Thursday, April 28, 2005

More Plame commentary, with apologies to those who say that I am writing too much on this subject.

Joe Wilson gives an interview to Daily Kos, and makes this revelation: "As I report in the paperback version of my book-- in the stands in a couple of weeks-- the CIA itself would not let Valerie defend her honor in an op-ed that the New York Times wanted to publish." (Disclosure: Philip Turner, the editor-in-chief of Carroll & Graf, which has published Wilson's book, is a personal friend.)

The well known First Amendment attorney, Floyd Abrams, will be on Nightline tonight to discuss the Plame case, as he seeks to have the Supreme Court consider an appeal of the contempt convictions of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper for refusing to testify to the Plame grand jury. Over the next few days, I am going to blog right here some interesting comments from my own interview with Abrams.

The special counsel in the Plame matter, Patrick Fitzgerald, has agreed not to challenge requests by Abrams and other attorneys representing Miller and Cooper to stay the jail sentences of the two reporters until the Supreme Court has the opportunity to consider their case. It is yet another example as to how Fitzgerald is not exactly the zealot that some in the media, like Jack Shafer, have attempted to potray him. (More on that later.)

In the meantime, Julie Hilden, a former associate at Williams & Connolly, who specialized in First Amendment issues, has written a couple of interesting related columns: her most recent explores whether bloggers should have the same privileges to protect confidential sources as traditional journalists. One of her earlier columns was devoted entirely to the Valerie Plame case. (Even though I link to her column, I should note that I disagree with every fiber in my body her argument that the reporters should consider identifying their sources.) Hopefully, her column will find a broader audience. Julie gave up her regular gig at Williams & Connolly to become a columnist and novelist, which begs this question: What was she thinking?

The best article on the Web-- or anywhere else for that matter-- on reporter's privilege is this one by Stephen Bates in Slate, who wrote:

"In 1848, the New York Herald's John Nugent became the first American reporter incarcerated for refusing to identify a confidential source. `I consider myself bound in honor not to answer,' Nugent declared when Senators asked him how had he got a secret draft of a treaty with Mexico. They ordered him held for contempt. Lacking a cell, the Senators' sergeant-at-arms took Nugent home with him at night and kept him in an empty committee room during the day."

Some observations: I would do virtually anything to protect a source. That includes going to jail. But if I was ordered to go home with with the senate's sergeant-at-arms and made to stay in an empty committee room during the day, I just might crack. The hearing room of the House Government Reform committee, for one, is one of the most dreary places on earth. (I have considered the committee room to be a leading candidate to be featured on my makeover pilot for C-Span.) For those sources who might fear that I might crack under the circumstances of being held in such environs, no worries: My attorneys would expeditiously appeal, and almost assuredly succeed, arguing that my incarceration certainly violated my constitutional rights to be spared "cruel and unusual punishment."

One blogger who has kind words for this column, mistakenly writes that "There is now a blog which seems to be mostly devoted to Valerie Plame news called Whatever Already!" More regular readers of this blog know that it contains media news and criticism, original foreign policy and national security reporting, and a regular essay on grocery shopping. A regular feature of this blog, Pressing Matters, a column of media criticism, is about to be simultaneously published and syndicated by a much more prestigious and well read venue than this one.

My two nephews, and niece, David, Daniel, and Jennifer, perhaps best know this blog as a place where their (favorite) uncle chastises them for not calling him enough. Now that they are teenagers, they call far less than they once have. *sad* The lives of teenagers are today are far more busy and complex than they were back in the day. My niece Jennifer has on her schedule: marching band practice, track practice, clarinet lessons, Hebrew school, an after-school science academic competition, and a leadership position in her Jewish youth group. Still, she should have enough time left over to call her uncle.

Black to Plame: one reason that I have blocked so much on the subject is that I have a major piece coming out in a new venue. I will link to the story, and comment about it here, as well. It will be appearing in what Mickey Kaus and other hipster bloggers refer to the MSM.

Not myself being a hipster blogger, the first time I read a reference by Mickey to MSM, I did not even know its meaning. At first, I thought it was a mistaken reference to MSNBC. Then I came to believe that MSM might be related to BDSM. But then again, I never have really understood what BDSM was in the first place. It was only later that I learned that MSM refers to the mainstream media.

The irony of Mickey Kaus's snide references to the MSM is that he is one of its charter members.

Dude, if you blog for, a company owned by the Washington Post, and just previously owned by Microsoft, you are part of the mainstream press. If your best friend is Michael Kinsley, you are no doubt MSM. If you have worked for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, you are even more so. If you have have worked for the New Republic, and still get along well with Marty Peretz, you are MSM.

If Mickey were to argue this point further, I could end the dispute once and for all with this single factoid: Dude, if Brill's Content has reported that you regularly hot tub with Maureen Dowd, you are the MSM!

For the blogger who believes that all I write about is Valerie Plame, my three readers could point out to him that I have over time devoted many, many more column inches and megabytes to teasing/ridiculing Mickey.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Reading for Monday morning: New Plame disclosures

On TAP Online, I have a story with new disclosures regarding the federal grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame affair. The lede to my story:

"Two days before columnist Robert Novak named Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative, a Bush administration official told a reporter for the Washington Post that Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, had been sent to Niger on a sensitive diplomatic mission only because his wife recommended him for the job. The administration official admitted his role to federal prosecutors during their investigation into the leak of Plame's identity.

"The Bush administration official, according to attorneys familiar with his testimony, told a federal grand jury that he made the claim to the Post reporter and others in an effort to undermine Wilson's credibility, who was alleging at the time that the Bush administration was relying on faulty intelligence to bolster its case to go to war with Iraq. But the official just as adamantly denied to federal investigators... that he ever told the Post reporter, Novak, or anyone else that Plame was a clandestine CIA operative."

"The Post reporter, Walter Pincus, confirmed in an interview that the administration official attempted to discredit Wilson by claiming that Wilson had been sent on a boondoggle arranged by Wilson's wife. But Pincus says that the official did not tell him that Plame was anything other than an analyst."

More than one of my readers-- and bloggers-- have already made the observation that I appear to have buried the lede in my story. They are absolutely correct! Down lower in my story, I write: "The grand jury uncovered evidence that several administration officials engaged in an aggressive and organized effort to discredit Wilson." And even lower, I write that federal investigators have for some time believed that columnist Novak has very likely lied to shield his sources from potential criminal culpability.

This is a story of an increasing importance, despite the judgment of editors at some leading news organizations that there might not be much more to the story, as leaks regarding the grand jury have been scarce, and the special counsel investigating the matter, Patrick Fitzgerald, has said he completed virtually all aspects of his investigation months ago.

As I see it, I can underplay what I have for now as I gain a competitive edge in reporting this story. I don't want to wake any sleeping giants-- say Tim Russert or Jill Abramson-- with such vastly greater (and corporate) resources than my 'lil blog, until I own this story. That there might be a story here of a far greater magnitude than currently meets the eye is a piece of information that I would ask my loyal readers keep as our secret for a while.

As for the still unnamed Bush administration official in the lede to my story, there apparently were no grounds for criminal charges to be brought against him by the grand jury because the evidence did not demonstrate that he acted with the intent to reveal the status of a covert CIA operative.

But the grand jury clearly did uncover evidence that the official was part of a concerted campaign to silence and discredit Wilson and others critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. And whatever the official's intentions, his reckless actions may have played some role in the disclosure that Plame was a clandestine CIA officer; impaired then ongoing U.S. intelligence operations; endangered sensitive intelligence sources; and undermined the war on terrorism. Most of the rest of us would be in a little trouble at our work if we got caught doing something like that!

It would nice to see a reporter for some major news organization ask during tomorrow's White House press briefing, what, if any, disciplinary action, President Bush might take against this official, and why none has been taken already. (Word of warning: If nobody asks this question, I am going to get White House press credentials of my own, so that I can ask the question. If James Gluckert/James Gannon can obtain a White House press pass, I assume that I can as well.)

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall has been too kind to me, writing on "Just a note for those of you looking for the latest news on the Valerie Plame story. Murray Waas's new blog `Whatever Already' has been the source for the latest updates, all based on his extensive and continued original reporting on the subject." Josh has more faith in me than I do, or more faith that I deserve. But now the pressure is on!

Random notes: For those of you who have wanted me to write, report, or blog about the Bolton nomination, you would be much better served to read Laura Rozen's indispensable blog, Steve C. Clemons' "Washington Note", as well as Josh. I will have a post with some original reporting on Bolton by the middle of the week. For those not following the story as closely, the entire saga can perhaps be summed up in a single sentence in this lengthy Time magazine article out on newsstands tomorrow morning: "There is a saying in Washington that you meet on the way down all the people you stepped on the way up."

For those wondering about the deconstruction and analysis of my own story, it begs the question-- once again-- as to whether this is a blog or a parody of a blog.
A Whatever Already Editorial!

On Sept. 30, 2003, upon learning that the Department of Justice had commenced a criminal investigation to determine who in his administration leaked Valerie Plame's identity as a clandestine CIA operative to columnist Robert Novak, President Bush had this to say: "I want to know who it is and if the person has violated the law. The person will be taken care of."

Later on Oct. 6, 2003, President Bush was even more emphatic in asserting that he would hold accountable whoever had leaked derogatory information to the press about Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson IV, saying: "If anybody has got any information inside our government who leaked, you ought to take it to the Justice Department, so we can find the leaker." The unauthorized disclosure, Bush said, was a "very serious matter" and a "criminal action."

I know that the President is a busy man, and he probably does not read the American Prospect Online. I don't always read it that regularly myself (especially when they are late in sending me a pay check). And when I called the White House seeking a comment for my for my last TAP story about the Plame affair, it was an intern who handled my query. (I am not joking.) I have actually had had my inquiries taken more seriously when I have called the White House seeking comment for a post for my blog. (Again, no kidding.)

Perhaps the President or someone on the White House senior staff reads my blog?!

In my TAP Online story, I disclosed that an administration official had testified to a federal grand jury that two days before columnist Robert Novak named Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative, the official had told a reporter for the Washington Post that Plame's husband, former ambassador Wilson, had only been sent on a sensitive diplomatic mission to Niger because his wife had purportedly recommended him for the job. In his testimony to the grand jury, the Bush administration official asserted that he did not tell the Post reporter, Walter Pincus, that Plame was a clandestine CIA officer. And in his own statements to prosecutors, Pincus has largely backed up the official's version of events. Still, the official testified it was his intent to discredit Wilson, a critic of the administration's Iraq policy.

It is more likely than not that the Bush administration official did not violate federal law, in that there is no strong evidence that the official acted with the purposeful intent to out a clandestine CIA officer. It is also unclear as to whether the official who spoke to Pincus was one of the two "senior administration officials" who spoke to Novak.

But clearly the official was acting recklessly in bandying around the fact to a Washington Post reporter that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA, and that Wilson only was sent to Niger as a result of her purported nepotism. Only two short days later, if Novak can be trusted, two administration officials told Novak much the same story. As a result, Plame was identified in Novak's column as a CIA "operative"; ongoing intelligence operations were impaired; sensitive intelligence sources were endangered; and the war on terrorism was undermined.

If the President were interested in knowing who this official is, all that he needs to do at this point is inquire amongst his own senior staff. What he does next-- discipline the official in some meaningful way, fire him, slap him on the wrist, or simply glare at him-- is up to the President. But George W. Bush is the President of the United States, and he can take whatever action he sees fit, or at least explain in the interim, why he remains silent and does nothing.

The time is long overdue for the President to speak to this issue.

Note to readers: In the future, there will be a most strict separation between those who break news for my blog (me), and those who write editorials and commentary. In due course, those who break news (me) and those who will write editorials will not even be allowed to speak to one another! However, for the time being, I am unable to afford to take on an editorial writer...
Mitch Albom Update

Elizabeth Spiers, of's FishbowlNY column has this hilarious take as to how the Detroit Free Press editor Carole Leigh Hutton has slapped-- or rather lightly patted-- Mitch Albom's wrist following disclosures that he fabricated details of one of his columns.

Leigh Hutton has said that Albom and four other Free Press employees, "each of whom had the responsibility to fix errors before publication" of Albom's column, will be disciplined in some unspecified manner. For more details, I recommend this story in Editor & Publisher.

I also have previously posted here on my blog-- a lengthy analysis by our very own media columnist-- describing how Leigh Hutton's missteps in the early days of the Mitch Albom affair detracted from the credibility of her newspaper. Indeed, our Pressing Matters column is one of our most widely read features (as many as a dozen unique visitors). Expect another Pressing Matters column on Albom later this week.

This L.A. Times account is also interesting in that it predicted before the fact that Albom would face nothing more than a slap on the wrist for his actions. Jack Lessenberry, a journalism professor at Wayne State University, who also writes a media column for an alternative weekly in Detroit, told the Times: "Albom is really the only recognizable name they [the Free Press} have. I think they will bend over backwards for marketing reasons not to fire him."