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Sunday, December 11, 2005


Well I will give Viveca Novak one thing. Unlike the brazen and unapologetic explanations written by Bob Woodward and Judy Miller following their quality time with Patrick Fitzgerald, she does have the good sense to be contrite in tone for her account in today's Time Magazine. But then again, she doesn't have the superstar status to carry her, and as amazing as it may seem to people who thought the bottom of the integrity barrel had already been hit, her journalistic sins appear to be worse. Much worse.

But her contrition is deeply suspect and seems to fall into the category of "sorry I got caught." Her actions over the past two years clearly indicate that her loyalty was to herself first, her good friend Robert Luskin second, and any sense of obligation she felt toward Time Magazine, her colleague Matt Cooper, or journalistic principles was only incidental, if at all.

Her tale as related today is a pure embarrassment. She thinks she may have had the conversation in January, but then it might be May or March. Did April find her vacationing in the Urals? That this conversation was conducted in the pursuit of journalism and not gossip is certainly not backed up by the existence of any notes. Ms. Novak volunteers that Luskin was "more likely to speak freely if he didn't see me committing his words to paper." We presume he did not follow her home and rip the pen from her hand to prevent her from documenting the conversation forthwith.

And she clearly knew the import of what had transpired between them. She says that after her revelation, "I immediately felt uncomfortable. I hadn't intended to tip Luskin off to anything. I was supposed to be the information gatherer."

Exactly. She describes her comments as a "push back." What part of a journalist's job is "pushing back" using confidential information? "Pushing back" seems to be synonymous here with gossiping. It's certainly not reporting if you can't remember when it took place and you have no notes about something quite relevant to the story you are currently working on.

Further, it's not entirely clear that this is the whole story. As emptywheel notes, if the conversation did happen in March -- and it appears Fitzgerald thinks it did, although Viveca seems to habitually knock back several glasses of wine before keeping her calendar -- this was two months before Matt Cooper was specifically subpoenaed. As Vivac recounts it:
Toward the end of one of our meetings, I remember Luskin looking at me and saying something to the effect of "Karl doesn't have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt." I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me, and said something like, "Are you sure about that? That's not what I hear around TIME."
Matt Cooper was merely one of many Time journalists about whom the White House had been subpoenaed in January, 2004. He would not be subpoenaed until May of 2004. Why would they specifically be discussing him amongst all others in March unless Viveca had blabbed a great deal more about her coworker's interactions with Karl Rove than her story lets on?

It just goes downhill from there. Even knowing that this interaction with Luskin was critical, she does not tell her editors that it occurred. When her coworker Matt Cooper is facing jail time, she doesn't come forward. Even after she is contacted by Luskin and told she has now become part of the story, she hires an attorney but seeks to hide her involvement from her employers. Oh if I were Norman Pearlstein and I had not only spent millions of dollars in a legal battle to protect the integrity of my publication but had also struggled mightily with my own conscience to do the right thing, I would be fucking pissed to have it all scuttled in some wine-soaked gab fest.

Because the worst sin against journalism on the part of Vivac is yet to come. Knowing that she is now part of the story, she continues to report on it. Following the indictment of Scooter Libby, she was still covering the story when a November 7, 2005 Michael Duffy article entitled Fall of a Vulcan noted that Rove had curiously escaped Fitzgerald's noose for reasons unknown. Except Vivac knew full well why Rove's fate was still undecided, and failed to tell both her readers or her employers.

Ms. Novak's journalistic integrity has been trumpeted loudly by her defenders in the days succeeding Time's announcement that she now was playing a critical part in Karl Rove's defense. To say that we breathlessly await any attempt to excuse this exercise in "clubhouse journalism" would be an understatement.

Swopa and Tom Maguire have more.

(graphic by Monk at Inflatable Dartboard)