Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Leopold Articles/Luskin Denial Makes WSJ

In their political section today, The Wall Street Journal covers the "firestorm" Jason Leopold's recent CIA leak/Karl Rove articles have caused on the Internet. Since the Journal is subscription only, I am posting the entire article. There's nothing really new here, but it does give us some insight into how the Rove rumors are being viewed by the mainstream media:

On Saturday night, attorney Robert Luskin was trying to barbecue at his Washington home when the phone started ringing nonstop. A story posted on an Internet site Truthout.org reported that his client, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, had been indicted.

Mr. Luskin says he issued an explicit denial to anyone who contacted him. But the story set off a fire storm, with reporters from newspapers, television and elsewhere seeking to check its veracity, and Web log writers seeking comment.

With more people turning to the Internet for news, bloggers have blurred the lines with traditional media and changed both the dynamics of the reporting process and how political rumors swirl.

Mr. Rove is the subject of an investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into whether the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative was illegally leaked by Bush administration officials. Mr. Rove has testified before the grand jury in the case five times, most recently last month.

But there is no evidence the Bush adviser was indicted last week. His lawyer says it is plain wrong. Mr. Fitzgerald hasn't commented, and he is expected in coming weeks to make a decision about whether to charge Mr. Rove for perjury or related wrongdoing in the matter.

On Friday, Truthout posted another story by the same correspondent, Jason Leopold, reporting that Mr. Rove had told President Bush and White House Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten that he would be indicted imminently.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Mr. Rove, said the Bush official had no such conversation with the president or Mr. Bolten. Mr. Luskin disputed Mr. Leopold's Saturday story, which cited "high level sources with direct knowledge" that he had a 15-hour meeting with Mr. Fitzgerald at Mr. Luskin's office at the Washington law firm Patton Boggs. The Rove attorney says he spent part of that day at the vet with his cat and that Mr. Fitzgerald was in Chicago. A spokesman for Mr. Fitzgerald declined to comment.

The denials set off a round of blogging. One site said Mr. Leopold was the victim of White House disinformation. Another cast doubt on whether Mr. Rove's attorney took his cat to the vet.

Mr. Leopold referred reporters to a posting on Truthout by its executive editor, Marc Ash, which reiterated the assertion that Mr. Rove's attorneys were served with an indictment. The post said Mr. Leopold "had two sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation who were explicit about the information that we published, and a former high-ranking state department [sic] official who reported communication with a source who had 'direct knowledge' of the meeting at Patton Boggs."

Mr. Leopold previously worked for a number of mainstream news organizations.

"The system for keeping unverifiable reports out of the news is totally broken down when you look at the online world," says Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University and a blogger himself at www.pressthink.org. Instead, he says, there is a "let's see if this holds up" philosophy that he thinks has merit in today's fast-paced news world, though he admits it isn't a practice that major news organizations could or should adopt.

An early case of blog journalism's influence came when Matt Drudge broke news on the investigation into President Clinton's affair with an intern in 1998. Bloggers really gained popularity in the last four years, in large part fueled by a desire to push particular political arguments and a growing feeling that the mainstream media had become too close with the establishment it purported to cover, journalism professors said. Rather than rely on old-fashioned reporters to quote them and make their case, numerous organizations and individuals started blogs that got their thoughts out uncensored. Political blogging crossed a milestone of sorts in the summer of 2004, when the Democratic National Convention issued press credentials to bloggers.

Politics, and the arguments it stirs, lends itself to the Internet. Bloggers have the latitude to issue one-sided analysis that makes leaps to connect the dots in ways that more-guarded news organizations couldn't. The CIA leak investigation, which has hit the highest echelons of the Bush administration, has become a favorite topic for many of these sites.

Mr. Rosen says that unlike many news reporters, who cover a variety of stories, bloggers can focus on one story like the leak probe, scrutinizing each new tidbit -- whether innuendo or fact -- and speculating about how it fits in with information already known. Many of these sites link to stories by mainstream news organizations. But many also have freelance correspondents -- often paid by the story -- who write pieces for the sites.

Mainstream news organizations say bloggers can say something is going to happen every day for months and then claim to be ahead of the pack when it does -- or forget about it when it doesn't. Bloggers complain that traditional reporters don't credit them for scoops when they are proved right.

"It's not that this is a completely new dynamic," says Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at George Washington University, who says the tabloid press used to be this type of incubator. But the Internet makes blogs "much more ubiquitous and instantaneous."

While libel law is the same for any written material -- Internet, newspaper or otherwise -- that damages someone's reputation, there is less incentive to sue Web upstarts and scant case law on the matter. The one major case was filed by former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal against Mr. Drudge, publisher of the Drudge Report online, after a report that Mr. Blumenthal had a history of spousal abuse. The case was settled years later, with Mr. Blumenthal covering $2,500 of Mr. Drudge's expenses.

Mr. Luskin, who has handled other high-profile cases, says blogs have made cases like the CIA leak case "an order of magnitude uglier and more personal."
In other Wall Street Journal news, Judith Miller has an op-ed piece on Libya in today's paper. It's nice to see Ms. Miller landed on her feet and is working for the newspaper arm of the Bush administration.

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