The infamous outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame has, at long last, spawned a trial. Former Cheney chief-of-staff I. Lewis Libby stands accused of perjury in a case that has become more about the media than the identity of a spook. Slate's John Dickerson weighs in on the jury selection.
BOB GARFIELD: From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's On the Media. Brooke Gladstone is off this week. I'm Bob Garfield.
BETH FERTIG: And I'm Beth Fertig. It's been almost four years since we first heard the name Valerie Plame. The infamous outing of the CIA operative in a syndicated column by Robert Novak back in 2003 has spawned an investigation, a grand jury, and now, at long last, a trial.
But it's not exactly a whodunit. In 2005, Cheney insider, I. Lewis Libby, revealed himself as the source for then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Libby is now being tried for perjury and obstruction of justice in a case that, if the jury selection is any indication, is more about memory and media than the identity of an undercover agent.
Chief political correspondent for Slate magazine, John Dickerson, has been following the proceedings so far, and he joins us now. John, welcome to On the Media.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thanks for having me.
BETH FERTIG: John, Libby is accused of crimes related not to the outing itself but the investigation of the outing. Jury selection is now underway, and you suggest that a lot of the questions from attorneys on both sides are crafted to determine whom potential jurors trust more – politicians or the media.
JOHN DICKERSON: I think that's right. I mean, what they're trying to tell when they talk to these jurors is whether their preexisting views about both politicians in general, but also specific members of the Bush administration, will color their ability to weigh the evidence. And then also they're testing whether they give more weight to something a member of the media might say, or discount something a member of the media might say.
It's Tim Russert who will be testifying, and also Judith Miller, formerly of The New York Times, so they've been asking questions about the two of them, and, as you also mentioned, memory – the question of whether people in their daily lives have been in situations where they were sure of something, or they thought they were, anyway, and then it turned out, well, they were wrong. That'll be a key question, and it's something that every juror is being asked by the defense team.
BETH FERTIG: And whenever they do the voir dire or jury selection process, they're always looking for an impartial jury. And from where you sit in the courtroom, how does this blind or random sample of the D.C. population appear to lean?
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, there have been a lot of people in this jury pool who have said they can't possibly believe anything that comes from somebody who works for the Bush administration. On Thursday, there was a situation where the first five of six jurors who came out were essentially dismissed on those grounds.
But then also you have the pool in this jury selection process who come, it seems, from a completely different place. Not only do they not watch Meet the Press, they don't read the newspapers, except, as one woman said, to do the Sudoku puzzles. And they have other interests in their life, which is probably very healthy, so they seem to be perfect for this case, to assess it based on hearing about it for the first time.
BETH FERTIG: Well, if they're perfect because they don't know about the case, then it leads one to conclude that the more media-savvy you are, the more biased you're going to be.
There was one would-be juror on Wednesday who refuted that notion, from what you wrote. Tell us about juror number 1869.
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, we'd had a situation before juror 1869 where the previous ones that had been interviewed didn't watch the news. They didn't know any of the players in the case. They hadn't heard the name Scooter Libby. And then 1869 showed up, and he not only was familiar with journalists – well, he'd been one, and he'd been one at The Washington Post. And he worked for Bob Woodward, who is a key figure in this case, and he also happened to be a neighbor of Tim Russert, and he went to grade school with Maureen Dowd.
BETH FERTIG: And they let him stay in the room?
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, he made it through the first part of the process, so we'll see if he survives into that larger pool.
BETH FERTIG: Your point about juror 1869 was that being a journalist, he felt like he could be objective because he was a member of the press. He was used to hearing both sides. He could be impartial. Was that the view of the defense team?
JOHN DICKERSON: Well, in some ways they would like to embrace that notion – in other words, any juror wouldn't be tainted coming into the process, or, if they did know anything about the case, that they would, as 1869 put it, be able to weigh both sides.
But, in terms of the general view of the press that underlies the Libby defense team's approach, it's essentially that the press doesn't have those kinds of high standards of weighing views without prejudice, and that the members of the press who will be testifying, and specifically contradicting Mr. Libby's view of events will be journalists who may, in fact, have a bias.
BETH FERTIG: You, yourself, were named by the judge, along with 23 other members of the media, as playing a role in this case. Does that complicate your coverage of this?
JOHN DICKERSON: I think it does. The press for the moment is condemned to a kind of 1970s rec room. We're not in the courtroom for the voir dire process. We're watching it all on a television screen, and that allows a little bit more comment and chatter than when the actual trial gets underway.
Because the names involved are ones that most of the journalists covering the case either know or know quite intimately, it will be a challenge for everyone to kind of sort, just as the jury must sort, preexisting views about our colleagues and our profession.
And you can argue, on the one hand, that we'll all stick together and protect our journalistic brethren. On the other hand, there is a desire among some of us, I think, to reassert the kind of rules of journalism and try to push away clubbiness or judge each individual journalist's role in this process the way a journalism school might, by the strictest of standards. So who knows where we'll come down individually or collectively in covering this trial on those questions?
BETH FERTIG: John, we're talking to you on Thursday. Are there any new developments today we should know about that you'd like to mention?
JOHN DICKERSON: There is a woman now who's being questioned who works for the CIA, and this has taken quite a long time to figure out whether she's possibly a juror or should be dismissed. She works in an uncovered capacity for the CIA. And, in fact, this is a matter of some debate about whether Valerie Plame was undercover and was therefore actually outed, although while it's a matter of debate, it's also not at issue in this trial, since it's about perjury and obstruction of justice. So it feels like we've ground to a halt here at lunchtime on Thursday.
BETH FERTIG: Well, we look forward to reading your continued coverage of this. Thank you very much, John.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you.
BETH FERTIG: John Dickerson joined us from a pay phone outside the jury selection room. He's chief political correspondent for Slate magazine and author of the book On Her Trail: My Mother, Nancy Dickerson, TV News' First Woman Star.