11/16/2005 12:38 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Assistant to the Who ?

I Google "Scooter Libby." I click on the Justice Department web site and there's the Libby indictment. On indictment page one, count one, paragraph "A," sentence one it says, "Beginning on or about January 20, 2001 and continuing through the date of this indictment, defendent I. Lewis Libby, also known as 'Scooter Libby,' was employed as Assistant to the President of the United States' comma.

I say, "Say wha-" "Assistant to the president of the United States?" I'm reading this the same week Newsweek's cover says "Cheney's Man." Then I look up the salaries of the top White House staff. "Assistant to the President" tops the White House pay scale. A hundred and sixty one thousand dollars a year. Not too shabby. So now I'm really curious as to how come I don't know this. How come headlines don't say "Two of the President's top aides involved in CIA leakgate?"

I call my friend the dashing network anchor and ask, "How come I don't know Scooter Libby was "Assistant to the President?" Dashing Network Anchor says, "You mean assistant to the Vice President." The same thing when I call my friend the big time editor, "Vice President, Cheney's guy." Then I call my friend the Media Decision Maker. I say, "Scooter... assistant to the PRESIDENT? Is there some kind of policy you guys got at your fancy news organization not to mention that little nugget?" Media Decision Maker says, from a great height, "You mean assistant to the VICE president." "No I mean Assistant to the President, you know, Bush 43 who wishes his poll numbers were that high? According to the indictment and the salary Libby's number one job was 'Assistant to the President.' Did you read the indictment?" Media Decision maker says, "Well, no but I'll get back to you."

On the one hand it's comforting that, at least among my media friends, there's no conspiracy to protect the president. On the other hand it is terrifying that prestigious journalists reporting to millions are relying on second-hand information spun by G-d knows who. My reporter friends are good, honorable people. But they're also mostly my age and have, I believe, 20th-century news habits. When they Google they tend not to click the Department of Justice site for the Libby indictment or to read the actual committee report on prewar WMD claims. Instead they click on the Washington Post or New York Times' coverage of those documents. That used to be the best we could do.

But like I said, I feel better thinking there is no conspiracy by the press to protect the president. Although there is that Newsweek cover story "Cheney's Man." Within the article is an insert graphic that pictures the top half of page one of the Libby indictment as if it had been torn from the rest. In the jagged edge of the graphic tear just happens to delete the phrase "Assistant to the President." But again, I'm sure it's just coincidence.