Isikoff Doubles Down on His Anonymous Leak from Cheney’s Lawyer

Michael Isikoff’s coverage of Dick Cheney’s interview (h/t Leen) seems designed as much to defend his bad reporting on the CIA Leak case as to report the content of the interview itself. It’s not that I expected Isikoff to point out that Cheney refused to say things to Fitzgerald that Cheney’s own lawyer had been willing to say to Isikoff. Whatever the ethical and logical problems with reporting O’Donnell’s leak uncritically, Isikoff granted him anonymity and I fully expected Isikoff to continue to honor that pledge.

What’s pathetic about Isikoff’s coverage, however, is that he doubles down on the content of the leak O’Donnell gave to him!

Perhaps the most intriguing parts of the interview occurred toward the end, when Cheney was asked about President Bush’s decision in June 2003 to declassify portions of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraqi WMD.  The federal investigators wanted to know what he had told Libby about the president’s decision.  (The declassification led to Libby’s selective leaking to New York Times reporter Judy Miller about some portions of the NIE that appeared to bolster the White House position about Iraqi WMD.)

Isikoff here repeats the several details from O’Donnell’s leak that almost certainly were invented in 2006 to fix the obvious, glaring logical inconsistencies in Scooter Libby’s story (but which, regardless of what O’Donnell said to Isikoff anonymously, remain glaring inconsistencies): the claim that the declassification occurred, the claim that it occurred in June, and the claim that the declassification led to the leak to Judy Miller. Note, the FBI didn’t ask Cheney about the date at all! The only one who mentions the day is Michael Isikoff, based on what Cheney’s defense attorney told him. And in fact, some of Cheney’s comments during this interview actually undermine that story (though his comments about the NIE declassification are thoroughly incoherent, which ought to make a reporter think twice about the NIE story itself). In other words, Isikoff’s reporting on this is actually Isikoff glossing Cheney’s interview with comments Cheney’s own defense attorney made anonymously to Isikoff at a time when Cheney had the need to shore up the inconsistencies in that part of the story.

And besides≤, don’t you think Isikoff should have thought seriously about what it meant that Cheney’s NIE story in his interview was so incoherent, but that Cheney’s defense attorney gave Isikoff such a coherent story?

Interestingly, Isikoff also goes out of his way to establish his cred here. He notes that Cheney claimed he had a low opinion of Newsweek.

Asked if he had authorized Libby to provide information about the issue to NEWSWEEK as well as Time, Cheney said “he could not conceive” of doing so because “he does not have a very favorable view of NEWSWEEK.”

Again, you have to wonder what went through Isikoff’s head when he wrote this. Such an unfavorable opinion of Newsweek that when they needed to plant a cover story about the NIE, they chose Isikoff? (Sort of like when OVP wanted to seed its “Libby was not the leaker” story in October 2003, they instructed Scott McClellan to go to Isikoff.) There are several ways to unpack this comment, but Isikoff revels in the claims Cheney made about Newsweek in an interview packed with lies, anyway, and in fact turns the story into “Cheney versus the press” rather than “Cheney using the press.”

Also, somewhat bizarrely, Isikoff appears to mis-attribute a comment Cheney made to the NYT. He said,

(Cheney appeared to have expressed similar views of The New York Times, although for reasons that are not clear, portions of the passage in which he discusses the newspaper are redacted.)

I believe Isikoff is talking about this passage:

The Vice President advised he had always been the subject of unfavorable press coverage by [three lines redacted] The Vice President did not recall [name redacted] coverage of the Joe Wilson matter in the week following the publication of Wilson’s editorial on 7/6/03 as being a particular problem, but he acknowledged that it was possible. The Vice President advised that he was not aware of any attempts by Libby to complain to [one line redacted] and Libby did not discuss any such plan with the Vice President. WHen asked if he had been told of any conversation that Scooter Libby might have had with [name redacted] Vice President Cheney said it was possible, but that he could not recall.

The passage shows up in the FBI notes this way:

[name redacted] unfavorable coverage–always–that week–he doesn’t recall [three letter word redacted] per se being a partic. problem–but it’s possible

[name redacted] not aware of plan or if he did talk w/him [half line redacted]

And the DOJ filing explains these passages were redacted as “names of non-government third-parties and details of their extraneous interactions with the Vice President.”

I say Isikoff must be referring to this reference because there is no other passage pertaining to journalists that is significantly redacted, and the two passages where Cheney talks about the NYT (which he gets delivered in Jackson Hole) and Judy Miller have no significant redactions around it. In fact, in an unredacted passage Cheney describes Judy Miller’s “reporting expertise,” which is a far cry from a complaint about NYT’s coverage.

The redacted passages pretty clearly relate to Chris Matthews and Tim Russert. A guy named Michael Isikoff wrote a book that explained in detail how Libby met with Tim Russert during leak week to complain about Matthews’ coverage of him and the Vice President, but later claimed that during that conversation Russert told Libby of Plame’s identity.

Now I have no idea why Isikoff made that mistake. A number of readers here recognized the reference, and they didn’t write a book on this subject. But I find it mighty amusing that in a piece that totally neglects to mention that Libby–having received orders from Cheney to leak something to Judy Miller–leaked Valerie Wilson’s identity to her, also mistakes an attack on Chris Matthews for an attack on NYT.

It’s a funny piece.

Most reporters, I would hope, would rethink the NIE cover story after seeing the utter incoherence and self-contradiction of Cheney’s comments on the NIE. But Isikoff has chosen instead to reassert the cover story and his own role in it.

25 replies
  1. Mary says:

    Let’s see – Stuart Taylor, Jr. is a legal editor for Newsweek. The same guy who writes for National Journal. The same guy who writes pieces like this one:

    But there is a body of evidence suggesting that brutal interrogation methods may indeed have saved lives, perhaps a great many lives — and that renouncing those methods may someday end up costing many, many more.

    Michael Hayden, Bush’s last CIA director, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey recently wrote, …Former CIA Director George Tenet has said,… Former National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell has said,

    Of course, those four have a stake in defending the actions of themselves and other Bush appointees by magnifying the benefits. But I see little reason to doubt their sincerity, or that of the former senior CIA official who told my colleague Shane Harris anonymously that he was “certain” that the CIA “prevented multiple attacks” thanks to the coercive interrogations.

    He then goes on to tout the debunked Binalshibh capture claim, etc.

    Yeah – easy to see how Cheney couldn’t stand a rag mag with a contributing editor like Taylor, who is such a great backdoor for planting info. Right.

  2. NorskeFlamethrower says:


    Citizen emptywheel and the Firepup Freedom Fighters:

    Why is anyone readin’ ANYthin’ Isikoff or any of the corporate news whores writes? And I am wonderin’ why the fascists are tryin’ ta “fix” perjured testimony if in fact there is no ongoin’ investigation or potential Justice Department action…and where the fuck is Dawn Johnson and why is Obama lettin’ One Hung Harry Reid keep nominees from confirmation?

    The Obama administration is replayin’ the ClintoRahma playbook of 1994, what the fuck is that all about??!!


  3. Petrocelli says:

    B-bu-but … he’s wearing the Jacket with the Elbow Patches … he has to be telling tha trooth ! /s

  4. perris says:

    love your stuff as always marcy, a comment on one of cheney’s quotes;

    he Vice President advised he had always been the subject of unfavorable press coverage by [three lines redacted]

    that’s funny, it’s really impossible to have “unfavorable press” when your cheney

    for instance, suppose a serial murderer is reported as “a criminal”, that’s not unfavorable at all, in fact that’s a favorable report…however the criminal will read it as “unfavorable” even though it’s not

    thus, the reporting of cheney, (however negative cheney himself might believe it to be) is far from “unfavorable” and definately treads into the “favorable reporting” catagory…his crimes and depravity has ALWAYS been under reported

  5. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Why is anyone readin’ ANYthin’ Isikoff or any of the corporate news whores writes?

    Before Bush Before the blogs the press seemed to be Liberal now we actually have choices but not everyone has a computer yet.

  6. ThingsComeUndone says:

    Most reporters, I would hope, would rethink the NIE cover story after seeing the utter incoherence and self-contradiction of Cheney’s comments on the NIE. But Isikoff has chosen instead to reassert the cover story and his own role in it.

    Pride in Stenography!

  7. RevBev says:

    OT: Was the in the car early….idiot covering for Laura Ingraham is so happy NYRepub has withdrawn b/c she is a (yikes) hausfrau. Another feminazi I guess. Sorry. I was appalled….

  8. Mauimom says:

    I have always thought that Isikoff was a self-serving asshole.

    Thanks for the supporting evidence, Mikey-boy.

  9. Mauimom says:

    Marcy, possible correction needed?

    regardless of what O’Donnell said to Isikoff anonymous, remain glaring inconsistencies

    Should that be “anonymously”?

    Since you’re getting linked to and quoted all over the place, just want everything to be spiffy-bright.

  10. Leen says:

    Isikoff “They contain no bombshells that will change the public’s basic understanding of the leak investigation, which led to the indictment and conviction of Cheney’s top aide, Scooter Libby, on perjury charges. But they do flesh out a portrait of a vice president who made little secret of his disdain for key players in the saga: the CIA, the news media (including NEWSWEEK), and apparently the FBI agents who had been authorized to investigate the matter.”

    What does Isikoff need to push him to dig deeper in regard to dates of declassification, the seriousness of outing an under cover agent, undermining national security, endangering Plame’s life, other agents, her family etc. Chris Isikoff is a lackey for Cheney, Libby. Only seems to be interested in investigative journalism when it includes blowjobs and taking down a President he despised. Wonder if Hillary would consider Isikoff to be part of the “right wing conspiracy”

    Just who is Isikoff working for? Certainly not the people

  11. klynn says:

    When I studied in the former Soviet Union, I found it interesting how some agents were members of the government media.

    I am beginning to wonder who makes up Team B… My guess is that some of the journalists are not independent members of JUST the media when looking at the Plame outing.

    Marcy, you are amazing with your ability to dissect and contextualize so much information to hold the media accountable in the process. Thank you.

    As for Cheney and his view of Newsweek, me thinks he doth protest too much.

    I often wonder about the context of Isikoff’s work as I see the role his pieces play in controlling the message and policy.

    For example, I want to know how Isikoff got his hands on the highly classified information in the indictment for the AIPAC spies trial. Especially, the info regarding the Israeli intercept of arms…

    …boat loaded with Iranian-made rockets, anti-tank grenades and C-4 explosives that Israeli officials charged was destined for the Palestinian Authority headed by Yasir Arafat…

    A timeline of his “intel leak” stories and who the benefitting party(s) are just might reveal how “good” a journalist he is. It might reveal a pattern of who benefits from his work which would put his writing in the proper context.

    • Leen says:

      “I found it interesting how some agents were members of the government media.”

      Lots of people have been wondering about many of some of our so called premiere journalist. Observing and being outraged by the “groupthink” that took place in the run up to the bloody immoral and illegal invasion of Iraq was infuriating and telling. Hell it was more than “groupthink”. Judy Miller led the way on feeding the American public false intelligence.

      These journalist not only sentenced millions of Iraqi’s to death they sentenced some of their news outlets to deserved criticism. Folks flooded to the internet after many journalist fed Americans and the world the Bush administrations lies about WMD’s

      Look at what Rep Ros Lehtinen ,Rep Berman, Rep Ackerman are trying to pass through congressional pipelines this week
      H. RES. 867

      Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ in multilateral fora.


      October 23, 2009

      Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN (for herself, Mr. BERMAN, Mr. BURTON of Indiana, and Mr. ACKERMAN) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

      this is an interesting article
      Goldstone v. Ros-Lehtinen and Berman

      Judge Goldstone Responds to Ros Lehtinen and Bermans efforts to take a dump on the Goldstone Report

  12. MadDog says:

    …Also, somewhat bizarrely, Isikoff appears to mis-attribute a comment Cheney made to the NYT…

    If I may be so bold here EW, let me throw out a theory and see what folks think.

    I wonder if Mikey Isikoff got this very “scoop” here?

    And the underpinnings of my theory go like this.

    Mikey Isikoff picked up the “scoop” here, because he rushed right over as a lurker when he heard the news of Cheney’s interview being made public to see if he could pick the brains of the blogger journalist who he knew was the foremost authority on all things regarding the Valerie Plame Wilson betrayal.

    Now let me further embellish my theory. When I threw that comment out there Friday night (before Mikey’s story), that’s what I thought immediately at the time that I wrote.

    Mikey may have taken my comment, and your lack of immediate disagreement as indicating Gospel according to EW!

    Oh joy, a scoobie-do-super scoop!

    And reflect on the timing. When I wrote that comment (and asked if anyone disagreed), I hadn’t yet got to the portion of Cheney’s interview where he’s specifically quoted talking about both the NYT and Judy Miller.

    That was only a couple minutes more of reading, but I hadn’t got there yet!

    And furthermore, if Mikey was hanging around here looking for a scoobie-do-super scoop, no one specifically disabused my “supposed” NYT/Judy Miller association of that redacted part; at least not obliquely until your next post and your comment here.

    And in the meantime, Mikey Isikoff had a column due, so wham, bam, thank-you ma’am, off he ran.

    By the time your later post and comment was up, (and remember your posts were coming fast and furiously so it wasn’t much time at all), I was now past the part of Cheney’s interview where he was quoted talking about both the NYT and Judy Miller, and like your comment, I was regretting my earlier speculation that the redacted part was about the NYT and Judy Miller.

    So, whaddya think? Pretty “good” theory, huh? LOL!

  13. earlofhuntingdon says:

    O’Donnell probably makes $750 an hour to zealously advocate the best possible interpretation of fact and spin for his client, Dick Cheney. When in office, Cheney and Shrub had entire taxpayer funded press departments to do the same, not to mention the well-paid RNC and other Gooper machinery.

    The public needs its “journalists” to investigate what their sources tell them. You know, demand corroboration before printing, texting, tweeting and publishing. Even if what’s leaked is true, the far bigger story may be who’s leaking, why they are leaking, or why now. It may be what or whose story they are leaving out or trying to override in order to convey a different story or one more apparently complete than it is.

    Anonymity the way Isikoff and his clones use it covers not only sources; it covers sloppy, lazy and spurious reporting. It’s the sort of thing opinion writers do when they need to invent a claim that everybody (who can promote their well-being) is a bourgeois bohemian.

    • Leen says:

      And the majority of the peasants out here make $7.50 an hour. And most of the folks out here making $7.50 an hour cannot hire O’Donnell types to keep them from having to testify, spin the facts, and keep them out of prison.

      The peasants go to prison for their crimes while the Cheney’s, Feith’s, Addington’s buy or lie their way out.

      “no one is above the law” bullshit

  14. timr says:

    The entire problem from my POV is that every single one of these people, reporters and their subjects are all in the same village, they are neighbors, vacation together and go to the same parties. Many new reporters want to make “big news” and discover they can do this if they become zerox machines for the powerful. Sadly I have come to understand that over the past say 20 years the powerful and the fourth estate have developed a relationship that makes honest reporting of anything impossible. The corporations and the politically powerful have won this round. The MSM is nothing more than a mouthpiece, telling us only what THEY want us to know. Thus making amcits the most ignorant of all the first world countries. We hear little or nothing about the world. The major news stories are truncated and shaped according to what the oligarchs want.
    Which is why I am no longer surprised about what we hear about the health care issue vs what we can actually discover if we go to other sources. Like CSpan, the BBC and CBC-Canadian Broadcasting Corp along with Japanese, Chinese and Korean news we can find out what is really going on. But even there if the corps get their way many of these news channels will be cut off thru the net neutrality issue(the opposition is back, bigger and badder than ever. Word of its death were false). This is the way that we the sheeple are manipulated and FNS has garnered a good sized portion of the sheeple audience. The sheeple as a mob. Which is why I am advising all my kids to migrate to another country if and when they can. My vision of the future is getting bleak, the US experiment is ending, not with a bang but with a wimper drowned out by the rabble rousers on fns who preach violence mearly to raise their ratings. I will admit that the years from the late 60s to 2000 were a real rush, exciting and full of wonder at the technological marvels. We went from mans first powered flight to landing on the moon in my grandmothers lifetime 1901 to 1999. In my lifetime we went from massive analog computers to very small desk and laptop computers. A feat I consider comparable to the first powered flight. And now? We have exported our knowledge to other countries so we can buy cheap junk. Inundated with ads, the sheeple responded by spending what they did not have to buy what they did not need. Greed came to be king in the 21st century with the new bankers changing the laws that protected the sheeple from themselves to allow the bankers to fleece the flock, at their own urgings. With hate and division on the rise, the dems, taking over from 8 years of rethug excess find themselves at the mercy of an MSM that clearly is in bed with the rethugs and their owners, the multicorps. Sadly, many dems have also joined the rethugs, money it seems means more than whatever principles they might have had. Having ensured that legal bribery of congress continues all I see in the future is a 1984 world, made real at last. History, after all, belongs only to the winners, who change it to suit themselves. Crap, the news, or what passes for news, made me very depressed.

    • freepatriot says:

      Sadly I have come to understand that over the past say 20 years the powerful and the fourth estate have developed a relationship that makes honest reporting of anything impossible.

      it’s not impossible, it’s just really rare

      for example: Knight-Ridder reported the bushco “aluminum tube” story accurately and in real time

      Pincus has been pretty accurate. And I’d credit Sy Hersh for stopping a bushco bombing of Iran

      but we do gotta sort thru a lotta shit to find a nugget of truth


      it isn’t a coincidence that the issue that brought us all together just ain’t goin away

      It was TREASON

      and ya jes don’t forget something like that

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