Profile: Richard Cohen
Richard Cohen was a participant or observer in the following events:
Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, a self-described moderate liberal, says that although he voted for Vice President Al Gore (D-TN) in the presidential elections, he believes that for the good of the country, Gore should stop pushing for recounts in Florida and concede the election to George W. Bush (R-TX). “I now think that under current circumstances he would not be the right man for the presidency,” he writes. “If I could, I would withdraw my vote.” Cohen says his considered opinion is based in part on the recent mob riot in Miami, where Bush campaign operatives orchestrated a violent confrontation that forced Miami-Dade County election officials to prematurely shut down their attempts to recount that county’s votes (see 9:00 a.m. and after, November 22, 2000). Cohen writes that in light of the Florida circumstances: “Given the present bitterness, given the angry irresponsible charges being hurled by both camps, the nation will be in dire need of a conciliator, a likable guy who will make things better and not worse. That man is not Al Gore. That man is George W. Bush.” Cohen says that he believes Bush’s claims to be “a uniter, not a divider,” citing as proof Bush’s popularity among Republican governors, “each of whom probably thought the next president should be none other than himself.” Bush also has a reputation for affability from his days in private enterprise, Cohen writes: “I talked with one of them once, a Democrat who disagreed with Bush on many issues. Yet he, too, praised Bush’s leadership abilities, his talent for bringing order out of chaos and for reaching some sort of consensus. That man’s testimony impressed me. His disagreements with Bush were real, his admiration for him profound.” Gore is not a uniter, Cohen asserts. “His own party is sore at him for taking the one-two punch of peace and prosperity and running a race that is still not concluded. His performance was as erratic as his uniform-of-the-day: earth tones on Tuesday, business suit on Wednesday. The country sensed that either he did not know himself, or what he did know the country would not like.” Cohen calls Gore “stiff, robotic,” and appearing “insincere even when he is not… unable to mask his ambition.” Unlike Bush, he does not give the impression of being someone’s “good buddy.” Bush will rally the nation behind him, Cohen opines, where Gore is likely to further divide it. Besides, Cohen writes, having a Republican in the White House may work to “restrain… GOP Dobermans like Reps. Tom DeLay (R-TX) and J.C. Watts Jr. (R-OK),” who presumably would behave in an uncontrollable manner if a Republican is not in the White House to keep them in line. While Bush and Gore have profoundly different approaches to governance, Cohen says, “what matters at the moment is the moment itself—a mere tick of the historic clock that could, if things continue, just stop it dead where it is. History does not guarantee that things will be as they have been. The first and most daunting task of the next president is not a tax bill or a Social Security plan but—as it was when Jerry Ford succeeded Richard Nixon—the healing of the country. I voted for Gore because he was the better man for the job. I can’t help thinking that he no longer is.” [Washington Post, 11/24/2000] The liberal news Web site Consortium News writes that Cohen’s column is “[t]ypical of th[e] Democratic desire to submit to angry Republicans.… Cohen reached his conclusion although Gore has been the one to temper his rhetoric while Bush and the Republicans have escalated their public denunciations of Gore and the Florida Supreme Court.” [Consortium News, 11/24/2000]
Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post journalist Richard Cohen will later write: “The [2001 anthrax] attacks were not entirely unexpected. I had been told soon after Sept. 11 to secure Cipro, the antidote to anthrax. The tip had come in a roundabout way from a high government official, and I immediately acted on it. I was carrying Cipro way before most people had ever heard of it.” [Slate, 3/18/2008] He will explain on a different occasion, “On a tip, I asked my doctor early on to prescribe Cipro for me, only to find out that, insider though I thought I was, nearly everyone had been asking him for the same thing.” [Washington Post, 7/22/2004] A number of White House officials begin taking Cipro the evening of September 11, 2001 (see Evening, September 11, 2001). Also, on September 26, well before any reports of real anthrax attacks, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will write, “Americans are now confronted with the specter of terrorists in crop dusters and hazardous-waste trucks spreading really terrifying, deadly toxins like plague, smallpox, blister agents, nerve gas and botulism. Women I know in New York and Washington… share information on which pharmacies still have Cipro, Zithromax and Doxycycline, all antibiotics that can be used for anthrax, the way they once traded tips on designer shoe bargains.” [New York Times, 9/26/2001]
Robert Stevens. [Source: Associated Press]The first case of anthrax infection, of Robert Stevens in Florida, is reported in the media (see October 3, 2001). Letters containing anthrax will continue to be received until October 19. After many false alarms, it turns out that only a relatively small number of letters contain real anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will recall how a widespread sense of panic spread across the US over the next few weeks, as millions felt the anthrax could target them next. He will write, “People made anthrax-safe rooms, and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog. I still don’t know if that was a touching gesture or just plain madness.” He says, “The [9/11] terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit—or maybe more than a bit.” But he will also mention that the panic quickly passed and was largely forgotten by most people. [Washington Post, 7/22/2004] Columnist Glenn Greenwald will later comment in Salon, “After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters—with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11—that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax… that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” [Salon, 8/1/2008]
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer makes a comment about the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He says: “There is a suspicion that this is connected to international terrorists. Having said that, investigators also do not rule out that it could be something domestic, that it could be a lone person operating doing this, or it could be terrorism. The suspicion is that it is terrorism, but there is no hard evidence yet at this point to lead anybody who is investigating these matters to reach a conclusion on any of these sources.” [Voice of America, 10/23/2001] The same day, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) echoes Fleisher’s comment and links the attacks to overseas terrorists. He says, “I don’t think there’s a way to prove that, but I think we all suspect that.” [US Department of State, 10/23/2001] In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will say that, at the time it was widely believed that the anthrax attacks were somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks several weeks before. He will cite Fleischer and Gephardt’s comments as one reason why so many made the connection. [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council (see February 5, 2003) has a far more powerful effect on the American populace than it does among others. [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288]
Did Not Convince Skeptical Governments - The presentation does little to change minds on the Security Council. France, Russia, and China remain opposed to the idea of a new resolution that would pave the way for the US to invade Iraq. These countries say that Powell’s speech demonstrates that inspections are working and must be allowed to continue. “Immediately after Powell spoke, the foreign ministers of France, Russia and China—all of which hold veto power—rejected the need for imminent military action and instead said the solution was more inspections,” reports the Washington Post. But governments who have been supportive of the United States’ stance remain firmly behind Washington. [Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
European Press Skeptical - The European press’s response to Powell’s evidence is also mixed. The Times of London, a relatively conservative daily newspaper, describes Powell’s presentation as a “few smudgy satellite photographs, a teaspoon of talcum powder, some Lego-style drawings of sinister trucks and trains, a picture of an American U2 spy plane, several mugshots of Arabic men, and a script that required a suspension of mistrust by the world’s doves.” [London Times, 2/6/2003]
American Media Strongly Positive - The US media’s reaction to Powell’s presentation is immediate and overwhelmingly positive. Over 100 press outlets compare his speech to Adlai Stevenson’s 1962 denunciation of the USSR during the Cuban Missile Crisis (see January 30-February 4, 2003). One poll shows that 90 percent of Americans now believe Iraq has an active WMD program that poses a dire threat to the nation. Another shows 67 percent of Americans believe that the US is justified in going to war with Iraq because of that nation’s illicit WMD. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the speech “impressive in its breadth and eloquence.” The Denver Post compares Powell to “Marshal Dillon facing down a gunslinger in Dodge City,” and adds that he showed the world “not just one ‘smoking gun’ but a battery of them.” Perhaps the most telling reaction is among the media’s liberals. The Washington Post’s Mary McGrory says Powell won her over. Richard Cohen, a moderate Post colleague, writes that Powell’s evidence is “absolutely bone-chilling in its detail… [and] had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hadn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool, or possibly a Frenchman, could conclude otherwise.” And the New York Times writes three separate stories praising Powell as “powerful,” “sober,” “factual,” and “nearly encyclopedic.” Columnist William Safire says Powell’s presentation has “half a dozen smoking guns” and makes an “irrefutable and undeniable” case. Safire’s colleague at the Times, Michael Gordon, concludes, “It will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 286-288] In the days after the speech, the Washington Post opinion pages are filled with praises for Powell and the presentation. [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] One Post editorial proclaims that after the presentation, it is “hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2004]
Powell 'Trusted' - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write in 2004: “[I]t was Powell’s credibility that finally put public opinion over the top. Over and over again, I was told, ‘Colin Powell wouldn’t lie to us.‘… Powell’s support for invading Iraq with a pseudo-coalition was essential, and he deserves at least as much of the responsibility for the subsequent situation that we find ourselves in as anybody else in the administration, because, more than anybody else, it was his credibility and standing among the American people that tipped the scales.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 317-318] In 2007, CBS anchor Dan Rather gives a simple reason why Powell’s presentation is so strongly accepted by so many. “Colin Powell was trusted. Is trusted, I’d put it—in a sense. He, unlike many of the people who made the decisions to go to war, Colin Powell has seen war. He knows what a green jungle hell Vietnam was. He knows what the battlefield looks like. And when Colin Powell says to you, ‘I, Colin Powell, am putting my personal stamp on this information. It’s my name, my face, and I’m putting it out there,’ that did make a difference.… I was impressed. And who wouldn’t be?” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, San Francisco Chronicle, Richard Cohen, New York Times, William Safire, Mary McGrory, Colin Powell, Michael Gordon, Denver Post, Dan Rather, London Times, Joseph C. Wilson
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Richard Cohen. [Source: Washington Post]Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen acknowledges that the Post published a largely fictional account of the capture and rescue of US soldier Jessica Lynch (see April 1, 2003): “This newspaper told its readers that she had been shot and stabbed, that she had fought off her Iraqi attackers—her gun blazing—until she went down and was taken prisoner, hospitalized, and then rescued eight days later. Trouble is, much of that may be false. Lynch apparently was not shot. Lynch was not stabbed. Lynch may not have put up much of a fight, maybe none at all. The lights may have gone out for her the moment her unit was attacked and her vehicle went off the road. It was then, probably, that she suffered several broken bones. This information, too, was in the Post—sort of.” The lurid, action-hero details were published on the front page, Cohen notes, while the subsequent updates that contradicted the original story were buried deep in the later pages of the newspaper. “You are forgiven, therefore, if you do not have the facts on Jessica Lynch,” he writes. “They were extremely hard to get.” He does not blame the Post for doing “anything unethical or wrong—or, for that matter, different from what is done elsewhere.” The two reporters who wrote the original story were likely “misled or misinformed by their sources in the military. They were only reporting what they had been told.” He is not sure whether the Pentagon deliberately reworked the story into more dramatic form, or whether Pentagon officials simply made a series of mistakes. Where the Post went awry, Cohen writes, was in refusing to acknowledge its errors. The Post sent a reporter to the hospital in Nasiriyah where Lynch had been cared for; that reporter learned from the doctors there that Lynch had neither been shot nor stabbed. That story was confirmed by the commander of the military hospital in Germany where Lynch was initially taken after being rescued and by Lynch’s father, Greg Lynch (see April 4, 2003). But the Post buried these contradictions and opposing versions in its back pages, instead merely “fold[ing] them into other stories. The reader, like a CIA analyst, had to read everything to understand what the Post was saying. It seemed to be backing off its original account, but not in a forthright way.” Why does this happen? Cohen asks. “Partly it’s a matter of pretense. Journalism is alchemy with words. We turn nuances, lies, denials, spin, and unreturned phone calls into something called The Truth. Often we succeed. When we don’t, we don’t want anyone to notice. We would like to appear omniscient.… But the public is on to us. Our aloofness, our defensiveness, our sheer inability to concede uncertainty (which goes beyond merely correcting factual mistakes) has cost us plenty. Instead and too often, we add invisible asterisks of doubt to stories and then commend ourselves for our exemplary professionalism.” [Washington Post, 5/23/2003]
Michael Getler. [Source: PBS]Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler joins his Post colleague Richard Cohen in admitting that the Post published a largely fictional account of the capture and rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see May 23, 2003). Getler writes that one of the biggest problems journalists face is their increasing reliance on anonymous sources, such as the unnamed Pentagon officials who provided the fabrications used by two Post reporters to create the original Lynch story. Additionally, Getler worries that “intelligence information is being politicized and that reporters aren’t probing hard enough against the defenses of an administration with an effective, disciplined, and restrictive attitude toward information control.” The problem goes far beyond the fictional story of a single US Army private, Getler writes. The justifications for the invasion of Iraq—weapons of mass destruction and connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda—have not yet been confirmed. Many of those came from unnamed government officials. New allegations by unnamed officials point to hostile acts by Iran and Syria, and even to unfriendly acts by the US’s European ally, France, which led the opposition to the Iraq invasion. Whether those stories cite “intelligence officials,” “senior administration officials,” or others of what Getler calls “useless descriptions,” the upshot is the same: lurid, alarming, and potentially baseless allegations and stories are regularly making their way into print without anyone taking responsibility for them, or advancing incontrovertible proof of their veracity. The Post continues to be the primary source of the largely fictional account of Lynch’s capture and rescue. Getler pleads, “If there is a different version, or a confirming version, of this that is authoritative, I hope somebody will write it, along with a more probing account of her rescue.” [Washington Post, 5/25/2003]
In an op-ed, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen pleads with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to terminate his investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak. “The best thing Patrick Fitzgerald could do for his country is get out of Washington, return to Chicago, and prosecute some real criminals,” Cohen writes. Fitzgerald, Cohen asserts, has accomplished nothing besides jailing New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see July 6, 2005) and “repeatedly haul[ing] this or that administration high official before a grand jury, investigating a crime that probably wasn’t one in the first place but that now, as is often the case, might have metastasized into some sort of coverup—but, again, of nothing much.” Cohen advises Fitzgerald to “[g]o home, Pat.” He says that for administration officials, the investigation is “[n]ot nice,” but is an example of Washington business as usual. “This is rarely considered a crime,” Cohen writes. Perhaps the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson, a clandestine CIA agent, “might technically be one,” but Cohen writes that “it was not the intent of anyone to out a CIA agent and have her assassinated (which happened once) but to assassinate the character of her husband. This is an entirely different thing. She got hit by a ricochet.” Cohen writes that Fitzgerald may be considering indicting White House officials, not for outing Plame Wilson, but for related crimes, perhaps disclosing secrets or on some sort of conspiracy charges. “Whatever the case, I pray Fitzgerald is not going to reach for an indictment or, after so much tumult, merely fold his tent, not telling us, among other things, whether Miller is the martyr to a free press that I and others believe she is or whether, as some lefty critics hiss, she’s a double-dealing grandstander, in the manner of some of her accusers.” Cohen says that the larger issue is “control of information,” and explains: “If anything good comes out of the Iraq war, it has to be a realization that bad things can happen to good people when the administration—any administration—is in sole control of knowledge and those who know the truth are afraid to speak up. This—this creepy silence—will be the consequence of dusting off rarely used statutes to still the tongues of leakers and intimidate the press in its pursuit of truth, fame, and choice restaurant tables. Apres Miller comes moi.” Intimidating reporters would have more far-reaching effects than bringing what Cohen calls “trivial charges” to court. “Please, Mr. Fitzgerald,” Cohen concludes, “there’s so much crime in Washington already. Don’t commit another.” [Washington Post, 10/13/2005]
A federal jury in North Carolina finds that the World Church of the Creator (WCOTC—see May 1996 and After) illegally attempted to sell land it owned in order to avoid turning it over to a black family that won a court case against the group. The leader of the group, Ben Klassen, sold church land and assets to white supremacist William Pierce (see July 1992), the head of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, in order to dodge paying the family of Harold Mansfield, an African-American murdered by a group member (see June 6, 1991 and After). Mansfield’s family will receive the $85,000 in profits Pierce earned when he in turn sold the land. Pierce says he will appeal the verdict and will challenge the role of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in the court case; SPLC lawyers represented Mansfield’s family. SPLC lawyer Richard Cohen says the principle in the jury’s verdict is more important than the money. “We are trying to make sure that the organizers and leaders of hate groups which take violent actions pay the price,” Cohen says. “While he had no role in the killing of Harold Mansfield, Dr. Pierce tried to help the Church of the Creator avoid paying the price by keeping its assets away from Harold’s mother.” [New York Times, 5/19/2006]
On the Washington Post’s radio broadcast, Post columnist Richard Cohen falsely claims that former ambassador and war critic Joseph Wilson claimed in a 2003 op-ed (see July 6, 2003) that Vice President Dick Cheney sent him to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson actually wrote that CIA officials sent him to Niger to investigate the possibility that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country, that “Cheney’s office had questions about” the charges (see (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA wanted to “provide a response to the vice president’s office” (see March 5, 2002). After citing this falsehood, Cohen calls the case against former White House official Lewis Libby, accused of committing perjury in his denials of involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), a “silly case.” All the White House was trying to do, Cohen states, was to “get their story out” after Wilson had “misrepresented the genesis of his trip to Africa” (see October 1, 2003). Cohen also repeats the frequently debunked notion that it was Wilson’s wife who sent him to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cohen says he “almost feel[s] sorry” for Cheney, who by having Plame Wilson outed was “just [Cheney] trying to get his story out in the conventional Washington way.” Cohen also repeats the falsehood that many people knew Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see September 29, 2003 and September 30, 2003) and her covert status was “not a tightly held secret” (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). [Media Matters, 1/31/2007]
Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]
Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, described by observers as a moderate liberal, castigates US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the government lawyers who successfully prosecuted former White House senior aide Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby (see October 28, 2005 and March 6, 2007). Unlike some of his more conservative colleagues (see October 29, 2005, October 31, 2005, November 4, 2005, November 17, 2005, November 18, 2005, December 8, 2005, April 9, 2006, April 17, 2006, July 12, 2006, Late August-Early September, 2006, September 2-5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 5, 2006, September 7, 2006, October 16, 2006, January 17, 2007, February 16, 2007, February 16, 2007, February 27, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 6, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 7, 2007, March 8-9, 2007, March 9, 2007, and March 11, 2007), Cohen does not plainly state that Libby is innocent of any crime. Rather, Cohen accuses Fitzgerald of doing the work of the “liberal press (especially the New York Times)” and “opponents of the Iraq war” in “mak[ing] a mountain out of a molehill.” The outing of clandestine CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003 and July 12, 2006) was nothing more than a “run-of-the-mill leak,” he writes. Moreover, he writes, Fitzgerald “wound up prosecuting not the leaker—Richard Armitage of the State Department (see June 13, 2003)—but Libby, convicted in the end of lying. Cohen justifies his claim by writing: “This is not an entirely trivial matter since government officials should not lie to grand juries, but neither should they be called to account for practicing the dark art of politics. As with sex or real estate, it is often best to keep the lights off.” Cohen goes on to call the Libby investigation “a train wreck—mile after mile of shame, infamy, embarrassment, and occasional farce.” He accuses Fitzgerald of using the power of his office to unjustly compel journalists to testify to their own knowledge and complicity in Libby’s leak. The Iraq war opponents “cheered” Fitzgerald on, Cohen writes, and goes on to say that those opponents “thought—if ‘thought’ can be used in this context—that if the thread was pulled on who had leaked the identity of Valerie Plame to Robert D. Novak, the effort to snooker an entire nation into war would unravel and this would show… who knows? Something. For some odd reason, the same people who were so appalled about government snooping, the USA Patriot Act, and other such threats to civil liberties cheered as the special prosecutor weed-whacked the press, jailed a reporter, and now will send a previously obscure government official to prison for 30 months.” Had the Iraq war only claimed 300 American lives and ended with a clear victory, Cohen writes, no one would have called for any such investigation. As it stands, he continues, the anti-war left and the “liberal press” demanded “scalps” and was given Libby’s. “Accountability is one thing,” Cohen writes. “By all means, let Congress investigate and conduct oversight hearings with relish and abandon. But a prosecution is a different matter. It entails the government at its most coercive—a power so immense and sometimes so secretive that it poses much more of a threat to civil liberties, including freedom of the press, than anything in the interstices of the scary Patriot Act.” He concludes by calling on President Bush to commute Libby’s sentence. [Washington Post, 6/19/2007; Salon, 6/19/2007] Cohen has previously asked that the prosecution of Libby be terminated (see October 13, 2005),
called Libby’s prosecution “silly,” and misrepresented the facts behind the prosecution (see January 30, 2007). Author, columnist, and former civil liberties lawyer Glenn Greenwald, writing a response to Cohen’s column for his blog in the Internet news publication Salon, savages Cohen by mockingly “praising” Cohen’s column as perfectly “capturing the essence of our Beltway media.” Cohen’s exhortation to allow politics to be practiced with “the lights off” is, Greenwald asserts, “the central belief of our Beltway press.… If that isn’t the perfect motto for our bold, intrepid, hard-nosed political press, then nothing is.” Greenwald notes what he calls the “multiple falsehoods” of Cohen’s argument—the appointment of Fitzgerald to investigate the leak that outed Plame Wilson was not a result of pressure from the “liberal press” or what Cohen calls the “sanctimon[ious]” anti-war left, unless the CIA and the Justice Department are left-wing organizations (see July 30, 2003, Before September 16, 2003 and December 30, 2003). Greenwald writes that the core of Cohen’s apparent horror and indignation at the pursuit of the Plame Wilson leak is that his colleagues in the media were investigated and in one instance jailed (see July 6, 2005). “As any prosecutor knows—and Martha Stewart can attest—white-collar types tend to have a morbid fear of jail,” Greenwald quotes Cohen as writing. Greenwald responds: “Indeed, it is so terribly unfair to investigate powerful government officials because, as ‘white-collar types,’ they have a ‘morbid fear of jail’—in contrast, of course, to blue-collar types, and darker ones still, who really do not mind prison at all. Why would they? It’s their natural habitat, where they belong. That is what prison is for. That has been the real point here all along. The real injustice is that prison is simply not the place for the most powerful and entrenched members of the Beltway royal court, no matter how many crimes they commit. There is a grave indignity to watching our brave Republican elite be dragged before such lowly venues as a criminal court and be threatened with prison, as though they are common criminals or something. How disruptive and disrespectful and demeaning it all is.” Greenwald says that the “most valuable lesson of Cohen’s column… is that the overriding allegiance of our permanent Beltway ruling class is to the royal court which accords them their status and prestige. That overarching allegiance overrides, easily, any supposed partisan, ideological or other allegiances which, in their assigned roles, they are ostensibly defending.” Were the Beltway press to actually investigate and pursue stories instead of “snuggling” with their “friends” in government, it would expose corruption and foster justice, instead of encouraging corruption and fostering injustice. Greenwald concludes: “Our media stars have not merely stood idly by while our highest government officials engage in endless deceit and corruption. They actively defend it, enable it, justify it, and participate in it. Keeping the lights off is their principal function, one which—with rare and noble exceptions—they perform quite eagerly.” [Salon, 6/19/2007]
The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen writes: “Sadly, it is simply not possible to dismiss the Iranian threat. Not only is Iran proceeding with a nuclear program, but it projects a pugnacious, somewhat nutty, profile to the world.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
In light of the just-released National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iran stopped research on nuclear weapons in 2003 (see December 3, 2007), Editor and Publisher’s Greg Mitchell notes that many media pundits have “promoted [the administration’s] line” of Iran’s imminent emergence as a nuclear threat. He comments: “Many in the media have made [such] claims, often extravagantly, which promoted (deliberately or not) the tubthumping for striking Iran.… [T]oo many in the media seemed to fail to learn the lessons of the Iraqi WMD intelligence failure—and White House propaganda effort—and instead, were repeating it, re: Iran. This time, perhaps, we may have averted war, with little help from most of the media. In this case, it appears, the NIE people managed to resist several months of efforts by the administration to change their assessment. If only they had stiffened their backbones concerning Iraq in 2002.” Three pundits—David Brooks (see January 22, 2006), Thomas Friedman (see June 2007), and Richard Cohen (see October 23, 2007)—managed to, in Mitchells’s words, at least “back some kind of diplomacy in regard to Iran, unlike many of their brethren.” Others were more forceful in their calls for action, including the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland (see November 4, 2007), the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol (see July 14, 2006), and the Post editorial page (see September 26, 2007). Mitchell notes that many of these pundits are regulars on television news and commentary programs. [Editor & Publisher, 12/4/2007]
Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen implictly advocates the assassination of Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe. Cohen details the crimes that Mugabe and his cohorts have committed against his political opponents as well as the people of Zimbabwe, and says the US should “have a Predator drone circle over Robert Mugabe’s luxurious villa until this monster of a dictator who has brought such misery to Zimbabwe runs screaming from his home and into the arms of his own people. What happens after that is none of my business.” No nation, nor any international organizations, seem willing to do anything about Mugabe except criticize his harsh treatment of his people, Cohen writes. “[T]he man’s a thug, and thugs should be dealt with,” he writes. “[Secretary of State] Condi Rice routinely condemns Mugabe. Much of the rest of the world does, too. Yet he persists, using his security forces and the wise dispersion of graft to remain in power. The example of Iraq forbids the United States to act. We are all realists now. Our grand cause is to have none at all. Still, a single Predator could do wonders. At the very least, it would lift the shame.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2008; Foreign Policy, 10/22/2010] Shortly after Cohen’s editorial, a progressive human rights advocate calls for the US to overthrow Mugabe’s regime by military force (see January 16, 2009).
Fox News host Bill O’Reilly provides harsh criticism towards CNN talk show host Lou Dobbs for promoting the “birther” conspiracy theory, which claims that President Obama is not a US citizen (see July 20, 2008, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, and December 3, 2008). O’Reilly says he and his staff have investigated the claims and found them groundless. He questions Dobbs’s choice to continue promoting the idea on his show, but in an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Richard Cohen, defends Dobbs’s right to make the statements. O’Reilly says: “That theory has been around for a while. The Factor [O’Reilly’s talk show The O’Reilly Factor] investigated, found out it’s bogus. But Mr. Dobbs is still engaged.… Again, we found out that President Obama was born in Hawaii… we were sent the documents. And what are you gonna do? I don’t know why it’s still around.” When Cohen says that CNN should remove Dobbs from the airwaves, O’Reilly disagrees, saying: “Why are you guys overreacting?… It’s not true. Mr. Dobbs is, is trying to get ratings, trying to be provocative.” Cohen calls O’Reilly’s explanation a “poor excuse” and accuses Dobbs of “trading in right-wing baseless conspiracies for years.” [Huffington Post, 7/27/2009]
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