Ten days after Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff and the Nation’s David Corn revealed — contrary to Corn’s previous speculation — that the original leaker in the Valerie Plame controversy was former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and not Karl Rove or another of former Ambassador Joe Wilson’s bogeymen, the New York Times finally got around to editorializing on the matter. And what an editorial it was.
Keep in mind that the story broke on Saturday, Aug. 27, The Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune editorialized on the matter on Sept. 1, five days later, the Los Angeles Times ran its editorial on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the New York Times finally weighed in. Were the Times’ editorial writers doing extensive research and crafting a masterful editorial? Nope.
In its editorial titled “Time for Answers,” after identifying Valerie Plame as a “covert C.I.A. agent” the Times writes: “The revelation tells us something important. But, unfortunately, it is not the answer to the central question in the investigation — whether there was an organized attempt by the White House to use Mrs. Wilson to discredit or punish her husband, Joseph Wilson. A former diplomat, Mr. Wilson debunked the claim that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons.”
Yes, it’s time for answers — from the Times. How does it know for certain that Valerie Plame was both “covert” and an “agent”? The source of those claims is her husband, and other major media organizations have withheld judgment. The Washington Post calls Plame merely a “former CIA employee.” The Los Angeles Times uses scare quotes when describing the “outing” of Plame. But the Times swallows the Wilson line whole.
The Times also, incredibly, persists in asserting that “Mr. Wilson debunked the claim that Saddam Hussein tried to buy uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons.” Do the Times editorial writers read anything other than their own editorial page?
In the past six months, journalist Christopher Hitchens has shown all but conclusively that Iraq did in fact send a diplomat to buy uranium from Niger. Hitchens reported here and here that Iraq sent Wissam al-Zahawie — described as “Iraq’s top negotiator on nuclear weapons issues” by none other than Ambassador Rolf Ekeus, the UN’s first UNSCOM chairman and Hans Blix’s predecessor in that position — to Niger on Feb. 8, 1999. Zahawie, of course, has denied going to buy uranium. He even said, preposterously, that he had no idea Niger produced uranium. Niger holds one of the world’s largest reserves of uranium ore, which is the country’s No. 1 export. Iraq’s top diplomat assigned to nuclear weapons issues, who had visited Niger on an official diplomatic mission, did not know this? Not believable. Hitchens has amassed a solid case suggesting very strongly that Zahawie’s trip was the one British intelligence warned the United States about.
Remember that famous forged Niger document that caused the Bush administration to drop its claim that Iraq sought uranium in Niger? A NATO investigation found that it was forged by two employees of Niger’s embassy in Rome — not the CIA or the Bush administration, the Times of London reported in April. Other documents passed from the embassy, which indicated that Zahawie indeed went to Niger to inquire about purchasing uranium, have been found authentic.
The Times completely ignores all of this reporting, which Hitchens, in his own column on the Armitage revelation, which was published on Aug. 29, says has not “received any rebuttal from any source.”
The Times editorial goes on to lamely discuss Patrick Fitzgerald’s slowly paced investigation and urge that he bring it to an end, as if that were the real heart of this very important story.
Nowhere does the Times acknowledge, as other journalists have, that the truth — the actual facts as we now know them — undermines the very foundation of Joe Wilson’s claims. It completely ignores not only quality reporting showing that Joe Wilson missed the story in Niger, and therefore debunked nothing, but also the plain fact — revealed by left-leaning journalists — that Wilson’s wife was not outed, her life endangered, by a White House bent on seeking revenge for Wilson’s baseless 2003 New York Times op-ed.
For contrast, here is the Washington Post, hardly a partisan defender of the administration, from its Sept. 1 editorial: “It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House — that it orchestrated the leak of Plame’s identity to ruin her career and thus punish Wilson — is untrue.”
The Post goes on, noting that if Fitzgerald’s case against Scooter Libby holds up, Libby and his boss Dick Cheney “were careless about handling information that was classified.
“Nevertheless, it now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming — falsely, as it turned out — that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”
The Post’s editorial board has concluded both that Wilson did not debunk the Iraq uranium-shopping story and that his wife was not outed by an administration bent on revenge. That’s because the evidence refutes Wilson’s claims. And yet the Times editorial board chooses to ignore the evidence and perpetuate Wilson’s delusional story.
That is an amazing dereliction of journalistic duty, particularly for America’s unofficial “newspaper of record.”
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