Patrick Fitzgerald Does a 'Star' Turn as Captain Queeg

October 28th, 2005 3:54 PM

This is a very curious press conference just conducted by Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. With his machine-gun delivery, he repeatedly flopped back and forth between saying that the “outing” of Valerie Plame, wife of discredited Ambassador Joe Wilson was a “serious matter,” and saying that he “reached no conclusion” whether she had been outed, and if so, when and by whom.

The mood in the room among the reporters changed appreciably as the conference went on. Initially, the press was very interested in the charges made and reasons for them, and in the charges not made against other people, and the reasons why not. But by the end of the conference, the reporters were clearly puzzled by the wandering speech of Fitzgerald and his lame analogies about a baseball pitcher throwing at a batter’s head, and a bank robber with his fingerprint on the holdup note and a signed confession.

Again and again, Mr. Fitzgerald said that it was “vital” that he and his Grand Jury should get to the end of the process with a “clear understanding of all of the facts.” Yet, again and again, he replied to reporters’ questions by saying that he “had not reached a conclusion” about central facts of the matter concerning either Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson.

Source: this is written as the press conference is under way. The transcript will surely be posted on the Internet within minutes.

Toward the end of the conference, I realized what I was watching. Fitzgerald was offering the press and the nation a version of Humphrey Bogart’s star turn in his last film as Phillip Francis Queeg, the Captain of the USS Caine in The Caine Mutiny (1954). The turning point in that film came when the obsessive Captain comes apart on the stand while being cross-examined by the lawyer for the mutineers in their trial.

Beginning with the exposure of Captain Queeg as obsessive in the story about the missing strawberries from the mess hall, the Captain visibly unravels. As he does so, he takes two ball bearings from his pocket and begins to play with them in his hand.

Fitzgerald seems to be a similar person. He is wound far too tight. He is obsessing about a few conversations with reporters (where it might be the reporters, not Scooter Libby, who are either lying or maybe just poorly remembering what happened years ago). At the same time, Fitzgerald is deliberately ignoring the larger fact that a war is going on, and must be won. It was just like Captain Queeg.

Fitzgerald had everything except the strawberries, and the ball bearings. By the end, I think many of the reporters had reached the same conclusion.