Accuracy in Media

The Washington Post on July 9 published an article, “When in Doubt, Publish,” which began by saying that, “It is the business?and the responsibility?of the press to reveal secrets.” It was signed by five major figures involved in the field of journalism education. In fact, however, it attempted to justify the publication of some?but not all?”secret” information. In the process of trying to sound like guardians of the public’s right to know, they disclosed their preference for keeping the American people in the dark about what the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says is a major faction of the CIA that is deliberately subverting the foreign policy of the Bush Administration.  

While the New York Times’ violation of the law barring publication of classified communications intelligence information was justified by these titans of modern-day American journalism, there was said to be “no justification” at all for conservative columnist Bob Novak to have written a column identifying Valerie Plame as a “covert CIA officer.” Claiming she had been “unmasked” by Novak, they implied that her employment status in the agency was a closely held secret and that revealing this information about her was a major threat to the national security of the U.S. 

The Times is being excused for compromising secret programs to apprehend terrorists, while Novak is excoriated for writing about a CIA employee working a desk job and running a “front” company. This attitude helps explain why the media went into a feeding frenzy over the Novak column about Plame but defend the New York Times for publishing stories that facilitate the murder of Americans.   

In contrast to the conduct of the Times, which disclosed a highly classified NSA program in clear violation of Section 798 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Novak’s publication of Valerie Plame’s name and affiliation with the CIA was not a violation of the law. The law which drove the investigation of the case did not apply to Novak, who was simply passing on information from administration officials about her role in getting her husband Joseph Wilson sent on a CIA mission to Africa. The law covered those who deliberately exposed a CIA officer’s secret identity for the purpose of damaging U.S. intelligence. That was not the case here, and no charges in that regard have been filed. 

Novak should be praised, not criticized, for bringing forth information that is still critically important to understanding the nature of the Wilson mission and the rogue CIA elements behind it. It is a story that we still need to know if U.S. intelligence agencies are to remain under the clear control of elected officials.     

The signers of this Post column were Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California; John Lavine, dean, Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University; Nicholas Lemann, dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University; Orville Schell, dean, Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley; and Alex S. Jones, director of the Shorenstein Center, Harvard University.

As strange as it may seem, their erroneous claim about Plame’s status at the CIA appears to have been taken from transcripts of the Chris Matthews MSNBC Hardball show, whose correspondent, David Shuster, had erroneously predicted that White House aide Karl Rove would be indicted for his role in talking to Novak and allegedly “outing” Plame. Shuster was also responsible for the completely unsubstantiated claim that Plame was a top agency operative on the trail of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.  

Her supposed intelligence “cover,” like the Rove indictment predicted by Shuster, was a figment of the liberal imagination. Some of those who met with Wilson during his many TV appearances have said that he used to introduce her as his CIA wife. There was at least one thing truly secret about her, however. Wilson had desperately wanted her role in getting him on that trip kept confidential. That’s why he raised it in his book, The Politics of Truth, saying it would be a violation of federal nepotism laws if she had played such a role, and then categorically denied that she had done so. This preemptive strike was his way of discouraging the press from unraveling the pretense that he was an objective observer who simply uncovered the facts about the Bush Iraq policy and was retaliated against for innocently providing them to the Times. Unfortunately for Wilson and his CIA backers, the Senate Intelligence Committee found documents proving that Plame did play a role in the Wilson junket. Wisely, some reporters then started backing away from Wilson, noting his lack of credibility. But not the Matthews crowd at MSNBC. 

Rather than being “covert” in any real sense, we can now say with confidence that Plame was an anti-Bush operative from the get-go, working with other like-minded agency personnel on an agenda designed to sabotage the President’s 2004 re-election bid and foreign policy. This is a story that has serious implications for the ability of the American people to affect the course of our nation and its foreign policy through free and democratic elections. If there is a rogue element in the CIA that is manipulating the press and the government behind the scenes, is this not a story that should be told? Those who run our journalism schools don’t seem to think so. 

On the same day the Post article attacking Novak’s public-service journalism was published, the New York Times inadvertently revealed the thinking of a top member of Congress, with access to the most sensitive information about U.S. intelligence activities, on the significance of the Wilson/Plame affair. 

The Times reported that Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, had sent a private letter to President Bush about a range of intelligence issues. Predictably, The Times focused on a vague reference in the letter to secret programs that Hoekstra had wanted Congress to be briefed on. The Times thought this was proof that the administration was running illegal programs, a favorite theme of the liberal media in their zeal to discredit Bush.

But the Hoekstra letter was quite specific about what is going on in the CIA. The Times article, however, did not highlight that part of the letter in which Hoekstra referred to events in the Valerie Plame affair as the result of “a strong and well-positioned group” within the CIA that “intentionally undermined the Administration and its policies.” Readers of the on-line Times were able to read the whole letter, which was posted on the paper’s website. 

The Hoekstra letter also refers to Stephen Kappes returning to the CIA as Deputy Director when it is believed that he “may have been part” of the group that was determined to sabotage the Bush Administration. 

The real story, suggested by Hoekstra, is that some administration officials talked to Novak and other journalists about Wilson and Plame precisely because they knew that she and other CIA officials were behind Wilson’s visit to Africa, and that the purpose of his trip was to come back and discredit the President’s well-documented claim that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium there. Wilson placed his broadside in a friendly outlet, the New York Times. Once Plame’s alleged “cover” was blown by Novak, this powerful group inside the agency, of which Plame was a member or collaborator, demanded and got (with the support of the New York Times) the appointment of a special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. The purpose was to find out who named Plame to Novak. It backfired in one key respect, however, because Fitzgerald turned his attention back to the role of Times reporter Judith Miller, who ended up spending 85 days in jail rather than reveal whom she had talked to in the administration about Wilson and Plame. Miller eventually agreed to testify and was paid a substantial but still secret severance package to leave the Times. The paper just could not forgive her for considering giving the administration some space and attention for its views on the Wilson affair, as well as her pre-Iraq War reporting. Tragically, Miller never wrote that story, which could have exposed and possibly derailed the CIA plot against Bush. Now we know why. In a May 16 Wall Street Journal column, Miller praised Kappes and hailed his return to the CIA. He had left in a dispute with agency director Porter Goss, who was eventually forced out. 

For her part, Plame had contributed to the Al Gore-for-president campaign through her CIA “front” company and would surface as a financial contributor to the Kerry-for-President campaign through a group called America Coming Together. Her husband would sign up as a Kerry adviser. All of these developments would confirm what had been suspected by the Bush Administration all along. The Africa trip and Times op-ed were part of an obvious plan by partisan political forces in the CIA to use the agency to sabotage the President’s Iraq policy.   

One of the victims and one of Miller’s sources, former Vice Presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby, was eventually indicted, but not for revealing anything about Plame’s alleged “covert” status. Instead, the questionable case against Libby rests almost exclusively on the recollections of journalists like NBC’s Tim Russert about what Libby said, or didn’t say, to them about the case. The conflicting accounts and bad memories are said to constitute lying on the part of Libby, rather than our trustworthy journalists. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell claimed it was common knowledge among some reporters that Plame was Wilson’s wife and in the CIA. Later, she backed away from that statement. 

Fitzgerald, of course, was not given a mandate to investigate those in the CIA who produced the “scandal” in the first place. Does anybody have the courage to take this project on?   

The Hoekstra letter is terribly important if we are going to begin to have any understanding of how our democratic republic has been subverted by intelligence officials operating outside of our elected government. The added significance of the letter is that Hoekstra clearly fears that the Bush Administration, battered and bruised by a hostile CIA and a hostile press, has given up the fight. Perhaps Hoekstra has not.

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