By: Greg Mitchell
As editor-in-chief at Time Inc., Norman Pearlstine was drawn deeply into the Plame/CIA leak case when Time reporter Matthew Cooper refused to divulge the names of his two sources. Cited for contempt, and on the brink of going to jail along with Judith Miller of The New York Times, Cooper agreed to give up the names after Pearlstine relented on turning over internal material to the prosecutor. Pearlstine then was attacked by the Times, and some on his own staff, and villified by many others in the media.
Now he has written a book about that “firestorm” (as the book’s publicity release terms it), and the larger question of sourcing, to be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in July. It’s called “Off The Record: The Press, the Government, and the War over Anonymous Sources.”
E&P received a copy of the galleys on Tuesday. Inserted was a photocopy of a final chapter: an account of the March 7, 2007, verdict that found I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby guilty on four felony counts.
Pearlstine, now a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group, lays out in close detail every step of the legal and journalistic debate.
The book opens with Pearlstine standing up to Time Warner Inc. CEO Dick Parsons, when Parsons in 2004 tells him that he wants Cooper to give up his sources — if all legal appeals fail. Pearlstine opposes that idea. But less than a year later, Pearlstine calls Parsons to tell him that he will comply with an order to turn over all internal files requested by a grand jury.
Parsons apparently expressed surprise, adding that he was just coming around to Pearlstine’s position. The book then becomes an explanation of why the editor did that, amid a much broader discussion of issues surrounding confidential sources, past (Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the Farber case) and present.
Pearlstine explains later that Time’s predicament was much different than that faced by The New York Times, which did not receive a subpoena for internal documents. But Pearlstine had also come to understand, as he writes, that the use of confidential sources had been misused by the press, undermining credibility often.
One side plot in the book involves Time vs. The New York Times. Pearlstine is often critical of Judith Miller (calling her reasons for going to jail “suspect”), the Times’ over-the-top defense of her and its attorney Floyd Abrams, who also represented Cooper for a time. He relates on anecdote that has Cooper, after listening to an Abrams argument in court, writing in his notebook, “Je Suis F—-d.”
Pearlstine cites a July 7, 2005, editorial in which the Times ripped his decision to release those documents to the grand jury. “We were deeply disappointed by the decision,” the Times had declared.
But Pearlstine comments: “That the Supreme Court had dealt with and disagreed with every important point in the editorial was of no consequence to The New York Times and its editorial writers. Nor, apparently, was the Times’s own pledge in the Pentagon Papers case that it would case publication of the papers if the Supreme Court ruled that publication was against the law.” He also lays out quite openly much of the media and internal criticism directed at him during this period and, of course, offers his defense.
Perhaps the most amusing moment in the book (there aren’t many) comes when Pearlstine reprints emails exchanged by Cooper’s post-Abrams lawyer Dick Sauber and prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald after Cooper’s notes had been submitted.
Fitzgerald had just discovered that Cooper had been standing stark naked in his apartment when he received the fateful call that kept him out of jail — when Libby said it was okay that he testify. Sauber joked that at least the jury would be impressed by Cooper’s “transparency.” Fitzgerald wrote back that he always believed in not ordering witnesses to dress up for court, preferring that they dress the way they feel most comfortable. Now, he said, he might have to change that policy.
Pearlstine also reviews the involvement of Time’s Viveca Novak in the case and how it may have helped Karl Rove avoid an indictment. And he reflects on his own career in journalism, including his days at his college paper at Haverford — where fellow editors included future Los Angeles Times editor John Carroll and Loren Ghiglione, who became dean of the Medill j-school at Northwestern.