Reporting on President Bush's July 19 nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court, various CNN correspondents derided as "ludicrous" and "overwrought" the suggestion -- often attributed solely to "Democrats" or "liberals" -- that the White House may have accelerated the nomination to divert media attention from the scandal surrounding White House senior adviser Karl Rove. In fact, news reports suggest the White House did accelerate the nomination to distract the media, and both Republicans and Democrats have suggested that the nomination was moved up to shift focus away from Rove. Many Republicans were reportedly happy the White House was "changing the subject."
Rove was recently implicated in the outing of former CIA operative Valerie Plame.
CNN's chief national correspondent John King twice belittled the idea that the White House moved up the nomination to divert attention from Rove. On the July 19 edition of CNN's Inside Politics, King said, "It is ludicrous to think that the president of the United States would rush a decision simply to change the subject." Later, on CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, King said, "The idea that they said, 'Oh my God, we're in trouble because of Karl Rove; we need to rush this' -- I think that's a bit of a stretch." CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield similarly brushed off the notion on the July 19 edition of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, saying: "I think we're being a little bit overwrought in thinking that this is a clever move to get Karl Rove off the front page."
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz, who also hosts CNN's Reliable Sources, and CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux implied that Democrats and liberals were alone in suggesting that the White House had moved the nomination forward. In his July 20 "Media Notes" column (via Nexis*), Kurtz wrote: "The prime-time maneuver also neutralized the blogosphere, although liberals were convinced it was all a plot to knock Karl Rove and the CIA leak story off the front pages." On the July 19 edition of CNN's Lou Dobbs Tonight, Malveaux said: "Well, what the Democrats are suggesting is that perhaps this information is coming out to take Rove and the CIA leak investigation off the front pages of the newspapers."
There are indications, however, that the White House did accelerate the timing of the nomination to draw media focus from Rove's alleged involvement in the CIA leak scandal. Bloomberg reported on July 20 that "two administration officials" said the nomination was moved forward in response to the Rove controversy:
Bush originally had planned to announce a replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on July 26 or 27, just before his planned July 28 departure for a month-long vacation at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, said two administration officials, who spoke on the condition they not be named. The officials said those plans changed because Rove has become a focus of Fitzgerald's interest and of news accounts about the matter.
A July 19 Wall Street Journal article (subscription only) reported that White House advisers "urg[ed] the president to expedite his announcement to deflect attention from a growing scandal over the role of senior administration officials -- including political adviser Karl Rove -- in leaking a Central Intelligence Agency agent's identity to the news media in an effort to discredit critics of the White House's prewar Iraq intelligence." According to the Journal, " 'The Rove situation has accelerated it,' said a Republican lawyer who consults the White House on judicial issues. 'They would like to get something that will knock it off the front page.' "
On the July 20 edition of Fox News' Dayside with Linda Vester, former presidential adviser and political pundit David Gergen praised the nomination as a "smart" political move for the White House:
GERGEN: This White House, which has not been as adept politically the last three months as it was the first term, on this one, I think it was smart, to echo Tony Coehlo. When you woke up this morning you did not find Karl Rove's name in the front section of your newspaper, and that is quite intentional. They got Karl Rove off the front page.
Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, said on the July 19 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News that Republicans were excited that the White House was announcing a nominee because "they're changing the subject" from Rove:
RUSSERT: I think Karl Rove's enjoying this day, one of the few in the last week or so. Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said, "Isn't it interesting, the timing?" And, Brian, every Republican I talked to today in Washington said, "Thank God they're changing the subject. We'd much prefer to fight over the Supreme Court than watch Karl Rove be talked about in the press with a CIA investigation."
According to a July 19 Reuters article: "Sources said the timing of an announcement had been moved up in part to deflect attention away from a CIA leak controversy that has engulfed Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove." Washington Post staff writers Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei reported on July 20 that "Some Republican strategists said the nomination could help the White House divert attention from the Rove scandal and reinvigorate Bush's political prospects."
*For reasons not explained by The Washington Post, the online version of Kurtz's July 20 column does not contain the quote used above.