- Accuracy in Media - https://www.aim.org -

The Scandal That Wasn’t

The liberal media were shocked that Chicago Sun-Times columnist Bob Novak published the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Plame is the wife of former diplomat Joe Wilson, a central character in the media campaign against the war in Iraq. In early 2002, the CIA sent Wilson to check on reports that Iraq was trying to buy uranium in Niger. In July 2003, he published an op-ed in the New York Times charging that the Bush administration had distorted his findings to support its case for war.

Wilson wrote that President Bush was wrong to claim the Iraqis had made uranium purchases, but that was itself a distortion. Bush had claimed only that Iraq was shopping for uranium in Africa, not that it had actually closed any deals. CIA Director George Tenet said that Wilson had himself uncovered indications of Iraq interest in African uranium. David Kay’s October report contained a similar finding. Nevertheless, Wilson became a media celebrity and even got an award for “truth telling” presented at the National Press Club in Washington.

Although he reportedly compiled a distinguished diplomatic career, his political views, on display in such journals as The Nation, put him squarely among the hard left. Novak’s column questioned why such an obvious partisan as Wilson would be dispatched on the mission by the CIA in the first place. Novak cited Wilson’s wife as a possible explanation for why the CIA would choose such a dubious character.

Novak’s “outing” of Wilson’s wife created a media firestorm. Democrats called for the appointment of an Independent Counsel to investigate the leak. The media endlessly replayed allegations that Novak’s indiscretion had compromised CIA clandestine operations and put lives at risk. Wilson wondered why Novak had “betrayed a national security asset” and charged it was a White House inspired attempt to ruin his wife’s career.

Whatever her status was before the leak, it now appears that Plame has herself joined the ranks of Washington celebrities. Wilson had claimed that his wife “would rather chop off her right arm than say anything to the press and she will not allow herself to be photographed.” But now Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reports that Plame couldn’t resist overtures from Vanity Fair. The magazine will run photographs of her in its January issue. One photo, showing her with dark glasses and a headscarf, accompanies Kurtz’s column. Kurtz writes that the photos don’t show her face, but the disguise is pretty thin.

Kurtz also reports she is talking to the press; the Vanity Fair article contains one direct quote from her, although it claims her remarks were “not for attribution.” She seems to have become a particular favorite of the Washington Post. Reporters Richard Leiby and Dana Priest ran a very sympathetic piece about her in October. The Post has reported that Plame has attended parties hosted by Washington media celebrities, including Post bigwigs Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn. For his part, Kurtz misstates Wilson’s original allegations against the Bush administration. Now Kurtz has Wilson simply “debunking” administration claims that Iraq “had tried to buy” uranium.