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Media Culpa: Should The New York Times and Time Magazine Have Exposed Karl Rove's Role in the Outing of Valerie Plame?

StoryAugust 18, 2005
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In an article in Vanity Fair, columnist Michael Wolff criticizes those in the mainstream media–particularly Time Magazine and The New York Times–who knew of Karl Rove’s role in the outing of Valerie Plame, but refused to expose him. We host a debate with Wolff and investigative journalist Murray Waas. [includes rush transcript]

In an article in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, columnist Michael Wolff criticizes those in the mainstream media–particularly Time Magazine and The New York Times–who knew of Karl Rove’s role in the outing of Valerie Plame, but refused to expose him.

In the article titled, "All Roads Lead to Rove," Wolff writes that if the news media had revealed Rove was their source, "it might, reasonably, have presaged the defeat of the president, might have even–to be slightly melodramatic–altered the course of the war in Iraq."

  • Michael Wolff, columnist for Vanity Fair. His most recent article is titled "All Roads Lead to Rove."
  • Murray Waas, veteran investigative journalist who writes for a number of publications. Among them, American Prospect magazine and He has broken a number of stories on the saga of the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. He maintains a blog at

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We take up a piece in the latest issue of Vanity Fair magazine. Columnist Michael Wolff, criticizes those in the mainstream media, particularly Time magazine and The New York Times, who knew of Karl Rove’s role in the outing of Valerie Plame but refused to expose him. In the article, entitled, "All Roads Lead to Rove," Wolff writes, "If the news media had revealed Rove was their source, (quote), it might reasonably have presaged the defeat of the President, might have even, to be slightly melodramatic, altered the course of the war in Iraq." Michael Wolff joins us in our firehouse studio; investigative reporter, Murray Waas remains with us on the line. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you lay out your thesis in "All Roads Lead to Rove"?

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, you just did a very good job of laying it out. It’s really a very simple thesis. It’s this confounding issue that the national press, I mean, some of the greatest news organizations in the country, had this really big story, a major story, a story that, as you just quoted me, could well have affected the course of the election of this administration, and they didn’t print it. And they didn’t print it — they didn’t print it because there’s, I think — I think it goes to a lot of reasons. It goes to how reporters get along and act in Washington. Essentially, if you have a big source, you don’t want to blow your source. And this has become this kind of — this discussion about whether reporters should testify or not. And the issue has become what’s the relationship of the media to government. And when I sat down and looked at this, I said, 'Wait a minute, holy cow. Maybe the question is much more basic. What's the relationship — what’s the responsibility of the reporter to the reader?’ And you know, I have been a reporter all my life, so I know the issues of a source. But to be perfectly honest, that’s a business transaction between a reporter and his business connections, let’s call them. And as a reader, I don’t care about that. What I care about is if you have the news. Let me know what it is.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Your article also suggests that Karl Rove was the ultimate source in Washington, to a large degree, and that he became this off-the-record source for so many reporters that, in essence, he was managing those reporters, to a large degree.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, I mean, I think the truth is we don’t know that, but what we do know is that we have reason to believe that if he was talking to these people, he was probably talking to lots of other people, too. One of the interesting things is that the Bush administration, I mean, since the beginning, there has always been this thing that they don’t leak, that they’re incredibly secret, that, you know, that finally there’s a disciplined administration, an administration with media discipline. And what it probably turns out now is that that’s not true. They just didn’t leak — they didn’t leak willy-nilly. They leaked with a strategy and a method and with Karl Rove sitting right up at the top of that media war room.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s get to the details of who was leaked to or where the conversations were held. For example, in talking about Matt Cooper of Time and Judith Miller who sits in jail now of The New York Times.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Right. Well, we only really know that Karl — we only specifically know that Karl Rove spoke to Matt Cooper at Time magazine. That’s what we know, but we know that incontrovertibly. That’s the —- the leak exists there, and we know that Cooper didn’t tell that story. Can we infer that -—

AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t tell that story for two years.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Right. Right. Can we infer that Judy Miller and Novak had similar conversations? We should probably wait before we infer that. But —

AMY GOODMAN: But what we do know is — well, Murray Waas, talk about your latest piece on this issue around Judith Miller going to Washington.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, we know some other things. We know —- and tell me if you think I’m wrong, Michael, but we know that Robert Novak and Karl Rove had a discussion about this, as well; true? Or -—

MICHAEL WOLFF: We know that — we don’t know that from Novak’s side. Do we know that from Karl Rove’s side? No. We don’t know that. We have reason to believe that that’s true, but we do not exactly know that.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I can say that that’s absolutely correct.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Now, how do you know this?

MURRAY WAAS: From my very good sources, multiple sources with knowledge of it.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Okay, well, no. Then let’s — actually, we’re back to, you know, the source thing.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, do you — are you just don’t want confidential sources at all?

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, no, no, no. I mean, I just said we don’t know that. You may say you know that, but it is not on the record that that discussion took place. I’m just —

MURRAY WAAS: Well, I don’t know. I think you’re talking about a radical transformation of journalism here, which I think would be —- which would be horrible. If the President of the United States and -—

MICHAEL WOLFF: No, no, no, no. That’s another issue. I’m just saying it’s not on the record.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, if the President of the United States and Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser go on the record, go on national TV and —

MICHAEL WOLFF: That’s not the issue. I’m just saying it — a record — the record does not exist. Neither of the principles to that discussion have said that a discussion existed. It is likely that one did.

MURRAY WAAS: And yet we’re talking — even if they were to speak on the record, let’s again — I’m just playing devil’s advocate to you — I mean, Karl Rove and Bob Novak, how much do we trust either of them. So if you are saying —- I guess what I’m saying is that some of the conventions of journalism are -—

MICHAEL WOLFF: It’s another discussion. It’s not particularly relevant to this. I’m just trying to — we don’t know what happened here. We’re finding it out. I am — actually, my thesis here is that if you are a report and you were party to this, you should write the story. But it hasn’t been written.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to that, because that is a very important discussion, I did want to get to what you understand, Murray Waas, about Judith Miller’s trip to Washington, and then let’s have that discussion about whether the media should have protected their sources, or is it, as Michael Wolff says, by doing that, the press was part of the cover-up? But talk about Judith Miller in Washington.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, on July 8, 2003, six days before the Novak column, Judith Miller came to Washington, met a source and discussed Valerie Plame. The prosecutors subpoenaed records and wanted to ask Judith Miller about that, in particular, and that’s the primary reason she sits in jail today. In the subpoena, there’s a demand for any documents given to Judith Miller that day. The prosecutor is very specific about asking for something given to her. In her response, she said that she wasn’t given or wasn’t in the possession of any document, but her wording is a little bit parsed. To say she doesn’t have one doesn’t mean she didn’t have one previously, and it doesn’t mean that she wasn’t shown perhaps a classified document or whatever else, you know, that might have been read to her or shown to her. Her language is very specific. And this has, I think rightfully, you know, raised questions among the federal investigators who are trying to get to the bottom of this.

And I have reported that at least one of the people she met on July 8 was Scooter Libby, the Chief of Staff to the Vice President. And I guess by Michael’s standards, I’ve got to rely on my sources for that, but I’ll rely on my confidential sources before I rely on simply the fact that people are giving their name to something or appearing on television or the President gives a speech. We often find out that that information is untrue. And not to belabor this point, but when you have Bob Novak and Karl Rove, the party to a conversation, the fact that both of them are going to speak publicly or have or will, I don’t know that we necessarily can trust —

MICHAEL WOLFF: You know, I’m just trying to say, it’s always a good idea to say what we do know, rather than what we might like to know.

MURRAY WAAS: But would you have me not report anything?

MICHAEL WOLFF: No. You can report. I’m just trying to say, you’re just — I have been just very careful about saying what are the known facts, as opposed to what are the — what are the inferred facts, the likely facts, the wished-for facts. That’s all.

MURRAY WAAS: Okay, not to be argumentative here, but when you say the media didn’t report this, let’s look at the track record of Vanity Fair. Vanity Fair is coming into this ballgame pretty late, aren’t they? I mean, how long has this story been around, and when did Vanity Fair come to it? You’re criticizing —

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, it’s not Vanity Fair. When did I come to it? I came to it last month. I came to it when I come to it. We’re a monthly magazine.

MURRAY WAAS: Okay, it’s a monthly magazine that has celebrities on the cover.

MICHAEL WOLFF: I don’t have any patience for this.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Wolff, let’s — wait just one sec. I just want to ask Michael Wolff, lay out your argument for what you feel The New York Times and Time magazine should have done?

MICHAEL WOLFF: I — which I thought I did before, and it’s because it is very simple. And I look at this — I don’t know what happened here. I don’t know who is at fault. I don’t know if Karl Rove did anything wrong. What I do know is that there’s a big story here and that if you’re a journalist, if you work for especially a very large news organization that — whose customers and readers depend upon getting the news, and you have got the news, you can’t sit on it. You know, effectively what has happened here is that the these news organizations, whether consciously or not, became part of a conspiracy to — and I don’t use that word lightly — to bury this story, to cover up this story. They tried to protect a source, because it was in their business interest, rather than in the interest of their readers.

MURRAY WAAS: But Michael —


MURRAY WAAS: Don’t you think there’s a subtlety here, there’s nuance here, and it’s just not like a direct cover-up or conspiracy, that there’s news values at stake. In other words, you’re saying, correctly, and you have done some good reporting, although Vanity Fair I don’t think has posted the piece yet, or it’s hard to get, I’d love it read it, but —

MICHAEL WOLFF: You could buy the magazine. That’s what some people do.

MURRAY WAAS: It might be at $4.95. It might be out of my economic capacity, but you’re saying that the news organizations have a bias. They want to keep sources. They want to be part of the power structure. They want to —


MURRAY WAAS: — be friendly at Sidwell Friends, and so forth. And you’re absolutely right. Now, not all of the journalists in the Washington Post or Time magazine knew who Matt Cooper’s source was, or most — nobody at The New York Times, except maybe two or three people, know who Judith Miller’s sources are, so they’re not part of any cover-up. They have — they simply don’t know. There’s a lot of people at The New York Times, for example, who agree with you. So it’s not so monolithic, I don’t think.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, they didn’t. It is monolithic. They didn’t print the story. The story died because of —- because these news organizations, which had the facts -—

MURRAY WAAS: But can’t news organizations and reporters dig out the facts? I mean, I have gone out and dug out the story and have reported about meetings.

MICHAEL WOLFF: No, no, no. I think, actually, that’s an interesting side issue here. Even if you were to say that Matt Cooper and Judy Miller had a moral responsibility not to reveal their source, well, why weren’t all the other reporters in —

MURRAY WAAS: Correct. I absolutely agree with you

MICHAEL WOLFF: — the Washington bureaus working on this, which I why I hold — I hold these various news organizations complicit in this. I mean, the other thing they could have done, and certainly if I were running these news organizations I would have done, is saying 'Print the story or you're fired for cause.’

MURRAY WAAS: I absolutely agree with you, but let’s take it away from Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, because maybe —- I don’t want to get in an argument about whether they should or should not reveal a source, but that doesn’t mean the whole rest of the media is not freed up to cover the story. And you said a few minutes ago that you had no patience to talk about your own magazine. Now, your own magazine did not -—

MICHAEL WOLFF: No, no. I had no patience with your celebrity blah blah, your lefty crapola.

MURRAY WAAS: Come on, that’s not lefty crap. You know, conservatives don’t want to read all the stuff about celebrities. We don’t —

MICHAEL WOLFF: I’m not having this discussion.


MURRAY WAAS: That is what your magazine —

MICHAEL WOLFF: It’s childish.

AMY GOODMAN: But let’s talk about — what we do know is that The New York Times knew and Time magazine knew. Those are two publications. Aside from the other reporters, I mean, you have Norm Perlstein who runs Time magazine, so what do you think their responsibility was? Both organizations, whether the other reporters within them knew, both organizations knew exactly what the story was before the election.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Exactly. I believe their responsibility when you have a major story, you can’t sit on it.

MURRAY WAAS: And reporters and news organizations can take the initiative to pursue a major story, to go out and investigate it, report it, write it, and inform the public, and to just focus on The New York Times or whatever, I think —

MICHAEL WOLFF: I have no idea what you saying other than according to some credit for yourself.

AMY GOODMAN: Murray Waas, since they knew, the organizations knew, Time knew that Rove was involved, and The New York Times knew Judith Miller’s source, what do you think they should have done? Do you think they should protect the reporter who is protecting the source?

MURRAY WAAS: I think it’s a grey area. I’m not as absolutely certain as Michael Wolff. I respect Michael Wolff a great deal. I respect his journalism a great deal.

MICHAEL WOLFF: You don’t have to. It’s not necessary.

MURRAY WAAS: Okay. But I do disagree that in the absence of —- Judith Miller is not going to talk, and we can debate or discuss or pass judgment on her, and I commend you for having the show, and I -—

MICHAEL WOLFF: Yeah, but you’re missing the larger point here. I mean, I think we can just focus on the issue that the story that the story was known. These news organizations had the story on whatever terms, and they failed to print it.

AMY GOODMAN: What about — one last thing, with the investigation. You raise questions about the length of the investigation of Patrick Fitzgerald.

MICHAEL WOLFF: I think it’s — I can’t possibly believe what they have been doing. Why this should have gone on for as long as it’s gone on is, to me, either incompetence or self-promotion. This is a very, very, very focused issue. Did he or didn’t he? Come on, guys.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, actually, it’s a little bit for complex than that.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Well, I’m sure from your point of view, it is. And you would make it complex, anyway.

MURRAY WAAS: Well, maybe it’s perhaps this simple. I agree with you that news organizations didn’t do their jobs here, but everybody else wants to pass judgment, pass the ball and say The New York Times should do this, Time magazine should do this, Murray Waas should do this. Vanity Fair was late to the story. Vanity Fair could have reported this, if it was of such intense public interest.

MICHAEL WOLFF: Sometime I’ll tell you about what the difference between magazines and other news organizations. We’ll do that offline.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, right — we’re going to have to leave it there, unless, Juan, you have another question?

JUAN GONZALEZ: I think, one, on the issue of arguing over what we know and how we can verify truth, this has been a question that has been debated by philosophers for centuries, how we come to knowledge and facts and verification of reality. It will continue in journalism for quite a while. But I would like to ask Murray, in terms of the issue of — I think what you are trying to say is that — obviously the story has not died, because it’s still around — but what you are trying to say is that all journalists had a responsibility to pursue a big story, if it was a big story, not just those who had gotten a head start on the others by their access to sources.

MURRAY WAAS: Correct. We can go out, pursue, investigate, dig, travel, big newser — I mean, I wrote about this as an impoverished freelancer with no credential like Vanity Fair. So, if I broke a lot of new important stories, I’m sure Vanity Fair could have, I’m sure the Washington Post could have. What we have seen is just a failure to push for and get good journalism, in general, not just this issue, but on others. And what I’m trying to do is encourage Michael Wolff and Vanity Fair to move more in this direction.

AMY GOODMAN: And Michael Wolff, you feel that Time and New York Times, in particular, because they had the story, whether they put other reporters on it or whether they revealed it themselves should —

MICHAEL WOLFF: Actually, I don’t have a high flown position here. It is just to deal with what’s in front of me. They had the story. They didn’t write it.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave it there. We want to thank you very much, Michael Wolff, for joining us. His piece in the September issue of Vanity Fair is called "All Roads Lead to Rove." And Murray Waas, investigative journalist, writes for a number of publications, among them, Village Voice, American Prospect, His blog is, and we’ll link to the stories on our website.

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