Though this photo was not what triggered the White House to finger the press, the image is symbolic of the Dorian Gray picture it paints and illustrates how disagreeable Bush can get when he hears anything that is not on message. Of course, pit bull Rove is no contest for the poodle press that sits up and begs for scraps and then politely retreats to a corner until the supper bell rings again. Rove has been writing the script for the Punch and Judy show that is sure to follow in the next round of political combat.
The Times placed its early bets on Little Miss Run Amok, their once-favored PR expert on weapons of mass destruction, but has now discovered that what's run amok is executive power. At great cost, the Gray Lady defended the self-described scarlet A lady, even in the face of evidence that Miller was defending not the First Amendment but the source of a PR plot to manipulate the public and discredit those who criticized Bush policy. Now that the tables are turned, Bush would like the Times to bend again so the White House can keep spinning the plates. The Times "delayed publication" of the NSA spy story for a year, but that wasn't good enough; the White House wanted it X-rated out of existence. But this time the Times refused to yield; they ran the story that won't go away and now Rove is in the doghouse unless he can throw a poison dart at Fitzgerald.
The Bush Administration called out the plumbers at every drip of news they didn't see fit to print. Remember how they got CBS to delay publication of the "leaked" Abu Ghraib pictures? As a counteroffensive, the White House has made an art form out of their own brand of PR leaks. Like a product that should never be launched in August, the White House leaks have been orchestrated to send out the proper message at the right time.
Although the Times has not reneged on the NSA spy story or its aftermath, the blowback is coming. In its own pages on February 13, the Times noted the conservative attack machines that are about to come out of the woodwork; demands for a "vigorous investigative effort to find and prosecute whoever disclosed classified information" will follow. The trial balloon is being sent up by the neo-con's Commentary magazine, suggesting that the Times may be prosecuted for violations of the Espionage Act: "What the New York Times has done is nothing less than to compromise the centerpiece of our defensive efforts in the war on terrorism."
Apparently our competent, fast-on-the-case Justice Department is working behind the scenes to assemble an investigative team to determine whether leaking the existence of the NSA program violated the law. They will review "espionage laws that prohibit the disclosure, dissemination or publication of national security information." George J. Terwilliger III, an attorney who was part of the Bush defense team in the Florida election dispute, said, "An outgrowth of the Fitzgerald investigation is that the gloves are off in leak cases. New rules apply."
The Bush claims that invoke national security aren't playing too well, so the blame the messenger game is being played out with the Times. Curiously, Novak was never an object of the blame game, and it was Rove, Bush's 'brain' who fingered Plame as "fair game." Bush has no trouble defending those in his own administration who actually put a real spy in danger, but when he set up his own spy system and gets outed, he cries no fair. Ironically, Plame was really spying on potential terrorists, but her security didn't seem to count. Bush and Cheney were so desperate to hide the truth of their nefarious claims about Iraqi weapons that they thought retribution was in order. Meanwhile they subvert the same laws to spy on faux terrorists and cry foul.
As the Administration attempts to divert attention from the real issue -their own illegal acts - by prosecuting the Times for revealing the Bush secret spying program, it's Miller time again in the White House. In defending Miller's right not to become a whistleblower, now the Times has to defend its right to protect a real whistleblower. It will be a tough defense, not because of the legal issues (although there are many legal obstacles to overcome) but because the Times has lost so much of its own credibility in its defense of Miller. And the White House will certainly take advantage of any weakened defenses; it's their trademark.
Rove will be particularly ferocious given that he has so much to lose in the Fitzgerald prosecution. He will try to smear the Times overtly and covertly. As for the offense, now that the defense has been laid out, the Times must be made to pay for their 'mistake.' So Bush & Co. will pull out the punches to take out Punch Jr., too. There may be some nasty fighting, but the Times can't run deficits the way W can. He who holds the purse strings wins the power of the purse. Any guess who will win this battle?
The White House is already mounting its defense in other quarters to test out the legal arguments. The AIPAC spy scandal is making its way through the court system. Attorneys defending the AIPAC members accused of espionage are invoking an unusual precedent: "Never has a lobbyist, reporter, or any other non-government employee been charged . . . for receiving oral information the government alleges to be national defense material as part of that person's normal First Amendment protected activities," the defense memorandum states (Washington Post, February 14). So now the defense will be that unless Libby and Rove actually provided written information about Plame, they are not in violation of the law. Oh, and, by the way, this memorandum aiding the attorneys for the AIPAC defendants? Same legal genius who helped draft the Patriot Act.
The media needs to line up their defense team now. Unless the media outlets act in unison to take up the cause, stop running scared, and start acting like the last line of defense in a democracy, we will all be run Amok.