Pearlstine’s Off the Record

I’ve been wavering about how much attention to give this book. In it, Norm Pearlstine, who was the editor in chief of Time Inc. when it fought Fitzgerald’s subpoena of Matt Cooper, describes the whole process of fighting the leak. Most interestingly, Pearlstine describes how he came to believe that Time had to turn over Cooper’s notes, not least because Time had no business defying an order of SCOTUS.

I’ll just make a few points about the book:

  • It has an astounding number of incorrect facts. Some of the errors include: claiming the Jayson Blair scandal broke in July 2003 (Blair resigned on May 1); stating that Judy testified about her June 23 meeting with Libby at her first grand jury appearance; claiming that Woodward told Downie of his leak from Armitage, "in October 2005, a few weeks after Libby was indicted" (he told Downie before the indictment, which was October 28, far too late in October for anything to happen a few weeks later in the same month); and explaining that Fitzgerald "called a second grand jury" after the Libby indictment. I recognize these are largely nit-picky errors. But still–in a book about journalism published by a big press, can’t you pay for a fact-checker?
  • Pearlstine sounds an important call for journalists to consider themselves bound by the same rule-of-law as other citizens. "How, I asked, could we, as journalists, criticize others who ignored the courts if we did so ourselves?"
  • In spite of Pearlstine’s call for journalists to attend to the rule of law, he twice takes it upon himself to declare that there was no violation of the IIPA statute (or any other statute). "The leaks about Valerie Plame … weren’t against the law." I can understand presenting one or another opinion on this issue. But declaring, as a fact, that the leaks weren’t against the law sort of undermines Pearlstine’s argument elsewhere that the press should be subject to the judgments of the courts. While this doesn’t surprise me, it does suggest Pearlstine doesn’t fully understand what the implications of his larger argument are.

That’s the general overview. But the real reason I decided to do a post on the book, at all, is this little oddity. According to Pearlstine, Time stipulated to Fitzgerald that no Time journalists aside from Cooper had any confidential sources on the Plame story.

On May 21, 2004, Cooper received a subpoena ordering him to appear before the grand jury. Although Calabresi and Dickerson had shared the byline with Matt on the storry, the weren’t served since Fitzgerald had accepted our stipulating that they had not dealt with confidential sources on the Plame part of the story.

Now, Ari testified that he wasn’t sure whether the Dickerson conversation was on the record or background; Dickerson said it was on background. But in any case, Ari certainly didn’t believe he was speaking confidentially (he testified he was more worried that Dickerson or Gregory would repeat the word "crap" that Ari had used). I’m curious about the content of this stipulation, though, not least because Dickerson whined later about not getting a subpoena. Did Dickerson know that Time had stipulated he had no confidential source? Did Time say he got nothing on Plame?

And just importantly, if both Dickerson and Ari understood that conversation to be on background, then why won’t David Gregory talk about it?

  1. John Lopresti says:

    I found a passage which remains interesting in the July 2005 Senate Judiciary committee appearance by Pearlstine, there.

    In rejecting our claims, the court also relied on eight pages of Judge Tatel’s
    opinion analyzing the Special Counsel’s secret evidentiary submission. But the
    court redacted the entirety of this discussion and so those pages are blank. The
    court rejected our argument that basic due process afforded us a right to see this
    evidence and thus denied us any insight into the Special Counsel’s reasons for
    seeking to force Cooper and Miller to testify. Our petition for rehearing by the full
    D.C. Circuit was denied.

    I wonder if those eight pages remain redacted now three years later. A lot more is known historically now about the ingenuity the administration was to exhibit over the ensuing few years, in dividing states secrets cases from first and fourth amendment arguments, though much which could inform crafting of a federal shield law remains sequestered by administration document management policies.

    It was interesting to glance at Pearlstine’s resume, law degree, economics journalism, foreign press office.

  2. Anonymous says:


    Thanks for linking to that–Pearlstine puts that–verbatim, I think–in the book. Of course, all but two pages of this have been unsealed by now, and enough of it had been unsealed before Pearstine went to press. Like the AP and WSJ, he appears more interested in complaining about not knowing what’s in those pages than looking to see for himself.

  3. QuickSilver says:

    Reading Anatomy of Deceit two times — both before and after the Libby trial — I was struck by how much sense the whole narrative makes if we accept Fleischer’s testimony at face value, that he did indeed tell Dickerson about Mrs. Wilson and her CIA role on that roadside in Uganda, and that the magazine had two reporters who were put in the know.

    Viveca Novak’s information-running efforts to Rove/Luskin strike me as an effort to stave off disaster for the magazine… Rove, after all, would have almost certainly known about the magazine’s false assertions regarding Cooper as the sole leak recipient. Rove would therefore have had considerable blackmail material on the magazine, knowing it had deceived the court, and knowing (probably) that Ari had copped his own immunity deal, too…

    No wonder Time, and Pearlstine, did everything posssible to keep readers from knowing the truth about the leak (appealing all the way to the Supreme Court to keep its readers in the dark). After the Supreme Court ruled against them, Time had the strongest of motivations to keep Rove out of jail. It was all about saving the magazine’s reputation, and obviously, Pearlstine is still spinning as fast as he can.

    So what does Pearlstine say about Viveca Novak? As little as possible, I imagine.

  4. Jodi says:

    We need to look to the future. Stop sopping up the past like some kind of sticky narcotic syrup.

    Mr Karl Rove has returned to his roots!

    TNH should return to the present!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Understanding the past is absolutely important for understanding the present and the future.

    I wonder whether the â€Rule of Law†bit is preemptive propaganda for Risen and Lichtblau in the Tamm case.

  6. P J Evans says:


    â€History doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes it jsut yells ’Can’t you remember anything I tell you?’ and lets fly with a club.â€

    â€Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it.â€

    I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of the amnesiacs in DC.

  7. Dave says:

    Not sure if you check these old threads Marci, but was wondering if you wouldnt mine dropping me an email. I will be attending a smallish chat with Norman Pearlstin next week that my employer has put together and I was wondering if you had any suggestions for a good question to ask him . . .