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July 26, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps (New York Times Media Whores Edition)

Billmon writes:

Whiskey Bar: For a powerful example of what a joke the nation's newspaper of record has become, here's the story to read. But only for the entertainment value: "Prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case have shown intense interest in a 2003 State Department memorandum that explained how a former diplomat came to be dispatched on an intelligence-gathering mission and the role of his wife, a C.I.A. officer, in the trip, people who have been officially briefed on the case said."

Once again we have the ubiquitous "people who have been briefed on the case," which under the circumstances, can only mean the Justice Department officials to whom Patrick Fitzgerald must report. (Back before Ken Starr got his hands on the job, this kind of thing was considered a strong argument for having an independent counsel.)

The first thing to note about this story is that there is not a particle of "news" in it -- that is to say, information that can't be found in the archives of the Wall Street Journal (October 17, 2003), the Washington Post (December 26, 2003) and Newsweek (August 9, 2004).... Now the squad of Times reporters who worked on today's story (three bylines, two "contributing" lines) couldn't be bothered to tell us that somebody deliberately leaked the memo to a GOP front group as part of a continuing effort to smear Wilson. On the other hand, the Times squad (like Police Squad, but dumber) puts a lot of stress on the fact that the Secretary of State was actually seen reading it....

This, we are told, is one of the "new details" about the memo and its origins that could offer "clues into who knew what and when." Which I guess is why the fact that the memo was originally addressed to Marc Grossman -- undersecretary of state for political affairs and a made member of the neocon mafia -- is buried in the 17th paragraph. So is the fact that the memo was dated June 10th, 2003 -- not long after Wilson began talking (off the record) to journalists about the administration's efforts to hype the alleged Niger uranium deal.

Likewise, the fact that the memo is based on the notes of a State intelligence analyst who was at the meeting where it was decided to send Wilson to Niger is relegated to the 20th paragraph. But that's still better placement than what the Times squad gives to the fact that the CIA has contested the authenticity of the notes because one of the guys quoted in them wasn't even at the meeting. That didn't make it into the Times story at all....

The real purpose of the Times story seems fairly obvious: The leakers (those mysterious "people who have been briefed") wanted to point a finger of suspicion at Colin Powell, the man who was seen holding the smoking memo in his hand on the plane to Africa.... The Times, in other words, has allowed itself to be used -- cheerfully, unapologetically and, most of all, stupidly...

Posted by DeLong at July 26, 2005 06:35 PM