Accuracy in Media

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, vice president Cheney’s former chief of staff, has been charged with lying for having a different recollection of the facts than Washington journalists about the CIA leak case. The affair took another strange turn when, after the Libby indictment was filed, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post came forward to say that he had knowledge of the case and knew about the CIA employee at the center of the “scandal.” Woodward didn’t claim a faulty memory, though; he said he had covered-up the information because he didn’t want to be dragged into a criminal matter. But Woodward “forgot” to tell his own editor about his involvement in the case.

There are others whose memories haven’t been so good lately. Judith Miller of the New York Times was released from jail when she received specific written and verbal waivers from Libby to talk to the grand jury. She says she also got an agreement from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to limit his questioning of her. After emerging from the grand jury, Miller wrote an article for the Times, spelling out what she told the grand jury, and what she couldn’t remember.

“Mr. Fitzgerald asked me about another entry in my notebook,” Miller wrote in her October 16th article, “where I had written the words ‘Valerie Flame,’ clearly a reference to Ms. Plame. Mr. Fitzgerald wanted to know whether the entry was based on my conversations with Mr. Libby. I said I didn’t think so. I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall. She added, “Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I could recall discussing the Wilson-Plame connection with other sources. I said I had, though I could not recall any by name or when those conversations occurred.”

If Libby had used the “I can’t recall” defense, he might have avoided being indicted.

But Miller’s critics have fuzzy memories too, such as when they try to blame her for taking the Times into the tank for the Bush administration by falling for claims of WMD in Iraq. As I pointed out in this column in November, there were many articles and editorials by others at the Times who reported their existence and the threat they posed, even before President Bush was elected to office.

Then there’s Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, someone with a very convenient memory lapse. On October 3, 2003, she was a guest on CNBC’s Capital Report, with Alan Murray. Murray asked her if “we have any idea how widely known it was in Washington that Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA?”

Mitchell replied that “It was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the Foreign Service community was the envoy to Niger. So a number of us began to pick up on that. But frankly, I wasn’t aware of her actual role at the CIA and the fact that she had a covert role involving weapons of mass destruction, not until Bob Novak wrote it.”

These explosive comments added to the possibility that, despite what Fitzgerald said about the case, Plame’s name and CIA affiliation were common knowledge, at least among certain journalists. It’s therefore possible, as Libby claimed, that he learned about Plame from a journalist, if not Tim Russert or Andrea Mitchell of NBC News then perhaps Bob Woodward or someone else. Who has the perfect memory to determine the ultimate truth?

But when Mitchell recently appeared on the Don Imus show and was grilled about her comments to Murray, she backed away from them. She said, “All I can figure is that I misunderstood the question and I screwed it up. I know that I didn’t know about Joe Wilson’s wife till after the [Novak] column. Clearly back in October 03, I screwed it up. I was confused about the timeline?We were focused on Niger, the 16 words. I was muddled on the timeline.” NewsMax carried the full transcript of her conversation with Imus.

Another memory-challenged public figure is former President Clinton, who recently received a standing ovation in the United Arab Emirates when he told a group of students that the U.S. made a “big mistake” when it invaded Iraq. Clinton has also expressed doubts about the links between al Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein, one of the justifications for going to war, as have many in the media and in Congress. But in 1998, Clinton’s Justice Department prepared an indictment of Osama bin Laden that read in part: “Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq.” Did Clinton just forget that piece of evidence? 

In 1998, the same year Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act, calling for regime change in Baghdad, he ordered the bombing of Iraq for four days, without any Congressional authorization. Clinton went on TV on December 16th and stated that the attacks were directed at “Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.” Clinton said that “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons.”

A lot of people seem to have forgotten this too, as they claim that President Bush somehow made up evidence of Saddam’s WMD and deliberately lied us into war. 

Finally, on a lighter note but one that affects a possible run for the presidency, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico has been caught with a very bad memory.

Richardson, who served as secretary of Energy and ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, was exposed by the Albuquerque Journal, which uncovered the fact that while Richardson had claimed that he had been drafted to play baseball for the Kansas City Athletics, the claim was false. Richardson told the paper that he believed that he had been drafted, “based on conversations with scouts and other sources?” He later admitted that he had not been drafted.

Richardson couldn’t even keep his story straight. Sometimes he said he was drafted in 1966, sometimes it was 1967. When Richardson was nominated for the Theodore Roosevelt Award, which goes to a former college athlete who has distinguished himself in public service, the nomination letter said that he was drafted in 1966 and again in 1968. Rocco Carzo, who nominated Richardson, said the information “might have come from him (Richardson).”

Richardson is reported to be running for president in 2008, just like Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware. The difference is that Biden ran for president before, in 1988, and was forced out of the race when he was uncovered as a plagiarist who stole lines from a speech by a British politician. Our media somehow “forget” to mention that fact when Biden, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, appears on TV these days as a foreign policy expert.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s not a case of faulty memory. Perhaps journalists don’t want to remind the public that the premier spokesman for the Democratic Party on foreign policy matters and a major critic of President Bush on Iraq was once exposed for having committed a serious ethical lapse.

We at AIM don’t and won’t forget.

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