Pearlstine Book on the Press and Libby Case Draws Wide Attention

By: E&P Staff The upcoming book by Norman Pearlstine, the former chief Time Inc. editor, has drawn wide attention in recent days. It will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux next week, and it's titled "Off The Record: The Press, the Government, and the War over Anonymous Sources."

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 Time's Matt 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."

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.

As editor-in-chief at Time Inc., Pearlstine was drawn deeply into the Plame/CIA leak case when Time reporter Cooper refused to divulge the names of his two sources. Cited for contempt, and on the brink of going to jail along with 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.

Pearlstine reveals that he solicited opinions from several editors he admired beforehand, such as John Carroll, the former editor of the Los Angeles Times and one of his oldest friends in journalism (they had worked together at the Haverford News). Pearlstine writes of Carroll's response to the debate over the notes: "He was stunned. He couldn't imagine that I would even consider turning over Matt's notes."

In the book, 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.

Liptak's piece in the Times today faults Pearlstine for some of his charges against Abrams in the book.

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.

He 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.

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 Carroll and Loren Ghiglione, who became dean of the Medill j-school at Northwestern.

Adam Liptak offers a lengthy analysis of the book (pro and con) in today's New York Times. He takes issues with some of the author's criticism of Floyd Abrams.


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