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Sunday, October 09, 2005

Stirring concern: Robert Novak, Joseph Wilson, The New York Times

When I read this excellent breakdown of recent developments in the Plame leak case (kudos to emptywheel) and this Greg Mitchell essay in Editor and Publisher, I find myself coming back to a set of questions some old, and some new:

  • Why did Robert Novak "out" Valerie Plame to the public? Why did he feel comfortable doing so? What was the point? It's never made much sense.
  • Why did the White House "attack dogs" go after Valerie Plame instead of just going after Joseph Wilson? What made them go 'personal'?
  • Why has the New York Times basically "sat" on the current Judith Miller story? How can it be that a New York Times reporter who must, at some point, have been in contact with her editors, now looks like she may very well have committed perjury? (New York Times reporters do not "forget" that they have notebooks with critical information in them...I just don't believe that.)
  • Finally, as the timeline for Judith Miller's testimony moves back to before the Joseph Wilson op/ed in the New York Times...doesn't that make this story more and more about what editors at the New York Times knew about Wilson, and Miller and Plame? ie. Did the Judith Miller side of this story cross with the Joseph Wilson side of this story inside the offices of the New York Times? And what obligation do they then have to their readers and to the truth?

  • Awol, in a comment here yesterday, advanced a careful reading of this passage from David Johnston's New York Times story Saturday about Judith Miller and the Fitzgerald investigation:

    "One legal theory the prosecutor has pursued, the lawyers said, is whether anyone violated a broadly worded federal statute that makes it a crime to "communicate" classified defense information to someone not authorized to receive it.

    Under the law, any government official or private citizen who transferred classified information could potentially be charged with a felony.

    Until recently, prosecutions under the espionage and censorship statute were rare. The law was invoked in May to charge Lawrence A. Franklin, a former defense analyst, with disclosing classified military secrets. The statute was employed again by prosecutors in August to charge Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two former employees of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying organization, with turning over information from Mr. Franklin to the Israeli government.

    That case, and the prospect that prosecutors could increasingly turn to the statute as part of the government's efforts to stop leaks to news organizations and others, has stirred concern about cutting off the traditional flow of information among public officials, government contractors, lobbyists and journalists who routinely trade sensitive and sometimes classified information."

    Awol rightly notes that the word choices in this article, using "routinely trade"..."traditional flow"..."a crime to 'communicate'"...almost serve to contruct a defense-in-advance for the New York Times and Judith Miller. He is exactly spot on to argue that this may represent the New York Times hiding self-serving reporting under the guise of reporting the news. We had the exact same experience with their coverage of the WMD programs in the lead up to the Iraq war. When we begin to question not simply the motivations of the officials whom our newspapers cover both "on the record" and "off"...but whether the newspaper itself is playing politics and positioning itself with its coverage...we have crossed the rubicon into a dark and murky swamp where whose interests are put above whom's is impossible to answer.

    "Stirred concern?"...indeed. How about some truth?

    Joseph Wilson wrote his essay on July 4th in the New York Times. How did that essay find its way there? And how significant is it that Judith Miller now says she had discussions relevant to the Fitzgerald investigation on June 25th, before that essay's publication, and before Wilson says he even wrote it? A January 2004 Vanity Fair piece by Vicky Ward (link.) made it clear that Wilson's op/ed didn't just pop out of thin air:

    In early May, Wilson and Plame attended a conference sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, at which Wilson spoke about Iraq; one of the other panelists was the New York Times journalist Nicholas Kristof. Over breakfast the next morning with Kristof and his wife, Wilson told about his trip to Niger and said Kristof could write about it, but not name him. At this point what he wanted, Wilson says, was for the government to correct the record. "I felt that on issues as important to our whole society as sending our sons and daughters to kill and die for our national security we as a society and our government have a responsibility to our people to ensure that the debate is carried out in a way that reflects the solemnity of the decision being taken," he says.

    Kristof's column appeared on May 6. On June 8, when Condoleezza Rice was asked about the Niger documents on Meet the Press, she said, "Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery."

    Wilson immediately called a couple of people in the government, whose identities he will not divulge-"They are close to certain people in the administration," he says-and warned them that if Rice would not correct the record he would. One of them, he says, told him to write the story. So at the beginning of July he sat down to write "What I Didn't Find in Africa."

    While he was working, he says, he received a call from Richard Leiby, a reporter at The Washington Post, about his role in the 1991 Gulf War. Wilson told him about the Times article he was writing, and the Post, in an attempt to keep up, ran a story about Wilson on July 6. That same day Wilson appeared on Meet the Press; so did Senators John Warner (Republican, Virginia) and Carl Levin (Democrat, Michigan), who had just returned from Iraq. Both Warner and Levin commented that Wilson's article was of interest, as did Washington Post columnist David Broder. Only Robert Novak, in a separate segment, said that it was a nonstory.

    When you reread this passage in light of David Johnston's line about the "the traditional flow of information" it's hard not to feel a "stirring concern" oneself that this story has been more about "inside the beltway" and "backroom" baseball than any of us have been led to believe. All this "routine trading" of classified information is done in service of what? The truth and the public good?

    It's hard to believe the New York Times on that front at this point.

    The months leading up to the publication of the Wilson op/ed now seem to be where the kernal of this story lies. I find myself asking if the answer to my first vexing question...why Novak wrote about Plame's name in the first place...might have more to do with battles between journalists and new organizations than battles between politicians. Was Robert Novak trying to screw over Judith Miller and the New York Times? That would make a kind of sense.

    Further, the animus against Joseph Wilson's wife from somewhere within the Administration seems really out of place. I mean, to discredit Wilson one could easily have just, discredited Wilson. Karl Rove knew that; what did Rove care about Valerie Plame? What made the White House go so personal? The current revelations of Libby/Miller discussions in June of 2003 tell us it may have something to do with Judith Miller and the office of the Vice President. Would the office of the Vice President have enough animus against Wilson to "out" his wife?

    And where is our New York Times story covering this? Was that David Johnston piece the careful construction of a kind of alibi? The conspicuous silence of the Gray Lady is deafening. Simply put, when news organizations themselves become part of the stories they cover, when they blur how they are 'players' in shaping public opinion, and how, in this instance, they may have moved into actually making the news if not being the subject of the main story of the day, they certainly should not then pretend this isn't the case or that they are "protecting sources". In this context, we are forced to ask whose interests the New York Times really serves.

    If, as it turns out, that the roads of this story cross not simply at the White House but include, more and more, what may have happened in the office of the editors at the New York Times...decisions those editors made in 2002 and 2003, in the lead-up to both a Presidential election and a war, decisions that may have put the interests of their paper and their staff above the interests of their public and their nation: ie. reporting the truth...then we do, at a very minimum, have a right to know much more than we've been told. The New York Times owes its readers a full and thorough reporting of this story and Judith Miller's involvement in it.

    This isn't the the first time we've been left with stirring concerns.

    {Update: this excellent David Corn essay referred to by awol below, is a must read on this subject.}



    • Another nagging thing that bugs me...is the likelihood that as the layers of lies are peeled off these stories....we may learn of more and more players in D.C. are involved in the murk.

      The Vanity Fair piece seems to hint at that...and one point on which Novak seemed credible was the line that "people were talking about this story"...

      That forms the background of Johnston's NYT piece. "People we're talking, it's their job to talk. Is that a crime?"

      For myself, it seems safe to assume that the Firzgerald investigation will not "play nice" or "play politics" in where the facts lead.

      Thinking that this story is only about Rove and Libby and the GOP....may turn out to have been naive.

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 10:42 AM  

    • A similar take on the Times here by David Corn: "Reading the Times on this critical story has unfortunately become like reading a state-owned newspaper on the conduct of its government-owner."

      I would imagine that this is going to be a very big week for the Times. David Corn rightly, I think, references the Jayson Blair scandal at the beginning of his piece. The Times's problem is that they are running out of apologies. They "flooded the zone" with the house-cleaning, new-start rhetoric after the Blair fiasco. The remarkable WMD correction was much more reticent and contradictory. Now this. To paraphrase the famous axiom about academic in-fighting, the self-criticism after Blair could be so intense because the stakes were fairly low. In Miller's case, though, what's the back-end? They already stood by her, very controversily, for funneling WMD lies from Chalabi/Pentagon hawks into the front-page. There has been *no* coverage in the Times that addresses this in connection with the Plame/Rove/Libby investigation. Essentially, the Times is being outflanked on its own "correction": what they noted and excused as within the tenets of professional journalism is now not only being exposed as journalistic negligence but potentially criminal espionage.

      The charge of acting like a "state-owned newspaper" inevitably travels backward: not just their inability to handle this story but the larger thing that they can't face -- Miller's use of the Times within a much broader conspiracy that involves both the criminal exposure of actual intelligence gatherers and the promulagation of false intelligence. From the Times' correction: "On Dec. 20, 2001, another front-page article began, "An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago." Think about this: "Secret facilities . . . for nuclear weapons . . . under the Saddam Hussein Hospital." The stuff of utter, incontrovertible fantasy. In the first sentence of the lead article in Dec 2001, as written by Judy Miller. And this weekend alone the Times reports six more marines killed in Iraq.

      By Blogger awol, at 11:23 AM  

    • Stephen Hadley.

      He is the key. I'll explain why after this week. Need to wait to confirm a source's info.

      By Blogger NYBri, at 5:32 PM  

    • They are missing something. A VERY key player. Right in front of us.

      By Blogger NYBri, at 5:33 PM  

    • Excellent series of posts. What strikes me about all this, beyond the NYTimes's shocking self-immolation on the pyre of Miller/Chalabi, is that this can't be an isolated instance of the press being "embedded," in serious and shadowy ways, with the WH. We all bitch and moan about Media Whores and all that, but the stark reality of the depths and complexity of Miller's collusion suggests that this isn't just a case of lazy, corporate media. It's something darker and much more serious. And if true, who's willing to bet that Miller is the solitary marquee operative at play in the WH's media program? And I'm not talking about obvious shills like Fox, or Gannon, or Armstrong, though they are obviously suggestive of a more systemic strategy. The contours of this story beg the question: Who are the other Millers out there?

      And now you've got me all curious, NYBri. Sure you can't give us a hint of yr tantalizing Hadley theory? This story is so byzantine and confusing that I'd be grateful for a Single Bullet Theory to make it all make sense.

      By Blogger wg, at 8:41 PM  

    • The legal ins and outs are beyond my ken, but my assumption all along has been that they went after Wilson's wife because they're petty and conniving and were looking for a way to emasculate him in the press. "He only got the job because of his wife." I think they were being careless about the fact that they exposed an agent and compromised assets, but I think they're main agenda was to taunt Joe Wilson. (I still think what they did was treasonous, but I don't think compromising Plame was a primary goal.)

      Fortunately, it appears that Wilson is perfectly comfortable with his own masculinity and the smear didn't work out the way they'd hoped.

      All just conjecture, of course - it will be interesting to see what Fitzgerald comes up with, to say the least.

      By Anonymous Medley, at 5:26 AM  

    • wg.

      here's the hint. Wilson called Rice's office in early May to complain about a statement Rice had just made...about how the info about the Niger documents might have been in the bowels of the NSC somewhere, but the info hadn't bubbled up to the top.

      This is the first indication to the WH that Wilson may be a problem...not the NYT editorial in July, but the call in May. THAT is what set them off on their digging trip about Wilson...resulting in the memo to AF1 in June...

      So all this began in Rice's office...

      It goes much further and I have to wait to get a confirmation to go into what isn't out there...but Wilson's phone call in the public record.

      By Blogger NYBri, at 8:17 AM  

    • Very interesting, NYBri. Hadn't heard that piece of info before. I'd like to imagine that this could end up implicating Rice too, though I doubt my good fortune extends quite that far. And of course Hadley had a personal motive in kneecapping Wilson, since Hadley was the guy who was made to take the public fall for the SOTU yellowcake debacle. I'd forgotten about Hadley (and went here to refresh my memory--he's one scary sonafabitch). I'd love to see him go down, though my bloodlust will be somewhat disappointed if he takes the fall again for the bigger guns. Or maybe Hadley is one of the "Aspens" who has "turned"? Seems unlikely, since he's a true-believer, but he's also a weaselly scumbag so ratting out the Capo to save his own ass would certainly fit his profile. Stevie "The Bull" Hadley... a pretty thought.

      By Blogger wg, at 2:31 PM  

    • On nagging issues...

      The Times' ham-handed WMD apology, I recall, didn't come until after Chalabi's assent to the throne had been dashed by the spying-for-Iran allegations and his "We were heroes in error" proclamation.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:00 PM  

    • To continue on Chalabi:

      The DoD and OVP had a pretty good shot, and the clear intent, to place Chalabi in the post-war leadership role. [Hell, they flew the dude and his entourage there.]

      The Times had an inside track on getting stories, leads and preferential treatment from a Chalabi administration via Judy.

      Judy demonstrated to the Times that she could get scoops on casi belli in a competitive climate; to DoD that she could favorably move their product and program to front page; and to Chalabi that she could promote his assent to power both in government and elite media.

      Only when it became clear Chalabi could not ascend the throne did the Times urpingly concede it's WMD reporting had been below-grade. To have done so sooner would have meant burning bridges with the potential president of Iraq, burning its best-placed reporter in that eventuality, and beginning the process of dismantling the paper for scrap, which has begun anyway courtesy of Fitzy.

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:19 PM  

    • For the very first hint of the Plame outing, go to Rice's 'press gaggle' July 11, 2003 transcript http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/07/20030711-7.html The barest mention is about 5/6ths the way down. Rice refers reporter to the CIA and is amazed the reporter doesn't follow through on the subject. Kathryn in MA

      By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:58 PM  

    • Yep, spot on Kathryn.

      It's this very weird moment and something tells me we'll be reading about that "press gaggle" a bit more down the road.

      (PS. You entered this info in the dkosopedia for June...instead of July, and it was already entered in July......hate to break it to ya'....)

      By Blogger kid oakland, at 7:52 PM  

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