I was “Rove’d,” but he didn’t leave prints

Jay Rosen has some provocative things to say today about how well Karl Rove played the press corps and how, in his opinion, members of the media aren’t writing everything they know about Rove’s wily ways.

I really, really respect Jay, but I think he’s gone coastal on us here — East Coastal. News flash: There is a media outside of D.C. and New York, and we sometimes do work that’s above average.

My former colleague at the Dallas Morning News, Wayne Slater, co-authored a dandy little book about Rove called “Bush’s Brain.” The book is loaded with detailed stories of how Rove worked the media, and how members of the Texas media wrote about what Rove did and how he used them or tried to use them against his political opponents.

The book quotes an article Slater wrote for the News in 1999, in which he named Rove as the newspaper’s source of damaging information about a former Texas State Railroad Commissioner. When that news was published in 1992, it ended the woman’s political career.

And take this paragraph from “Bush’s Brain,” in the chapter Battles and Wars:

As Slater and other journalists traveling on the Bush Campaign knew, using operatives to attack opponents, leaking harmful information, or turning rumors into weapons, as was being done against McCain, was not a new tactic for Karl Rove. If traveling reporters did not know how Rove had used those tactics in the past, they did now. In campaigns at the state level, he had also used surrogates to blast opponents with leaks, whisper campaigns, and rumors while his clients remained above the fray. A Rove candidate was always able to honestly argue that he was running a clean, issues-oriented campaign because Rove stirred up the dirt without involving his client. He made phone calls to reporters, supplied documents, and produced third-party groups with damaging allegations. This approach, already a template for the modern electoral campaign, was refined by Rove with a deadly new precision.

There are many instances in the book where Slater names names and quotes reporters talking about specific things Rove did. Slater also quotes Rove in a sizzlingly threatening conversation over an article that Slater wrote about him in the News in 1999.

I’m not among the reporters quoted in the book, because when I was “Rove’d” he left no fingerprints, only whispers. It was 1994, and I had just finished interviewing Texas gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush for an article about his business background. Among other things, I asked Bush if he was aware that Harken Energy, where he was a director, was about to report a lousy quarter when he sold his stake in the company. When Bush sold 212,140 shares in June 1990, Harken stock was $4 a share. Weeks later, when the company announced staggering losses for the second quarter, the stock tumbled to $2.38 on the news.

Bush had maintained that even though he was on the Harken board’s audit committee, he wasn’t privvy to the company’s financial woes, and therefore hadn’t purposely sold ahead of the bad news. But fellow board member Stuart Watson had told me in an earlier interview that he and Bush had insisted on being kept abreast of all gory details of the struggling company.

“You bet we were. We were both trying to keep that company on the straight and narrow,” Watson had told me.

Watson subsequently told me he got a phone call from someone in the Bush campaign and at the urging of the caller, he telephoned my editors at the Dallas Morning News to say he hadn’t said what I quoted him saying.

Fortunately, the tape recorder I had put in plain view on the coffee table in the Watson’s living room when I interviewed him was working just fine. I had Watson’s words preserved, and quoted him accurately in the article I wrote.

Can I say for sure that it was a Rove “disinformation” trick? No. And that’s my alibi for not writing about it at the time.

But some folks in the Texas media did write about Rove’s bullying and disinformation tactics with reporters, both in news articles at the time and later in books. It irritates me no end that people in other time zones weren’t paying attention.

And that brings to mind another one of Molly Ivins’ fabulous lines:

“The next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States,” she wrote, “please, pay attention.”

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