Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I've been out for most of the day enjoying the city with my wife. And I haven't yet had the intestinal fortitude to dive into the Times lengthy and multiple treatment of its role in the Plame Affair. But a lot of attention in the blogs already seems to be focusing on this passage in Judy Miller's apologia ...

Mr. Fitzgerald asked about a notation I made on the first page of my notes about this July 8 meeting, "Former Hill staffer."

My recollection, I told him, was that Mr. Libby wanted to modify our prior understanding that I would attribute information from him to a "senior administration official." When the subject turned to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Libby requested that he be identified only as a "former Hill staffer." I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.

Did Mr. Libby explain this request? Mr. Fitzgerald asked. No, I don't recall, I replied. But I said I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson.

I got an email about this. And I've read around the blogs to see other responses. So I thought about <$NoAd$> writing a post trying to give some background about whether this is a normal or accepted practice among reporters.

The first part of an answer is to say, no, I would never agree to that sort of sourcing or those sorts of ground rules. And I can't imagine that many other journalists would either. But I think the more revealing detail is that I do not think I've ever even been asked.

I'm certainly not what you'd call a veteran reporter. But I've been doing this for a living for about eight years and I've reported on a number of quite sensitive intelligence and national security stories in which the revelation of the sources of particular pieces of information could have had very immediate real-world implications. And just off the top of my head, thinking it over this evening, I can't come up with a memory of a situation in which a source has asked me to identify them in this way. And by 'this way' I mean in a fashion that is technically accurately but intentionally and willfully misleading to readers.

What happens very often is that you get in wrestling matches with sources over specificity -- with the reporter always wanting more detail and the source usually wanting to keep things as vague as possible.

Occasionally you will end up with formulations that amount to little more than 'said a human being in Washington who was knowledgeable about this subject.'

That's never a satisfactory solution; but occasionally it's unavoidable. And behind it is almost always -- from my experience at least -- a frustrated calculus the reporter has made that the information is illuminating and revealing enough of the truth of the story to justify not being able to give your readers a very clear idea just where you got it.

These are cases where the reader has to have a lot of trust in the journalist; and the journalist has to be really honest with him or herself.

For instance, such vague sourcing would seldom be justified where the information was subjective description or opinion. Blind quotes of one person trashing another seldom make for good journalism. And if they're used they should always come with at least a reasonably specific return address. Otherwise you're just laundering vituperation or calumny.

The cases where I've agreed to very vague identification of a source have mostly been cases where a particular piece of factual information was known only to a very small number or just a handful of people (think intel and national security reporting) and where providing even very limited description would be tantamount to exposing the source.

Like I said, in those cases you make a judgment about whether the information is probative enough to justify withholding from readers even very general information about its source.

I could spin out numerous hypotheticals. And this is probably already more information than most folks want. But in this case it certainly seems as though the tacit bargain between Miller and Libby was that Libby would provide Miller with information in exchange for her assistance in deceiving her readers. And that violates the rule or principle that amounts to the Occam's Razor of journalistic ethics -- fundamental honesty with your readers.

TPM Reader NT poses an interesting question. What did Harriet Miers know about the White House plan to bulldoze Joe Wilson and reveal his wife's identity?

Even more interesting, what does she know about what the president knew?

As we all know, the cognitive gears of official Washington have ground to a virtual halt waiting to hear just what prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is going to spring in the next two weeks. Karl Rove went back before the grand jury this morning for one final attempt to slip the noose. And we're also told that Fitzgerald's investigation has now ventured back well before Joe Wilson's Times OpEd piece was published on July 6th, 2003.

Now, let's line up Miers' timeline with that one.

On June 27th, 2003 Ari Fleischer announced that President Bush was promoting Miers to the post of Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Prior to that she served as the president's staff secretary.

According to a March 24th, 2003 profile in Texas Lawyer, Miers' position gave her "more one-on-one contact with the president than nearly any other staff member in the West Wing" and made her "the ultimate gatekeeper for what crosses the desk of the nation's commander in chief."

From everything we know, the Joe Wilson matter provoked intense concern within the White House well before he went public on July 6th. It seems pretty likely the president would have heard or read something about what was going on. But proving it is another matter entirely.

Given her role at the White House at the time, Miers would seem uniquely placed to give some read on just what he knew and when he knew. Indeed, what she knew and when she knew it.

Has anyone asked her about this topic? Has she appeared before the Fitzgerald grand jury? Has she been asked whether she's appeared before the Fitzgerald grand jury?

As some of you may have noticed, we've gotten into a long-distance back and forth with the campaign manager of Mark Green (R), sitting US congressman and now candidate for Governor of Wisconsin.

Earlier this month I posted a roster of congressional staffers given tickets for a WWF event at the Abramoff skybox back in October 2000. One of the names on the list was Mark Graul, who was then Green's Chief of Staff and is now his campaign manager.

A Wisconsin political newsletter Wispolitics.com (which is available only to subscribers, unfortunately) followed up with Graul and asked him what the deal was. Graul jocularly denied he ever went to the event.

As Wispolitics.com reported it ...

Graul admits to being a former pro wrestling enthusiast but says he hasn't been to a match since the early '80s, when he saw The Crusher take on Baron Von Raschke at the Mecca in Milwaukee. "I did not go (to the WWF Raw is War)," says Graul, who was in Wisconsin at the time of the event. "I never went to a WWF event in D.C., don't recall ever being asked to go to the event, and I've never met Jack Abramoff in my life. He could come up and punch me in the face and I wouldn't know. I don't know why I'm on that list."

But said Graul, "I cannot claim I was never a fan of WWF.'' He then rattled off the names of favorites Koko B. Ware and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. "But when they made Hulk Hogan into Hollywood Hogan and turned him into a bad guy, I lost interest," he said.

A few days after that we followed up.

We noted that we had no way of knowing whether Graul actually showed up at the skybox, only that Preston Gates emails (Abramoff's firm at the time) show him being given tickets to attend. Moreover, those emails describe him repeatedly getting, or at least requesting tickets, to events. No fewer than six times by our count over the course of 2000, the last year Abramoff was at the firm. The events ranged from basketball games to more professional wrestling to a concert by Limp Bizkit.

Wispolitics.com again got in touch with Graul. And this is what they heard ...

While Graul says he knows Jennifer Calvert, the Abramoff staffer Marshall identifies as getting the tickets for Graul, he says he never asked her or anyone else for freebies. "I never asked for tickets to anything when I was in Washington," he said.

As further evidence, Graul offers that he moved back to Wisconsin after getting married in May 2000, and was rarely in Washington on weekends. The NBA All-Star game was held in Washington on Feb. 11, 2001, after Graul said he moved from the D.C. area.

And, he said, mosh pits are not his style. "If you ask anybody who knows me well, the idea of me at a Limp Bizkit concert is pretty funny," said Graul. "I couldn't name one song by any of those people, if they even have songs."

Graul said he did attend a Wizards-Milwaukee Bucks game while in Washington, which he said was well-attended by many Hill staffers from Wisconsin, but said he couldn't recall how the tickets came to him. "I can't remember. I'm not saying it's impossible, but I have no clue if that was with Jennifer or not. I never asked for tickets for anything. Oftentimes people who had tickets would offer them."

Here, as you can see, we're into sorta kinda non-denial denials of several sorts. He never 'asked' for tickets? Was he given them anyway? As for Limp Bizkit, maybe he's not a fan, but did he go to the concert in the Abramoff skybox? It's really not a hard question to answer.

(In case you're wondering, I've tried to contact Graul myself. But he hasn't gotten back to me.)

As you can see, with the Wizards-Bucks game he concedes he was there, but goes for what you might call the limited, modified Woodstock response. As in, yeah, I got some. But those were crazy days. And I don't remember how I got it or who I got it from.

It seems possible that Graul's memory might be a bit better with the Wizards-Bucks game because in the letter in question, Calvert specifically says she planned to host him at the event in person.

Now, it's been suggested that maybe Graul didn't go to all these events himself. Maybe he requested them for junior members of the staff or even allowed them to put in the requests in his name. In at least one of the emails, Calvert seems to make it pretty clear the request came directly from Graul.

"I got a request from Mark Graul, COS for Rep. Green, for tickets for the NBA all star game and the dunk contest that is apparently going to be at the MCI Center in early February," she wrote Abramoff and his assistant Susan Ralston on November 28th, 2000. "Can we honor his request?"

I tried to contact Calvert herself, who left Preston Gates a couple months later for Washington Strategies, to find out what the story was. But she hasn't returned my call.

Sheesh! It never rains but it pours. A criminal referral in the Armstrong Williams goofball propaganda case?

AP: "Investigators at the Education Department have contacted the U.S. attorney's office regarding the Bush administration's hiring of commentator Armstrong Williams to promote its agenda."


NYT: "Karl Rove nosed his Jaguar out of the garage at his home in Northwest Washington in the predawn gloom, starting another day in which he would be dealing with a troubled Supreme Court nomination, posthurricane reconstruction and all the other issues that come across the desk of President Bush's most influential aide."

ABC's The Note: "Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl C. Rove arrived this morning at the federal courthouse around 8:45 am ET, walking through the Third Street entrance to appear before the grand jury working with special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to determine if any laws were broken in conjunction with the disclosure of CIA employee Valerie Wilson's name. He apparently arrived in a tan Toyota Camry."

A secret car switcheroo? Yet more Note mumbojumbo? Or even more of an international man of mystery than we thought?

(ed.note: Special thanks to TPM Reader TP. Also, note that the Times piece refers to Rove's Wednesday morning departure for work while the ABC mention is about his arrival this morning at the grand jury. But CNN has an AP photo of Rove's depature this morning. You be the judge of what he's driving. Maybe he decided that showing up at the court house in his Jag to make his final plea wasn't the right optics.)

Late Update: Here's an even better picture of our man Karl in the Quartz colored Jaguar S-Type this morning. TPM Reader GH snags the credit for this one.

Interesting question. TPM <$NoAd$> Reader JO checks in ...

In his NYT op-ed, former Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully writes, "It is true that Harriet Miers, in everything she does, gives high attention to detail. And the trait came in handy with drafts of presidential speeches, in which she routinely exposed weak arguments, bogus statistics and claims inconsistent with previous remarks long forgotten by the rest of us. If one speech declared X "our most urgent domestic priority," and another speech seven months earlier had said it was Y, it would be Harriet Miers alone who noted the contradiction."

So does that mean she OK'd the 2003 SOTU reference to Saddam's attempts to get yellowcake from Africa, notwithstanding the fact that it had been deleted from another speech months before? Seems like a fair question for her confirmation hearing.

Sounds worth asking to me too.

Earle can throw elbows too?

From the Austin American-Statesman: "Travis County prosecutors want to know how U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay purchased a 2004 Toyota Sienna, subpoenaing all records surrounding the transaction, plus telephone records from DeLay, his campaign and his daughter."

Another great Bush administration moment.

In this morning's gaggle, <$NoAd$>Scott McClellan got asked whether the teleconference the president had with troops in Tikrit was scripted. Here's what he said ...

QUESTION: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything...


QUESTION: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth.

Here's how the pool report (i.e., from the designated reporter on the scene) described what happened.

The soldiers, nine U.S. men and one U.S. woman, plus an Iraqi, had been tipped off in advance about the questions in the highly scripted event. Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, could be heard asking one soldier before the start of the event, "Who are we going to give that [question] to?"

Oh well ...

TPM Reader TM checks <$NoAd$>in ...

What do you think of some of the speculation out there that Harry Reid suggested Harriet Miers as an effort to sabotage Bush politically? It makes a lot of sense to me - she's not very formidable, yet Reid knew Bush would like the idea of picking someone who's such a close ally/bootlicker (you pick). It's kinda like this: Say you have a colleague at work you can't stand and you know has terrible judgment. This colleague just bought a bunny suit and keeps telling everyone how he can't WAIT to find some occasion to wear it. So you sidle up to him and encourage him to wear it to the company's annual black-tie banquet. "Hey, buddy, I just want you to be happy. Would I steer you wrong?"

What I think is that these sorts of triple bankshots seldom turn out to be true, and seldom work when they are true. But seldom isn't never. And it's fun to speculate.