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Wednesday, 20 September 2006 00:52

James C. Moore: On Covering Karl

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by James C. Moore, author The Architect

When I was a boy, I wanted to grow up to be the leftfielder for the Detroit Tigers. I did not plan on becoming the unofficial biographer of a political consultant. But I ran into Karl Rove in 1979 in Austin after he had just played a role in electing the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. He was in Austin. I was in Austin. He was in politics. I was a political reporter. I couldn't have avoided him if I wanted and if I had tried I would not have been doing my job.

I didn't like the guy. There was a quality about him that suggested he was in a state of constantly smirking about something he was planning to pull off. I wrote about Karl's endeavors in the 80s and 90s in Texas and when he began to run the Bush campaign for president I thought his political rise was worth a book. There are many other subjects that interest me more than politics and even in politics Rove was at the bottom of my list. But I knew what he was about and how he operated and I thought that insight might be valuable as he began to play with democracy on a national scale.

There are many people on both sides of the aisle who believe Wayne Slater and I give Karl too much credit. But they are wrong. Rove is at the nexus of all that happens with the Bush administration and he has been from its beginning. Official Washington and the mainstream reporters who populate the District of Columbia are unwilling to acknowledge that they are seeing an unknown species of political animal inhabiting their environment. They seek, wrongly, a prosaic explanation for all that transpires and they almost seem unwilling to accept that there might be a conspiracy afoot. Things don't happen by accident in politics. If they happen, they were planned that way. And in the Bush White House, Karl is the planner.

As an example, I was astonished recently when David Broder of the Washington Post wrote that the media owed Karl Rove an apology. Unfortunately, it is Karl who owes America an apology and Broder ought to be leading the call to demand it be offered. Broder, and much of official DC has bought into the notion that Richard Armitage, a former Under Secretary of State and a one time covert operative who was responsible for the arms transfer in Iran Contra, just sort of bumbled in a conversation and let out the name of Valerie Plame. Sure, Mr. Broder, it was an honest screw up; just like Iran-Contra.

Armitage was the perfect operative for a plan that I remain convinced was conceived and executed by Rove. Armitage was outside the administration, having left the Secretary of State's office a year before, but he had the correct political sentiments, media contacts, and experience dealing covertly on critical issues. By making the initial leak happen outside of the White House and the VP's office, a careful distance was maintained. And it was not an inadvertent slip up. Columnist Robert Novak has claimed Armitage knew exactly what he was doing in the conversation and the information was purposefully delivered about Valerie Plame's job and her husband. Rove knew that Novak would do as he often had, which was to call him for confirmation and Rove could avoid going on the record by confirming the Armitage information as a "senior administration official."

Oh, but I'm giving Karl too much credit.

Nonetheless, it is the height of naiveté by official Washington to accept this as a simple mistake on the part of an honest man. It wasn't. It was by design and so was Scooter Libby's contact with Judith Miller and Chris Matthews and Karl's various phone calls to reporters, all, of course, under the shroud of the "off the record" agreement that protects corruption as handily as it does the First Amendment. But Broder thinks Rove is owed an apology? Is he afraid of not getting an invitation to the White House Christmas Party? Karl Rove demonstrably lied to the American public when he said he did not talk to reporters about Valerie Plame until her name was published in Novak's column. This was proved a lie when Matt Cooper of Time magazine turned over an e-mail that showed Rove was talking to him about Plame more than a week before the column was published. And yet Broder thinks reporters need to tell Karl they are sorry?

Karl Rove hates scrutiny. When Bush's Brain was published, he managed to get an early galley and then send a 15 page fax explaining all of the things with which he disagreed. Mostly, he claimed we had gotten it all wrong. But we didn't. The book has stood up to constant vetting and has not been discredited. Rove, however, in a pathological way, refuses to accept the truths of his own behavior. He has taken the same approach with our new book about his work in the second Bush term, The Architect. Again, managing to get his hands on an early galley, he called a half dozen times in one day to take issue with several topics and how they were handled. But he was wrong again. His own friends and colleagues are on the record in most cases. Unlike Rove, we relied on off the record information as little as possible.

Rove was his polished best, as was the White House, trying to diminish the reporting. He parsed language with his usual skill to claim the book reported that his father did not have a memorial service after he died. We wrote that none of Louis Rove's friends were aware of any memorial and that there was no death notice published in the Palm Springs paper, the city where Rove's father had been living when he passed away. And in careful fashion, when a reporter asked the White House spokesperson about Karl's relationship with his gay father, a statement was issued that "Karl had a close and loving relationship with his father and that he was executor of his estate....." No mention of his father's sexual orientation was made because it would likely shake the conservative fundamentalists to their very core to know that the man driving their anti gay marriage agenda was lovingly raised by a homosexual male. When Rove first learned that we were going to report his father's sexual orientation, he sent word through a third party that our main on the record source was not creditable. He called him a "housekeeper," which he was not. The man was Louis Rove's closest friend for the last 15 years of his life and had been a senior executive of a national insurance company but Karl was ready to destroy the man and diminish him as a human being in order to cover up facts.

This fall, when the stories of voter suppression begin to circulate and people talk about robo-calls sending them to the wrong polling places or telling them lies about Democrats, there will be no discernible connection to Karl Rove. But every dirty tactic written about and discussed on TV this fall will be only a larger and more refined version of what Karl Rove practiced and polished in Texas. They don't happen spontaneously. The Swift-boaters of 2004 are the perfect example of third party organizations Rove has created and deployed to great political effect. And it will happen again next month.

But don't believe me. I tend to give Karl Rove too much credit.


James Moore is the coauthor, with Wayne Slater, of The Architect and Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential and the author of Bush's War for Reelection. Formerly an Emmy Award-winning television news correspondent, he has traveled extensively with every presidential campaign since 1976.