What tangled webs we weave. A few days ago, the New York Times, the most representative outlet of liberal opinion in the country, was extolling government leaks as absolutely necessary to the First Amendment and to public knowledge of the workings of government. A prosecutor who asks a reporter to reveal his anonymous sources could chill such leaks, and freedom of the press in America would enter a long twilight period.
Now, a leaker in the Valerie Plame case, which was the occasion for this dire inanity from the Times, turns out to have been White House adviser Karl Rove. That puts things in a new light. Even though his leak–that Plame, a CIA officer, got her husband and President Bush critic Joe Wilson a jaunt to Niger to probe whether Saddam Hussein had attempted to acquire uranium there–added important new information to the public knowledge of the case, the Times has the vapors. Surely Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have crafted the First Amendment with icky Karl Rove in mind?
Thus the Plame controversy continues to churn out bad faith the way Willy Wonka’s factory produces chocolate. At first, the media hyped the leaks about Plame as practically the Lindbergh baby kidnapping for the 21st century–a spectacular and dastardly crime (revealing the identity of a covert CIA operative potentially violates the law). The furor forced the administration to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate. He has managed to get one Times reporter, Judith Miller, jailed for refusing to testify about who leaked to her, and he nearly bagged Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper too.
The prospect of jail time for its members prompted the Fourth Estate to begin to argue in its court filings that, contrary to its initial feeding frenzy, no crime occurred in the Plame leaks. This opportunistic argument is correct. The statute in question is narrowly written to target persons deliberately attempting to disrupt U.S. intelligence operations. The question is whether the elite media will stick to this understanding now that visions of ousting Rove dance through their heads like sugarplums.
Rove’s leak was to Cooper. Cooper called Rove to talk about welfare reform, then asked him about Wilson at the end of the call. It was a mystery how Wilson had been selected for this mission, and Rove was simply providing an explanation. Rove was not trying to punish Wilson or endanger his wife. He appears not to have even wanted Cooper to use the material, giving it to him on “double super secret background”–a ground rule that usually comes with a secret decoder ring–as a way to warn him not to take Wilson too seriously.
Which was a good tip. Wilson is a witch’s brew of fatuity and dishonesty. He has blatantly lied about his wife’s role in his trip and has been skewered by the Senate Intelligence Committee for other falsehoods meant to inflate his own importance. The contention that Saddam sought uranium–Wilson insists he debunked it for all time with his brief CIA-sponsored vacation in Niger–remains a murky matter, since British intelligence has stood by it. Wilson isn’t even internally consistent, given that he is a stalwart defender of Miller, whose refusal to testify makes it harder to identify the leakers that supposedly so harmed Wilson and his wife.
The White House has contributed bad faith of its own. It went along with the pretense that something awful had happened in the Plame leaks, acquiescing in the appointment of a special prosecutor. It provided false assurances during the investigation that Rove wasn’t involved. Now suddenly the White House is saying it won’t comment during a still-ongoing investigation, and probably will eventually argue that the leaks weren’t a big deal after all.
The newest position of liberalism as represented by the New York Times at that point will be difficult to predict, except that it will be calculated to inflict maximum harm on Karl Rove.
–Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.
(c) 2004 King Features Syndicate