In case you were wondering what side former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher is on in the Scooter Libby trial, you need not wonder any longer. He is on the side of Ari Fleisher. The former White House press flack has realized he no longer needs to flack for the administration and has taken up flacking for himself. Yep, he made a deal with the prosecutor. He would talk in exchange for immunity.
According to Saturday's edition of The New York Sun:
Advertisement - story continues below
''Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald said that in early 2004, as his investigation was heating up into who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to reporters, Fleischer stepped forward with an offer to prosecutors: Promise no prosecution and he would help their case. Fleischer acknowledged being one of the leakers, but he wouldn't say a word without a promise of immunity. ‘I didn't want to give him immunity. I did so reluctantly,' Fitzgerald said in court Thursday. 'I was buying a pig in a poke.'''
Fleisher did exactly what Libby is accused of doing, but he is walking free after turning state's evidence against his former colleague. Pressed, Fleisher is taking a coward's, save my skin, way out. Fitzgerald may not have had much of a case without Fleisher. And we would not have had a spectacular look at how the Bush-Cheney White House tries to control the press. Anyone who covers the White House knows how the game is played. Leak to the ''friendlies'' and the powerful, control the message, and don't tell the truth when it might get you in trouble.
It was all there on Friday as former Cheney staffer, Cathie Martin, illuminated just how the administration tries to control message by putting the vice president on Tim Russert's ''Meet The Press.'' Martin admitted that the White House puts out bad news on Friday (after the television networks have finished their shows). She admitted that the press did not believe White House denials of the leaks. Fleisher leaked and Libby leaked but somehow the rest of the press were supposed to believe the White House's story that the administration was not out to punish or bully Ambassador Wilson. The blame has all been laid to rest on Libby's shoulders. For last week's readers of this column, you may recall Libby is blamed for a leak that was not criminal, but his alleged lying about a non-criminal leak is criminal.
The alternating leak and spin cycle of presidential information flow was supposed to come to an end under Fleisher's tenure. He had promised a different sort of press operation way back in 2000. Briefings were going to start on time; there would be more equal access, blah, blah, blah. No one believed that at the time, even though those of us that cover the White House wanted to believe it. Ari Fleisher wanted to ''change the tone'' in Washington. He said the press would be given things straight up, no leaks. His briefings started on time, but the content and method of information flow was the same old same old – spin and leaks. Cheney's staffer also revealed that the administration chose not to allow key staffers to talk to the press so they would not have to lie. They could honestly say they don't know when pressed by a journalist for an answer.
Advertisement - story continues below
Why should we be outraged with business as usual? The American people are funding this perversion of truth. Yes, Joe Lunch Pail and Sally Soccer Mom work hard to fund this leaking spinning machine. Essentially, tax dollars pay the salaries so government officials can spend time (and our money) deciding who gets what story, who gets told the truth, and who gets a leak that may or may not be true. Then, the Leaker in Chief Ari Fleisher gets to save his own skin and fill his piggy bank as a high paid consultant to those who want to court special favors from our government.
This is some system we have. I would go so far as to say that it threatens our democracy by undermining the free flow of information, ideas and policy. Who cares? The Columbia Journalism Review published an article in 2003 about the press coverage leading up to the Iraq invasion. As I recall, well over 8 percent of the sources cited for the stories were ''government officials.'' These carefully selected officials spun us right into an out of control war that has taken the lives of thousands of American service men and women and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.
As I have said before in this column, I often sit next to the Pravda reporter at the White House. He has been there since before the break-up of the Soviet Union. He laughs at the spin and he feels comfortable with it, he recognizes it, it's just like the Soviet spin machine.