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Who Let Evil Rove in the Newsroom?

The Times makes belated front-page news out of Bush strategist Karl Rove's advice offerings on Fox News and in Newsweek. He's no "thinking woman's sex symbol," as the Times described George Stephanopoulos when he joined ABC in 1993.

Times reporters Jim Rutenberg and Jacques Steinberg landed on Monday's front page by reporting a light-hearted piece on Karl Rove offering free political advice to the Democrats on the Fox News Channel. Then they quoted Obama press secretary Bill Burton: "Wouldn't taking his advice be a little like getting health tips from a funeral home director?"


Undertaker analogies aside (something the media usually save for Dick Cheney), do the bigwigs at the New York Times ever consider that's how Republicans greet their incessant advice about how the Republicans should campaign and govern?


The headline was"The Pundit Analyzing Obama? Some TV Upstart Named Rove." Former CBS newsman Marvin Kalb typically furrowed his brow about how the media's preferred participant is not the journalist, but "the political activist, the Karl Rove type." To which Rutenberg and Steinberg replied: "There are 'Karl-Rove-types,' and then there is Karl Rove, who helped to define the modern era of hardball politics..." The Times doesn't devote any space in this story trying to prove precisely which heinous commercials or campaign tactics were masterminded by Rove.


Most likely, outraged liberal journalists would cite Rove's role in discussing Valerie Plame's CIA job with reporters in the summer of 2003. Rutenberg and Steinberg mention that after he was hired to write little pieces for Newsweek, the magazine reported through "detailed secondhand accusations" that Rove may have tried to "force out" Plamegate special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald.


But journalists remain scandalized that Newsweek, a feisty force against Team Bush on the Plamegate story, would then embrace Mr. Rove as a columnist. Liberal bloggers will no doubt inveigh against the lovable-Karl talk that emerges.


Mr. Meacham said Mr. Rove has been received surprisingly well in the magazine's newsroom, where he has been a reliable colleague who files his articles on time and works diligently with fact checkers.


"After one editor dealt with him," Mr. Meacham said, "the editor called me and said 'This just complicated my world view. I may like Karl Rove."


Rutenberg and Steinberg mentioned this path has been walked before, citing the case of George Stephanopoulos making an abrupt switch from Bill Clinton's White House to ABC News. But that wasn't exactly scandalous front-page news to the Times back in 1997.


Max Frankel kvetched in the Magazine on January 19, on the verge of the second Clinton inauguration in a piece that also ludicrously painted Rather, Brokaw, and Jennings as the essence of media nonpartisanship. Frankel conceded that the new ABC News man was intelligent and telegenic, and declared he needed to "recover his chastity" to be respected in the "news" business:


If he is serious about academia and journalism, Stephanopoulos will in time outgrow his youthful ardors and escapades, recover his chastity and qualify as a professional student and observer of public affairs. But if television news is serious about its reputation for disinterested analysis, it had better cement those walls.


On February 26, Times reporter Elizabeth Bumiller wasn't scandalized about a revolving door letting in "hardball" operatives. She was cooing in a B-1 story about Stephanopoulos, the single "thinking woman's sex symbol." The headline was "The Pleasure of His Company; A Whirl Beyond the White House for Stephanopoulos." She began:


Not every 36-year-old freshly arrived in Manhattan is immediately invited to dinner (and provided with a tuxedo) by Ralph Lauren, or to a lunch given by the Vogue editor Anna Wintour for Katharine Graham, or to an opening of the Byzantium exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or to an evening of pizza with a clutch of New York intellectuals pondering the future of American labor. And, of course, not every 36-year-old new to town says he would like to run for United States Senate someday.


But not everybody is George Stephanopoulos, the former Presidential adviser and thinking woman's sex symbol, who is withdrawing from what he has called "the most powerful drug I've ever experienced" - the 7:30 A.M. White House staff meeting - to start a new life, more or less, in New York.


Nobody from the Republican side is quoted in the story bemoaning how Stephanopoulos "types" shouldn't be allowed on the set.


Once at his office, he makes his morning calls to [author Eric] Alterman, [then-ABC colleague Mark]Halperin, the political strategist James Carville and Rahm Emanuel, the White House's new George Stephanopoulos. "Just check in, see what's going on," he said. The conversations help give voice to his liberal and generally pro-Clinton point of view, prompting many journalists to question how he can be a true analyst of politics for ABC when he is so closely tied to the President.


I'm not pretending not to have a point of view," Mr. Stephanopoulos said. "Just because I defend Clinton doesn't mean I'm wrong. And if I believe the administration is making a mistake, I'll say so."


So far Mr. Stephanopoulos has not specifically criticized the Clinton Administration for its campaign fund-raising practices, preferring to say instead that "the whole system stinks."