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FROM THIS EPISODE

Dishonest Debate

For KCRW, I'm Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

So Karl Rove, after deciding things were a little too toxic in Bush's White House, was out looking for a job. He knocked on the door at Time magazine, offering his services as a columnist. But the wise editors there said, "Naaah. Too much baggage."

"Time's editors apparently felt the cost/benefit analysis wouldn't be in their favor if they embraced the man who has done more than anyone to keep the spirit of Joe McCarthy alive and well in American politics," Charles Kaiser wrote on RadarOnline.com. He quoted a "well-placed source" as saying that the editors at Time thought hiring Rove wouldn't be like hiring George Stephanopoulos. "They think Karl is essentially like an unindicted coconspirator in a whole string of felonies."

But when Rove went to Newsweek, it was a different story. "Come in," they said. "Welcome. This is your desk."

OK, that may not have been exactly what they said, but they did hire him. Karl Rove. The man who spent much of his political career doing end runs around reporters and, when it suited him, feeding them garbage. The man who elevated "spin," the art of constructing tales out of whole cloth, to a whole new level. The man behind the outing of Valerie Plame and the Swift Boat campaign, both of them efforts to smear political opponents by presenting innuendo and conjecture as fact.

So what did Rove do in his first column? If you guessed that he took a swipe at Hillary Clinton, you'd be absolutely right. What else was he going to do?

In explaining his new hire, Newsweek Editor Jon Meacham told Howard Kurtz, the media critic of the Washington Post, that his magazine's readers "are sophisticated enough to know that what they get from Karl has to be judged in the context of who Karl is... Readers will have to decide if he's simply an apologist."

Paul McLeary, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, was appalled. "You couldn't think up of a weaker editorial endorsement from the head of a magazine if you tried," he wrote. "Basically what Meacham is saying is, 'We all know that Karl is full of --it, but hey, who am I to judge?' "

In an apparent effort at some sort of political equilibrium, Newsweek also brought in the liberal blogger Markos Moulitsas, who founded the Daily Kos blog in 2002, but McLeary wasn't impressed with that hire, either. He said the magazine is trying to gin up controversy by hiring these two partisans, and that Newsweek admits it's a marketing ploy.

"I'm fully prepared for both the right-wing and left-wing blogosphere to be outraged, which means we're doing our job," Meacham told Kurtz.

"Ah yes, the old 'balance' defense," McLeary wrote in his column. "We're getting it from both sides, so we must be doing our job. Meanwhile, what the readers get is two writers who have proven that they will stick resolutely to the partisan line... And the national debate moves not an inch. It's a betrayal of the press's duty to foster honest debate, but think of the fireworks!"

McLeary predicted Newsweek will succeed in getting Moulitsas and Rove's articles linked on plenty of political blogs, and that will allow Newsweek to claim success. "But I would be shocked if either one writes anything that isn't utterly predictable or that falls outside the narrow realm of the worlds inhabited by their ideological fellow-travelers."

In his RadarOnline column, Kaiser asked: Could the number of readers attracted by these new hires possibly exceed the hordes of freshly canceled subscriptions?

In Rove's first column, Kaiser says, the biggest scoop was about the "full-length vanity mirror" found in the West Wing office he inherited from Hillary.

Deep stuff.

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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