Who do you trust?

If you can believe The Washington Post’s media writer Howard Kurtz (and, at this point we’re not sure who to believe on this story), some 35 major news organizations tried to confirm Jason Leopold’s claim that Karl Rove had been indicted by the CIA leak grand jury but not one could confirm the report.

Reports Kurtz:

Robert Luskin, Karl Rove’s lawyer, says he spent most of the day on May 12 taking his cat to the veterinarian and having a technician fix his computer at home.

He was stunned, therefore, when journalists started calling to ask about an online report that he had spent half the day at his law office, negotiating with Patrick Fitzgerald — and that the special prosecutor had secretly obtained an indictment of Rove.

The cat’s medical tests, Luskin says, found that "the stools were free of harmful parasites, which is more than I can say for this case."

The claim that President Bush’s top political strategist had been indicted in the CIA leak investigation was written by a journalist who has battled drug addiction and mental illness and been convicted of grand larceny. That didn’t stop more than 35 reporters — from all the major newspapers, networks and newsmagazines — from calling Luskin or Rove’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, to check it out.

The reports appeared on the liberal Web site Truthout.org, run by Marc Ash, a former advertising man and fashion photographer in California. Jason Leopold, the author of the stories, directed inquiries to Ash, who says that "we stand by the story. We have multiple points of independent confirmation of what we originally reported. Our problem is, the prosecutor’s office is under no obligation to go public."

Leopold acknowledges in a new book, "News Junkie," that he is a past liar, convicted felon and former alcoholic and cocaine addict. An earlier version of the book was canceled by publisher Rowman & Littlefield last year.

Salon retracted a 2002 piece by Leopold involving Thomas White, then secretary of the Army. The online magazine apologized, saying it had been unable to confirm the authenticity of an e-mail that Leopold attributed to White. Leopold, a onetime reporter for the Los Angeles Times and Dow Jones, accused the online magazine of being "wimpy" and caving to pressure.

"Jason is a character, but he’s been straight with me and I’ve checked him out very carefully," Ash says.

We also called sources who have provided accurate inside information on Fitzgerald’s investigation in the past but not one could (or would) confirm the Truthout story. We talked to reporters who said their editors ordered them to check out Leopold’s story and found most were reluctant to chase the story.

"There was nothing there," one said. "I knew that before I checked."

Assumption is a reporter’s curse. Assuming a story is or is not true leads to sloppy reporting, inconsistent fact checking and mistakes. What we still don’t know at this point is whether or not the sloppiness was Leopold’s or the reporters who half-heartedly tried to check out his story or both.

Kurtz continues:

Leopold’s May 12 report said Rove had told the president and top administration officials that he would be indicted and planned to resign. The next day, a Saturday, Leopold reported that Fitzgerald had handed Rove’s attorneys an indictment of their client on charges of perjury and lying to investigators, and that an announcement was expected the next week.

Luskin calls the reports "absolutely bizarre. I’m waiting for him to tell me whether Fitzgerald had the chicken or the pasta. . . . There was no meeting, no communication with Fitzgerald’s team of any kind."

As the phone inquiries continued through that Saturday night, Luskin says, "some of the reporters felt somewhat demeaned by having to call. It’s the editors saying to them, ‘I don’t care what you think; call up and get some kind of response.’ . . . The cumulative weight of all this malicious speculation is really disruptive."

Was it speculation, fact or wishful thinking? Whatever the grand jury may or may not have done, the jury of public opinion is still out.

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