Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Meda, Journalists, and the Plame Scandal

{1} "I think this White House made a tactical error. ...I think politically they did the wrong thing by saying nice things about Patrick Fitzgerald some months ago -- 'he's a man of integrity,' 'he's a good guy,' 'we have complete confidence he's doing the right thing,' etc -- making it now almost impossible for the White House, even on background, to attack the guy .... I think they should have at least kept the option open to attack him, and I just don't see they have that."
-- Tucker Carlson; MSNBC; Oct. 24, 2005

Tucker Carlson's response to Chris Matthews' question, about if President Bush should have attempted to minimize the significance of the Plame scandal by calling it a mid-level leak, is interesting. It has recently been reported that Carlson's father is one of the contributors to the Libby defense fund. Likewise, Fox News' Brit Hume is reportedly one of the "big name" Libby supporters. Surely no Washington scandal has involved members of the corporate news media to the extent that the plot to expose CIA covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson's identity has.

The two administration officials who have been identified as being among those who leaked Plame's identity to journalists in 2003 are Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Both were part of what was known as the White House Iraq Group (WHIG). This group met weekly to conduct the media campaign necessary to sell the Iraq war to the American public. They came up with the infamous "we can't wait until the 'smoking gun' turns out to be a mushroom cloud," which borrowed the emotional punch of the infamous "daisy chain" commercial from the 1964 presidential campaign.

When in March of 2003, when Ambassador Joseph Wilson began to be viewed as a threat with the potential to expose the "16 words" from the president's state of the union address, the WHIG began to consider options to discredit Wilson. This included conducting a "work-up" on Wilson, which involved using intelligence resources that resulted in VP Cheney finding out that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

In Jason Leopold's 3-6-06 article, "CIA Leak Path: Cheney, Libby, Woodward," (part of his excellent series found on "TruthOut"), we find that in response to Wilson's information exposing the Niger yellow cake report as fiction, the vice president authorized Scooter Libby to share highly classified National Intelligence Estimate information with journalists including Bob Woodward and Judith Miller.

Shortly after this, Robert Novak authored the article which revealed that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent involved in investigating weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The roles played by a number of reporters is now going to become part of Mr. Libby's defense against the charges that Mr. Fitzgerald filed against him last fall.

{2} "In his signature staccato, Matthews was blunt: 'I just got off the phone with Karl Rove. He says, and I quote, "Wilson's wife is fair game".' Before abruptly hanging up, Matthews added: 'I will confirm that if asked'."
-- Joseph Wilson; The Politics of Truth; Avalon; 2004; page 1.

Ambassador Wilson likely expected administration officials would be angry when he exposed the "16 words" as untrue. But, on July 8, 2003, when Robert Novak told a stranger on a Washington, DC street that, "Wilson's an asshole. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She's a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him," the former ambassador found it unsettling. (ibid; page 343) Likewise, he must have been concerned when he found out that Scooter Libby "seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an 'asshole playboy' who went on a boondoggle 'arranged by his CIA wife'." (ibid; page 442) Wilson had good reason to be concerned: his wife was a covert agent, and revealing her identity put her and many other people's safety at risk.

From the October 28, 2005 indictment filed against Scooter Libby, we find that he had been sharing information from the NIE and about Valerie Plame with Judith Miller, of the New York Times. Further, we know that Karl Rove was one of the two senior administration officials who told Novak about Plame, and that Rove also discussed Plame with Time's Matthew Cooper. These three and at least four other journalists from the coporate media were given information about Plame in order to try to discredit Wilson's trip to Niger.

The CIA contacted the Counterespionage Section of the Department of Justice in July, August, and September of 2003, requesting that they investigate the possibility that a crime was committed when Plame's identity was revealed. As late as December of 2003, the media was reporting that White House officials were confident that nothing would come of the investigation; "we have rolled earthmovers in over this one," an unidentified "senior White House official" told a Financial Times reporter. (Wilson; page 360) Things changed on December 30, 2003.

{3} "By the authority vested in the Attorney General by law, .... and in my capacity as Acting Attorney General .... , I hereby delegate to you all the authority of the Attorney General with respect to the Department's investigation into the alleged unathorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity, and I direct you to exercise that authority as Special Counsel independent of the supervision of any officer of the Department."
-- James B. Comey; letter to Patrick Fitzgerald; December 30, 2003

The grand jury investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity included Patrick Fitzgerald's calling upon several journalists to testify about their sources. This was, of course, an action that created some degree of tension. In theory, journalism is a noble profession, which relies upon unidentified sources known as "whistle-blowers," to expose government corruption. Many sincere people, including some journalists on the left, were concerned that Fitzgerald was attempting to violate rights they felt were outlined in the Constitution.

Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court, in an attempt to avoid testifying. They lost. Cooper obeyed the law, and reported in the 7-25-05 edition of Time about his testimony to the grand jury. Miller opted to go to jail. Her case, which appeared on the surface to be based on her journalistic ethics, soon was exposed as something entirely different.

In his memorandum in opposition to Miller's motion for reconsideration on the issue of incarceration, Patrick Fitzgerald informed Judge Thomas Hagan that dispite Miller's claim that she enjoyed the "strong and public support of her employer, colleagues, political and opinion leaders" in her refusal to cooperate with the grand jury, there were many who did not share in her "principled motive."

Fitzgerald quoted Norman Pearlstine, the editor-in-chief of Time: "The same constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgements ....The Supreme Court made its ruling ...Once it made its ruling there was no other choice but to comply. I feel we are not above the law." (AP; 6-30-05)

While those connected to the White House, including Bob Woodward, had compared this case to Watergate, and twisted Novak and Miller's roles into Woodward and Bernstein's, Pearlstine noted that it was quite the opposite. He considered the example of Nixon, and concluded, "But if Presidents are not above the law, how is it that journalists are? .... Thinking we're above the law rings wrong to me." (NYTimes; 7-1-05)

Fitzgerald also quotes from Steve Chapman, of the editorial board of the Chicago Times: "... Judith Miller, who claims the prerogative of deciding for herself what information the grand jury is entitled to hear .... Journalists like nothing better than exposing self-seeking behavior by special interests who care nothing for the public good. In this case, they can find it by looking in the mirror."(7-3-05)

Fitzgerald goes on to quote from numerous other journalists who rejected Miller's claims. Eventually, poor Judith tired of her incarceration, and agreed to testify to the grand jury. She would then write a "self-seeking" article for the New York Times, pointing to Mr. Libby as the source of her information on Plame and the NIE.

{4} "Lawyers for I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby said Friday that they soon planned to subpoena reporters and news organizations, and a federal judge set the stage for a showdown in late April on whether the media would have to comply with the subpoenas in order to afford the former White House aide a fair trial."
--Richard Schmitt; Libby's Team Plans to Subpoena Media; Los Angeles Times; 2-25-06.

Scooter Libby's defense team plans to attempt to distract attention from his lying to investigators and to the grand jury about his disclosing of Valerie Plame's identity, by focusing attention onto reporters that he in many cases had no contact with. In one case, however, Libby's legal team appears to be preparing to challenge NBC's Tim Russert. Libby claims that Russert revealed Plame's identity to him. Russert denies this. Fitzgerald has ample evidence that dcuments other administration sources, including VP Cheney, first told Libby about Plame's CIA employment.

As the grand jury investigation continues, the corporate media has not been reporting many of the things that the progressive media sources, such as TruthOut and RawStory, have revealed. Among the most interesting is that Fitzgerald noted in a February court hearing that the White House had turned over approximately 250 e-mails they previously had withheld from him. These are reportedly from VP Cheney's office and help detail how the WHIG planned to discredit Joseph Wilson.

In future essays, I will combine information from both the corporate and progressive media, to give readers a better picture of where the grand jury investigation into the Plame scandal now stands.


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