Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A Pattern of Skullduggery

Sorry, yes, another Plamegate entry. I find it a fascinating glimpse into how politics actually work, from bureaucratic turf wars to smear campaigns and backstabbing to the relationship between reporters and politicians to the active distortion and obfuscation of the truth for political gain. At least two reporters feel as I do... You can hear Adam Liptak of The New York Times and Anne Marie Squeo of The Wall Street Journal discussing it with Terry Gross on NPR here.

Several good timelines of this affair have sprung up on the web, but one of the more interesting is a recent article by Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), who’s been doggedly pursuing this for some time. He recaps no less than eleven security breaches. This particular version has interactive footnotes, but no article links (alas).

Regardless of how Novak changes his version of events, and how Rove claims a reporter fed him the covert information on Valerie Plame Wilson, I keep coming back to an article The Washington Post ran way back on September 27, 2003. The money quotation, also used in part by Waxman, is:

Yesterday, a senior administration official said that before Novak's column ran, two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife. Wilson had just revealed that the CIA had sent him to Niger last year to look into the uranium claim and that he had found no evidence to back up the charge. Wilson's account touched off a political fracas over Bush's use of intelligence as he made the case for attacking Iraq.

"Clearly, it was meant purely and simply for revenge," the senior official said of the alleged leak.

It’s very, very hard to believe otherwise. If only the Bush admin had heralded the cardinal rule of DC, “The cover-up is almost always worse than the crime.”

At this point, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus and the official who leaked to him have both been interviewed by Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald. Pincus writes about this, and about the journalistic ethics he practices regarding confidential sources here . Even though Pincus was leaked the material about Valerie Plame Wilson on July 12, 2003, before Novak’s article was published, Pincus relates:

I didn’t write about that information at that time because I did not believe it true that she had arranged his Niger trip.

The first of Pincus’ three standards for granting confidentiality is:

Determining whether the information is credible and verifiable.

Compare this behavior with Novak’s. Pincus later wrote about what the official told him in a October 12, 2003 article. He recounts:

I wrote my October story because I did not think the person who spoke to me was committing a criminal act, but only practicing damage control by trying to get me to stop writing about Wilson.

Again, compare this with Novak. Both reporters were leaked the same essential information, but Novak ran with it and Pincus didn’t. Pincus apparently did not print the information because he correctly viewed it as damage control or spin, and because his instincts were correct — the “leak” was not true; Plame did not arrange for her husband’s trip (although she did play a peripheral role, which has been consistently distorted by some parties). Pincus’ invoked standards suggest that he would have confirmed the leaked information first before publishing it, but apparently he did no feel the info was credible enough to begin with to bother to do this.

Apparently, at least four other reporters were leaked the same information. Yet they, like Pincus, did not run it, probably for similar reasons. But Novak was all too willing to print what he was fed.

To Novak’s credit, he did at least half-heartedly try to confirm the story by calling the CIA, but as recounted earlier, when he was told not to use Valerie Plame Wilson’s name, he ignored this. At least one pundit has posited that Novak took the denials he received as proof he was on to something, and this is likely what he thought... but it’s still sloppy reporting, with Novak all too willing and eager to bear some pretty brackish water for the Bush administration.

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