After the climatic jury verdict, the spinmeisters were called out. Just a few to give the story the wanted spin, but not too many to make it seem like it’s too important. More White House shills are waiting in the wings, to be marched out as soon as needed, perhaps on Sunday talk shows after putting a little distance on the verdict and its importance to the public. This is all being orchestrated very carefully. The press continues to be played. One juror is talking; the rest have thus far remained silent, going back to their day jobs, taking vacations, or signing book deals that they can’t talk about yet – we don’t know.
Top Republican gravitas head, David Gergen, was out on display to demonstrate the calm after storm and to try to manage any further fallout. Yes, the professor seemed to be confused. He’s above that word, but his demeanor and innuendos said it all. He’s the perfect spokesman to lead the public to the conclusion that Libby was just confused. After all, Libby was a bigwig with lots more important matters to tend to: message-this was a trial about nothing, like a Seinfeld episode but decidedly not funny. As Larry King interviewed him, Gergen shook his head and frowned, puzzled about why in the world Libby would lie; it just didn’t make any sense he demurred. And why didn’t the defense put Cheney on the stand? There must be “something” behind this, Gergen said in thoroughly perplexed. Smart as he is, mister professor couldn’t imagine what motive Libby would have had.
Then Gergen showed his true colors. When asked about the Wilsons’ civil suit, he remarked that this was how they “were getting their revenge” and added that the Wilsons were also getting a movie deal. Ah, yes, money must be the motive here. Gergen couldn't come up with a theory about Libby's motive but was quick to find one for the Wilsons. It seems like money is the only motive that Republicans can imagine; Libby didn't have a financial motive. Of course, just because Plame's career was ruined is no reason to sue anyone.
Gergen is making a career out of his own false image. He also had the nerve to say that this “administration has been mostly free of scandals over the last six years.” It’s hard to fathom a more uninformed and ignorant statement, not to mention disingenuous. And now, Gergen tells us, with the Libby verdict there will be a “taint they cannot erase” weakening the Republican position for ’08. Here Gergen weighs in as the expert on the politics and upcoming election. Was this his backup, in case the Republicans actually lose more ground because of the verdict? Even Kissinger eventually stopped defending Nixon.
At the suggestion from Scott McClellan that the White House should get out in front of the communications about the trial and tell the public what it knows, Gergen put on his professorial suit again. His astute analysis? - that was unlikely to happen, as nice as it was to contemplate. (Gee, and he gets paid for this level of analysis.) Oh, a White House that might tell the truth? Gergen waxed for better days in long ago times. However, I don’t think that’s the part of McClellan’s statement Gergen was focused on; that part was merely a subtle sidebar, implied in case anyone should think this administration is so different from its predecessors (read: Clinton). No, Gergen was focused on the fact that this White House isn’t very communicative (another astute observation) and they just wanted to bury the story and pretend it never happened. Under the guise of it’s still in “legal process” because of the defense efforts to ask for a mistrial and/or an appeal, the White House has already refused comment.
Then there was Robert Novak, the original shill for the White Houes, who had the chutzpah to blame the whole trial on a failed plot led by Sen Schumer. I’m not sure how he thinks Schumer is connected to this, but perhaps such an outlandish statement plays well in wingnut-land where people are watching Schumer question the fired attorneys – a different plot to be sure, but an association also being minimized by the Republicans who are trying to portray the fired attorneys as not doing their job and the investigation as just another the story about nothing. Yes, these are the same guys who had a different spin for the Clinton sex story, whose lies they made sure went beyond titillation and a story about nothing; ditto for Whitewater and all the other leads to nowhere they spent millions in taxpayer money to pursue. The Clinton lies, unlike the current “confusion,” they tell us, were serious perjury that had to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
According to Novak, once Richard Armitage, under secretary of state, admitted that he was the original leaker, the prosecution should have dropped the case against Libby. Novak railed at the Justice Dept. They should have packed up and gone home at that point, Novak declared. “They had nothing.” This from the man who started it all, who actually did the outing of Plame when he didn’t have to! And furthermore, claimed Novak, Armitage was just a known “gossip.” “I’d wanted him [Armitage] to leak to me for years,” Novak said trying to explain how he had gotten the information out of someone who he doesn’t usually use as a source. When he finally talked to his “gossip” source, Novak tells us, he asked Armitage why Wilson was sent to Niger in the first place. That’s when Armitage let out the “gossip” about Plame. So Novak’s defense it that Armitage was simply responding to reasonable question. In other words, he didn’t actually leak anything, he just answered the question; he was being truthful.
So once again, no responsibility from the columnist’s columnist, the insider who came in from the cold but got his flu shot early on so he could remain silent and act like he was hiding nothing.
Then there was Scot McClellan, the former press secretary, who was “betrayed” by the White House. Somehow he doesn’t come off as one who has been betrayed-he’s doing quite well in the private sector, thank you-lots of consulting work in communications, and no doubt cashing in on his contacts. But McClellan is still in the habit of issuing non-denial denials. So when questioned about what he knew and when he knew it, he claimed that his statement to the public when the original story broke was “what I believed to be true at the time; knowing what I know now I wouldn’t do it again.” He blatantly avoided using the word “lie.” He doesn’t have to express betrayal; the other shills do it for him. McClellan innocently tells us he learned that Armitage was the original source at the trial, like everyone else.
McClellan explained that the message from the White House at the time was simply an effort to try to set the record straight, which he delivered as instructed. [Bring out the violins and start singing: “I was blind, but now I see.”] Yes, McClellan sighed, now the White House equation with the public is changed forever. After all, this story never had legs outside the beltway before the verdict, he explained. Now why would that be? Do ya think perhaps because no one could really talk while there was a trial going on? And that the trial balloons the White House floated for years continued to disparage the Wilsons and deny any involvement. And that the press continued to give space to that story, afraid of being labeled unfair and more afraid of getting their sources cut off?
The trial clearly showed White House involvement as well as a lapdog press that is still intimidated by their own taints in this trial. Sloppy notes, faulty memories, misleading sources – these are the taints that the press didn’t want frog marched out there and these are the ones the White House will surely continue to play on to give themselves more credibility by default.
And then there was mister nice guy himself, the interviewer, Larry King, the epitome of fair and balanced without the label, who twice in an hour showed his lack of knowledge about his subjects. [Doesn’t he have a staff to give him background, or was he just trying to spin, knowing/hoping that the public will forget that he was corrected on camera?] The first one came early in the show when he stated that Plame was still employed by the CIA. Since he was interviewing her husband at the time, Wilson quickly corrected him. But this is the spin the Republicans want to put on it – no harm, no foul – she didn’t lose her job.
Then came the next zinger to Susan McDougal, who King described to the audience as a “Clinton defender.” He went on to explain that she had served jail time but was pardoned by Clinton, clearly trying the leave the audience with the impression that presidential pardons are what all presidents do. McDougal clarified his statement and explained that she had already completed her jail time when Clinton pardoned her. King did give McDougal time to express her side and she described how Starr had pressured her to lie and that was why she went to jail – she had refused. No one picked up on that obvious difference; it was dropped like a lead balloon, as if she were now on the stand and the opposing counsel yelled “objection.” Dead end, no relevance here. Fitzgerald is not likely to pressure anyone, given his style and reputation, but that won’t prevent the Republicans from trying to paint him as an overzealous prosecutor. The damage was already done – McDougal was painted as a shill for Clinton, thus not a credible source for any comparison of her prosecution to that of Libby.
How the White House and Rove, who still holds his job in spite of Bush’s promise to the contrary (not that that’s the biggest lie he’s told), will manage this story and the press remains to be seen. But it’s clear that the story they are telling is that poor Scooter was simply confused, as Novak characterized him, and therefore should not go to prison. Novak went as far as to say that Libby didn’t leak anything; it was Armitage who did the leaking. This from the man who originated the leak! Matt Cooper, Time reporter who knows better, sat there on the same panel, was next in line to speak, and did not refute this outrageous statement. He simply pointed out the hypocrisy of the right wing going for the jugular to prove Clinton’s perjury while now claiming it’s no big deal. This is what the mainstream press will play. Be prepared.
The real trial won’t start until the Wilson’s get their day in court. But if the White House gets its way, the judges who get to hear the case, or rule on its merits for trial, may have been outed by then too.
©Lynne Glasner 2007.