Accuracy in Media

Now we know why the press has played down the revelations about Clinton national security adviser Sandy Berger removing highly classified documents from the National Archives in violation of the law and then destroying or losing some of them.  John Harris of the Washington Post reports that Berger was “well-liked” by “White House and foreign policy reporters.”  That was demonstrated when the Berger scandal broke.  The Post did not play the story on page one.  It went back on page two.  The New York Times was worse, putting it at the bottom of page 16.

The word “removing” sounds better than “steal” or “theft.”  Harris, however, claimed that Berger “left the Archives building with copies of documents that were supposed to remain there…”  That’s a curious formulation.  Did they just stick to his clothes?  Were they post-it notes that he sat on?  Berger says it was inadvertent or accidental.  And Clinton said he didn’t have sex with that woman.

In an editorial, the Post called them “secret” or “classified” and said their removal was “improper.”  The editorial, however, also dealt with allegations that news of the probe of Berger was leaked to embarrass the Democrats.  The New York Times also tried to shift the blame to the Republicans, saying that White House denials about a role in the leak “would sound more credible if it assigned some urgency to solving the C.I.A. leak case.”

But that’s the Joe Wilson case, which has been turned completely on its head.  A probe was launched into who provided the name of his CIA wife, Valerie Plame, to columnist Bob Novak.  The name was provided because she was suspected of playing a role in getting her husband to undertake that mission to Africa to investigate the Iraq-uranium connection.  Wilson had strongly denied that.  Now we know, thanks to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, that she did recommend him for the trip, violating federal nepotism laws.  It’s Plame and Wilson who should be under investigation.  But the Times is not interested in probing that.

The Berger line, through his lawyers, is that the documents were copies, not originals, and that he didn’t stuff them into his socks.  But we don’t really know for sure.  In an on-line Washington Post discussion with readers, Dana Priest of the Post was asked, “I have read every article I could find on the matter, and I haven’t found a single definitive report on the crucial question—did Berger take originals from the archive, or copies?”  Priest replied, “He did not take the originals.”

But someone then pointed out that John Harris of the Post had said, at one point in his comments or coverage of the scandal, that “we don’t have 100 percent confidence” that the documents were copies.  The question to Priest then was: “how is it that you have 100 percent confidence…?”  Her reply, “Good question.  I believe I read that they were copies in The Washington Post.”  So the confusion remains.  And we doubt that journalists who were the recipients of Berger’s leaks when he was in the Clinton administration will want to get to the bottom of it.  Berger’s good relations with the press will keep the story off the front pages.

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