Rove, McClellan and the "L" word

The mainstream media isn't calling Scott McClellan a "liar" quite yet -- but it's getting close.

Published July 18, 2005 2:28PM (EDT)

We know that we're not supposed to say that people in the White House "lied." It's impolite somehow, and it doesn't square with the fact -- it's a fact, right? -- that George W. Bush promised to "restore honor and dignity" to the Oval Office. But the mainstream press, whose usual instinct is to turn every question of fact into a matter of opinion susceptible to a "he said, she said" dispute, is coming awfully close to saying that White House press secretary Scott McClellan did that thing that starts with an "L" in the Valerie Plame case.

Check out some snippets from today's coverage. These aren't from editorials but from news stories on the latest developments in the case:

The Los Angeles Times: "Regardless of [Karl] Rove's legal liability, the [current] description of his role runs contrary to earlier White House statements that Rove and [Scooter] Libby were not involved in the unmasking of [Joseph] Wilson's wife, and it suggests they were part of a campaign to discredit Wilson."

The New York Times: "Matthew Cooper, a reporter for Time magazine, said [Rove] was the first person to tell him that [Wilson's wife] was a CIA officer ... Mr. Rove's allies have said that he did not initiate any conversations with reporters and that he was merely warning them off what he said was faulty information. But White House statements over the past two years have left the impression that administration officials were not involved in identifying Ms. Wilson."

The Associated Press: "[Time magazine reporter Matthew] Cooper said the 2003 phone call with Rove was the first time he had heard anything about Wilson's wife. The White House had insisted for nearly two years that neither Rove nor Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, had any connection with the leak of Plame's name. For the last two weeks, however, it has steadfastly declined to comment on the case, citing the ongoing Fitzgerald probe."

USA Today: "In Time and interviews Sunday on NBC and CNN, Cooper revealed details that could be significant in the inquiry by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald -- including the first on-the-record confirmation of Libby as a source. For two years, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Rove and Libby weren't involved."

And as the Washington Post indicated today, the Republicans' prevarications about the Plame case didn't stop in 2003. While the White House isn't saying anything about the case now that some of its own have been publicly implicated, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman is. And as the Post notes, he's speaking out on Rove's behalf in a way that's just a little less than honest: "Part of the Republican defense, as expressed by Mehlman on NBC, is that Rove did not know Plame's name or that she was a covert operative. Mehlman cited a New York Times report that, in his words, 'says Karl Rove was not Bob Novak's source, that Novak told Rove, not the other way around ... This information at least came to Mr. Rove from journalists, not from a classified source.' But the article said that when syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who was the first to report Plame's name and CIA job in July 2003, mentioned her, Rove replied he had 'heard that too,' indicating Rove had obtained the information elsewhere."

By Tim Grieve

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

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