THE BLOG

Michael Isikoff -- The Fred Astaire of Stenographic Reporting

05/25/2011 11:50 am ET

After I read Jane's wonderful piece entitled "Let's Tell Mikey; He'll print anything," on Oct. 30th, I had to ask myself what kind of journalist would print a story so full of spoonfed propaganda that I instantly got a bad case of acid reflux. Here's a key passage that caught my eye:


"Rove remains in some jeopardy, but the consensus view of lawyers close to the case is that he has probably dodged the bullet."

Jane Hamsher wonders: "Consensus view of who? Luskin and his team of lawyers?"

Yes, Jane, that's the view Mikey is most comfortable with. Just ask yourself this question. Since most of the newspapers were printing stories based on "lawyers close to the case" before Fitzgerald's press conference, why was Newsweek the only publication to print the dribble contained in Isikoff's article? The word on K Street is that the Washington Post and the NY Times wouldn't have anything to do with these obvious, self-serving talking points that Rove's attorney was peddling. One can surmise that if a certain someone is looking for a reporter who can be led around by the nose-then Mikey is your man.

Not to be outdone by his earlier piece, Isikoff writes an article for the Nov. 28th issue of Newsweek, which tries to portray Rove and Libby as poor little, helpless victims being drained of all their funds by the wicked Fitzgerald. Here's the headline, "Leak Investigation: For Libby and Rove, Legal Woes—And Bills." It would appear that Karl was forced to take out a loan of 100,000 to help with his escalating legal fees. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the average net worth of the individual members of the Bush cabinet, including the President and Vice President, was between $9.3 and $27.3 million in 2002. I'm supposed to feel sorry for a couple of millionaire political ideologues who outed a CIA agent in order to smear a man who exposed an administration lie. To make Karl Rove into a sympathetic character is no small order, but Mikey is up to the task. This article reminded me of the gig Karen Hughes is getting paid for. Spreading propaganda is her job after all. For Isikoff, it's promoting whatever his new dance partner tells him. Then again this type of reporting is nothing new to Mikey. That man likes to boogie and can he dance!

I began to look into Mike Isikoff's reporting in the past so I could better understand why his articles read like facsimiles that came directly from the bowels of Robert Luskin's office. I have to say that I instantly became perplexed about Mikey's role in Monica-Gate. That's a bad choice of words, what I meant to say was that I was outraged. Going back to my title of the post, one of the keys to being a really dynamite hoofer is to have the perfect partner to gyrate with, and Mikey has been blessed with more than one Ginger Rogers in his time. Remember that dancing alone is no fun at all. (Except, of course, if dropping a few of tabs of acid while twirling in a circle at a Grateful Dead concert counts as dancing.)

Let's take a quick glance back in our google time machine.

"He was so entrenched in the Paula Jones case that we can see early on that Isikoff was determined not to report, but to contribute. If we go back to 1994, Mikey, while working for the Washington Post was not getting the attention he thought he deserved over the Paula Jones case and got himself suspended for insubordination, resigned in a huff and in May 1994, moved on to Newsweek."

Ken Starr was lucky to have him. He must have felt just like the Los Angeles Lakers did when they signed Shaquille O'Neal to a long term contract and immediately became world champions, but I digress.

Next we have this from 1998, called Pressgate, which was published in the inaugural issue of the magazine Brill's Content. It provides a detailed account of the behind-the-scenes collaboration between right-wing opponents of Bill Clinton, news reporters and Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr that resulted in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal.

Read the report here, but check out this very important sentence.


"One thing emerges clearly from Brill's account: without the active intervention and guidance of Newsweek magazine, the Monica Lewinsky scandal would never have come to pass."

Just let that sink in for a while.
Is it sinking?
I'll skip a space
Still sinking?

It gets worse for that Deney Terrio, dance fever wannabe. He actually got sued by one of his sources.

"A reporter who suddenly became famous for probing the president's sex life is now being sued by one of his sources. Steele says she talked with Isikoff only because the reporter "explicitly and verbally agreed that Ms. Steele's statements about Willey's accusations were 'off the record,'" meaning "confidential and anonymous."

To make matters worse for Mikey, she says she lied to Isikoff about her knowledge of the Willey incident in January 1997 at her friend's request, and then recanted the story to Isikoff when she learned that the reporter was about to publish it last summer. He broke one of the highest standards a reporter can have. He didn't keep her conversations with him confidential. Steele crucified Mikey's technique of coaching her as a witness too, but hey-he needed the story, right? What's a stenographer to do?

Let's make a little room for Ken Starr, the man who turned the word "leak" into a Borkism. Here's a report given by a limo driver who said on January 15, that he overheard Newsweek's Michael Isikoff place a backseat phone call saying Starr had just played the Tripp tapes for him. They both denied it, but why would the driver make that accusation?
Maybe he was promised a nice golf vacation in Saipan.

As we dig deeper, some of the most damning words that can be said about Isikoff were actually said by Mikey himself in his own book. "Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter's Story"

It was at this point, he writes, that he realized with more clarity than he had in the past that he "was in the middle of a plot to get the president.

Why did he allow himself to be used this way? He says that he became convinced that the president treated women badly and therefore needed to be exposed. The man was supposed to report a conspiracy, not be part of it, but hey-it kept his tap shoes clean and polished.

Now we approach the present. Look no further than "The Daily Show," the Comedy Central hit starring Jon Stewart. Isikoff appeared on the show July 14th, and had this to say:

"Pat Fitzgerald better have a serious criminal case here to bring and not because I'm saying anybody in particular should be indicted or not, but there's one reporter Judy Miller, who's sitting in jail right now-ahhh- because she wouldn't disclose her confidential sources to Fitzgerald and there's another reporter Matt Cooper, a fine man, very funny by the way- former college of mine who came this close to going to jail and I would hate to think that umm-ahhh-journalists are going to be thrown in jail for some rinky-dinky case. You know, I mean if this isn't a serious matter, if this isn't you know, something that really does involve national security- umm-then we're in pretty bad shape if for every run of the mill case or even not even a case at all reporters are going to get thrown in jail."

Digby, an LA based writer and blogger noted:

"Michael Isikoff was practically Ken Starr's right hand man in the media. He performed at only a slightly less partisan level than Drudge or Steno Sue Schmidt. He didn't seem to think that throwing a duly elected president from office for lying about a private matter was overzealous in the least. He was on that bandwagon from the very beginning and one of the guys who drove it."

For a pirouetting marionette of a man to attack Patrick Fitzgerald for possibly being overzealous is unconscionable. I understand that he is defending the new pin-up girl of political operatives, Judy Miller, and they do have a lot in common, but didn't he learn anything in all this time? There's a thing called the "internets" now. We can actually look up what you reported in days gone by. I find it surreal that Mikey was so enamored with extramarital sex in the Clinton years to become this pit-bull advocate against him, but the outing of a covert CIA agent during a time of war doesn't so much as register a sigh from his chinny chin chin.

As I peer into the future, you can be sure that in the months leading up to Scooter Libby's trial, there will be more of this note taking, lap dog stenographic reporting coming out of Michael Isikoff's mouth. Remember, we have not one, but two dance troupes competing for the services of the River Dance King--the newest player being Scooter Libby. Ted Wells, his new lawyer, will need that wonderfully smooth tango danseuse master at his beck and call if he is going to bail out his client. I do hope that Isikoff takes the high road this time around and reports instead of repeats. There's still time for him to save his own soul from the route Bob Woodward has taken. I doubt that will be the case though, so when he continues on his current path Newsweek should re-title itself "The King of Swing" for the duration. Mickey will be bunny hoping all over their pages to the pulsating beat of Vicki Sue Robinson's disco classic, only he'll be singing, "Turn the Leak Around."

(For more go to CrooksandLiars.com)