Truthout cops out

This was the day Truthout Executive Director Marc Ash promised a "more comprehensive accounting" of their claims of an indictment of Karl Rove back on May 13. What we got was more hyperbole, excuses and evasion.

Ash’s latest rationalizations:

The Rove indictment story is way beyond – in terms of complexity – any other story we have ever covered. In essence, we found out something we were not supposed to find out, and things exploded from there. We were not prepared for the backlash.

On Tuesday, June 13, when the mainstream media broke their stories that Karl Rove had been exonerated, there were frank discussions amongst our senior editors about retracting our stories outright. The problem we wrestled with was what exactly do we retract? Should we say that Rove had not in fact been indicted? Should we say that our sources provided us with false or misleading information? Had Truthout been used? Without a public statement from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald we felt that it was premature to retract our report.

After spending the past month retracing our steps and confirming facts, we’ve come full circle. Our sources continue to maintain that a grand jury has in fact returned an indictment. Our sources said that parts of the indictment were read to Karl Rove and his attorney on Friday, May 12, 2006. Last week, we pointed to a sealed federal indictment, case number "06 cr 128," which is still sealed and we are still pointing to it. During lengthy conversations with our sources over the past month, they reiterated that the substance of our report on May 13, 2006, was correct, and immediately following our report, Karl Rove’s status in the CIA leak probe changed. In summary, as we press our investigation we find indicators that more of our key facts are correct, not less.

What appears to have happened is that – and this is where Truthout blundered – in our haste to report the indictment we never considered the possibility that Patrick Fitzgerald would not make an announcement. We simply assumed – and we should not have done so – that he would tell the press. He did not. Fitzgerald appears to have used the indictment, and more importantly, the fear that it would go public, to extract information about the Plame outing case from Rove.

Yes, it does appear that Truthout was used, but not lied to or misled. The facts appear to have been accurate. We reported them, and in so doing, apparently became an instrument.

In a lame attempt to keep the hype going, Ash goes on to say:

We are well aware of the Lauria article and the series of attacks The Washington Post has launched against Jason Leopold and Truthout. As always, we will carefully consider all information and then publish a thoughtful response. In this case, we will publish our response on Wednesday, June 21, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific time.

Interestingly, Ash’s "more comprehensive accountings" fails to list how many times their story has changed since Leopold’s original report on May 13. The original story said Rove had been given "24 hours" to get his affairs in order. When 24 hours passed, the story was changed to say "24 business hours" or three days. When the three days passed, the mantra came to "wait and see" with promises that the story would pan out.

Ash keeps changing the number of sources. Last week, he said the site had "single source information" on the Rove indictment story.

Once again we will attempt to clearly separate what we know from what we believe – and why. What we know will be based on official records and official statements. What we believe will be based on single source information and general background information obtained from experts. The conclusions we arrive at should be considered carefully, but not taken as statements of fact, per se.

Yet three weeks ago, Ash claimed "three independent sources" for the story. On May 18, he said:

We can now report, however, that we have additional, independent sources that refute those denials by Corallo and Luskin. While we had only our own sources to work with in the beginning, additional sources have now come forward and offered corroboration to us.

Three days earlier, the claim was:

In short, we had two sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation who were explicit about the information that we published, and a former high-ranking state department official who reported communication with a source who had "direct knowledge" of the meeting at Patton Boggs. In both instances, substantial detail was provided and matched.

Tim Grieve at Salon’s War room is, like us, skeptical of Truthout’s version of events:

Leopold proceeds to quote a "former federal criminal attorney" as saying: "The question here is that nobody who I have spoken to — top criminal attorneys, law professors, etc. — is aware of the left part of the case title having been sealed."

Oh, really?

We checked the U.S. District Court’s database this morning. Approximately 158 criminal cases have been filed since the beginning of the year, and approximately 31 of them — or one out of every five — have been styled "Sealed v. Sealed." And each and every one of these "Sealed v. Sealed" cases contains exactly the same description — "Case is not available to the public" — as the one provided for 1-06-cr-128, the case that Leopold suggests may be Rove’s.

We asked Truthout’s Marc Ash whether he was aware that 30 other 2006 cases carry the "Sealed v. Sealed" designation and whether the existence of such cases doesn’t undercut Leopold’s latest story. "Well, I think we’re into semantics," he said in an e-mail response. "We say ‘unusual,’ you say ‘about one out of every five.’ Obviously we’ve taken a keen interest in ’06 cr 128.’"

Ash had his chance to come clean but, instead, he has chosen to stand behind a story that dozens of Washington’s best investigative journalists have looked into and concluded, based on information from their sources, is a fabrication. They have examined the claims of often-discredited reporter Jason Leopold’s incredible story of May 13 and have discounted every single part of it.

Ash’s claim of journalistic integrity is laughable at best. Truthout was founded by Ash, a former fashion photographer, and William Rivers Pitt, a Democratic political operative. Any pretense of objective journalism is a joke. The site pursues a purely partisan left-wing agenda.

Writes Alexander Cockburn on CounterPunch:

It looked as though Truthout would have to sponge the egg off its face. Truthout did nothing of the sort, insisting as vehemently as any lunatic claiming adbuction by aliens that it stuck by its story.

Leopold openly admits ignoring ethics in pursuit of a story and has been caught fabricating sources and stealing material from others in the past. He lies, cheats and impersonates others and then substitutes fantasy for fact — sins which have cost him jobs with more reputatable news organizations and he worked his way down the journalistic food chain before landing at Truthout.

For Truthout to think that it, a small web site with known left-wing leanings, would be selected as an "instrument" in a Rovian setup is the height of bloated self-importance.

Free-lance Joe Lauria outed Leopold’s tactics in a Washington Post Op-Ed piece last Sunday but the shady stunts of the discredited writer is a matter of history many times over.

In the end, such tactics only damage the cause of those who follow the Leopolds, Ashs and Pitts of the alternative web site world. Wrong is wrong and sloppy reporting is not excusable simply because that reporting may play to our wishes and beliefs. That’s why partisan "news" sites do a disservice to readers and contribute so much to the spread of misinformation on the Internet.

We’ve published some boners and had to eat crow on them. That’s the cost you pay when you depend on anonymous sources who may or may not be pursuing an agenda that has nothing to do with truth. The true test of any news operation’s professionalism is the ability to admit mistakes and then work like hell to make sure such errors do not happen again.

As Thomas Lifson writes on The American Thinker:

The rather sordid story of Leopold, his methods, dishonesty, and unrepentant stance is told very well in today’s Washington Post, by Joe Luria, a journalist whose trust was badly abused by Leopold in the course of his work on the story.

If the left cannot bring itself to come down on Leopold and Truthout like a ton of bricks, it reveals itself to be a partner in mendacity, not to be trusted by anyone. Fanatics, who cannot admit error when it is palpable, are not to be trusted. Not to be believed, not to be handed anything resembling high office.

Such blindness is not limited to the left. The right also follows its prophets into the abyss of misinformation and fantasy all too often.

Paul McLeary of Columbia Journalism Review’s CJR Daily is blunt in his assessment of the fiasco:

We wonder if the folks over at are rethinking their affiliation with reporter and serial fabulist Jason Leopold. Leopold, you may recall, is the freelance reporter who was caught making stuff up in a 2002 article, self-admittedly "getting it completely wrong" in pieces for Dow Jones, and had his own memoir cancelled because of concerns over the accuracy of quotations.

Leopold’s latest addition to his application for membership in the Stephen Glass school of journalism came on May 12 of this year, when he got what appeared to be the scoop of a lifetime.

As for what you should believe about Leopold’s story, it’s worth looking at his background in more detail.

When Leopold’s story was first called into question a few weeks ago, Salon’s Tim Grieve reminded readers of Leopold’s checkered history with the publication. Salon removed Leopold’s August 29, 2002 story about Enron from its site after it was discovered that he plagiarized parts from the Financial Times and was unable to provide a copy of an email that was critical to the piece. Leopold’s response? A hysterical rant (linked above) which claimed that Salon’s version of events was "nothing but lies," and that "At this point, I wonder why Salon would go to great lengths to further twist the knife into my back. I suppose the New York Times will now release their version of the events. I can see the headline now ‘Jason Leopold Must Die.’" In other words, people are out to get him, and it’s not his fault.

If there is one common theme that emerges from all of Leopold’s journalistic snafus, it’s that none of it seems to be his fault. We probably won’t have to wait long before we hear the same tired refrain from him about the Rove story.

But we wonder when editors will finally figure out his game, save themselves the trouble, and just stop publishing him.

Which is exactly what we’re hearing from Truthout and Marc Ash. It is our belief that Leopold’s story was a fabrication and that Truthout is complicit in that fabrication.

Case closed. We’re moving on. Truthout’s future lies with those foolish enough to buy such nonsense. Others won’t be fooled again.

–Callie Houston
Blog Editor