Libby and Russert: Two Trials in the Same Courtroom

What is it with Byron York? And why is it so hard for some people to grasp that it's possible to hold two thoughts at the same time?

Writing about Tim Russert's testimony at the Libby trial, York imagines that it presents critics of the Bush administration with "a dilemma": "On the one hand," he writes, "they can't stand Libby and, even more, Libby's old boss, Vice President Dick Cheney. But on the other hand, they can't stand Tim Russert, either. Whose side to take?"

How about neither side?

This isn't about taking sides; it's about going where the facts lead. And in this case, the facts lead to two inescapable conclusions:

Scooter Libby lied and lied and lied to Patrick Fitzgerald.

AND (meaning: as well as, also, in addition to, at the same time, simultaneously, not in any way taking away from the other)...

Tim Russert's handling of his involvement in Plamegate speaks volumes about the very chummy relationship that has developed between the Washington press corps and government officials, and reflects badly on Russert's commitment to journalistic transparency and to keeping the public -- and even NBC management -- informed (for much more on this, don't miss Tom Maguire's excellent post).

Two thoughts, both true -- and not remotely mutually exclusive.

There are two trials going on. One is about Libby's role in Plamegate and will be decided by a jury, which will determine if Libby ends up in jail. The other is about the media's role in Plamegate -- and, by extension, the war in Iraq -- and will be decided by the court of public opinion. No one will go to jail, but credibility will, and should be, affected -- and that will be a very significant byproduct of the Libby trial. It has already demonstrated the gulf between the principles those in the press theoretically live by and reality. For example, there was Russert in his testimony, saying with a straight face, "We try to stay away from rumors... Rumors don't make it on the air." As opposed to all that solid, fact-based pre-war discussion on Meet the Press about aluminum tubes and Saddam's WMD, I suppose?

As for York's assessment that "the netroots types hate Cheney and Libby. But they really hate Tim Russert": I can't speak for anyone else (what exactly is a "netroots type," anyway?) but I can assure you that I don't hate Scooter Libby or Tim Russert. I don't even hate Dick Cheney. I'm outraged by what Libby, and in an infinitely larger way, Cheney have done to our country. And I consider Russert emblematic of the way mainstream journalists have enabled the tragic failures of the Bush administration. But I don't hate any of them. Again: dealing with two different but not contradictory thoughts at the same time.

I recommend it.


TiVo Alert: I'll be discussing the Libby trial and other things with Howard Kurtz and Glenn Reynolds on CNN's Reliable Sources tomorrow morning at 10:30 ET.