Along the Tracks

Monday, July 18, 2005

Column for week of 7/17

Well, we asked for rain ….
As of this writing, the ol’ Miller homestead had a little over three inches of the wet stuff in six days – and its sprinkling right now.

No complaints, now. We needed every drop, as evidenced by the lack of puddles.

Still, add in the upper 80s to low 90s temperatures and you’ve got one humid week.

The corn sure likes it, though.

The Professor has a wish: “Would it be that every man had the confidence to teach boldly – at the very least, I hope I one day have it.”

As perhaps the ultimate outside observer, my point of view on matters inside the Washington “beltway” carries little weight, and understandably so. Still, I feel I must point out a couple of things concerning the present controversy over the leaking of a CIA employee’s name to the press two summers ago.

First, it seems pretty clear now, based on the leaks from the investigation of the leak, that White House political guru Karl Rove was not the original source for the reporters who discovered CIA agent Valerie Plame was the wife of Joseph Wilson. Wilson, of course, is the diplomat turned Democratic spokesperson who claimed on a trip to Niger he found no evidence Saddam Hussein had been seeking uranium for a nuclear program. Rove did confirm that he “had heard” Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, and may have been the first to tell one reporter that tidbit. However, his leaks (as a “confirming source”) came after some unknown original leak.

Second, it is painfully clear Karl Rove lied to Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, who then trotted out and unknowingly repeated the lie to the White House press corps. It was a foolish thing to do – Rove could have simply advised McClellan make no comment on the ongoing investigation. Instead, Rove told McClellan he had “nothing to do with” the Plame story, when in fact he obviously did. Rove should do the decent thing and resign. George W. Bush doesn’t need a liar for an adviser, and he certainly doesn’t need a fool.

Third, as the investigation moves forward, this observer believes something rather shocking will come out – and it will help the White House. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will not end his work without either an indictment or a full accounting of how the Plame name came to be in the possession of a number of Washington reporters. Reporters covering the investigation are focused like a laser beam on a potential Bush administration scandal, so much so they are ignoring other possibilities. Here’s one scenario – not based on anything but observation of the characters involved: Joseph Wilson may have been the original source of Plame’s identity which then snowballed into controversy.

My hunch comes from a) the fact that Wilson was himself an “anonymous source” for stories questioning prewar intelligence; b) Wilson moved into the public spotlight with an editorial-page piece in the New York Times about his trip to Niger; c) Wilson was riding the news talk show circuit and speaking with any and every reporter who was writing on the subject of weapons of mass destruction; and d) Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, worked at the agency on proliferation issues.

As a “background source,” Wilson may have attempted to polish his credentials by passing along the fact his wife was an expert on the subject. Reporters being reporters, they went out and talked to each other about this Wilson guy, wondering whether he really knew anything. One of them told another over a beer that Wilson’s wife was a weapons expert. Soon it was all over the Washington press corps.

One or more of those reporters called White House officials to confirm this identity, not realizing Plame was technically “undercover.” The first time asked, those White House officials said they didn’t know, because they didn’t. However, the next time asked, as the story was snowballing, Rove at the least attempted to use that information learned from another reporter to discredit Wilson’s claim that he had been sent by Vice President Cheney’s request. So when asked if Wilson’s wife was in the CIA, Rove said, “Yeah, I heard that, too.”

What Rove did still may have been wrong, because it may have violated his pledge to determine if potentially sensitive information is unclassified before releasing it. That, of course, assumes he did not call the CIA to ask about Plame – something we don’t yet know. We do know Bob Novak, the conservative columnist whose article first exposed Plame’s identity, called the CIA to make certain it was all right to print the name, and the CIA made no effort to stop him. If the CIA had a similar response to Rove or other members of the White House staff (assuming they did make contact), they are completely off the hook for the leak itself.

All of the above demonstrates yet again how dangerous it is to the credibility of reporters and their news organizations to rely so often and so heavily on unnamed sources. Each source has an ax to grind, especially in Washington, and keeping that information secret does a disservice to the public. Use of unnamed sources should be rare, only accepted when the information the source has is crucial to a story and there is no other way to get that information. Even then, the reporter has a special obligation to make the motives of the source very clear.

Backhanded Compliment of the Week: “At least you didn’t have to worry about putting pans under your dripping ceiling during the drought.”

I hammer on State Sen. Lynn Wachtmann pretty regularly, so it’s only right that I give him his props: Our state senator made a bold and, I think, proper move by voting against the state’s two-year budget and tax overhaul. It has cost him a committee chairmanship, but he did the right thing.

Male Proverb #407: “The watched tomato never turns.”

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