There will be no frog marching of Karl Rove out of the White House. For months, there has been plenty of irresponsible speculation about an impending indictment of senior White House aide Karl Rove for his purported role in leaking the identity of Valerie Plame in an effort to “discredit” her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson. In the wake of yesterday’s announcement that Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed Mr. Rove that he will not be indicted, we know definitively the indictment scenario was a fantasy — like virtually every other charge leveled by Mr. Wilson against the Bush administration in connection with reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium in Niger.
Our sources at the Justice Department, whom we suspect are as good or better than those of any other news organization, never signaled to us — even off the record — that the grand jury was leaning one way or the other. We doubt that other news organizations ever had a reliable source telling them that Mr. Rove would be indicted. If they did, that source is now known to be unreliable. It is normal for Democrats as the party of opposition to inflate the possibility of the indictment of a figure as important as Mr. Rove. But the media’s job is very different. They’re supposed to be reporting the facts.
Unfortunately, at times, some in the media sounded more like cheerleaders for Mr. Wilson, who said in 2003 that “it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs.” In October, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert referred to Mr. Rove as “the administration’s resident sleazemeister, who is up to his ears in this mess but has managed so far to escape indictment”; in November he declared that Mr. Rove and Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were “clowns” who had been “playing games with the identity of a CIA agent.”
Keith Olbermann of MSNBC turned his TV show, “Countdown,” into a veritable repository of misinformation: A Lexis-Nexis search shows that the subject of Karl Rove’s demise was discussed 26 times on Mr. Olbermann’s program. In an Oct. 28 appearance, Jim Vandehei of The Washington Post quoted “people close to Rove” who “are telling us that there’s still a distinct possibility that he could be indicted, and that they probably will know soon.” On the same broadcast, NBC News Correspondent Norah O’Donnell said that Mr. Rove “has come within a whisker of being indicted.” But even though Mr. Rove had escaped indictment, Mrs. O’Donnell said it was still bad news, because he was still working at the White House: “In a way, it might have been even cleaner and more helpful to the president if Rove had gotten nipped with some minor level of indictment, so that you could just get rid of both of these people [Messrs. Rove and Libby] today.” On the May 8 “Countdown” broadcast, MSNBC correspondent David Schuster said flatly, “I am convinced that Karl Rove will in fact be indicted.”
In the end, however, Mr. Rove was not indicted. And Mr. Wilson was exposed in the bipartisan report issued by the Senate Intelligence Committee two years ago, in which the panel demonstrated that Mr. Wilson misrepresented numerous aspects of his account of the trip he took to Niger in 2002. The fantasy Rove indictment should be a cautionary tale for the mainstream media. But we suspect that there will be no sober reassessment at the senior level of the mainstream media of the unprofessional performance of journalists and producers. Rather, we suspect, their instructions will be, “Reload, and fire again.”