Fox News exploited the Obama administration's accidental exposure of a CIA operative's identity, using it as an opportunity to minimize the Bush administration's culpability in deliberately exposing former CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity as political retribution in 2003.
On May 26, the Washington Post reported that the White House press office had mistakenly revealed the name of the CIA Chief of Station in Afghanistan when it distributed a list of officials scheduled to participate in a military briefing with Obama at the Bagram Air Base during the president's surprise Memorial Day visit to Afghanistan. The list had been provided to the administration communications staff by military officials.
Fox News used the oversight as an opportunity to absolve the Bush administration and former Bush advisor Lewis "Scooter" Libby for deliberately exposing the identity of then-covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003. On May 27, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade referenced Libby, noting that this time, "Scooter Libby cannot be blamed or imprisoned" for the oversight. Co-host Steve Doocy seized on the comment as an opportunity to draw a false equivalence between the two cases and downplay the severity of the Plame leak:
DOOCY: Okay, so you mentioned Scooter Libby, he was all part of that Valerie Plame thing. Valerie Plame has tweeted out. She writes simply: "Astonishing, White House mistakenly identifies CIA Chief in Afghanistan." Keep in mind, you know, people are talking about, well remember when it happened during the Bush years with Valerie Plame. Valerie -- President Barack Obama at the time wanted to know, called an investigation were any laws broken and stuff like that. Keep in mind that, big difference. Valerie Plame had a desk job in suburban Washington, D.C., at the CIA. This guy is actually over there. So for them to put out a list -- and I've got the memo on my iPhone right now. There's his name plain as day with Chief of Staff right after it. Doesn't anybody at the White House know what they're doing right now? It looks like a -- either they're not paying attention to details or they simply don't care.
Later on America's Newsroom, Fox contributor and former Bush administration official John Bolton made the specious claim that Plame's identity was "made public by Rich Armitage, Secretary Colin Powell's deputy," and argued that the disclosure "resulted in some very unfair treatment of a lot of other people in the Bush administration like Scooter Libby." Bolton argued that the Plame disclosure was "just a malicious piece of gossip," while the Obama administration's disclosure was "utter incompetence."
These cases are not comparable. While the Obama administration's release of the CIA Chief of Station's name is a serious oversight, reports of the incident are clear that the disclosure was accidental. As the Washington Post noted, the mistake was immediately recognized and the list was withdrawn.
In contrast, the exposure of Valerie Plame's identity was a calculated move that that demolished her career after her husband wrote a New York Times op-ed critical of the Bush administration's justifications for taking the nation to war in Iraq. During the leak investigation, former Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper identified former White House senior adviser -- current Fox contributor -- Karl Rove as the original source revealing Plame's identity and pointed to Scooter Libby as the corroborating source. Libby, who then served as chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was found guilty of perjury in the leak investigation, but his sentence was later commuted by Bush.