On Rove's Heels

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

No one who has worked in the Bush administration, not even the unlamented Donald Rumsfeld, has been as much a subject of conjecture and mystery as Karl Rove.

"I'm a myth," he told The Wall Street Journal's Paul Gigot for a story last week in which he revealed he was quitting as Bush's top advisor.

"I read about some of the things I'm supposed to have done, and I have to try not to laugh," Rove said.

If only it were that funny.

Rove's sinister pull on the strings of power, his behind-the-scenes machinations on behalf of his boss and his party, his use of factual distortions against political opponents, have all been extensively documented.

Why, then, was not more of this history brought up again in the reporting last week about his imminent departure?

The watchdog group Media Matters for America studied Rove's appearances on Sunday morning's news shows and came up with several questions Rove should have been asked, but wasn't.

Why is everyone being so deferential?

The group also studied Rove's appearance on Rush Limbaugh's radio show, in which Rove claimed that Sen. Hillary Clinton "opposed the USA Patriot Act, domestic surveillance programs and other antiterrorism measures."

In a New York Times story about Rove's comments, Patrick Healy failed to note that Clinton voted for both the original USA Patriot Act in 2001 and its reauthorization in 2006, according to the Media Matters report.

"Media outlets reporting on Karl Rove's resignation omitted key facts in their discussion of Rove's involvement in the leak of (CIA agent) Valerie Plame's identity; that Rove in fact leaked Plame's identity to columnist Robert Novak and another reporter, that then-White House spokesman Scott McClellan initially denied that Rove was involved in the leak, and that Rove would not have been able to leave 'on his own terms' had the White House fulfilled a pledge to fire anyone involved in the Plame leak."

Yesterday, in the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz wrote that, in the media, Rove is "either a political giant, shrewdly plotting a series of victories during the Bush presidency, or a nation-wrecker, sowing the seeds of division to boost the GOP."

But, Kurtz asked, "What if journalists are part of an unspoken conspiracy to inflate Rove's importance, not for ideological reasons but because it makes for a better narrative?"

And, he went on, "Was Rove's decision to quit, 17 months before the end of Bush's term, truly deserving of lead-story status in The New York Times, Washington Post and the three nightly newscasts?"

Whatever the answer, the news prompted a cheer in the newsroom of the Seattle Times.

The paper's editor, David Boardman, warned his staff that newsroom meetings should not "evolve into a liberal latte klatch."

Predictably, the cheer in Seattle got some attention from Rush Limbaugh, who "completely exaggerated" what happened, according to The Times's chief political reporter, David Postman.

On the air, Limbaugh told Rove that when the paper's staff learned of his resignation, "everybody stood up and started cheering."

Actually, it was only handful of people, the paper said. And some wished they hadn't.

In the New York Times, Frank Rich wrote on Sunday that Rove's departure "was both abrupt and fast."

"The ritualistic 'for the sake of my family' rationale convinced no one, and the decision to leak the news in a friendly print interview (on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page) rather than announce it in a White House spotlight came off as furtive," Rich wrote.

"Inquiring Rove haters wanted to know: Was he one step ahead of yet another major new scandal? Was a Congressional investigation at last about to draw blood?"

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



Nick Madigan