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Plamegate and the Press: When Will Somebody Get Fired?


So now we can add Viveca Novak to the growing list of journalistic sinners granted absolution by their employers. Allowed to take a leave of absence, she will, according to her editor, await a "fuller discussion."

What is there to discuss?

She gave confidential information to Karl Rove's lawyer and then failed to tell her editor about it for over a year (the exact date can't be determined because she didn't bother to take notes and wrote no story based on her Luskin "reporting"). She didn't even tell her editors after she had spent two hours being interviewed by Pat Fitzgerald -- only fessing up two days after learning that she would have to repeat her testimony under oath. And to top it off, while all this was going on, she continued to report on the case -- acting as if she had no clue why Rove had, at the last minute, avoided being indicted.

Time magazine spent millions of dollars to protect a confidence. Matt Cooper had his bags packed and was ready to head off to jail to do the same. Novak broke the confidence for the price of a cocktail -- blurting it out to her buddy like a drunken sailor.

And after all that, she is put on leave? Why not a big wet kiss and a hefty Christmas bonus to go along with it?

The Plamegate investigation has exposed the ugly underbelly of modern, big-time journalism: the rampant insiderism, the special treatment afforded superstar reporters, the oh-so-cozy relationship between those in power and those theoretically tasked with covering them, the lack of newsroom checks and balances, the acceptance of transgressions with barely a whimper.

Have the people running these newsrooms never heard the term 'firing offense'? For God's sake, what is it going to take before one of these Plamegate journalistic malefactors is handed a pink slip?

Instead, Viveca Novak is on leave. Maybe she'll run into that other Novak, Bob, who has had some extra time on his hands since being suspended by CNN in August. Of course, Bob Novak wasn't taken off the air because he had done the White House's bidding and outed Valerie Plame or because he had refused to give viewers the details of his involvement in the case -- even after naming his sources to Fitzgerald. Indeed, CNN execs defended keeping Novak on the air despite all this. No, he was only asked to take a paid breather after committing the mortal TV sin of saying the word "bullshit" during a live telecast and walking off the set (a quick review: saying "bullshit" will get you suspended -- but not fired; acting like a piece of shit has no employment consequences).

Speaking of no consequences, tarnished Golden Boy Bob Woodward was neither suspended nor asked to take a leave after admitting that he had waited two years before telling his editor -- and his readers -- and the prosecutor -- that he had been a Plamegate player. And that he had commented on the case without divulging his role in it. For Woodward, it's been very little Truth and absolutely no Consequences.

Also facing no consequences is the gang that couldn't shoot -- or edit -- straight at the New York Times. Arthur Sulzberger is feeling the pinch of negative press but is still in charge. And Bill Keller and Jill Abramson are getting a free press pass (see Auletta and Mnookin) -- even though they were the grown-ups at W 43rd and should have known better before helping Arthur, Jr., turn Judy Miller into Rosa Parks. Then, when they realized the whole world was laughing at them, they jettisoned Judy like a bank-robber tossing his gun in the river. Suddenly, it was Judy Who?

And even Miller herself was allowed to retire from the paper and head home to Sag Harbor with a seven-figure severance package that reportedly includes health care benefits for life. That will teach her the errors of her ways!

So again I ask: When is someone going to be fired over this case?