As I got ready to watch Meet the Press today, the question in my mind was: how will Meet the Press deal with the issue dominating the thoughts of those who care about the press this Sunday? I'm talking of course about the long-awaited "full accounting" by the New York Times of its role in the Miller case and Miller's role in Plamegate.
After all, even though the accounts, one by the Times and one by Miller herself, are full of holes, it's at least obvious that the Times has taken a big first step in trying to deal with these facts: (a) the Times is a major news outlet, (b) the Plame saga is a huge news story, and (c) one of the Times's own journalists is a participant in the story.
Well, the exact same conditions exist at NBC: Tim Russert is a participant. He was interviewed under oath by Fitzgerald. And, like Miller, he has an obligation to explain to the public just exactly what he knows as a result of his involvement in the story.
So now that Judy Miller and the New York Times have spoken (however incompletely), what about Tim Russert and NBC?
Here is how Russert handled the latest developments in Plamegate (the question is addressed to Michigan Senator Carl Levin):
"The New York Times today publishes a lengthy article about the CIA leak investigation. Judith Miller, the Times reporter, writes that she had at least three meetings with the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in which they talked about Ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to Africa regarding uranium and also some discussions about Wilson's wife. What is your reaction?"
That's it. Not a single mention of his own conversation with Libby. What does NBC think about this? As Judith Miller herself might say, "I don't know."
So I thought I would put together what is in the public domain in the hope that Russert might be moved to fill in the blanks.
May 21, 2004
Federal grand jury subpoenas Russert to testify about whether the White House leaked Valerie Plame's identity to the news media. NBC vows to fight the subpoena.
June 4, 2004
NBC files motion to quash the subpoena.
July 20, 2004
Court rules against NBC, ordering Russert to provide testimony to Fitzgerald. (News of this is not made public by NBC until it's disclosed as part of NBC's Aug. 9, 2004 statement.)
August 7, 2004
Russert interviewed under oath by Fitzgerald.
Aug 9, 2004
NBC releases statement regarding Russert's testifying: "Mr. Russert told the Special Prosecutor that, at the time of that conversation, he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby. ...The Special Prosecutor's questions addressed a telephone conversation initiated by Mr. Libby and focused on what Mr. Russert said during that conversation. Mr. Libby had previously told the FBI about the conversation and had formally requested that the conversation be disclosed. The Special Prosecutor can share Mr. Russert's answers with the grand jury."
July 17, 2005
Russert does an entire Meet the Press on Plamegate with Matt Cooper, Ken Mehlman, John Podesta, Bob Woodward, and others. He makes no reference whatsoever to his involvement in the affair. Harry Shearer, in HuffPost's Russert Watch, writes about the huge elephant "in the studio that went unnoticed for the full hour... Like Matt Cooper, Russert had testified to the grand jury on the Plame affair, yet at no point during the interview did the salient fact sally forth to the viewer. The pretense was uninvolved journalist interviewing involved participant: the reality was one pea in the pod interviewing a fellow pea."
July 18, 2005
Russert goes on the Today show to describe the highlights of his July 17, 2005 Meet the Press show. Neither Matt Lauer nor Katie Couric ask him about his involvement, nor does he volunteer anything.
July 22, 2005
Bloomberg News reports that Libby told Fitzgerald that he first learned the identity of Plame from Russert.
July 23, 2005
Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHei write in the Washington Post that "Libby has testified that he learned about Plame from NBC correspondent Tim Russert, according to a source who spoke with The Washington Post some months ago."
July 24, 2005
Mike Isikoff writes in Newsweek that "A deal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald cut last year for NBC "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert's testimony may shed light on the emerging White House defense in the Valerie Plame leak case. ... The deal was not, as many assumed, for Russert's testimony about what Libby told him: it focused on what Russert told Libby. ... This now appears significant: in pursuing Russert's testimony, Fitzgerald was testing statements by White House aides -- reportedly including Libby -- that they learned about Wilson's wife from reporters, not classified documents."
July 24, 2005
Here is how Russert introduces the subject of Plamegate -- and himself -- during Meet the Press's roundtable:
RUSSERT: What we know so far is that in terms of journalists, Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, Russert of NBC, Matt Cooper of TIME magazine have all testified, either in deposition or before the grand jury. We assume Robert Novak has testified because Judy Miller of The Times who didn't testify is in jail. And there's been numerous newspaper reports that there's a difference between the testimony of some of the reporters and Scooter Libby of Vice President Cheney's office and Karl Rove of President Bush's office. Bill Safire, what do we make of all this?
As Harry Shearer put it in HuffPost's Russert Watch: "Russert referred to himself in the third person, as if he were suddenly channeling Bob Dole. Harry Shearer likes that."
And then there was this truly odd exchange:
RUSSERT: There has to be an original source, somebody.
RUSSERT: Even if it came from a reporter...
RUSSERT: ...the reporter got it from someplace.
TOTENBERG: Right. And...
RUSSERT: But I was asked what I said. I did not know.
He did not know what he said? He did not know her name? He did not know she was a covert operative? What we, the public, know is that we don't know what Russert told Fitzgerald during his testimony. Nor do we know why we don't know. And Russert still has to explain why his viewers don't deserve to know.
Of course, he may just feel he doesn't have the time to devote to this on Meet the Press. How could he take up any valuable real estate with an explanation of his own involvement in the biggest media story of the day when there are important exchanges to be had, like this one with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?
RUSSERT: Before you go, I'd like to read something from The Washington Times. Headline: "Americans for Rice, a group that hopes to draft Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a presidential candidate in 2008, has paid for a 60-second ad to run in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday night during ABC's 'Commander in Chief,' a new show about a female president of the United States. Iowa, of course, traditionally holds the first presidential contest, a caucus system. The same ad appeared in New Hampshire...during the Sept. 27 broadcast of 'Commander in Chief.' New Hampshire, of course, traditionally holds the first presidential primary."
Would you accept a position on the Republican ticket in 2008?
RICE: Tim, I'm flattered that people think of me in that way, but I think it was on your show that I said I don't know how many ways to say no. I really am -- I'm not somebody who wants to run for office, haven't ever run for anything. I don't think I ever ran for high school president. And I think I'm doing what I need to do, which is to try and promote American foreign policy and American interests, the president's democracy agenda at an extraordinary time. And to the degree that I can do that across the world, that's what I'd better keep doing.
RUSSERT: So you absolutely will not accept a position on the ticket in 2008?
RICE: Tim, I don't see it--I don't know how many ways to say no.
RUSSERT: So no?
RICE: Tim, I don't know how many ways to tell people that this--I have no interest in being a candidate for anything.
RUSSERT: Well, but no interest is different than no, absolutely no.
RUSSERT: Should they stop running that ad?
RICE: Tim, again, I appreciate and I'm flattered that people think of me in those terms, but it's not what I want to do with my life. It's not what I'm going to do with my life.
RUSSERT: Secretary Rice, thanks very much.
I'm sure Tim would just love to tell us about his testimony, but every week there's a new person on the show, and whenever there's a new person on the show, it's apparently mandatory that Tim ask his hard-hitting "Are you going to run for president?" question. By now, it's as much of a “Tim thing” as those bow ties are a “Tucker Carlson thing.” What would Tim be without the "Are you going to run in the next presidential election" question? Sure, it's never been answered, nor has the inevitable non-answer to it ever been in the slightest revealing of anything, but it's Tim's "thing."
Will NBC at least make Russert explain why he won't explain?
Who knows? Right now, like Secretary Rice, he just doesn't "know how many ways to say no."