Illustration by Daniel Adel
The one constant I've observed, in 27 years as an on-again, off-again political reporter, is that Republicans return reporters' calls and Democrats don't. To a great extent, this is what got Scooter Libby into trouble, calling back The New York Times's Judy Miller and Time's Matt Cooper. Libby is a superb example of the much-vaunted Republican Party message discipline-he's got tenacious follow-through. He's one of the people who helped give the Bush administration its reputation-intact as recently as 24 months ago-as the most masterful iteration of Republican media management, a leviathan of political marketing.
But good marketing depends on maintaining an illusion-we admire an efficient and top-notch communications operation but are shocked, shocked at the idea of cynical manipulation-and the Libby trial turned into a remarkable, practically voyeuristic peeling back of the layers of the Bush administration's public-relations tradecraft. The dubious byways of this White House were found not by that hoary Watergate-era investigative technique of following the money but by the more media-savvy method of following the talking points. In their composition and editing (and in the chicken-scratch notes in the margins) and ultimate distribution in press releases and distillation in speeches and the prepared responses of various administration spokespeople, we were able to see the particulars of the big lie, which got us into Iraq, as well as the much smaller ones.