I won't trust them again
My Unwitting Role in the Rove 'Scoop'
By Joe Lauria
Sunday, June 18, 2006; B02
The May 13 story on the Web site Truthout.org was explosive: Presidential adviser Karl Rove had been indicted by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in connection with his role in leaking CIA officer Valerie Plame's name to the media, it blared. The report set off hysteria on the Internet, and the mainstream media scrambled to nail it down. Only . . . it wasn't true.
As we learned last week, Rove isn't being indicted, and the supposed Truthout scoop by reporter Jason Leopold was wildly off the mark. It was but the latest installment in the tale of a troubled young reporter with a history of drug addiction whose aggressive disregard for the rules ended up embroiling me in a bizarre escapade -- and raised serious questions about journalistic ethics.
In his nine-year reporting career, Leopold has managed, despite his drug abuse and a run-in with the law, to work with such big-time news organizations as the Los Angeles Times, Dow Jones Newswire and Salon. He broke some bona fide stories on the Enron scandal and the CIA leak investigation. But in every job, something always went wrong, and he got the sack. Finally, he landed at Truthout, a left-leaning Web site.
I met Leopold once, three days before his Rove story ran, to discuss his recently published memoir, "News Junkie." It seems to be an honest record of neglect and abuse by his parents, felony conviction, cocaine addiction -- and deception in the practice of journalism.
Leopold says he gets the same rush from breaking a news story that he did from snorting cocaine. To get coke, he lied, cheated and stole. To get his scoops, he has done much the same. As long as it isn't illegal, he told me, he'll do whatever it takes to get a story, especially to nail a corrupt politician or businessman. "A scoop is a scoop," he trumpets in his memoir. "Other journalists all whine about ethics, but that's a load of crap."
I disagree, but I felt some sympathy for the affable, seemingly vulnerable 36-year-old. Before we parted, I told him a bit about myself -- that I freelance for numerous newspapers, including the Sunday Times of London. His publicist had earlier given him my cellphone number
But by Monday there was no announcement. No one else published the story. The blogosphere went wild. Leopold said on the radio that he would out his unnamed sources if it turned out that they were wrong or had misled him. I trawled the Internet looking for a clue to the truth. I found a blog called Talk Left, run by Jeralyn Merritt, a Colorado defense lawyer.
Merritt had called Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department spokesman who is now privately employed by Rove. She reported that Corallo said he had "never spoken with someone identifying himself as 'Jason Leopold.' He did have conversations Saturday and Sunday . . . but the caller identified himself as Joel something or other from the Londay [sic] Sunday Times. . . . At one point . . . he offered to call Joel back, and was given a cell phone number that began with 917. When he called the number
Leopold still stubbornly stands by the story, claiming that something happened behind the scenes to overturn the indictment. Marc Ash, Truthout's executive director, said last week that his site will "defer to the nation's leading publications" on the Rove story, but he declared his continuing faith in Leopold.
Actually, I ran the story as a what if, but I won't be making that mistake again. There's been a lot of questions about this story and the reporting behind it. I had no idea about Leopold's admitedly colorful past
There was a lot of caution about this story among the bloggers, andthey were careful to check it repeatedly. It wasn't like everyone ran about cheering. No one believed that a story of this importance could be false. But obviously it was filled with errors, because it had any number of details.
Ethics matter because it's about credibility. If you lie to get a story, you might lie about the story.
But the fact is that the problem isn't Leopold. It's Marc Ash. Leopold can set up a blog, do journalism, whatever. People can or cannot take him at his word. But Ash has a responsibility to fully explain the reporting here. I shouldn't have to read about it in the Washington Post.
If I were to call David Beckham a striker, how long would that error last before I would be gutted for my error. I'm supposed to be a ManU fan, know something about soccer. That's not a mistake you would tolerate. Marc Ash is tolerating questions about what appears on his site of a major, significant nature. The kind of thing which can bring permanent disrepute upon the site's entire staff.
Journalism is serious business. At this point, this is more about Marc Ash's judgement than any other issue.
posted by Steve @ 1:03:00 AM