Gloria Borger & the media's reverence for Karl Rove

Journalists desperately seek the approval of those they are charged with covering.


Glenn Greenwald
September 2, 2007 6:46PM (UTC)

(updated below)

Gloria Borger of U.S. News and World Report is perfectly representative of the establishment media pundit. She possesses in great abundance the most common attribute which defines them -- namely, there is never an original thought that comes out of her mouth. Instead, she never does anything other than recite Beltway conventional wisdom and GOP talking points (typically the same thing) with complete fealty. For that reason, Borger last week made her exciting debut as a panelist on Fox News' Sunday Show.

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We last visited with Borger when she was part of the notorious Chris Matthews panel castigating the Democrats for their terrible, foolish pursuit of the great Karl Rove as part of their investigation of the U.S. attorneys scandal (according to Borger, subpoenaing Rove was about nothing more than maximizing Democratic fundraising). Prior to that, back in November, she was one of the leading members of the media pack declaring Nancy Pelosi's speakership all but dead -- before it even began -- due to the Grave Crime to the Nation of failing to appoint Jane Harman as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Borger has a new column in U.S. News touting the genius of Karl Rove, and in it, she unintentionally reveals a critical insight into how our Beltway media functions:

Karl Rove knew exactly what he was doing. In a round of interviews as he exited the White House, the man President Bush called the "architect" of his re-election was designing something else: a push for Hillary Clinton's nomination. "I think she's likely to be the nominee," he told Rush Limbaugh. "And I think she's fatally flawed."

All observations that, coming from anyone else, might be considered routine punditry. But when Rove speaks, the political class pays attention -- usually with good reason.

The rest of the column is devoted to hailing the brilliance of Rove's plot to induce Democrats to nominate Clinton because of how vulnerable a candidate she is.

Beltway media mavens like Borger have spent the last six years awash in true reverence for Karl Rove. Rove's function is to manipulate the media, conceal information from them, and induce them to say what is politically beneficial to the President. In a world where political journalism performs its most basic functions, media manipulators like Rove are the natural enemy of journalists. But for our pundit class, Karl Rove is the North Star of what they do -- he provides their instructions, their leaks, their scoops, their access. And as the purveyor of Beltway political power, he is their most admired leader.

Rove ran around in September and October of 2006 insisting that the Republicans would win the midterm election. His certainty of victory was so great, including in private, that even the GOP establishment began whispering, with increasing anger, that he was delusional. His political strategy proved to be as inept as his predictions, as his political party suffered a crushing defeat of historic proportions in that election.

Worse, his crowning political product, George W. Bush, is the most unpopular president in modern American history, having almost single-handedly destroyed the Republican brand. But to media stars like Borger, Rove continues to be the supreme political genius, the one who merits the greatest respect, he who continues to pull the puppet strings on the weak Democratic losers while the media stars sit back and gaze with admiration and love. "When Rove speaks, the political class pays attention -- usually with good reason," she proclaims.

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As indicated, nothing Borger says is ever unique or original, and thus she is hardly alone in her worship of Rove. She is merely channelling the deep admiration which her Beltway media colleagues have long harbored for Rove and his underlings.

From David Broder's bold confession of Rove admiration ("Let me disclose my own bias in this matter. I like Karl Rove . . . The other reason for inviting Rove was his wealth of information on the forces shaping the biggest single change in American politics -- the emergence of the Republican South . . . . He generally tries to return calls in the same week -- if not day -- they are placed") to Broder's decree that various media outlets "owe Karl Rove an apology" for criticizing his role in the Plame case, it has long been apparent that most of our nation's leading journalists believe that Rove is filled with wisdom and merits the greatest respect.

This admiration for Rove extends into the entire GOP political machine he constructed, as illustrated by Mike Allen's unbridled reverence for both Rove protegee Dan Bartlett and Cheney P.R. aide Steve Schmidt. Journalists have attached themselves to, and become dependent upon, the GOP message machine created by Rove. And their admiration for Rove -- even in the wake of his rather humiliating failures -- continues unabated. As Jay Rosen put it in his recent, excellent essay on the relationship of Washington journalists to Rove's GOP political machine:

Savviness is what journalists admire in others. Savvy is what they themselves dearly wish to be. (And to be unsavvy is far worse than being wrong.) Savviness --that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, "with it," and unsentimental in all things political -- is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain.

The dangers of the media's reverence for the President's top political operative are as numerous as they are obvious. The media virtually never takes seriously any administration lawbreaking and corruption scandals because the people at the center of those scandals are those whom they deeply admire. They do not want political operatives whom they admire to be investigated, let alone prosecuted. They do not subject White House claims to scrutiny because they hear those claims from operatives with whom they identify and for whom they have deep affection. And they adopt GOP-fed narratives and blindly recite them because they are convinced that those who feed them those claims are individuals who possess the greatest insight.

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Borger's high praise for Rove's wisdom -- and her admission that when he speaks, the "political class" (i.e., her and her media colleagues) listens -- illustrates one of the principal reasons the White House has been so adept in keeping our political press meek and deferential. In their insular world, Rove has been (perceived as) the winner, Democrats have been the losers, and our Beltway journalists -- followers and power-worshippers first and foremost -- want to please those who possess power. That desire, of course, is the opposite instinct of what drives good political journalism. But the fact that this obsequious desire -- whereby journalists seek the approval of our most powerful political operatives -- defines much of our political press is a principal factor in why we have so little real political journalism.

UPDATE: After the midterm elections, Eric Boehlert -- in a piece entitled "The Karl Rove Crush" -- examined how reporters throughout 2006 were overwhelmingly warning of disaster for Democrats because that is what Rove was saying. As but one example, the odious Mark Halperin -- then of ABC News, now of Time -- said: "If I were them [Democrats], I'd be scared to death about November's elections."

It was the same Mark Halperin who -- when talking about the book he co-authored with John Harris (then of the Washington Post, now Editor-in-Chief of The Politico) -- assured Hugh Hewitt:

Let me say one thing we say in the book about Karl Rove, who I respect and enjoy . . . I enjoy his company. If you look at the allegations of Karl Rove that have been propagated in Texas and in Washington by the media, the liberal media, and by Democrats, and you look at the allegations, there's - except for the useful indiscretions to which Karl has admitted, there is no evidence for the allegations against him.

And the ability of the press to paint him as this evil guy, and say that accounts for his success, is fundamental and outrageous.

Karl Rove had, and still has, no greater defenders or more enthusiastic admirers than our nation's political press corps -- our "watchdogs." As Borger put it: "when Rove speaks, the political class pays attention." Indeed they do, and nobody pays more respectful attention than our journalists.

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Glenn Greenwald

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Washington, D.c.



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