End of the Rove: How He Spun Media

By: On the day it was revealed that the man credited with putting President Bush in the White House was quitting, there were no banner headlines in the country's major newspapers. There was no mention of it on the front page of The Washington Post, The New York Times or USA Today.

That's because Karl Rove, Bush's close friend and chief political strategist, chose to quietly make the announcement through an interview with longtime acquaintance Paul Gigot, the editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal.

It was Rove doing what he has done, consummately, for his tenure in The White House: controlling the message.

The Journal, which is owned by Dow Jones & Co., told readers on the front page of its Monday editions to turn to the editorial pages for the "why" behind the Rove story. There, Gigot revealed Rove's resignation in a lengthy recap of his soft-hitting interview with the longtime Bush adviser, held in Rove's "book-lined living room of his townhome on Saturday afternoon."

The paper's news pages had no mention of the day's biggest scoop.

"Rove has done this very skillfully, he's the master of spin," said Louis Ureneck, chair of the journalism department at Boston University. "He selected a friendly environment in which to make his announcement and in a sense control the message. If he had told a reporter, he likely would have faced tougher questions."

Rove's resignation comes as Americans grow more dissatisfied with the U.S. role in the war in Iraq and President Bush's approval ratings at near-record lows.

Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst with the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., said it was no surprise Rove chose the Journal's editorial page to announce his departure because it is widely considered to support Republican causes.

"It is plugged in to conservative sources in the administration and is often friendly to their viewpoint," he said.

Media watchers said the Journal's editorial board's handling the story independently of the newsroom was not unprecedented, or even anything that violated journalism principles.

"Many editorial writers do collect news on their own and occasionally they learn something before the news side," Ureneck said. "What this demonstrates is that the two sides operate independently, and that's a good thing."

A Wall Street Journal spokesman said the two units are not required to tell each other what they are doing. "They are two very distinct and different operations with a 'wall' between them," spokesman Robert Christie said. Gigot was not available for comment, he said.

But Edmonds said it seemed unusual that the Rove story did not get more of a "hard-news" treatment, something that could be linked to long-standing animosity between the Journal's reporters and its editorial board.

"It's no secret there is a well-established tradition that there is unhappiness on both sides with what the other guys are doing," Edmonds said.

The company's wire service, Dow Jones Newswires, ran Gigot's opinion story at 2 a.m., but it took another two hours before it alerted subscribers to the Rove news, sending the urgent headline, "WSJ: Bush Aide Karl Rove To Resign As Of Aug 31."

Christie would not comment on when or how the newsroom found out about Rove's resignation.

The paper's big scoop comes just two weeks after Dow Jones agreed to be acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. for $5 billion, a major premium to the company's stock market value before the offer was announced.

Murdoch needed four months to persuade the controlling shareholders, the Bancroft family, to accept the offer. The family balked on concerns that Murdoch would meddle in editorial decisions at the company's flagship paper -- on both the news and opinion sides.

Murdoch has said the concerns are unwarranted, but the two sides put in place an agreement that would create a committee that would have to approve the hiring or firing of top editors at the Journal.

The Journal's news coverage is considered a must-read in the business world and regularly wins major journalism awards. Its editorial pages are closely read in boardrooms and in influential political circles.


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