The Scandal That Wasn't; Lefty Bloggers Get the Wrong Roberts

Article excerpt

Byline: John B. Roberts II, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Bloggers scavenging the Internet in July for scandals about Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. thought they had red meat. On July 20, Secrecy News, a Web publication of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, reported that Judge Roberts was involved in the Iran-Contra affair.

New Media had bested Old Media again. Secrecy News uncovered chinks in Mr. Roberts's armor that NBC, ABC, CBS, the New York Times and The Washington Post had missed.

It was a sensational scoop and bloggers quickly circulated it. The Daily Kos.com reprinted portions of Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh's final report about Mr. Roberts's role in the Iran-Contra affair. Democrats were salivating.

Unfortunately for them, it wasn't true. A day after breaking the story, Secrecy News retracted it.

One of the great downfalls of the 24/7 world of the Internet is the need for speed. For Web journalists, a matter of minutes can mean the difference between a scoop and being scooped. This creates pressure to rant first and worry about facts later. In their haste, the Federation of American Scientists confused me with my namesake. This journalistic error could have been avoided by using a pre-Internet technology like the telephone. Someone should have called to ask whether Judge Roberts and I were, or weren't, the same person. Instead, Secrecy News rushed to publish.

I shouldn't be too hard on Secrecy News. Yes, it's pitiable that they relied on a public report issued almost fifteen years ago as the source for their scoop. Maybe their idea of "secret" means long-forgotten. But with so many Robertses running around in politics, government and the press, it's easy to confuse us.

This problem predates the Internet. Back when John G. Roberts Jr. and I worked at the White House, we often got each other's phone calls, although I worked in the Office of Planning and Evaluation, and later Political Affairs, while he was in the Counsel's Office. This happened when outside callers rang the switchboard and simply asked for "John Roberts." Periodically, we met to exchange mail and interoffice memos delivered to the wrong Roberts.

I remember him as a nice guy, not at all the type to be involved in shady dealings like Iran-Contra, unless perhaps someone solicited his legal advice about the fine line distinguishing the permissible and impermissible in covert matters. Before anyone makes another mistake, it was Senator Pat Roberts, not any of us other Robertses, who this week urged the new general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence not to be overly cautious and to go right up to the line in covert policy. …