Accuracy in Media

The CIA leak-case investigation was promoted by the press but it has backfired on reporters in a big way. Times journalist Judith Miller went to jail and Matt Cooper of Time avoided jail at the last minute by agreeing to go before the grand jury. Now, Cooper and his employer Time magazine have tried to cash in on his notoriety. “What I told the grand jury” was the headline over his article in Time. But the important news is what Cooper told Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby,  and how he reported that. It turns out that Cooper was a source of information about Plame for the administration.

Cooper says that “on background, I asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson’s wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that too,’ or words to that effect.”

On NBC’s Meet the Press, host Tim Russert asked Cooper, “Did you interpret that as a confirmation?” Cooper replied, “I did, yeah.”

This is an example of terrible news-gathering procedures. Cooper used the statement, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too,” as confirmation about Valerie Plame being a CIA employee.  It was true, but hearsay doesn’t sound like very solid information, even if it does come from the vice-president’s office.

Russert went on to say to Cooper: “Did Mr. Libby say at any time that Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA.”

Cooper replied, “No he didn’t say that.”

“But you said it to him,” Russert said. Cooper: “I said that she was involved in sending him. Yeah.” Russert asked, “And that she worked for the CIA?” Cooper: “I believe so.”

So here we have it from Cooper’s mouth that he volunteered the information about Valerie Plame to Libby.

But how did he report it? Cooper’s piece in Time magazine claimed that “some government officials have noted to Time in interviews?that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

Now we know that one of those officials, Libby, had “noted” that information only when asked to comment on Plame by Cooper, who named her in the first place. Another official, Karl Rove, referred to Plame “apparently” working for the agency, and it turns out Rove says he got that information from a journalist, too. But Rove provided that information in the context of saying that she had a role in getting her husband Joseph Wilson sent on a mission to Africa for the CIA.

Russert wanted to know if Cooper got his information from other sources. “I don’t want to get into it, but it’s possible,” he said.

It’s also possible that the journalists who brought on this investigation will suffer the most from it.

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