Patterico's Pontifications


Bush Commutes Libby’s Prison Sentence

Filed under: 2008 Election,Crime,General,Politics — Patterico @ 6:39 pm

Well, this is just peachy:

President Bush spared former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby from a 2 1/2-year prison term in the CIA leak case Monday, stepping into a criminal case with heavy political overtones on grounds that the sentence was just too harsh.

You do the crime, you do the time. The jury said Scooter Libby did the crime. He should do the time.

The Republican Party is going to pay a huge, huge price for this.

UPDATE: This is not surprising:

Clemency petitions are normally reviewed by the Justice Department, which investigates the case and seeks input from the federal prosecutor who brought the case before issuing a recommendation to the president. A government official told CNN that Bush did not consult with the Justice Department before rendering his decision.

Of course, he doesn’t have to consult with anyone — but a failure to work within the usual process fuels the perception, which I share, that this was an extraordinary and unjustifiable act. Just because you have the raw power to do something doesn’t make it right. This wasn’t right.

UPDATE x2: I agree with Orin Kerr, who provides a little perspective on just how special Libby’s commutation is:

I find Bush’s action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don’t know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby’s treatment was very special indeed.

Yes it was. And now Republicans are going to get some special treatment at the hands of voters.

Don’t kid yourself: this sort of thing is very significant to swing voters. It’s like the Foley business in the last election. Yes, we were already going to get beaten in 2008 because of Iraq. But now, we’re going to get slaughtered.

This particular convicted felon wasn’t worth it.

Has Jill Stewart Ruined the L.A. Weekly — Or Made It Better?

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:12 am

The Nation doesn’t like the L.A. Weekly under Jill Stewart. Quoted as agreeing are Tim Rutten and a cast of other holier-than-thou types. I say she has improved it — and so do Matt Welch and Kate at Fishbowl L.A.

You can see what I think of the Weekly‘s relevance by comparing how often I used to link it (basically never) with how often I link it now. Whether it’s coverage of Tennie Pierce, Hector Marroquin, or the Stephen Yagman trial, the L.A. Weekly has been kicking the L.A. Times‘s behind all over the room on local stories for months now.

I freely admit that I have a bias. I am friendly with Jill and see her at the Yamashiro gatherings almost every month. But I praised Jill long before I ever met her; I seek out her company because I admire her, not the other way around. Scroll down this link and you’ll see the proof in several posts dating back to as early as 2003. She’s a fearless journalist who calls ’em the way she sees ’em, and she recognizes a good story when she sees it.

I think the Weekly is lucky to have her.

On Journalists Lying to Get a Story

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 12:10 am

Last week, there was a brouhaha over a journalist going undercover to expose some devious-sounding lobbyists. Howard Kurtz didn’t like it:

Ken Silverstein says he lied, deceived and fabricated to get the story.

But it was worth it, he insists. Those on the receiving end don’t agree.

As Washington editor of Harper’s magazine, Silverstein posed as Kenneth Case, a London-based executive with the fictional Maldon Group, claiming to represent the government of Turkmenistan. He had fake business cards printed, bought a London cellphone number and created a bogus Web site — all to persuade Beltway lobbying firms to pitch him on representing Turkmenistan.

Silverstein defended himself in a piece on the pages of the L.A. Times, which he used to work for:

EARLIER THIS YEAR, I put on a brand-new tailored suit, picked up a sleek leather briefcase and headed to downtown Washington for meetings with some of the city’s most prominent lobbyists. I had contacted their firms several weeks earlier, pretending to be the representative of a London-based energy company with business interests in Turkmenistan. I told them I wanted to hire the services of a firm to burnish that country’s image.

I didn’t mention that Turkmenistan is run by an ugly, neo-Stalinist regime. They surely knew that, and besides, they didn’t care. As I explained in this month’s issue of Harper’s Magazine, the lobbyists I met at Cassidy & Associates and APCO were more than eager to help out. In exchange for fees of up to $1.5 million a year, they offered to send congressional delegations to Turkmenistan and write and plant opinion pieces in newspapers under the names of academics and think-tank experts they would recruit. They even offered to set up supposedly “independent” media events in Washington that would promote Turkmenistan (the agenda and speakers would actually be determined by the lobbyists).

Silverstein says the only way to get the story was to go undercover:

In my case, I was able to gain an inside glimpse into a secretive culture of professional spinners only by lying myself. I disclosed my deceptions clearly in the piece I wrote (whereas the lobbyists I met boasted of how they were able to fly under the radar screen in seeking to shape U.S. foreign policy). If readers feel uncomfortable with my methods, they’re free to dismiss my findings.

Yes, undercover reporting should be used sparingly, and there are legitimate arguments to be had about when it is fair or appropriate. But I’m confident my use of it in this case was legitimate. There was a significant public interest involved, particularly given Congress’ as-yet-unfulfilled promise to crack down on lobbyists in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Could I have extracted the same information and insight with more conventional journalistic methods? Impossible.

Kurtz says:

No newspaper today would do what the Chicago Sun-Times did in the 1970s, setting up a bar to entrap crooked politicians. Fewer television programs are doing what ABC did in the 1990s, having producers lie to get jobs at a supermarket chain to expose unsanitary practices. NBC’s “Dateline” joins in stings against child predators, but by tagging along with law enforcement officials.

The reason is that, no matter how good the story, lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.

I disagree. I think Silverstein has the better of this argument. I think it matters how good the story is, and whether there’s any other way to get it.

I’m not wild about the idea of journalists running around lying to people willy-nilly. But if there’s no other way to get a story, and if the story is important, and if the journalist’s credibility is impeccable, I don’t have a problem with their going undercover in rare situations.

There’s an analogy here to law enforcement. If a cop lies to a suspect about having found the murder weapon, in order to get a corroborated and uncoerced confession from a guilty man, it’s not likely to bother me. If the cop lies to the jury about having found the murder weapon, that’s quite different, and the cop should be fired and prosecuted.

Similarly, it doesn’t bother me terribly if Ken Silverstein misleads the subjects of a story — if he does it in rare circumstances, for an important reason, and discloses it in his article. What bothers me is when Ken Silverstein misleads his readers — something that, by the way, he did as an L.A. Times reporter.

It’s all about getting the truth to the public. If the media would just tell us readers the truth, I’d forgive a little deception sparingly used in order to get us the goods.

This Weekend on Patterico

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 12:02 am

If you are strictly a weekday reader of this blog, it’s worth your while to scroll down and read some posts from what was a busy weekend. I had a lot of analysis of the Supreme Court’s end of term decisions and the commentary surrounding them. Here are a few of the items you missed if you weren’t reading this weekend:

  • I took a bow for predicting how Justice Roberts would characterize the Brown decision in the forced integration cases. Yes, it was obvious — if you listened to the oral arguments, as I did.

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