After four years of legalistic futzing around, Lewis "Scooter" Libby,
former aide to Vice President Cheney, was convicted on March 6 of
perjury and obstruction.
Of course, Libby’s trial was about much
more than one high-placed politician’s felonies. Its glaring subtext
was the government’s lies about the Iraq war and the U.S. media’s
collusion in that deception.
Did this government tell bald-faced lies to justify invading Iraq? Has
it continued to do so through the course of the carnage? Is the
mainstream media the mouthpiece for those lies?
In the opinion of many, "Yes, yes, and yes." The Libby trial certainly
added weight to that case.
Trying to Narrowly Define the Issue -- and Failing
As far as the actual charges went, Libby wasn’t on trial for the
administration’s crimes of lying to the public, Congress and the world
in order to justify invading Iraq.
On the contrary, the prosecution, defense and judge set very narrow
parameters from the outset. Libby was accused of lying to a grand jury
and the FBI to cover up the White House’s frantic efforts to silence a
war skeptic, former ambassador Joseph Wilson. The ambassador had
publicly discredited the Bush’s assertion in a State of the Union
address that Iraq tried to get material for making nuclear weapons
During jury selection, Libby’s lawyers
blocked any potential juror who admitted to disliking the Bush
administration or the Iraq war. Not so easy to do at a time when
Bush’s popularity is at a dismal low and the public is increasingly
The trial started on Jan. 23. Then followed 14 days of courtroom
testimony about who told whom and when that Wilson’s wife, Valerie
Plame, was a CIA agent. The luckless jury listened to hours of Libby’s
taped testimony to the grand jury three years ago. As it turned out,
that was the last they heard from the defendant. Libby never took the
stand. Neither did Cheney.
The Justice Department’s prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, argued that
Libby lied repeatedly to mask his role in exposing a CIA agent.
Libby’s legal team asserted that he was a scapegoat for more powerful
people in the Bush administration -- an equally valid proposition, but
hardly a real defense. In his closing arguments, attorney Theodore
Wells sobbed, "This is a man with a wife and two children, he is a
How dare anyone expect sympathy for Libby, who played a
key role in getting this country into a war that has directly or
indirectly killed over 600,000 Iraqis, most of them civilians, and
over 3,000 Americans -- at a price tag of over 400 billion dollars and
As the trial played out within its managed confines, how many people
could avoid thinking about these costs to life and quality of life?
Who could not wonder about Karl Rove’s role, and the roles of Richard
Cheney and George W. Bush?
The Media is Busted
The parade of journalists in the witness box -- some for the
prosecution, some for the defense -- told its own tale about the
incestuous relationship between the government and media. All of the
witnesses were high-profile names working for big newspapers or
syndicates: Judith Miller and David Sanger of the New York Times,
Matt Cooper of Time magazine, Tim Russert of NBC’s Meet the
Press, columnist Robert Novak, Bob Woodward and Walter Pincus of
the Washington Post.
In October 2005, media critic Jeff Cohen wrote: "Today, elite
journalists can’t pretend to be on the outside looking in at a scandal
that doesn’t involve them. This scandal is about them -- it’s about
White House-media cronyism, about journalists on the top rung of the
phone trees of Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, two of the dirtiest smear
artists in Washington history. It’s no accident Rove and Libby didn’t
turn to Helen Thomas or Seymour Hersh about Joe Wilson. They turned to
journalists they could count on -- at news outlets that had dutifully
promoted so many pre-war lies."
Major media has become much more than the lap dog of big business. It
is big business. Perhaps that explains why the New York Times,
Washington Post, Time Warner, and NBC were all willing to let
their reporters testify, a chilling violation of the First Amendment
right to a free press. For years these institutions and their powerful
journalists have conveyed government lies that led to and defended the
invasion of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Several of those same reporters scorned the significance of Libby’s
indictment. Nevertheless, it is the first time since the Iran-contra
scandal in the 1980s that a White House official has been convicted.
Rather fitting, really, since Libby is one of the many neoconservative
wonder boys who started their careers in the Reagan administration.
After the Verdict
At trial’s end, both the prosecution and the defense staunchly
applauded the system of justice in the USA. And why not, with both
sides representing the same ruling class? Libby will appeal, while
remaining out of jail. And Fitzgerald indicated no interest in going
after any other culprits.
One thing is certain. The neocon plots and White House webs of deceit
have lost their sheen even for most conservatives, at least for the
moment. The Libby trial, limited though it was, helped to bring this
The Democratic Party wants workers to think that Libby’s crimes are
Republican crimes. But in 1964, the Johnson administration invented an
"unprovoked attack" by the North Vietnamese on a U.S. destroyer in the
Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. A falsehood cooked up as an
excuse to escalate the war, it too was duly "reported" by the major
Something else is certain. It used to take decades for the dirty deeds
of big business and government to reach the light of day. Now there’s
internet access and information available from a wealth of sources
that do not snap to salute the rulers of state. This, reinforced by an
awareness of this government’s systematic deception heightened by the
Libby exposés, will make it harder to sell war.
But are people too cynical or burned out by years of gamesmanship to
take action? Or will they be provoked to rise to their feet and call
to account all of the politicians responsible for the unjust and
disastrous Iraq war, Democrats included? And will working reporters
who don’t want to be cogs in the war machine be spurred to truly
muckrake, as any good journalist should?
Perhaps it is too soon to tell the results of Libby’s trial.
Hopefully, it will stimulate public opposition to an entire system
that makes war and deadly deceit its business as usual.
Perhaps it is too soon to tell the
results of Libby’s trial. Hopefully, it will stimulate public
opposition to an entire system that makes war and deadly deceit
its business as usual.
writes for the
Freedom Socialist newspaper, where this article first