The Washington Post yesterday reached a new low in mainstream
journalism with its lead editorial on the verdict in the Scooter Libby
trial (see text below). The paper tried to make the case that the real
culprit was Joe Wilson, and called him a "blowhard" whereas he actually
was a "whistle blower." The editorial also claimed that the real victims
were the journalists who were required to testify and reveal their
confidential sources, whereas the scandal actually revealed how many
senior journalists allowed themselves to be used by the administration
in a conspiracy to smear Joe Wilson and to destroy his wife's career.
The Post even questioned whether a crime had been committed. Valerie
Plame was definitely covert, no matter what the relevant statute may
require. The real crime was the administration's manipulation and
fabrication of "evidence" to justify the war on Iraq, but no one has
been brought to account for that.
The NYTimes editorial on the same subject the same day was not much
better, and it contained an obvious factual error that any competent
editor should have caught. It said the State Department had sent Wilson
to Niger, whereas it was the CIA. And it again stressed that the victims
were the journalists who were forced to become witnesses.
Today's Post has an op ed by Robert Novak with the telling title "A
Verdict on the Wilson Affair." This is going too far. The Libby affair
has now become the Wilson affair, again focusing on the smearee rather
than the smearers. Novak was the very person who first outed Valerie
Plame, and he got off scot-free, whereas he should have received at
least a public spanking for initiating this scandal.
*The Libby Verdict*
The serious consequences of a pointless Washington scandal
Wednesday, March 7, 2007; A16
THE CONVICTION of I. Lewis Libby on charges of perjury, making false
statements and obstruction of justice was grounded in strong evidence
and what appeared to be careful deliberation by a jury. The former chief
of staff to Vice President Cheney told the FBI and a grand jury that he
had not leaked the identity of CIA employee Valerie Plame to journalists
but rather had learned it from them. But abundant testimony at his trial
showed that he had found out about Ms. Plame from official sources and
was dedicated to discrediting her husband, former ambassador Joseph C.
Wilson IV. Particularly for a senior government official, lying under
oath is a serious offense. Mr. Libby's conviction should send a message
to this and future administrations about the dangers of attempting to
block official investigations.
The fall of this skilled and long-respected public servant is
particularly sobering because it arose from a Washington scandal
remarkable for its lack of substance. It was propelled not by actual
wrongdoing but by inflated and frequently false claims, and by the
aggressive and occasionally reckless response of senior Bush
administration officials -- culminating in Mr. Libby's perjury.
Mr. Wilson was embraced by many because he was early in publicly
charging that the Bush administration had "twisted," if not invented,
facts in making the case for war against Iraq. In conversations with
journalists or in a July 6, 2003, op-ed, he claimed to have debunked
evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had
been dispatched by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that
his report had circulated at the highest levels of the administration.
A bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee
subsequently established that all of these claims were false -- and that
Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife.
When this fact, along with Ms. Plame's name, was disclosed in a column
by Robert D. Novak, Mr. Wilson advanced yet another sensational charge:
that his wife was a covert CIA operative and that senior White House
officials had orchestrated the leak of her name to destroy her career
and thus punish Mr. Wilson.
The partisan furor over this allegation led to the appointment of
special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Yet after two years of
investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald charged no one with a crime for leaking
Ms. Plame's name. In fact, he learned early on that Mr. Novak's primary
source was former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage, an
unlikely tool of the White House. The trial has provided convincing
evidence that there was no conspiracy to punish Mr. Wilson by leaking
Ms. Plame's identity -- and no evidence that she was, in fact, covert.
It would have been sensible for Mr. Fitzgerald to end his investigation
after learning about Mr. Armitage. Instead, like many Washington special
prosecutors before him, he pressed on, pursuing every tangent in the
case. In so doing he unnecessarily subjected numerous journalists to the
ordeal of having to disclose confidential sources or face imprisonment.
One, Judith Miller of the New York Times, lost several court appeals and
spent 85 days in jail before agreeing to testify. The damage done to
journalists' ability to obtain information from confidential government
sources has yet to be measured.
Mr. Wilson's case has besmirched nearly everyone it touched. The former
ambassador will be remembered as a blowhard. Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby
were overbearing in their zeal to rebut Mr. Wilson and careless in their
handling of classified information. Mr. Libby's subsequent false
statements were reprehensible. And Mr. Fitzgerald has shown again why
handing a Washington political case to a federal special prosecutor is a
prescription for excess.
Mr. Fitzgerald was, at least, right about one thing: The Wilson-Plame
case, and Mr. Libby's conviction, tell us nothing about the war in Iraq.