Hard News by Russell Brown

White collared

And so the bush telegraph sprang into action. Yesterday's white collar drug bust was a matter - quite fairly at this point - for name suppression all round. But if the gossip is correct, this case is going to sorely test the efficacy of name suppression in the Internet era.

I'm not sure that we ever used to make such sport of sharing around the unfortunate news of others. Not before our communications technology became so potent. But as you read this, the suppressed names will be being passed on in emails or mobile phone calls. Someone will probably post the names to an inadequately-monitored discussion forum (bloggers - watch your comments sections) and perhaps some foreign media organisation, to which the suppression order does not apply, will run a brief. Meanwhile, the news media have revealed enough to get everyone else talking - and, probably, for suspicion to fall on people who have nothing to do with the matter at all.

It's not the suppression is any more common than it used to be; indeed, in the 1970s, serious consideration was given to introducing blanket suppression for all defendants until conviction. But we expect to know a lot more these days; and there is an undeniable cachet in knowing.

If you didn't know that the "prominent New Zealander" charged with sexually abusing a child in Christchurch was Graham Capill, well, you weren't really connected. And if you knew and didn't tell your hairdresser, what kind of crazy person were you? And yet name suppression fills a purpose. A lawyer told me why he thought the names of two of those convicted in the recent historical rape case had been suppressed. It turned out to be a very good reason.

Anyway, it's oddly appropriate that this bust arrives in the same week as David Herkt's High Times: The New Zealand Drug Experience debuts on TV3 (tomorrow night). I've seen the first two episodes and I really cannot fault it. It's a fascinating and overdue social history that never succumbs to hysteria and, at times, serves as a reminder that nothing is really new. I'm interviewing David on 95bFM today at 1pm.

Brash hits back at Labour's black-ops attack ads, which rather confirms the view that they're much more effective than those baby billboards. (And frankly, having gone out with the "Iwi/Kiwi" billboards, National doesn't have a whole lot of high moral ground to complain from.) Scoop has a backgrounder.

What say Dog Biting Men made a post and nobody came? I've just noticed a forlorn conversation between Ben and Olivia, posted all of a week ago. They sit at the table, staring glumly into their glasses of irony and dream of blog fame. Go on, make some young people happy. Give the gift of your time and visit them.

Crikey has a fascinating article - apropos of very little at all - about Finns (the people of Finland, that is, rather than our famous singing and songwriting brothers) and drinking. It goes a long way towards explaining why every Finn I have ever met has appeared to be a mad alcoholic. Funny thing is that they actually consume less alcohol per capita than, for example, the French and Italians. It's just that when they have a drink, they go really hard. There may be some lessons about state regulation of alcohol sales here …

Not much good at sport? Iffy about guns? Ever considered that you might be gay? Salon's Mark Benjamin invented a closet back-story and submitted himself for gay "reparative therapy" just to see what would happen. Hilarious.

I don't really know where to start on media on the Karl Rove scandal - there's so damn much of it. But the basis is this: White House axeman Karl Rove and Cheney offsider Scooter Libby both told Time reporter Matthew Cooper (and, let's be realistic, probably a few others) that Valerie Plame, the wife of distinguished former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was a CIA agent, blowing not only her cover, but that of the front company she worked for, thus potentially compromising CIA agents and activities all over the world. Wilson had blown the whistle on claims that Iraq had "recently" sought to obtain uranium from "Africa" (ie: Niger). The claims subsequently proved to be largely based on forged documents obtained by the Italian secret service. Wilson was sent to Niger to investigate the claims in 2002, and reported back that they appeared to be untrue - and, given the structure of the uranium industry there, couldn't have been true. Two other reports found the same thing, and the final report of the Iraq Survey Group found that Iraq did not have a nuclear weapons programme, had no way of refining uranium and had not sought to obtain uranium after 1991.

But Wilson suffered the usual fate of whistleblowers under the current US administration: character assassination; extending, remarkably, to the blowing of his wife's agency cover. Plame's outing was described by CIA chief George Tenet as "a disaster for our agency" and provoked a criminal investigation. George Bush promised that anyone found to have been involved with the leaking of Plame's name would be fired. The White House explicitly denied that Rove was involved. Rove denied explicitly that he had leaked Plame's name. But when Time magazine folded, and hand over its records to the investigation, it emerged that both Rove and Libby talked about Plame to Time reporter Matthew Cooper. They lied about it for two years.

The volley of Republican talking points in response has been quite remarkable: Wilson was a liar; Plame wasn't really undercover (in which case, why a two-year investigation?); Rove hadn't really leaked Plame's identity because he didn't say her actual name (oh, for God's sake …). But it appears that, for once, the American people aren't buying it.

So anyway … there's a 10MB clip from the Daily Show. Josh Marshall on the claims by Christopher Hitchens and others that Iraq really did attempt to obtain uranium. Former CIA agent Jack Rice on the ramifications of the outing. (Includes the infamous and unfortunate statement by Republican Party chair Ed Gillespie that the outing of Plame was "worse than Watergate".) Billmon on the Republican pushback this week. The Democrats' Fire Karl Rove video.

And … back to Jon Stewart:

It seems to me that whether or not this is a crime is a moot point. It seems to me that whether or not what Karl Rove was doing is a moot point. What seems like the real issue to this is simple: when it first came out that her name was released and people started wondering, 'was that a leak of a CIA operative?' the White House pretended they didn't know anything about it. And Karl Rove pretended he didn't know anything about it. To me that is so far, the only issue.

Could get messy …