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London Calling: Geoff Morrell Makes It Official

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News that Geoff Morrell, a former ABC News correspondent, has moved to the Pentagon to become an official spokesman there, comes as no surprise to those of us who spent time at ABC.

First of all, to set the record straight: news reports described Morrell as a former ABC White House correspondent, which implies that he was THE White House correspondent. Not true.

Morrell covered the White House on weekends. At the time, Terry Moran had the weekday job, the one that mattered. Morrell was appointed to his post in April 2003, just as the Iraq War was starting, but he played more of a back up role at ABC News, trying to get on the A team. It never happened.

During his time at the White House, Morrell was an active part of the cheerleading team that cleverly disguised itself as a press corps. He was not the only one guilty of giving President Bush the free pass on Iraq, but he did his part.

What was more revealing to me than his reports, however, were his contributions to ABC News' Iraq DL.

DL stands for distribution list. When Iraq was looming as a story, ABC did what news organizations now routinely do -- it set up a DL.

The DL was established so that whenever one of the news division's moving parts had significant news on any aspect of the Iraq story, that would be sent out as an email to everyone on the list.

So if the main news desk saw a development on Iraq -- be it from the wires or from original ABC reporting -- it would go out on the Iraq DL and everyone within the news division would know about it.

Since the DL helped all the left hands within a large network know what the right hands were doing, it proved very useful. It prevented duplication (different shows, for example, chasing the same interviews).

Too bad it didn't end there.

The problem was that many correspondents and producers saw the DL as personal vehicle; a mechanism for self promotion and ideological positioning.

Geoff Morrell was one of the chief offenders.

When a wire story would go out on the DL, one of the rare ones suggesting that perhaps all the WMD stories the White House was peddling might in fact be untrue and that maybe, just maybe, the Blix UN team should be given more time to do its job, certain ABC personnel would hit the dreaded reply-to-all box.

Then the rest of us would be subjected to someone like Morrell's personal beliefs -- that critics of the war ought to know better, that a lot of people died on 9/11 and maybe we should be thinking of them -- that kind of thing.

I remember sitting at my desk in London, head in hands, wondering how a once great network news division would allow people like Geoff Morrell to hijack the Iraq DL to burnish their pro war credentials.

But what was telling about Morrell and his like using the DL in this way is that they had clearly come to the conclusion that making their hawkish personal views known was a good way to get ahead at ABC News at the time. Journalists who were uneasy about the war and the rationale behind it failed to pipe up on the DL. I have to admit that I was one of them.

So the news that Morrell has now made it official -- and gone to work for the government full time -- is no shock to me. He needed a job (ABC had let him go) and the Pentagon is a good fit for his beliefs.

For the record: I have no philosophical problem with reporters who choose to quit journalism and then go across the street to work for the government they once reported on. However, the issue arises when journalists, like Geoff Morrell, start doing the government's bidding while still carrying their press cards.

Two more points: for reporters and authors trying to document how the US news media abdicated their responsibilities in allowing the Iraq War to happen, getting access to something like ABC's Iraq War DL would be a research mother lode. But I suspect the network might have done a Karl Rove to that set of emails.

And some of you may remember Geoff Morrell from the big screen. He did one of those news reporter cameos in The Negotiator, that Sam Jackson/Kevin Spacey thriller. I've always found journalists willing to play themselves in an otherwise fictional movie a slightly confusing concept.

Or maybe that's just an example of this particular journalist being confused -- about the job, and its requirements.