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The Libby Indictment: Was It a "Coverup of a Coverup?"


A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
By Danny Schechter, Editor, Mediachannel.org

In the community I grew up in, much of the news, especially the bad news, prompted a defensive inward-looking response: "Yes but what does it mean for the Jews?" The indictment of Irving Lewis "Scooter" Libby raised another question for those of us in the media—-- what does it mean for reporters and say about our profession today..

There has been a lot of hand-wringing. "Novel Strategy Pits Journalists Against Source" was how the New York Times framed the issue on page one. "It is all but unheard of for reporters to turn publicly on their sources of for prosecutors to succeed in conscripting members of a profession that prizes its independence," was the argument.

Media writer Dan Kennedy believes that the "indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby could prove to be a dark day for any notion that reporters have a right to protect their confidential sources." In fact, he reports, that if and when the case goes to trial, "Judith, Miller, NBC's Tim Russert and Time magazine's Matthew Cooper will all have to take the stand and testify against their once-confidential source -- a pretty unappetizing prospect."

Yet just as this indictment was akin to accusing Al Capone of income tax invasion instead of the murders he committed, the real issues facing journalists and journalists go deeper. The federal prosecutor not only did NOT find out who leaked name of the CIA's Valerie Plame—-- the reason for his probe in the first place— -- but he did not place the lies told by Libby in the context of the greater lie— -- the conspiracy to wage an illegal war. (And note how all the focus is still on the lies before the war not the crimes committed in Iraq and the way they have been masked.)

That's the crime that demands investigation and prosecution. Libby's lies were a misdemeanor in the face of multiple felonies that are still unpunished. Crimes against the truth are important to prosecute, but so are war crimes against humanity.

COVER-UP FOR A COVERUP

We kept hearing the mantra that the "cover-up" is always worse than the crime, but is it possible that this very investigation which so many hailed for its courage and independence is actually a cover-up itself?

Sheldon Drobny a founder of Air America and someone who "helped prosecute and defend white collar crime offenses for 38 years including experience with Mr. Fitzgerald's office in my home town Chicago," questions the prosecutor's independence and focus.

"Essentially Fitzgerald indicted Libby for preventing his prosecutors from proving the underlying crimes he was investigating by using a baseball metaphor in that Libby "threw sand in the umpires eyes," he writes. "That part is patently absurd….... Those of us who know about prosecutors and Grand Jury investigations would tell you that Fitzgerald, using a baseball metaphor, threw the Bush cabal a "softball." And using a football metaphor, he "fumbled the ball."

Leave aside this one relatively small fry indictment and consider the larger problem in press-government relations. If you have seen the new George Clooney film "Good Night and Good Luck" you will know exactly what I mean.

JOURNALISTS AND THE GOVERMENT

That movie dramatizes the investigation of Senator Joseph McCarthy by Edward R. Murrow. It showed how the CBS journalist helped demolish McCarthy's reputation which led to his later censure by the Senate. The report struck a blow against the rapacious red-baiting Senator and the fear he spread in every part of American life.

At one point, as he prepared his program, some of his colleagues were worried and suggested the program be killed. Murrow said no, pointing out "that the fear is right here in this room." The New York Times of that era applauded CBS' stand.

In many ways, that expose represented TV's finest hour and highest hopes. What Ed Murrow's work showed was that it was possible for TV News to investigate and confront liars in high places. In those years, journalists saw themselves as crusaders, watchdogs and members of a fourth estate. They challenged wrong doers and did not collude with them.

That CBS is long gone. Last week CBS fired its News President in connection with Dan Rather's story exposing President Bush's military record. He was replaced by a sports executive who donated to the Bush-Cheney campaign. After the invasion of Iraq CBS's news coverage was hailed as best for network by a right-wing media monitoring group.

A FOURTH ESTATE OR A FOURTH FRONT?

Today, that fourth estate is more like a fourth front where compliant journalists genuflect to those in power in what is now a military-industrial-media complex. Judith Miller echoed Administration claims about WMDs and then went to jail to protect Libby as a source. Matt Cooper's Time Magazine sold the war along with most media outlets. Tim Russert's Meet the Press on most weeks is a salon for the elite, a platform for Beltway blather, acceptable middle of the road opinion, conventional wisdom, and spinning by the rationalizers in suits.

The real problem is that much of our media has become ensconced in the system. It has lost critical distance. Too many Journalists trade information for access and front for failed policies.

It's clear that these insiders—-- in courts of law and courts of public opinion -- have forfeited our nation's trust. The challenge is what to do about it.

A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits Medichannel.org which has launched a "Tell the Truth About the War" campaign. His new books are the Death of Media (Melville) and When News Lies (SelectBooks). Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

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