Friday, April 02, 2004

If you're wondering what's up with the Plame scandal, Josh Marshall has posted a memo that lays out a fairly strong case that Karl Rove is prosecutable, just for the actions he's admitted to publicly. He's made no effort to hide that he talked to a number of media outlets about Plame's work for the CIA after Novak's column was printed. Unfortunately for Rove, the "everybody already knows" defense is only valid if the the government has officially confirmed the identity of the agent being outed, which they had not yet done. I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again: I'm not a lawyer. But the folks who wrote this memo are, and they make a good case (PDF).

In slightly lighter news, how about that Letterman? Campaign Desk rehashes the story better than I could, but I won't let that stop me from trying: Letterman shows a video of the president boring some poor teenager, makes a lame joke about it. CNN picks up the video, then runs a correction, saying that the White House has contacted them and said that Letterman's people edited the kid in. Letterman calls bullshit. CNN runs another correction saying that the White House says, yes, the kid was there, but somewhere else, not up on the stage. Letterman calls bullshit. CNN says, well, actually, the White House never calls us. Letterman calls WTF? and then later comes back to say that his sources have told him that, yeah, the White House called CNN. CNN's offered an apology, but no real explanation, and the White House isn't saying anything.

First of all, this is undeniably trivial. It's hardly news that a teenage kid got bored at a political rally. But if the White House really did call CNN, then it may well go down as the most boneheaded maneuver in political history, since it gave a highly visible entertainer famous for his ascerbic wit the opportunity and motivation to call the Bush White House a bunch of damn liars over and over again. And Letterman's not the kind of guy to let go of something like this.

As far as the question of who's telling the truth, my money's on Letterman, and I'll give you odds. First of all, the White House is keeping silent. Secondly, I have trouble seeing why two different CNN anchors would make something like this up. Finally, it fits an established pattern for both the White House (respond to every slight, try to socially construct reality) and CNN (repeat bullshit uncritically, be willing to look stupid if it'll protect administration sources).

Letterman's audience is broad, with no particular political alignment, and loyal. The White House, meanwhile is skating on a paper-thin layer of credibility. Having Letterman on the "they're a bunch of damn liars" bus with the rest of us is bound to be a serious problem for this White House. It's one thing for the late night comics to rag on Bush for being stupid. Given the vein of anti-intellectualism running through our culture, it probably even helps. But if the jokes switch from "he's an idiot" to "you can't believe a word he says", these guys are toast.

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