“Listening to Abrams make an argument in a contempt hearing … in October 2004, Cooper had written Je Suis Fucked in his notebook,” he adds.
Mr. Pearlstine argues that what ultimately convinced him to give up his reporter’s confidential sources was his gradual understanding that Mr. Rove had never in fact explicitly asked for confidentiality. “That was my ‘tipping point’—the reason that finally changed my mind,” writes Mr. Pearlstine. “Rove wasn’t a confidential source and hadn’t asked to be one.”
Throughout Off the Record, Mr. Pearlstine compares his decision-making process with those of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Judith Miller of The Times. He suggests that in the end, Ms. Miller’s decision to go to jail to protect a confidential source was done on behalf of a source, I. Lewis Libby, who, like Karl Rove, didn’t require protection.
“[N]either her editors at the Times nor the paper’s lawyers spent sufficient time with Miller before her incarceration discussing waiver issues with her,” writes Mr. Pearlstine. “Nor did they spend enough time with her notebooks to determine whether she had anything on any other sources that truly warranted protecting. She didn’t.”
At some point, having found himself in the midst of a quintessential beltway scandal, Mr. Pearlstine must have looked around and sized up Washington, D.C., as the Galápagos of anonymous sources. Throughout Off the Record, Mr. Pearlstine attempts to do for anonymous sources what Darwin did for finches—that is, to provide an overview of their natural history, a description of their preferred habitats and a few distinguishing characteristics that separate, say, “Michelle the Chip Hustler” from Karl Rove from “Deep Throat.”
Mr. Pearlstine closes his book with a brief set of “Editorial Guidelines,” which, he believes, had they been in place, could have steered Time magazine clear of the entire Valerie Plame mess—guidelines he would no doubt like aspiring journalists to keep tucked under their pillows.
“Lovers should talk before they get in bed together,” writes Mr. Pearlstine. “So should reporters and their sources.”
Felix Gillette is a reporter at The Observer.