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Karl Rove, Washington Media's Conspiracy of Silence, and the Holder Nomination

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Imagine if Rod Blagojevich appeared on the Today show, and no one asked him about his legal troubles. Imagine instead that Matt Lauer's entire interview focused the governor's take on Obama's plan to rebuild America's infrastructure, and the role that Illinois companies such as Caterpillar, Deere and Navistar, would play in that rebuilding.

Or imagine that O.J. Simpson appeared on Today, and Matt Lauer only asked about U.S.C.'s football team and the current Heisman Trophy winner. Or better yet, that suppose Matt Lauer interviewed Michael Jackson, and the line of questioning was limited to changes in pop music since the initial release of Thriller 25 years ago.

Had any of those interviews taken place, NBC would have been slammed for giving Blagojevich or Simpson or Jackson a platform to promote himself while stonewalling questions about his own criminality.

Of course Lauer and NBC never gave any of those men a free ride. But they did something less defensible two weeks ago when they brought on Karl Rove:

Matt Lauer: But let me ask you to kind of nitpick a little bit. Is there a weak link in this team [announced by Obama], in your opinion?

Karl Rove: Well, first of all, there were two team members whom I thought were not really part of the team, and that is the Homeland Security secretary and the attorney general...Eric Holder, who is the one controversial nominee whom...

Lauer: Controversial why? Why do you think he's controversial?

Rove: Well, because he was deeply involved as deputy attorney general in the controversial pardon of Mark Rich, and did so in an inappropriate way.

Lauer: Do you think that's going to become an issue?

Rove: Well, I think it's going to be clearly examined if for no other reason than people want to lay down markers that that kind of behavior is inappropriate. He was number two guy at the Justice Department, having private conversations with the representatives of a fugitive, you know, a number--on the number 10 list, and didn't even tell the investigating agencies within Justice Department or the pardons office that he was having these conversations.

Lauer: But you think he'll be confirmed with no problem.

Rove: Well, in all likelihood. But again, there will be some attention paid to this.
Today, December 2, 2008

Say what you will about O.J. Simpson, he was a great football player, and his perspective on playing the game is, arguably, severable from his life of violent crime. Similarly, Michael Jackson is an extremely talented performer, and his perspective on pop music is distinct and unrelated to his sleepovers with teenage boys. Even Rod Blagojevich can talk about Illinois' industrial heartland without getting ensnarled in his pay for play schemes.

But nothing that Karl Rove has to say about politics is severable from his own efforts to corrupt the electoral process. His career has been about winning elections by spreading false rumors and by attacking opponents with bogus corruption charges. His malign interference with the Justice Department has been reported by many sources. He continues to thumb his nose at outstanding congressional subpoenas, and continues to stonewall with regard to any direct questions about his role in Don Siegelman's prosecution.

Yet The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and NBC News all willingly participate in a conspiracy of silence for Rove's benefit. They enable him to set the mainstream media narrative while insulating him from questions that touch on criminality. They don't push him on questions about outing a covert CIA agent. They don't ask why Rove abruptly changed his grand jury testimony after a Time reporter tipped off his defense lawyer. They don't ask about the senate report that implicates Rove in the U.S. attorney scandal.

Karl Rove has every reason to expect that the next attorney general will arrest him for defying a congressional subpoena. So he has every reason to impugn the man who will hold him legally accountable. His appearance on Today lay the groundwork for a larger smear campaign designed to create some kind of equivalency between the Marc Rich pardon, which was done as a favor to Ehud Barak, and the pardons that he and other Bush appointees expect to be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

Rove has assembled a familiar cast to parrot his talking points. They include Senators John Kyl, Tom Coburn, and by Arlen Specter, who distinguished himself on the Judiciary Committee by calling Anita Hill a liar, by declining to have Alberto Gonzales sworn in when he testified, and by convening hearings on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

In addition to his gigs as a paid journalist for Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, Rove is a regular contributor to the official network of the Bush legacy project, Fox News. Here is what Rove said last week in response to some obsequious questioning by Alan Colmes:

"Well, look, [political bribery scandals] have hit people of all political stripes, but this is a Democrat problem...This is the way that Democrats do business in Illinois, and you can read it in the transcript that this is what they think they deserve. We also have the backdrop of -- we have the House Ethics Committee expanding its probe in Democrat congressman Charlie Rangel, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and last weekend we had the defeat of Congressman Bill Jefferson, I think a nine-term incumbent from New Orleans, who is -- who've had $90,000 in his -- so yes, there's a problem that the Democrats have -- a perception problem they're going to deal with here."

The remarks could not be more drenched with irony. It's like O.J. Simpson giving a lecture on feminism.