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One Big Courthouse

Weekly commentary by CBS Evening News anchor and Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer.
When I was a young reporter covering the courthouse in Ft. Worth, I always found the best stories about the sheriff came from the county commissioners. The best stories about the county commissioners always came from the sheriff.

When I got to Washington, my first beat was the Pentagon, and I knew nothing about defense policy, but I discovered the Pentagon was just one big courthouse. The straight scoop about the Air Force always came from the Navy. The straight scoop about the Navy always came from the Air Force.

News gets out because it is in someone's interest to have it out. A sort of dirty-tricks version of that is what led to Scooter Libby's perjury indictment. The CIA and the White House were in a fierce secret argument over whether Saddam Hussein was trying to build a nuclear weapon. If what the Libby indictment alleges is true, when war policy critic Joe Wilson said the White House claim was false, the president's men went after him. They secretly spread the word he was just a tool of the CIA because his wife worked there. In the process, they blew her cover as a secret agent.

Did Libby damage the national security? I don't know. But an anonymous smear campaign to destroy someone's credibility is unscrupulous at best, and we should expect more from officials in positions of trust. There is also a lesson here for reporters who accept such information, and we get a lot of it. We should always first ask ourselves: 'Why have I been given this information? Is it relevant, or am I just being used?'

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Carrying the water for anonymous character assassins is not what journalism should be about.

By Bob Schieffer

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