How the Media Helped the White House Lie About Plame


Today we take a close-up look at White House lying about the outing of a covert CIA agent – and the news media’s complicity in covering it up.

We also shed new insight upon what is the apparent real motive of a special prosecutor who has appeared to be running amok in probing whether any Bush official committed a federal crime in blowing the cover of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. It is a bizarre probe that has so far jailed no Bush official, and not even journalist Robert Novak, who revealed Plame’s CIA tie. The only one jailed has been a journalist who never wrote a word about it.

And finally, in a bizarre twist in what has become a federal-city fandango, we will reveal the identity of the source of The New York Times Monday news story that President Bush’s top strategist, Karl Rove, was the secret source of Time magazine’s Matt Cooper. (Just after Novak’s column appeared, Cooper wrote that government officials were privately seeking to discredit Bush Iraqi policy critic Joseph Wilson by saying he was sent to check whether Iraq sought uranium in Africa only because his wife, Plame, worked for the CIA.)

We begin with one thing we know for sure: Journalists consider it a solemn duty to discover when politicians are lying and tell the news to the people.

And yet at least one journalist from Time knew firsthand that the Bush White House had repeatedly lied to the American public since 2003 by denying that Rove had any role in outing Plame. Yet Time withheld that news from the public while printing White House denials that Rove had any role.

Cooper knew because Rove was his source. Cooper wrote an e-mail to his boss, Time Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy (which Newsweek printed this week): “Spoke to Rove on double super secret background for about two mins before he went on vacation …”

Timeout: “Double super secret background” is nutty language that has no journalistic basis. Cooper’s memo later indicates the info shouldn’t be sourced to the White House. In a story in which the CIA, Pentagon, State Department and White House are all at odds, reporters should never be so swooning over the privilege of talking to a real-live senior official that they trade away their ability to tell readers which faction is spreading which tale.

Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald probed, Bush spokesmen denied and Time’s journalists kept mum. Much to the discomfort of most in our journalistic craft, Time’s grounds are supported by journalists who say they cannot break a promise to a source, even when they later lie about it to protect their political assets. But journalists contacted by Rove and others needed to respond to the White House lies by pressing their sources again to tell the truth and by urging Bush in every single press conference to summon his officials one by one, in the presence of Fitzgerald, and have them either lie to his face or tell the truth at last.

Meanwhile, consider Fitzgerald and his motives for pushing so hard to get Time’s memos and testimony and jailing The New York Times’ Judith Miller for refusing to testify about her contacts even though she never wrote a story. Lawyers in the case have suggested that Novak has cooperated with Fitzgerald and his source (or sources) have, too. It is only a federal crime for someone to know that a CIA agent’s identity is a government secret and to then reveal it. Most likely, Novak and his source or sources have said they never knew Plame was a covert agent. So, if Fitzgerald is probing further, it must be to determine whether Novak’s source or sources told other journalists Plame was a covert agent. That would be two crimes: outing a covert agent and lying to a federal investigator.

Which brings us back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Rove was the Bush campaign architect who (as I’ve written in the past) concluded that Bush could not win unless Democrat John Kerry was destroyed. And lo, the “Swiftboat Vets” sprang from nowhere, smearing without substantiation Kerry’s Vietnam service and the medals he won. Rove always denied any connection with the Swiftboat Vets, even when those bankrolling the vets turned up with past ties to Rove. Were those denials as solid as his others? We have no in-house media memo on that one _ yet.

EPILOGUE: The source of The New York Times’ July 11 report that Rove was Cooper’s source – and the shocking news that Cooper hadn’t gotten his release of confidentiality directly from Rove – turns out to be The New York Times’ July 7 story. In the 24th paragraph of the July 7 story about Miller being jailed, the Times reported news that should have been way up at the top – that Rove was identified as Cooper’s source. And Rove’s release of confidentiality came after lawyers for Rove and Cooper met.

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)