The report from inside Leon Panetta’s mind; plus, Rupert Murdoch, Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert, the Best Obituary Ever

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Leon Panetta, trying to tell you something. ()
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The Lineup collects the media stories, big and small, that are on our radar each day.

As the drumbeat of coverage relating to Iran's alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons grows louder and louder, press observers are beginning to draw comparisons to the media's coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq war in the early 2000s.

As you'll recall, prominent journalists back then slipped up in their watchdog role by battling for leaks, guaranteeing that anonymous and self-interested sources controlled the storyline about whether Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction.

So the public must now assess the extent to which it should trust the anonymous sources who are more recently dishing about a potentially looming conflict with Iran.

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The most intriguing of these claims was Washington Post columnist David Ignatius' Feb. 2 report that defense secretary Leon Panetta "believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June."

Where did that insight into Panetta's thinking come from?

That's the subject of today's must-read from Keach Hagey and Josh Gerstein on Panetta's "Iran press dance."

"Had Panetta, who’s developed a reputation for being gaffe-prone during his short time as defense secretary, possibly been a bit too candid in the presence of a fellow old Washington hand?," they write. "Or was Panetta crazy like a fox, using an influential columnist to make the threat of an Israeli strike to strengthen the U.S.’s ability to rally its partners into putting tougher sanctions on Iran?"

In either case, journalists on the beat appear to be on guard.

"Even the most scrupulously neutral story prompts emails from some readers who argue, in essence, that by writing about the subject we are somehow encouraging an attack on Iran," New York Times reporter David Sanger told The Huffington Post's Michael Calderone last week.

In other news...

A New York Times reporter's advice to the Forbes blogger who aggregated his article and got a gazillion pageviews out of it. [Gawker]

Recently ax-ed ex-longtime-Village Voice film critic J. Hoberman has landed at ARTINFO. [Variety]

Did Rupert Murdoch really have to dime out those Sun journalists? [The Guardian]

Rachel Maddow and PolitiFact are still going at it. [Dylan Byers]

Stephen Colbert returns after a brief hiatus. [The Cutline]

The story behind that New York Times obit everyone is talking about. [Romenesko]

Frank Bruni started a blog. [Gawker]

The Daily Mail has widened its traffic gain on The New York Times. [BuzzFeed]

CBS News chairman Jeff Fager on Lara Logan: "We will never, ever, send a reporter into a situation like that again without significant security.” [Poynter]

Former Wall Street Journal managing editor Paul Steiger defends Murdoch's transformation of the paper. [Atlantic Wire]

Getting to know New York magazine's new TV critic. [Adweek]

Reality Weekly magazine is off to a rocky start. [Adweek]

Earlier on Capital, in case you missed it...

The Atlantic is expanding its New York footprint with a new conference here as part of its Davos-esque events cash-cow.

Peter Goodman is handing off his full-time business and tech editor duties at The Huffington Post to concentrate full-time on writing and reporting.

Regarding today's tabloid fronts, Tom McGeveran asks: "Can New York be made to care about Pierre Casiraghi's face as much as Europeans do?"