Monday, December 06, 2004

THE BOB AND ED SHOW. CBS has posted a three-minute clip of Ed Bradley's fine interview with Bob Dylan, broadcast last night on 60 Minutes. Bradley properly discloses that Dylan's book, Chronicles: Volume I, was published by a corporate sibling, the Viacom-owned Simon & Schuster - which, unfortunately, is just the way things are these days. Anyway, if you missed it - and why, might I ask? - be sure at least to catch these highlights.

Here is a reasonably complete account of the interview. But you really need to see it. Dylan appears to be struggling mightily with his legendary shyness; he also seems to want to come off as reasonably normal, which is a struggle for him. Good stuff - a far better addition to 60 Minutes than the pending arrival of Dan Rather, that's for sure. I'd bounce Rather from the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News right now, and let Zimmy fill in until a replacement is ready.

The Phoenix's Jon Garelick recently wrote an insightful review of Chronicles.

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS SPEAKS. Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the journalist who outed former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, has not been threatened with jail for refusing to reveal his source, while other journalists more peripherally involved are facing prison - including New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who's never even written about the case, but whose name apparently came up in connection with the leak investigation.

This has led to at least some speculation that Novak is in fact the subject of a criminal investigation, and that that is the reason he hasn't been subpoenaed. But Novak - who up until now has been completely silent on the matter - partially addressed the issue during a talk last Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to the Capital Times, Novak said, "To the regret of many people, I am not a criminal target." A student tried to get him to expand on that incomplete answer, but Novak wouldn't bite. (Via Romenesko.)

Which leaves a puzzling question: why is special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald going easy on Novak, if that's what he's doing? Is it because Novak is an ally of the White House? Or is it because Fitzgerald is saving Novak for last?

FAILING TO DIG BIG. Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today fails to offer a clear answer in the matter of two recent op-ed-page controversies involving the leak-infested Big Dig. She writes that she wishes officials of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project manager, had been willing to rework their op-ed submission so that it could have been published, but she doesn't specify what was wrong with it to begin with. And she punts on the matter of whether former Mass Pike general counsel Peter Pendergast's piece was so riddled with errors that it never should have run in the first place.

Well, let me try to sort this out.

1. Bechtel's op-ed, published as a full-page ad in the Herald after it was rejected by the Globe, was nothing more than a response to the Globe's negative - and apparently entirely accurate - reporting. According to Chinlund, the Globe offered to run the op-ed as a letter. That would have been fine.

2. As for Pendergast's November 15 column, which was challenged by three prominent people (including former governor Jane Swift), Chinlund quotes editorial-page editor Renée Loth as saying, "Many times disputes of 'fact' are really about argument or point of view." But a re-read of Pendergast's column reveals that to be a problematic response. He made very specific, factual assertions.

Op-ed-page co-editor Nick King adds, "We don't have the resources to fact-check our op-ed pieces. We carefully talk to the author. In this case, we had some back and forth ... but there is an element of faith and trust. Especially with writers who come from a background of expertise in the area."

Granted, it's hard to vet outside contributions as thoroughly as they ought to be. But if Pendergast's column was as off-base as his critics allege, then what was missing was basic editing of the sort you would hope the paper would apply to all of its pieces, whether they're written by staff columnists or outsiders.


Anonymous said...

Well, look, I'm not following the Novak thing that closely, so I may have missed something contradicting this, but: What's the chance that Novak has already, quietly, rolled over on his source? Given his high journalistic standards, I can see why people would be shocked that he wouldn't put up a public ethics-based stink over such a thing ... but isn't it possible he cooperated sans subpoena?

zadig said...

Novakula has no "journalistic standards" to speak of as far as I can tell, so it's unlikely that he's either mum or squealing like a stuck pig based on *those*. My guess is that he's either being protected by those on high (perhaps he has dirt?) or there's a real principle involved.

The principle could be that other journalists were contacted by the leaker, but didn't actually publish the Valerie Plame leak, so the leaker isn't a source for anything... just a criminal. That makes them fair game to subpoena -- they didn't publish, so the person who leaked isn't a source for an actual story, so protecting a source isn't a legal or even (maybe) an ethical issue.

Novak actually did write the story leaking Plame's identity and putting a CIA agent's and all of her contacts' lives in jeopardy, so his "source" (the actual leaker) is somewhat more protected. Maybe.

Anyway, we lack information to determine why... idle speculation is all that's possible until someone talks or gets a *useful* leak. In the meantime, you can read all about Novak's "journalism" at the Daily Howler.