Watergate icon Bob Woodward now finds himself in journalistic hot water for not sharing what he knew about the Valerie Plame affair with his editors at the Washington Post.
Apparently, an unnamed person in the Bush administration told Woodward in mid-June 2003 that Plame, the wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson, was a CIA operative. Not until July14 of that year did columnist Robert D. Novak make that fact public.
“Sadly, [Woodward has] become involved in a shocking way that raises huge questions about his role at the Washington Post,” laments the American Journalism Review.
In fact, however, the Woodward revelation may very well be moot. There is every reason to believe that Wilson himself outed Plame to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times in early May 2003, at least a month before the leak to Woodward.
Wilson makes a stunning admission to Vanity Fair magazine reporter, Vick Ward, who reported it in the January 2004 edition of the magazine. It has been heretofore overlooked. The wording of the relevant paragraph needs to be repeated in full since it is clumsy enough to allow misinterpretation:
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.
If “his wife” refers not to Kristof’s wife but to Plame, which it almost assuredly does, Wilson has implicated Plame in a serious transgression. “As an employee of the CIA,” he writes in the preface to the paperback version of his book, “The Politics of Truth,” “she could have no contact with the press without prior approval.” Sitting in at a breakfast with a Times reporter in which her husband discusses a CIA trip that she recommended certainly qualifies as “contact.”
At this breakfast, Wilson began planting the seed that the forged Iraq-Niger uranium documents, about which little was still known, were the very same ones that he had allegedly discredited in February 2002. “The envoy’s debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted – except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway,” wrote Kristof on May 6, 2003, the first article to result from a Wilson leak.
In the preface to the paperback edition of his book, Wilson denies any claim to having debunked the forgeries and dismisses the Kristof remark as a “badly worded reference.” This protest would carry more weight if several other reporters to whom Wilson leaked had not made comparable claims. On June 12, 2003, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post reported that upon his return from Africa “among the envoy’s [Wilson’s] conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong.'”
The New Republic, with whose reporters Wilson also talked, would write, “He returned after a visit to Niger in February 2002 and reported to the State Department that the documents were forgeries.” In this version of the story, Vice President Cheney had received the forged documents from the British before Wilson’s trip and received the report from the CIA debunking them immediately afterward. The fact of the matter is that no one at the CIA had seen the forged documents until eight months after Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger.
Given the damage such false reporting could cause, it is no wonder that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove sought to set the record straight. That Woodward, Judith Miller, Libby and Rove are the ones being pilloried is testament to a much larger media problem than the American Journalism Review cares to admit.