News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Friday, October 21, 2005

'Plamegate' Reporters Discuss Blogs, Anonymous Sources

By Dave Astor

Published: October 21, 2005 9:13 AM ET

NEW YORK"Plamegate" interests newspapers on several levels: the scandal itself, the irony of using anonymous sourcing to write about a scandal that involved anonymous sourcing, and the fact that newspapers are covering "Plamegate" while blogs -- which didn't exist during scandals past -- post all kinds of content on the same subject.

E&P asked reporters who are doing "Plamegate" stories to comment on all of the above.

"Blogs are useful for tips and leads, but I wouldn't run something off a blog without confirming it," said Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief for the New York Daily News.

DeFrank wrote a much-mentioned Wednesday story saying President Bush was initially mad at Karl Rove two years ago for his "Plamegate" role but nonetheless remained loyal to his top advisor. The article was picked up by the blogosphere, including a major liberal blog, which gave DeFrank an uneasy feeling. He said he would have been just as uncomfortable if a story of his was trumpeted by a conservative blog.

"I don't approach stories from an ideological point of view," explained DeFrank. "I do stories because they're good stories." He did note that he appreciates the exposure a blog mention can bring the Daily News.

Walter Pincus, who covers national security affairs for The Washington Post, said of blogs: "I Iook at them every once in a while. Some do enormous damage, and some are thoughtful."

Mark Silva, White House correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, added: "I don't pay much attention to blogs. Many are misleading and agenda-driven. You're going to have to do the work yourself anyway, so you might as well go straight to your sources."

What about anonymous sources? They've been used quite often in "Plamegate" stories, but Silva has kept them to a minimum in his own articles. "I'm not terribly comfortable with having the news driven by people who steer a story in a certain direction and can't be held accountable," he told E&P.

But DeFrank said journalists, in some cases, have to unfortunately omit names from their stories. "This White House is so secretive and, for the most part, so well disciplined that reporters frequently have no choice but to rely on anonymous sources," he noted. "That ups the ante on making sure you're not being used."

DeFrank, speaking of his Wednesday article, said: "There's no way to produce a story on a private conversation between a president and his chief political confidante without using anonymous sources."

The bureau chief -- who said Daily News reporters James Gordon Meek and Kenneth R. Bazinet have actually done a lot more "Plamegate" stories than he has -- added that his sourcing for the Wednesday article was "unimpeachable."

Silva said covering "Plamegate" has been "frustrating" because more information has come from defense attorneys and people who testify -- who obviously put their own spin on things -- than from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Silva noted that Fitzgerald runs an "incredibly disciplined" ship when it comes to keeping things from being made public. The Tribune reporter added that working for a Chicago newspaper hasn't helped him get more information from Fitzgerald, a U.S. attorney from Chicago.

Given that reporters have been "sent down some rabbit trails," Silva said it would be interesting when Fitzgerald finishes his work to see how much newspapers got right and how much they got wrong.

Pincus said of "Plamegate that he had the "odd" experience of "both writing about it and being in it." The Post reporter was subpoenaed to give grand-jury testimony in the leak inquiry and ended up giving a deposition instead. He did not identify his source.

And Pincus -- who was a journalist during Watergate and Iran/Contra -- said there are similarities between various scandals. He recalled the late Sen. J. William Fulbright observing that in Washington, it's not what you did that counts, but what you do after you're caught.

DeFrank described "Plamegate" as the "latest hot story, but we won't know how hot until Mr. Fitzgerald does what he does."


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