning to Libby. But just for laughs, here is how he conflated the other information:
Olbermann:...Scooter Libby's attorney says he was warned about the implication of outing Valerie Plame's name, any idea who warned him or how did this come out in court?
Shuster: It came out from defense attorney's when they're talking about possible evidence that might get introduced to show that Scooter Libby did not intent to leak Valerie Plame's identity.... but it does explain one thing. If this information and if this warning to Scooter Libby came from the CIA or an official representing the CIA. It does explain why the CIA was so infuriated right from the beginning when it was disclosed right from the beginning when it was disclosed that this information got leaked to reporters and why the criminal referral from the CIA to the justice dept. happened so quickly.
Look, I appreciate that live courtooms can get confusing. But why is NBC sending Shuster to cover the live Libby trial if he can't handle it?
(4) Don't leave all the scoops to Raw Story:
Here is Raw Story basking in their vindication:
On Chris Matthews' Hardball Monday evening, just moments ago, MSNBC correspondent David Shuster confirmed what RAW STORY first reported in February: that outed CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson was working on Iran at the time she was outed (Watch the video of Shuster's report here).
Here is Shuster (via FDL):
MSNBC has learned new information about the damage caused by the White House leaks.
Intelligence sources say Valerie Wilson was part of an operation three years ago tracking the proliferation of nuclear weapons material into Iran. And the sources allege that when Mrs. Wilson’s cover was blown, the administration’s ability to track Iran’s nuclear ambitions was damaged as well.
Now, no serious reporter has gotten that story. However, we can find a Pulitzer Prize winner who covers the intel beat - Dana Priest was asked about this in an on-line chat a few days later:
Valley Forge, Pa.: Hi Dana,
Thanks for doing these chats.
Now we are reading that Valerie Plame was involved with tracking nuclear proliferation/capabilities in Iran. Isn't this old news? (I seem to remember reading this same thing quite a while ago in the MSM - I don't generally read blogs)
From what you hear, was Ms. Plame working on Iran, how important was she to the tracking efforts, and how much has her "outing" really set us back?
Dana Priest: It was reported before that she worked on proliferation issues for the CIA. The leap in this new round of information is that her outing significantly impacted our current intel on Iran. I don't buy it. First, no one person who quit clandestine work four years ago is going to make that big of a dent in current knowledge. But also, nothing like this came up at the time of her outing and I believe it would have. Think we need some actual details. At present it just doesn't smell right.
"I don't buy it... it just doesn't smell right". We have a prize winning reporter not noted as a friend of the Administration lined up against David Shuster and Raw Story... you make the call!
(5) Ahh, but "wiped out" must mean "shredded", or what's a metaphor?
Continuing his knack of walking out of a courtroom with a hundred other journalists and coming up with the story everyone else missed, yesterday Shuster reported this:
According to prosecutors, the evidence will show that Scooter Libby destroyed a note from Vice President Cheney about their conversations and about how Vice President Cheney wanted the Wilson matter handled.
Stephen Spruiell of NRO tackled this last night, as did yours truly. For a quick hit, let's cut to James Joyner, who was liveblogging from the courtroom, discussed an earlier Shuster effort which seemed to include some editorial intervention:
David Shuster of MSNBC, who is sitting in the room with me, reports some big breaking news:
Fitzgerald alleged that Libby in September 2003 “wiped out” a Cheney note just before Libby’s first FBI interview when he said he learned about Wilson and his wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, from reporters, not the vice president.
It was not clear if the reference to wiped out was literal or figurative.
I would note for the record that every other person in the media room, including bloggers for the liberal Firedoglake, are convinced it was the latter. Indeed, the idea that Fitzgerald would accuse Libby in his opening statements of destroying evidence, something with which he was never charged or seriously investigated, strains credulity.
Let's add that as of the following morning, I have not seen a major news outlet with this story - John Dickerson, David Corn, Mike Isikoff and Josh Gerstein were all in the courtroom and missed this Shuster exclusive, as did Neil Lewis of the NY Times and Carol Leonnig and Amy Goldstein of the WaPo.
If I were an NBC news editor who cared about the reputation of my organization I would be concerned about Shuster's credibility. But I bet he has an acceptably sized audience.
NOTE: It is Mark Kleiman who extrapolated that Libby "shredded" notes.
UNRELENTING: More a Shuster flop than a folly, but file it under "If wishes were horses...":
"I am convinced that Karl Rove will, in fact, be indicted".