Friday, July 08, 2005
FIRST AMENDMENT: Bill Israel on "my friend" Karl Rove
Save the First Amendment--from Karl Rove
A man who taught with Rove, and considers him a friend, fears that in the
Plame case, Rove is using journalists, and the First Amendment, "to
operate without constraint, or to camouflage breaking the law." That's why
reporters should not protect Rove (or anyone else) "through an
undiscerning, blanket use of the First Amendment that weakens its
protections by its gross misuse."
By Bill Israel
(July 05, 2005) -- In 99.9 percent of cases I know, journalists must not
break the bonds of appropriate confidentiality, to protect their ability
to report, and to defend the First Amendment. I.ve testified in court to
that end, and would do so again.
But the Valerie Plame-CIA case that threatens jail time for reporters from
Time and The New York Times this week is the exception that shatters the
rule. In this case, journalists as a community have been played for
patsies by the president.s chief strategist, Karl Rove, and are enabling
him to abuse the First Amendment, by their invoking it.
To understand why this case is exceptional, one must grasp the extent of
Rove.s political mastery, which became clearer to me by working with him.
When we taught "Politics and the Press" together at The University of
Texas at Austin seven years ago, Rove showed an amazing disdain for Texas
political reporters. At the same time, he actively cultivated national
reporters who could help him promote a Bush presidency.
In teaching with him, I learned Rove assumes command over any political
enterprise he engages. He insists on absolute discipline from staff:
nothing escapes him; no one who works with him moves without his
direction. In Texas, though he was called "the prime minister" to Gov.
George W. Bush, it might have been "Lord," as in the divine, for when it
came to politics and policy, it was Rove who gave, and Rove who took away.
Little has changed since the Bush presidency; all roads still lead to
Consequently, when former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson challenged
President Bush.s embrace of the British notion that Saddam Hussein sought
to import uranium from Niger to produce nuclear weapons, retaliation by
Rove was never in doubt. While it is reporters Matthew Cooper of Time and
Judith Miller of The New York Times who now face jail time, the
retaliation came through Rove-uber-outlet Robert Novak, who blew the cover
of Wilson.s wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame.
The problem, as always, in dealing with Rove, is establishing a clear
chain of culpability. Rove once described himself as a die-hard Nixonite;
he is, like the former president, both student and master of plausible
deniability. (This past weekend, in confirming that Rove was indeed a
source for Matthew Cooper, Rove's lawyer said his client "never knowingly
disclosed classified information.") That is precisely why prosecutor
Fitzgerald in this case must document the pattern of Rove.s behavior,
whether journalists published, or not.
For in this case, Rove, improving on Macchiavelli, has bet that reporters
won.t rat their relationship with the administration.s most important
political source. How better for him to operate without constraint, or to
camouflage breaking the law, than under the cover of journalists and
journalism, protected by the First Amendment?
Karl Rove is in my experience with him the brightest and most affable of
companions; perhaps I have been coopted, for I genuinely treasure his
friendship. But neither charm nor political power should be permitted to
subvert the First Amendment, which is intended to insure that reporters
and citizens burrow fully and publicly into government, not insulate its
players from felony, or reality.
Reporters with a gut fear of breaching confidential sources must fight
like tigers to protect them. But neither reporters Cooper nor Miller, nor
their publications, nor anyone in journalism should protect the behavior
of Rove (or anyone else) through an undiscerning, blanket use of the First
Amendment that weakens its protections by its gross misuse.
Bill Israel (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches journalism at the
University of Massachusetts (Amherst). He has worked for several leading