Michael Wolff has a fabulous piece in the September issue of Vanity Fair called All Roads Lead to Rove. It’s not available online, but I have transcribed my favorite sections (all errors are mine).
Wolff starts out talking about the breaking news that Rove was one of Cooper’s sources:
The sheer fabulousness of it seemed to give eveybody pause. News professionals often have to be hit over the head relentlessly with one of the biggest stories of their careers to understand it’s actually one of the biggest stories of their careers. Nobody believed that the president’s right-hand man, his brain, his Haldeman and Ehrlichman rolled into one, his id and superego, would leave his fingerprints…everywhere.
Yes. Yes. Yes. It was we fair bloggers that did the relentless head beating…never forget.
It isn’t, obviously, that everybody didn’t pretty much assume Rove had a hand here- but everybody was hip enough to know that you wouldn’t ever, ever in a million years, tie him to it. Not Karl.
I never made that assumption. But I guess the big-foot media did.
So a day passed, then two, then three, then four- this was a story that, in full view, the media just ignored- before it started to dawn on everyone that the president’s president might be cooked. Indeed, that the president was probably going to have to fire his brain’s ass, or stonewall long and hard. That the curse of the second term had struck- yes, say it, the Bush presidency was now in Watergate/Iran-Contra/Lewinsky territory.
I love the line about Bush having to fire his brain’s ass. Pure comedy. But seriously, how could it take anytime at all to dawn on the media…
Except the schizy thing was that the media knew it all along- Time
magazine knew it, likely The New York Times
did, as well as the columnist Robert Novak.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but what they knew was something of such news value, of such moment, of such certain consequence that it might, reasonably, have presaged the defeat of the president, might have even- to be only slightly melodramatic- altered the course of the war in Iraq. So possibly changed history, saved lives…hmmm.
And that’s the point. Protecting a source is one of the most important things a reporter must do. But there is no reason to be an accomplice to a crime, especially a crime that, if exposed, could change the result of a presidential election.
Not only did highly placed members of the media and the vaunted news organizations they worked for know it, not only did they sit on what will not improbably be among the biggest stories of the Bush years, they helped cover it up. You could even plausibly say that these organizations became part of a conspiracy– they entered into an understanding that, as a quid pro quo for certain information, they would refuse to provide evidence about a crime possibly having been committed by the president’s closest confidant.
They could have saved this country and the world a lot of heartache if they would have stopped and looked at the bigger picture. But they didn’t.
As soon as it becomes clear that an event has occurred that, if exposed, might change the course of the government, one which you, the gallant news organization, have got the skinny on (not least because your own employees have been involved in the deal), you print the story.
Bingo. This is a criminal investigation of enormous proportions. Telling the public the truth about it doesn’t set a precedent for squealing on whistleblowers.
So, why didn’t anyone volunteer the information on Rove (and the other culprits)? Wolff nails it:
They all seemed to have just thought that a source is a source. And a source is a source who, unrevealed, will continue to be a source. And if the biggest source in town is my source, that makes me the biggest-swinging-dick reporter in town. And, ipso facto, if my source is outed and goes to jail, then I’m no longer the reporter with the biggest source and dick in town. But if I protect my source, as I’ve sworn to do, he’ll owe me big, and I’ll have an even bigger dick.