The Headline Ends With a Question Mark
Wednesday was a good day for the Libby defense. Judy Miller, as the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and the AP’s Matt Apuzzo noted was not an all star witness for the prosecution. I don’t like ploughing a field that’s already been tilled and refer you again to my media bloggers association colleague, Rory O’Connor who has some good thumbnails on the last portion of her testimony (1, 2).
The most amusing witness of the trial was up today, the charming Matt Cooper who with his sloppy notes, shoddy journalism and wry humor brought the old play “Front Page” to life before our eyes. He is the sort of person it would be fun to have dinner with, not the sort of person whose news story should be taken as a bit of serious journalism
Cooper is one of the prosecution’s chief witnesses and surely by now even those who believed in the “Elliott Ness with a law degree” fluff about the prosecutor must be thinking more along the lines of “Get Smart”. In a brutally devastating but gentlemanly low key way the defense destroyed a key prosecution witness. The defense showed through an examination of the internal Time emails and documents that the story that brought Matt Cooper into this, “A War on Wilson?” was something concocted out of thin air.
Cooper’s notes showed he claimed as "confirmation" a minute’s long “off the record conversation”( something never to be considered confirmatory) in response to a question about Wilson’s wife playing a role in this Mission . Libby seems in fact—from Cooper’s own notes (haphazard and mistyped as they are) --to have said very much what he said he did: That he heard that too but didn’t even know if that was true.
“Has the Bush Administration declared war on a former ambassador who conducted a fact-finding mission to probe possible Iraqi interest in African uranium? Perhaps.”
This war as it turns out existed only in in Matt’s mind. Unless you consider efforts to respond to inquiries about Wilson's claims with the truth to be war or to be as Cooper does “dissing” or “disparaging” Wilson. It seems Libby engaged in perfectly appropriate conduct such as noting all the elements of Wilson's claim were false (Something the bi-partisan Senate Select Intelligence Committee confirmed):Wilson was not sent at the “behest of the vice president; he did not refute, but rather supported, the existing intelligence that Iraq was seeking uranium in Niger; his report never made it to the vice president.
But beyond that, we saw how to meet a pressing deadline while on a summer weekend's jaunt at a country club, Matt took a noncommittal off the record response from Libby, pretended Rove’s statement about Plame had been confirmed by Libby and that he had a third confirmation from his colleague Dickerson who still claims that despite what Fleischer testified to the other day, Fleischer did not tell him about Plame but merely said that if he wanted to know who sent Wilson to Africa he should ask the CIA.
Even better, the quote in the article’s account of Libby’s response to Cooper is not in his notes, wasn’t even in his first draft of the story. It was a revision suggested by someone higher up the food chain at the magazine. It clearly fit better into an account which without factual basis claimed there was a “War on Wilson”.
Cooper, in defense of this shoddy journalism (the phrase “watching sausage being made” was muttered in the media room and not by the bloggers) reminded us that “The headline ends in a question mark."