Softballs for Katrina, Baseball bats for Joe

Is Paula Zahn’s notion of balanced political coverage tag-teaming with the liberal guest in a conservative-liberal debate segment? You could argue that after watching last night’s edition of Paula Zahn Now, which featured an interview/debate segment regarding the Valerie Plame leak investigation with Katrina Vanden Heuvel, the editor of the liberal magazine The Nation, and Rev. Joe Watkins, a pastor and Republican political consultant. At one point Zahn all but dismissed any nothing that Karl Rove’s “leak” was an innocent mistake or a casual conversation, not a politically-motivated smear: "Is it appropriate for a chief White House aide to be involved in an alleged vindictive act against a man who wrote an excoriating piece in The New York Times?"

Zahn began the segment on the heels of a setup piece by Bill Schneider—which could be another post all unto itself—by prodding Watkins to transcend his GOP talking points: “Now, Reverend, I have heard all the Republican talking points today. Everybody has essentially said this is nothing more than a smear campaign against Karl Rove. But now you have his own attorney admitted that he leaked this information to Time magazine Matt Cooper. Will you concede, at a minimum, this is not good news for a President who said he would fire someone in the White House if they were found to be leaking inside information, privileged information?”

Joe Watkins wouldn’t bite:"This is a political smear operation here."

Zahn pressed again: "Come back to the question, though."

Watkins replied: "Well, the question is, is..."

Zahn insised: "This doesn't look good for the President, does it?"

Watkins reminded Zahn that Rove was not a target of prosecution: "Well, think about this. The truth of the matter is, there is an investigation going on. But Karl Rove is not the target of the investigation. Karl Rove hasn't committed any crime. He hasn't done anything wrong."

Zahn: "Wait a minute. Karl Rove went on camera. And you heard exactly what he said: I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name. Now his attorney has admitted that he in fact shared his identity with a reporter."

Watkins: "Well, he said Wilson's wife."

Zahn: "Her identity. Right."

Watkins: "He didn't call her by name. And he was correcting a story that would have been erroneous otherwise. That is what he was doing."

Katrina Vanden Heuvel then jumped in, airing her talking points: "There was a political smear. It was in smearing Joe Wilson's wife. Listen, this is not about Republicans and Democrats. This is about the condition of our democracy. There would be zero tolerance on the part of any White House in which a chief aide is leaking classified information, which undermines American security, to target and discredit political opponents of that administration. This is a White House which campaigned on restoring honor, integrity to the White House, a President who last year was campaigning on character and security. This White House's credibility is shredded, Paula. And we see indisputable evidence that the chief architect of this White House has misled the President. I would like to know what Bush knew and when did he know it."

Zahn lobbed a softball: "Alright. But let me ask you this. Does it make any difference whether to you, because this -- none of us really know that. -- this is why an investigation is going on -- that he specifically leaked her name?"

Vanden Heuvel swung and hit, scoring a rhetorical homerun: "But that's parsing. That's nitpicking. Whether he's legally culpable, let's think about the larger issue of the political damage this has done to our security and our democracy."

At this point, Watkins interjected and he and Vanden Heuvel debated for a while, before Zahn jumped in the ring: “Is it appropriate for a chief White House aide to be involved in an alleged vindictive act against a man who wrote an excoriating piece in The New York Times?"

Watkins rejected her allegation: "Not vindictive, he was correcting a story, so that it wouldn't be false, it wouldn't be erroneous. That is what he was doing. It was a helpful act, more than anything else."

Vanden Heuvel fired back and she and Watkins again locked horns, until Zahn jumped in again, and again, to press Watkins, not Vanden Heuvel: “But you still haven't answered the question. It was right? How do you justify someone having classified information..."

Watkins: "He was correcting a story."

Zahn: "...and sharing it with a reporter?"

Watkins: "Well, no. He didn't -- now, let's face. Again, it would be against the law if he knew that she was a covert operative of the CIA and then leaked her name to the press. That's against the law. You can't do that, especially if you know that the CIA doesn't want her name leaked. That's why he's not under criminal investigation."

Zahn then helpfully capped the interview, giving Vanden Heuvel, who had yet to be asked a tough question, the parting shot: "You get 10 seconds. You get the last word tonight."

Vanden Heuvel: "Let's not forget that the CIA asked the Justice Department to investigate this. There was an astonishing attack on the CIA because the CIA was criticizing this administration for misleading the nation into war. We still don't know the full story. Let's hope the truth comes out and justice prevails."

Zahn then closed: "Well, the investigation has been started. And we no doubt will see both of you again as we learn more details about some of these allegations. Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Reverend Joe Watkins, always good to see both of you."


Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.