Morning Report 10/20/05
Reporter Falls Off Scooter
Plamegate is not like past scandals, in both quantity and quality. Bill Clinton's critics were obsessed with a couple of cum stains. George W. Bush's critics are talking about buckets of blood from the corpses of nearly 2,000 Americans (see coffins above) and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
Which president was the bigger jerk-off?
And this is no Watergate. For one thing, reporters unmasked the administration in that one. In Plamegate, a reporter was a henchman for the administration — by her own account, New York Times reporter Judith Miller agreed to help cover Scooter Libby's tracks.
That's why this morning's story in the Washington Post about is so fascinating. Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig, reporters whose regular work deserves more plaudits than the highly irregular output of the ill-feted Miller, have a blockbuster:
- White House adviser Karl Rove told the grand jury in the CIA leak case that I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, may have told him that CIA operative Valerie Plame worked for the intelligence agency before her identity was revealed, a source familiar with Rove's account said yesterday.
In a talk that took place in the days before Plame's CIA employment was revealed in 2003, Rove and Libby discussed conversations they had had with reporters in which Plame and her marriage to Iraq war critic Joseph C. Wilson IV were raised, the source said. Rove told the grand jury the talk was confined to information the two men heard from reporters, the source said.
Rove, however, couldn't remember everything — or so he says:
- Rove has also testified that he also heard about Plame from someone else outside the White House, but could not recall who.
The account is the first time a person familiar with Rove's testimony has provided clues about where the deputy chief of staff learned about Plame, and confirmed that Rove and Libby were involved in a conversation about her before her identity became public.
The disclosure seemed to further undermine the White House's contention early in the case that neither man was in any way involved in unmasking Plame.
Speaking of unmasking, let's go back to Judy Miller. The Post's Howard Kurtz pointed last Sunday to a key no-no:
- One journalistic issue involves what Miller describes as her agreement [with Libby] to modify her description of Libby as a "senior administration official" when it came to information about Libby. Miller said she agreed to describe Libby only as a "former Hill staffer," which is technically accurate because he once worked on Capitol Hill.
Yes, that was technically accurate, but such behavior is morally reprehensible and journalistically plain wrong.
This is how Miller herself described it in her own piece last Sunday:
- My recollection, I told [prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald], was that Mr. Libby wanted to modify our prior understanding that I would attribute information from him to a "senior administration official." When the subject turned to Mr. Wilson, Mr. Libby requested that he be identified only as a "former Hill staffer." I agreed to the new ground rules because I knew that Mr. Libby had once worked on Capitol Hill.
Did Mr. Libby explain this request? Mr. Fitzgerald asked. No, I don't recall, I replied. But I said I assumed Mr. Libby did not want the White House to be seen as attacking Mr. Wilson.
Judy, Judy, Judy. As far as Libby was concerned, you were his girl Friday. Problem is, Libby wasn't your editor. You weren't working for him. Or were you?
Look, Miller already knew, obviously, that Libby wouldn't want the "administration" to be associated with any anti-Wilson stuff. So by agreeing to hide her source's affiliation in this way, she would be fooling all of the people all of the time.
This is a common situation faced by journalists, and the way she resolved it was wrong. Anonymous sources often need to have their affiliations blurred, but each situation has to be handled with care. This is a basic rule: You don't hide an anonymous source's affiliation if the source's affiliation is relevant to the information that he or she is telling you. Such hiding would lead to misleading the public.
In other words, here was a source whose obvious goal was to cast doubt on Wilson's account. Hey, she herself says it:
- I recall that Mr. Libby was angry about reports suggesting that senior administration officials, including Mr. Cheney, had embraced skimpy intelligence about Iraq's alleged efforts to buy uranium in Africa while ignoring evidence to the contrary. Such reports, he said, according to my notes, were "highly distorted."
Because of Libby's high rank in the administration — chief aide to the CEO — you simply can't have let him anonymously cast aspersions on Wilson's account under cover of somebody identified to the public as a "former Hill staffer." Readers would then think that this was not coming from within the White House, when it fact it was.
Green reporters get played like that, but not experienced ones like Miller. She had to know it was wrong. So she was a willing dupe, not an unwitting one. She was carrying the administration's water — or blood, considering what we're talking about here: a coverup of the scheming that led to the unjustified invasion of Iraq.
Just how deep into this was Miller? We already know she carried the regime's water on WMDs. All this makes the discrepancies between last Sunday's two stories in the Times — the paper's account and Miller's account — even more intriguing. As Kurtz noted:
- The article and accompanying first-person piece by Miller … contain conflicting accounts of why Miller never wrote a story about the outing of Plame. Miller told her newspaper that she "made a strong recommendation to my editor" that a story be pursued but "was told no." She would not identify the editor. Managing Editor Jill Abramson, the Washington bureau chief at the time, said Miller never made any such recommendation.
Another possible conflict between Miller and the Times involves a Post report in fall 2003 that "two top White House officials disclosed Plame's identity to at least six Washington journalists." Philip Taubman, who succeeded Abramson as Washington bureau chief, said he asked Miller whether she was among the six, which she denied.
Miller told him the subject of Wilson and his wife had come up in casual conversation with government officials, Taubman said, and "she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information."
If Taubman is telling the truth about that conversation back then, then Miller appears to now be lying — about two different things.
Let's take the second one first: Any reporter in her situation would know she was "at the receiving end of a concerted effort" by the administration to "put out information." The fact that she agreed to go along with Libby's request not to be identified as an "administration" source is evidence of that.
Now for the first one. She denied being one of the six? That seems to be untrue. But maybe it's not. Maybe that means that Miller was deeper into the plotting against Wilson — along with Libby, who, with the other neocons, were very angry with Wilson.
Miller's past ties to Libby's comrade in neocondom Laurie Mylroie are well known: Miller was the co-author of Mylroie's first anti-Saddam book.
Forgotten who Mylroie is? Peter Bergen laid it out in the December 2003 Washington Monthly. Along with assorted other goniffs, Scooter and Judy put in appearances in this passage, which is long but worth it:
- In the run-up to the first Gulf War, Mylroie with New York Times reporter Judith Miller wrote Saddam Hussein and the Crisis in the Gulf, a well-reviewed bestseller translated into more than a dozen languages.
Until this point, there was nothing controversial about Mylroie's career. This would change with the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the first act of international terrorism within the United States, which would launch Mylroie on a quixotic quest to prove that Saddam's regime was the most important source of terrorism directed against this country.
She laid out her case in Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America, a book published by AEI [the right-wing American Enterprise Institute] in 2000 which makes it clear that Mylroie and the neocon hawks worked hand in glove to push her theory that Iraq was behind the '93 Trade Center bombing.
Its acknowledgements fulsomely thanked John Bolton and the staff of AEI for their assistance, while Richard Perle glowingly blurbed the book as "splendid and wholly convincing."
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, is thanked for his "generous and timely assistance."
And it appears that Paul Wolfowitz himself was instrumental in the genesis of Study of Revenge: His then-wife is credited with having "fundamentally shaped the book," while of Wolfowitz, she says: "At critical times, he provided crucial support for a project that is inherently difficult."
None of which was out of the ordinary, except for this: Mylroie became enamored of her theory that Saddam was the mastermind of a vast anti-U.S. terrorist conspiracy in the face of virtually all evidence and expert opinion to the contrary.
In what amounts to the discovery of a unified field theory of terrorism, Mylroie believes that Saddam was not only behind the '93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself.
She is, in short, a crackpot, which would not be significant if she were merely advising say, Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.
These are the sorts of things that make you go hmmmmm.
Because of the significance of the story and the situation, Miller's errors as a reporter are much more egregious than anything the likes of Jayson Blair ever did. I'd be shocked if she wrote another word for the Times.
Her next book, however, ought be a bestseller. Look for it in the fiction section.