Rove, Rove, Rove - and Tom Cruise

If the daily ins and outs of the CIA leak saga have been making you dizzy — so Cooper learned Plame’s identity from Rove, who learned it from Novak, who learned it from Scooter Libby, who learned it from Tim Russert, who learned it from Judy Miller, who learned it from Ahmed Chalabi?? Or is it the other way around? — we suggest turning to the newsweeklies for a consolidated overview. Both Time and Newsweek feature Karl Rove on the cover this week.

Newsweek’s cover story (headline: “Rove at War”) opens with a summary of what exactly spurred this whole leak controversy, taking us from when Joseph Wilson began “peddling his story and his doubts — but not his own name — to selected reporters, officials and Hill staffers,” to when he finally went public with his complaints two years ago, and through what is known of the White House reactions (both internal and external) since.

But the bulk of the article is just about Rove — his history, his personality, his strategies, his weaknesses. The first line is “Karl Rove is a hunter,” and that image sticks. Author Howard Fineman shows no restraint in his critical description of Rove as a cruel and relentless beast tracking his prey of the moment.

So what does a beast of prey do when a former diplomat goes public with a critical op-ed?

In the World According to Karl Rove, you take the offensive, and stay there. You create a narrative that glosses over complex, mitigating facts to divide the world into friends and enemies, light and darkness, good and bad, Bush versus Saddam. You are loyal to a fault to your friends, merciless to your enemies. You keep your candidate’s public rhetoric sunny and uplifting, finding others to do the attacking. You study the details, and learn more about your foes than they know about themselves. You use the jujitsu of media flow to flip the energy of your enemies against them. The Boss never discusses political mechanics in public. But in fact everything is political — and everyone is fair game.

Fineman does take a short break to insert a little piece of speculative psychoanalysis: The College Republicans “were important to [Rove] for other reasons. They gave him a sense of order and belonging, which he may well have needed. His dad walked out in 1969; in 1970, he learned that he and a brother had been fathered by someone other than the man he had called Dad. (Eleven years later, his mother committed suicide.)”

For an overview of Rove’s involvement with Plamegate that is less muddled by attacks on Rove’s character, Time is your best bet. The Time cover story strikes a more emotionally removed tone. Instead of presenting Rove’s recently-revealed conversation with Cooper about Plame’s identity as a critical wound in Rove’s inhumanly thick exterior, the Time article resists drawing hasty conclusions: “This has always been a tale in which what is not known is as important as what is, and so the spotlight shifts once more, to Fitzgerald and what he has learned about the motives and methods behind the outing of Valerie Plame.”

Time writer Nancy Gibbs is quick to point out the legal reasons why Rove may not have technically leaked anything, and thus may slide away from the long arm of the law. But she does not hold off on criticizing the wavering statements of people supporting Rove: “And all the while, Rove’s defenders were artfully pivoting from saying he hadn’t done anything to saying he hadn’t done anything wrong, that Plame wasn’t really a secret agent anyway, or if she was, Rove didn’t know that, or if he did, he only brought her up because he was trying to keep reporters from writing a bad story based on Wilson’s false charges, and besides, it was a reporter who blew Plame’s cover to him in the first place and not the other way around.”

In short, if you feel like you’ve been getting mixed messages until now about who said or did what and with what intentions, you’ve got good reason.

The end of the piece offers a look at how much damage is likely to come from all of this, and proposes important questions and distinctions still to be cleared up:

It is one thing if Rove happened to hear from a reporter that Plame was a CIA officer, casually confirmed that he had already heard that to another reporter (Novak) and incidentally spread the word to a third (Cooper). It’s perhaps something else if Administration officials made an effort to gather information on Wilson, discovered that his wife was a CIA officer and carried out a strategy to discredit Wilson that included outing his wife to a number of reporters. It is still another thing to do the second and pretend, under oath, that you had done the first.

Time also had the privilege of breaking the story of what Matthew Cooper said in his grand jury testimony. His article adds a few more pieces to the puzzle. The jurors were interested in the specific details leading up to Cooper’s July 11 phone call with Rove, making him recount “in microscopic, excruciating detail” where he was when he made the call (in his office), how he got to Rove (through the White House switchboard) and what exactly each of them said (Cooper: I’m writing about Wilson; Rove: Don’t get too far out on Wilson).

But possibly the real gem of the piece is Cooper’s explanation of what exactly he meant by “double super secret background” — a phrase that’s “raised a few eyebrows ever since it leaked into the public domain.” It turns out it’s not just other reporters who were curious about Cooper’s dubious terminology; the grand jury wanted clarification as well. His explanation: “I told the grand jury that the phrase is not a journalistic term of art but a reference to the film ‘Animal House,’ in which John Belushi’s wild Delta House fraternity is placed on ‘double secret probation.’ (‘Super’ was my own addition.)”

Of course, with news that Bush will nominate a Supreme Court justice some time today, all of this Cooper and Rove talk could soon be buried under articles about the judicial pick. For an interesting set of articles on the Supreme Court nomination, check out The New Republic.

Or if you want to escape all this political speculation entirely, go ahead and indulge in some of the finer things out there: critiques of crazy celebrities. The New Yorker no doubt can claim an exclusive with Noah Baumbach’s “My Dog is Tom Cruise” (who knew?), and New York magazine delivers with a long diagnosis of celebrities gone mad, featuring, yep, Tom Cruise.

Samantha Henig

Samantha Henig was a CJR Daily intern.