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Karl Rove, Rupert Murdoch and Media Bias

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In today's Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove says that I -- and others -- owe him an apology for allegations that have been made about him during the course of the House Judiciary Committee's investigation into the dismissal of United States Attorneys and related issues about the politicization of the Department of Justice.

Mr. Rove's self-serving assertions on this subject are simply inconsistent with the documents that the Judiciary Committee recently released and his claims have been discredited by the analysis of the documents and reporting on these matters by credible news outlets across the country. Anyone interested in the truth can read the documents for themselves (here) or the reporting on these matters from papers large -- Washington Post (here) and New York Times (here) -- and small -- Kansas City Star (here). Mr. Rove's points are largely a repeat of his prior discredited statements, and the purpose of this post is not to rehash Mr. Rove's rehash.

What may be of broader interest is the apparent editorial decision of the Wall Street Journal to prominently feature Mr. Rove's self-serving assertions in its editorial pages, while burying and redacting the original story documenting the facts contained in these documents.

On the day after the documents were released, the Journal's print edition relegated the story to its "News in Brief" section, running an item of six sentences -- 193 words (by way of contrast, the next story in the same section about a college basketball coach impregnating a woman was eight paragraphs and 248 words).

Nothing in the Journal's print coverage of the Committee's release quotes from any of the documents or from any Democrat or investigator about the specific evidence contained therein, even though the Journal used its apparently precious space to report that the Justice Department and White House declined to comment. (To be fair to the reporter, a longer piece appeared in the online edition).

At the same time, the print piece helpfully includes Mr. Rove's full day-is-night quote asserting that the documents "show politics played no role in the Bush administration's removal of U.S. attorneys" and other false assertions. And -- in lieu of any quotes -- it includes the assertion (also helpful to Mr. Rove) that "it remains far from certain whether the... documents released... contain information that would help prosecutors" without any further support or explanation, while omitting the reporter's online analysis of the numerous specific documents and facts that, in the reporter's words posted only online "appeared to bolster allegations that David Iglesias . . . was fired for partisan reasons."

In contrast to the Journal's miserly allocation of column width for reporting on the document release, today's opinion piece by Mr. Rove is 13 paragraphs and 968 words long. It is featured in all formats of the paper.

The point is not that I feel slighted. I have been a public official for more than 40 years and I have taken my fair share of shots from the media, and have seen worthy issues ignored before. The point is that the collective result of the Wall Street Journal's editorial decisions are that its readers are left unaware of the basic facts.

So, for example, when Mr, Rove claims that all he did with complaints from New Mexico Republicans about United States Attorney Iglesias's unwillingness to prosecute Democrats for the purpose of providing an electoral advantage for Republicans was "pass them to the appropriate officials... to determine if they were accurate and weigh them appropriately," Journal readers are left unaware that testimony from White House Counsel Harriet Miers and emails from others contradict Mr. Rove.

In the Committee documents, Ms. Miers describes an "agitated" Mr. Rove calling her from the road in new Mexico saying that something had to be done about Mr. Iglesias. Ms. Miers could not rule out that Mr. Rove expressly demanded that Mr. Iglesias should be fired. An email from a Rove deputy to Mr. Rove asked why Iglesias was "shy about doing his job on Madrid." Patsy Madrid was a Democratic Congressional candidate at the time.

When Rupert Murdoch acquired the Journal, substantial concerns were raised about the number of media properties he owned and the right wing bias of his news ventures. Many questioned whether the Wall Street Journal would become just another New York Post or, worse, Fox News.

While the Journal's editorial page had been conservative for some time, the news division had been largely balanced and thorough. (Indeed, the reporter's online piece is balanced and thorough.) Many wondered whether Murdoch would put his right wing slant on the news pages as well.

The Journal's handling of this chapter of the USA scandal seems to bring that question to a head -- is it a sign that the editorial staff of the Journal's news division -- or at least its editing -- has taken on Murdoch's right-wing bias?

It is certainly true that editorial judgments are made for many reasons and that mistakes are made in the crush of time and, for the sake, of the many accomplished journalists who work at the Journal, I hope that this was simply a mistake. But there is reason to worry.

And with respect to the Journal's coverage and commentary on this particular matter, one thing at least is clear. If anyone is owed an apology, it is the Journal's readers who depend on the Journal for fair and accurate coverage of the news.