An article published last month by the liberal website Truthout.org claiming Karl Rove's lawyers had been handed indictment papers from a grand jury on Friday, May 12 by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald seems to have been debunked. News relayed by Rove's lawyer stating that Fitzgerald has said he will not in fact be pursuing charges against Rove appear to mean Truthout's account was false.
Truthout later went on to assert that Rove had basically marched into the Oval Office to announce his indictment and all but resigned on the spot, according to "a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee."
Given that the piece was based on anonymous "high-level sources with direct knowledge of the meeting," and written by a reporter (Jason Leopold) whose own credibility has been questioned on numerous occasions, it is understandable why responsible observers might have been hesitant to accept the veracity of the story at the outset.
Critics, meanwhile, have lambasted Leopold and Truthout editor Marc Ash for not yet retracting the stories, revealing their sources and apologizing to their readers. Still others said the story -- true or false -- was irresponsible because its sourcing is so thin. Even prominent, steadfast TO/Leopold supporter Jeralyn Merritt at TalkLeft seems to have turned on them. Merritt gives Leopold and TO the benefit of the doubt, though, while insisting the "sources were wrong and should be outed."
It's sketchy enough that TO thought the story was worth rushing out in the first place, but nonetheless I am not convinced TO's reporting -- which I never quite believed, anyway -- was necessarily wrong. Indeed, the secret meeting described by Leopold's alleged sources may have taken place. Fitzgerald may have shown Rove's team a sealed indictment handed down by a grand jury and then later -- yesterday -- decided for whatever reason not to pursue the case. They may be in court right now moving for a sealed dismissal. We'll probably never know, because all of this is kept secret.
If there is a sealed indictment, it might not be identifiable, but it would be on public record. Ash has conveniently discovered a sealed indictment which he says he is sure names Rove, though neither he nor anyone else can prove or disprove that at this time.
In any case, what we know isn't the important thing, if Ash and Leopold are telling the truth about what sources told them. How do you burn an anonymous source for lying if you cannot prove they lied?
If it does turn out that Leopold and Truthout were duped, they will be relieved of any obligation to respect the sources' anonymity. That is, if the indictment Ash is sure names Rove turns out to be something else, or if Fitzgerald and the judge decide to reveal that no secret indictment existed, the proof will be unavoidable.
Since Leopold's sources had "direct knowledge of the meeting" (which means they were present, or maybe on teleconference, anything else being indirect), it can't be the case that the sources themselves were duped, as some have suggested. So it will be time to reveal them, since their only motive for constructing such a story will have been to discredit Truthout and Leopold. Indeed, not revealing them would be a tremendous disservice to public-interest journalism. Anonymous sources need to know that lying in order to discredit honest journalists will have consequences.
In the end, this raises ages-old questions about the reliability of journalism -- especially the agenda-driven reporting and opining sites like Truthout engage in as a matter of craft. Unlike The NewStandard, Truthout and similar sites from across the political spectrum start writing with the conclusion already known. They aren't digging to discover, but rather to prove something. Don't get me wrong: there's nothing wrong with propaganda, as long as someone doesn't pretend it's news journalism. Blurring that line is unethical.
As to why TO ran the story in the first place, maybe it was a gamble that, if the story were later proved true, it would have lent remarkable credibility to the publication. Now, even many long-time TO readers are slamming Ash and Leopold with a vengeance -- so the backlash against TO's rep is likely to be severe and crippling.