Judy Miller of the New York Times is now marking week two of her incarceration for the crime of not revealing her sources for a story that was never published.
Though the putative article remains unread (and as far as we know, unwritten) it’s certain that the story would have focused on the leak of information that ended in the unmasking of CIA operative Valerie Plame.
Word is that the leak was payback on Plame’s husband Joe Wilson, who himself published an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times two years ago refuting the State of the Union claims made by the Bush administration on the proliferation of WMD as justification for the war on Iraq, and specifically that yellowcake uranium was being mass produced in Niger for delivery to a certain sadistic dictator.
The White House was a little disappointed with Wilson’s point of view and, so the story goes, Rove spread the word that Wilson’s credibility was questionable, as evinced by the fact that it was his wife whose connections in the CIA got him the job; clearly a liar and a bum unable to find employment with out the assistance of his widdle wifey. A twofer, maybe even a threefer! 1. Wife outed, 2. Wilson’s suspect loyalties, and 3. Pussy whipped!
Judy wasn’t the only one with the story. As anybody who has taken even the most cursory notice of the news in the last few weeks is aware, at least two other reporters were favoured with the insider information – TIME Magazine’s Matt Cooper who narrowly escaped jail time himself and was saved at the last minute by the machinations of his corporate bosses TIME Warner Inc (with whose actions in supplying his emails and notes to Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald Cooper contends he disagreed – he honestly thought he was going to jail) and indeed by the putative leak himself – Bush senior advisor, the Machiavellian (he was the source for the whisper attack on 2000 Republican Presidential candidate John McCain – “Is he stable? Is his wife on drugs?” and Swift Boat Veterans victim John Kerry “A war hero – oh really?”, not to mention back in the day his attack on Bush opponent for Governor, the incumbent Ann Richards “lesbo?”) administration ‘Architect’ Karl (Trash Mouth) Rove – who freed Cooper from all ‘Double Super Secret Background’ promises. And Robert Novak, right wing commentator and Bush pet poodle who was actually the one who broke the story naming Plame in his column, and interestingly wasn’t at any time in any danger of arrest for his principles – if he indeed has any.
Rove’s current strategy is to suggest he never at any time actually, positively, literally, in so many words named the CIA operative, a claim that is parsed out from the fact that he only ever identified her as ‘Wilson’s wife’. A Herculean mental leap one assumes, and impossible for the average reporter to suss out.
Hey, is it his fault if even Novak is smart enough to pick up the Washington telephone directory?
And as the story wends its way across the weeks, months and years (all the action took place more than two years ago) pundits from all sides of the argument continue to join in the fracas.
Today on CNN's Sunday talk show ‘Reliable Sources’, Matt Cooper gave his first official interview and a handful of journalists along with Watergate eminence grise Bob Woodward weighed in with points of view that ran the gamut from “Rove is the devil” to “Wilson had it coming” to “She (Valerie Plame) was never in any danger and wasn’t even equal to the designation that would make identifying her a federal crime, so what’s the big deal?”
The deal feels very real indeed – and the implications, regardless of the finer points (was Plame in her position technically protected by the law?) indicate that the freeze may well descend on journalists who have the understandable desire to stay outside of lockdown in order to pursue their careers, maintaining their bill-paying abilities and who may have to abandon all stories requiring deep background source secrecy as the precedent set will make it impossible for reporters to guarantee anonymity. Even a reporter who might promise personal trustworthiness, hand on heart like Cooper, could be undercut by their corporate bosses. What's a source to do?
Interestingly, there was argument – even from some journalists themselves – that the source (Rove) was undeserving of protection, unlike Deep Throat say, who was informing on a dishonest and dangerous President and administration, as compared to Rove, whose actions were taken to back up his President by sly discrediting of former public servant and whistleblower Wilson.
Seems to me that as distasteful as it might be, your slimy sources need just as much protection as your saints. Information is information, and whether we like it or not, or suspect the source has questionable motives, what’s sauce for the goose etc. What other rationale can there be? All are protected or none are.
Woodward was just the teensiest bit superior in his segments, questioning the size and scope of the contretemps and deciding it didn’t meet the standard of high crime, again for Plame’s technical potential as an outed operative (though she did work for the CIA, her identity was a secret and her area of operation the search for WMD) and the issue’s non-resemblance to Watergate...
He did make one helpful comment – he said that the worst mistake that had been made throughout the exercise was that the reporters didn’t then (and haven’t now) unearthed the entire story – a story that should be told all in a piece, facts checked, conclusion inescapable. Of course the media now are in the uncomfortable position of not having access to all the elements of the story, still under investigation by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.
And this morning’s Toronto Sunday Star wasn’t particularly helpful in providing insight. In the weekly Sunday Op-Ed ‘Point/Counterpoint’ between lefty Linda McQuaig and right-wing-nut-job Rondi Adamson, both their sparring arguments were sloppy, their justifications emotional and partisan, the discussion not pushed forward one whit.
(Normally I would side with McQuaig, but her contention that Rove should be fired because he’s clearly a Creepy Creeperson left me feeling somewhat underwhelmed, while Adamson’s “we should wait until all the information is in” whilst simultaneously taking cheap shots at Wilson – hers is the first piece of punditry I’ve read that suggests that Wilson cooked the books and there was in fact enough yellowcake to snuff out birthday candles the world over – achieves the double play of acting the wide-eyed innocent while taking care to blame the victim. Guess there’s only one side that deserves to wait for facts instead of braying out all sorts of unfounded, unproven allegations…)
And in the middle of it all are the President and Rove – best friend status unassailable, smiling and handshaking/backpatting, boarding Airforce One as one, opticals in place, sharing deep secrets and strategies, while Judy Miller molders away in some Washington snake pit, all concerns of first amendment rights, double standard judging and plain common sense as solid and stable as early morning fog. Poof! – it’s gone.
And I still don’t know how he does it – Bush, I mean. From the war in Iraq, to alleged (and in many cases, proven) torture of prisoners by American operatives, to this most recent do-si-do with the truth (everyone today is recalling – with an almost nostalgic fondness – the Clinton “It all depends what ‘is’ is” argument) I just don’t know how he gets away with it.
The Pope who worries about the moral dangers posed by fictional wizard Harry Potter should spare a prayer for a country whose real live magician can take it to war, kill it’s beloved sons and daughters, change the rules halfway through, never admit to making a mistake, STILL blame the entire mess on 9/11 and without saying it in so many words, clearly indicate that only an idiot doesn’t know that the ends justify the means. Some people might call it misdirection or sleight of hand, but there’s no doubt the result is a certain kind of sinister black magic.
Bob Woodward said something else – he said he was concerned not so much about the silence the indictment of reporters for refusing to reveal sources might achieve so much as the casual deep background bullshit that might be lost from the picture. He suggests that reporters can only really get the full flavour of a story when government officials and those others in the know, can casually and without any personal responsibility for the facts, mark the ticket of someone they themselves want to silence by whisper rather than shout; that it’s the whole picture – the gossip good, bad and completely imaginary – that helps journalists paint a picture, build a relationship with sources and basically paste together some sort of a story.
The interviewer was clearly nonplussed as to what this might mean to the guys (and gals) that get caught in the crossfire.
Woodward smiled cynically: “Welcome to Washington,” he said.