Published on Saturday, September 18, 2004 by the Madison Capital Times/Wisconsin
Bush Team Knows How To Play the Media in Spy Crime Cover-Up
By Charles Brady
|You've got to hand it to the folks in the Bush administration. For all their habitual furtiveness, they sure know how to play the media when it serves their purpose. And for all of their "liberal bias," the media have certainly illustrated a stalwart allegiance to being played.
The immediate case in point is the Valerie Plame affair. A clandestine CIA operative, Plame had the ill luck to be married to ambassador Joseph Wilson, who incurred the wrath of the Bush administration by exposing some of the phoniness of the WMD "intelligence" used to justify the Iraq invasion. In spiteful reaction, at least two "senior administration officials" provided a half-dozen media outlets with "background" information which "outed" Plame, thereby effectively ruining her career and endangering the safety of her and other CIA operatives with whom she had dealt.
In the year since Chicago Sun Times columnist Robert Novak executed the administration's dirty deed, a federal grand jury has been trying to determine the source of the "leak" because it is a federal crime to reveal the identity of an undercover agent. The absurd irony of this investigation - rarely noted by the media - is that the prosecutors and grand jury have devoted months, and undoubtedly hundreds of thousands of dollars, trying to identify persons who could have been easily ID'd by Novak or any of the other recipients of the leak.
In recent developments, several journalists, subpoenaed and threatened with contempt sanctions, have been interviewed by federal prosecutors regarding their conversations with I. Lewis Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. Libby, considered a possible leak culprit ever since the scandal surfaced, was said to have waived the responsibility of the reporters to keep their conversations confidential.
The three interviewees, Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post, Tim Russert of NBC, and Time magazine's Matter Cooper, apparently all attested that Libby did not identity Plame; therefore they were not compelled to breach any promise of confidentiality. The Post reported that subpoenas had also been issued to their own Walter Pincus, as well as to Judith Miller of the New York Times.
The obvious ironic subtext of this investigation is the enforced complicity between the hyper-secret Bush administration and these media titans who ought to be demanding exposure of a criminal leaker. The media's devotion to First Amendment principles has co-opted their other obligations of investigative scrutiny and editorial commentary.
Instead of helping the administration keep a major scandal under public radar, the media ought to demand that the background leaker of Plame's identity be treated the same as was national security aide Richard Clarke when Fox News correspondent Jim Angle helped the White House discredit his testimony about security deficiencies prior to 9/11.
For those who don't recall, Angle "received permission from the administration" to identify Clarke and to release a tape recording of his background briefing. Angle never sought Clarke's permission, and the "fair and balanced" network had no First Amendment or other journalistic compunction about reneging upon the not-for-attribution promise. Nor was there any perceptible hue and cry from the media about this betrayal of the "journalist's code."
I'm a lawyer, and not a trained journalist, but unless I'm missing some nuance, this disclosure seems to establish precedent for allowing the media recipients of the Plame leak to request White House "permission" to identify the leakers. Indeed, an outsider might wonder why this request hasn't been made previously, or why President Bush hasn't already volunteered to release the leak recipients so that they could identify the perpetrators of this crime.
Certainly if I represented one of the reporters, I would see that he "asked permission" to reveal his source before doing any serious jail time in service to a questionable principle not even recognized by the administration that chose to manipulate him.
Charles Brady is an attorney in River Falls.
© 2004 The Capital Times