Accuracy in Media

Lacking evidence of criminal conduct, Democrats are nevertheless urging the resignation of White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove for talking to Time magazine staffer Matt Cooper about CIA employee Valerie Plame. But Rove deserves a medal for trying to warn the media about the ulterior motives of Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, who would later become a Kerry campaign adviser.

The media are in a feeding frenzy over the fact that Rove told Cooper that Plame “apparently” worked for the CIA. But this shows that Rove wasn’t even aware of her actual status at the agency and could not, therefore, have violated a law against knowingly disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA operative.

The phony controversy, which featured reporters asking 30 questions about this matter at the Monday White House press briefing, demonstrates how Republicans and conservatives come under fire for doing nothing wrong. No matter how many questions they ask, there is still no evidence that Rove broke the law.

The White House position-that Rove did not disclose classified information-remains intact. The only new development is that the White House will not say anything further on the case, which is somehow being interpreted by the liberal press as a contradiction of what the White House previously said. But there is no contradiction. It’s wise to refrain from comment when New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who may have some critical testimony and might be able to exonerate Bush administration officials of deliberately leaking Plame’s name, refuses to talk. It is possible that Miller could set the record straight about who told what to whom and where the information about Plame came from. It could have come from Miller, who has a waiver from her “source” to talk about the case to a grand jury but decided to go to jail instead. Rather than speculate on Miller’s motives, the liberal press would rather hype the Rove story into something it is not, in an obvious effort to damage the Bush administration.

The Washington Post media reporter, Howard Kurtz, jumped on the bandwagon, saying that “politically, this is a bombshell. Rove, who has insisted he did not leak Plame’s name, had something to do with this effort, even if he didn’t ‘name’ her.”

But wait a minute. If Rove did not identify her by name, and seemed to be unclear about her actual employment status, how can he be accused of violating the law against deliberately disclosing the name of a covert CIA operative? And what is “this effort” and why does it matter?

Showing complete disregard of the facts of the case, Kurtz said that Rove “was attempting to undercut Wilson when he told Cooper that wifey had helped set up Wilson’s fact-finding trip to Niger (where Wilson didn’t find the facts the administration wanted on Saddam seeking uranium) and that the uranium business could still be true (it wasn’t). And didn’t the White House promise to fire anyone involved in the leak?”

To repeat: there’s no evidence that Rove was involved in violating the law by leaking classified information about the identity of a CIA operative. What the evidence shows is that Rove was familiar with the role played by Plame in arranging her husband’s mission to Africa to investigate an Iraq-uranium link, and that Rove talked to Cooper about this. Rove gave Cooper a “big warning” not to “get too far out on Wilson,” and Rove told Cooper that Plame “authorized” Wilson’s trip to Africa to probe the Iraq-uranium link. In this case, Rove was telling the truth.

It appears that Rove was aware that Plame’s role in her husband’s mission may have violated federal nepotism laws and that it was a set-up to embarrass the administration. On page 346 of his own book, Wilson noted that the law against nepotism would forbid his wife from recommending him for the job, which may be why he adamantly insisted that she had nothing to do with it. However, a Senate Intelligence Committee report on this matter includes a memo from Plame to the CIA recommending her husband’s involvement.

Plame’s role was disclosed to columnist Bob Novak because some official or officials knew that she was involved in the Wilson mission and found this objectionable. It would not be surprising to learn that Rove was a source for other journalists on this story because Wilson spewed false information about his mission and why it occurred. Is Rove supposed to be fired because he fought back against the administration’s political enemies and tried to provide the press some accurate information?

Another critical fact is that, contrary to media reports, including his own New York Times column, Wilson’s report did confirm Iraqi interest in obtaining uranium from Niger.  

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had noted that Wilson’s report to the CIA found that “in 1999 an Iraqi delegation sought the expansion of trade links with Niger?and that former Niger government officials believed that this was in connection with the procurement of yellowcake [uranium ore].” Uranium is Niger’s main export. In other words, this element of Wilson’s report actually supported Bush’s State of the Union statement that the British reported that Iraq had sought uranium from Africa. Then-CIA director George Tenet, referring to what was in the Wilson report, noted that a former Niger official “said that in June 1999 a businessman approached him and insisted that the former official meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss ‘expanding commercial relations’ between Iraq and Niger. The former official interpreted the overture as an attempt to discuss uranium sales.”

So on what basis does Howard Kurtz, who is supposed to keep the media honest, come to the conclusion that what the administration said about the “uranium business” was not true? What Bush said was true, certainly in the sense that Iraq had expressed interest in uranium in the past. But Wilson misrepresented the findings of his own mission in order to write that New York Times op-ed bashing the Bush administration.

As it happened, rather than push for an investigation of violations of federal nepotism laws involving Wilson and his wife, the White House panicked under a media assault and gave way to critics, including the New York Times, who wanted the White House investigated for an alleged role in a classified leak to Novak. There is still no evidence of any such leak. But there is clear evidence that Times reporter Judith Miller is obstructing justice in this case. And that is why she sits in jail. Our right to know has become a right to remain silent by the press. It’s more fun for the press to talk about Karl Rove.

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