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March 01, 2005

MSM gets really stupid about PlameGate

We were distressed to see last week that the NY Times, in its ongoing and misguided quest to stymie the investigation into Novak-Plame-gate, had signed on to one of the right wing's favorite canards: that the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative might not have been a crime.  Predictably, shortly after trashing the NYT's role in PlameGate, the wingnuts over at the Wall Street Journal have now gleefully picked up on the NYT's "turnabout," and revel in documenting the NYT's previous statements on the Plame affair which generally accept the notion that disclosing Plame's identity was illegal.  I'm no fan of the WSJ's editorialists, but the NYT deserves the humiliation it receives on this one.

This is just getting stupid.  The NYT whines about how "searching court review is needed" to be sure that a crime has been committed.  But one judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (David Tatel) has already written a lengthy opinion in which he seems to undertake precisely the "searching court review" that the NYT wants.  Of course, the NYT is not happy that it can't read the result - the opinion is redacted - and the NYT goes on to whine about the "bizarre level of secrecy" attending the proceedings.  Bizarre?  Oh come on, people - these are grand jury proceedings.  They're always secret.  They've been secret for 200 years.

Equally absurd is the WSJ's newest effort to defend the leak: "On the other hand, Novak's sources asserted that Plame had recommended Wilson for the trip, which turned out to be true despite [Joseph] Wilson's denials. Thus it would appear that Novak's sources were the ones acting as whistleblowers, calling public attention to nepotism at the CIA."  Oh yes, I'm sure that's exactly what they were doing, and that the leak had nothing to do with Wilson's op-ed debunking George W. Bush's infamous "16 words" in which Bush parroted crappy intelligence about Iraq trying to buy uranium "yellowcake" in Niger.  Never mind that Wilson was eminently qualified for precisely the mission he was sent on, having been involved in African affairs for years under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and never mind that Novak's original column is not even remotely about "whistleblowers" who are trying to expose the scourge of "nepotism" at the CIA.

Aside from all of the above, let's recall a basic fact about what happened: Valerie Plame worked for the CIA on weapons of mass destruction, so her job was to try to stop people who want to do serious harm to this country.  Administration sources revealed her identity, thereby ending her career and possibly depriving the United States of information about such people.  (It is also conceivable that the disclosure endangered Plame's contacts.)  Regardless of whether disclosing Plame's identity was a crime, it was surely a bad thing to do, and the MSM does this country a disservice by glossing over that fact.  Judge Tatel's conclusion on this aspect of the case - which is independent of the question whether a crime was committed - bears repeating:

To be sure, insofar as Plame's CIA relationship may have helped explain her husband's selection for the Niger trip, that information could bear on her husband's credibility and thus contribute to public debate over the president's "sixteen words."  Compared to the damage of undermining covert intelligence-gathering, however, this slight news value cannot, in my view, justify privileging the leaker's identity.

Whoever leaked Plame's identity committed a deeply unpatriotic act.  Novak committed a similarly unpatriotic act by publishing that information.  The leaker's action may also have been a crime - that is what special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is trying to figure out, and it is in the national interest that he be given the tools he needs to do so.  A "searching court review" has concluded that those tools include the testimony of reporters who apparently know who the leaker is.  End of story.

UPDATE (3/2/05): In an unrelated case, the Supreme Court today issued a unanimous opinion that relied heavily on the grave damage to national security that can result from failing to keep secret the identities of persons involved in intelligence.  According to the Court, such disclosures "could well impair intelligence gathering and cause sources to close up like a clam."  'Nuff said.

Posted by David at 12:20 PM in Law and Lawyers, National | Permalink


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Isn't the story "Who outed Plame?" The Times and Time should be headlining who the leakers were instead of protecting them as "sources". The so called reporters should be thrown in jail for deriliction of duty.

Posted by: Beryl Gamse | Mar 1, 2005 6:30:24 PM

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