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The Fitzgerald Spinmeisters

Russ Baker

October 27, 2005

Investigative reporter and essayist Russ Baker is a longtime contributor to He is the founder of the Real News Project, a new organization dedicated to producing groundbreaking investigative journalism. He can be reached at

Perhaps by the time you read this, you will know the outcome of Patrick Fitzgerald’s inquiries into the so-called Valerie Plame Affair. Perhaps, up until that announcement came or comes, you have resisted planning, oh, say, a, cigarettes-in-prison fund for Karl Rove.

But some won’t wait. Everyone with a vested interest in minimizing the significance of any outcome—i.e. anyone who goes down with the good ship Bushypop, from hack legislators to hack pundits to hack political hacks—has spent the past week or so frantically digging through their chest of hoary excuses. Perhaps it is from a subconscious sense of guilt, perhaps it is just good political sense.

Whatever, we’re too far along in the public debate about honesty and trust to let the spin go unchallenged. So here are some examples of what we’re already seeing, some things we might expect to see, and some reasonable quick-responses to them.

Let’s start with one of the first out of the box, ‘kay? Well, actually, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who began anaesthetizing the public (and malleable pundit-lites) toward possible indictments, with an appearance on "Meet the Press" Sunday. Hutchison said two things. One, that an indictment is not a guilty verdict. And two, that an indictment shouldn’t be about ‘some perjury technicality.’ 

Hutchison was thinking of a situation where no serious crime had been committed, but where some overzealous investigator didn’t want to have nothing to show for years of investigation and expenditure of taxpayer money. So the investigator proves that the guilty party at least lied, or, as she put it charitably, “said something in the first grand jury and then maybe they found new information or they forgot something and they tried to correct that in a second grand jury.”

And who might that be? In trouble not for some monstrous underlying official wrongdoing but merely for uttering an inconsequential untruth in response to questions from inquisitors? By Jove, could she mean Bill Clinton?
Surely not. Because, when the dress was on the other shoe, Sen. Hutchison enthusiastically voted to pursue him on both perjury and obstruction of justice charges. What Bill Clinton had done was wrong—she believed that at the time. So, presumably she still believes the same thing: that lying under oath warrants punishment. 

When Tim Russert pointed out that the Republicans had taken precisely that road which Hutchison warned against in their pursuit of Clinton, Hutchison quickly brushed that aside, focusing instead on Martha Stewart’s lies about insider trading as a better model. And when she talked about “grand juries and U.S. attorneys and district attorneys that go for technicalities, sort of a gotcha mentality in this country,” she was doing a group limbering-up in anticipation of two other developments: the Tom DeLay trial (also presented as a witch hunt by overzealous partisans) and the next stages in the campaign to neuter the judicial branch of government.

Russert might have profitably noted that the Clinton matter was a better one for Hutchison to argue, since the underlying issue—consensual sexual behavior between adults—was actually less serious than the firing offense. In the case of leaking Plame’s name, it is the exact opposite. It is the reason they leaked the name that matters—the effort to hide a conspiracy to lead a nation into war through deception.

Not everyone’s buying the campaign. None less than the archconservative columnist Michele Malkin’s blog warned against this tack, saying she “found Hutchison's pooh-poohing more than a bit disturbing.” But Hutch is not alone. In the last days and hours, we have heard all manner of whispering points leaking into the debate. Here are other canards already being employed or likely to emerge momentarily from Planet Bush:

  • Claim that Fitzgerald exceeded his original mandate. Numerous news accounts have picked up the assertion that Fitzgerald asked for and got expanded authority to explore other crimes than those on the original bill of goods. Yet, in fact, Fitzgerald had always been able to do that. A 2004 letter from then-acting Attorney General James B. Comey is being misrepresented, since it was merely a clarification—not an expansion—of authority.
  • Look for anything at all about Fitzgerald that might raise doubts about his independence or judgment, like being spotted ordering a triple tofutti lasagna chip cone. Long ago, my friend Tucker Carlson advised such an approach.
  • Insist that, even if certain officials are found to have leaked Plame’s name, it wouldn’t matter because it isn’t a crime. That’s a tricky one, figuring out exactly whether such an action would violate various laws, especially since there’s a whole lotta gray area. Including, hypothetically, calling a Plame a Flame, then saying you sure like P’s better than F’s. So far, strongly partisan former government attorneys have been quoted as if their interpretation is the final word. Journalists should do a better job finding sober and authoritative analysts.
  • Suggest that changing one’s account is understandable, and attributable to normal memory lapses. That might fly as to whether you returned a library book on time five years ago, but it’s hard to claim you don’t remember your role in the mechanics of an elaborately constructed smear.

Anyway, have fun with assembling your own list of excuses you might use if you were—oh, a Fox News analyst-pundit.

And remember the words of the wise man who advised that if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bull (bleep.) By readying a quiver full of misguided missives, the forces of darkness know that they can so obliterate the target until no one can even quite make it out at all.



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