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: