Altering reality on Karl Rove

If the truth hurts, change it.

Published July 14, 2005 3:19PM (EDT)

Joe Wilson appeared on NBC's "Today Show" this morning with a simple message for George W. Bush: "The president has said repeatedly, 'I am a man of my word,'" Wilson said. "He should stand up and prove that his word is his bond and fire Karl Rove." It was, as AMERICAblog notes this morning, a "Rovian" performance: Find your opponent's perceived strength and go right at it hard. The Republicans did it with the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on John Kerry's military record. And Wilson did it this morning when he went after Bush's reputation for being a resolute man of the truth.

Of course, that reputation isn't what it once was: As we noted earlier this morning, only 41 percent of the respondents in a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll say they view Bush as "honest and trustworthy," a nine-point drop since the beginning of the year. In a reality-based world, that number would be headed for an even steeper drop now: The poll was taken before the worst of the Rove revelations had time to sink in.

But the Republicans know that we're not living in a reality-based world, or at least that they can change the reality if they just deny its existence often enough. We've been through this before. Sure, there's no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, but the president hints about one constantly, the vice president says it's an open question, a random ally here or there says, Oh, yes, there's a link, and then you find yourself wondering why 20 percent of Bush's supporters think Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 and a large majority thinks Iraq was providing substantial support for al-Qaida.

And now it's happening all over again with the Rove/Plame/Wilson affair. Two years ago, the White House told the American public that "the president knows" that Rove wasn't involved with the Plame leak and that he would fire anyone who was. Now we know that Rove was involved and that Bush hasn't fired him yet. That's the reality unless the Republicans can create a new one, which explains just a little about why they're trying so hard to do so.

It explains why you're hearing claims that Rove didn't really leak anything because he didn't use Plame's name, despite the fact that Rove's lawyer acknowledges that that's a difference without a distinction.

It explains why you're hearing claims that Plame was just some kind of glorified secretary at the CIA at the same time that the Republicans are arguing that she had the authority to send Wilson off to Niger to investigate claims about uranium and Iraq.

It explains why you're hearing that Plame wasn't really undercover -- she drove her car to Langley! -- when the CIA, as an agency official once acknowledged, would never have referred the case to the Justice Department if she weren't.

It explains why you're hearing claims that this whole thing is a "tempest in a teapot" and a "partisan attack" despite the fact that a federal prosecutor appointed by George W. Bush and a slew of federal judges apparently consider the leak of Plame's identity important enough to warrant the jailing of a reporter.

And it explains why you're hearing that the Plame case doesn't really involve a leak at all. "A leak is when you ask a reporter to write a story," Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman said in Iowa yesterday. Rove wasn't doing that, Mehlman says: "He was discouraging a reporter from writing a false story."

A false story? Yeah, Mehlman and his colleagues know something about that. And if Bush is to survive the Rove scandal without further damage to his reputation, they'd better hope that they can sell the ones they're peddling now.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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