In response to news of recent FBI interviews further confirming that neighbors of former clandestine CIA operative Valerie Plame did not know of her employment with the agency before syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak's July 14, 2003, column identified her, several conservative commentators revived a Washington Times editorial's baseless conclusion that Plame's neighbors did, in fact, know of her covert status.
For example, on the October 26 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh said of Plame: "[E]verybody in her neighborhood knew who she was." Similarly, in separate appearances on the October 26 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, right-wing pundit Ann Coulter and National Review White House correspondent Byron York echoed the false claim. Coulter declared that "everyone in Washington knew she [Plame] was a CIA agent," then stated that any neighbor of Plame's who claimed that they didn't know is lying and should face "prosecution":
COULTER: [O]ne prosecution that I think does need to be brought is the neighbors of Valerie Plame ... who claim that they told investigators yesterday that they didn't know she was a member of the CIA. That's a lie, and it's a crime to lie to federal investigators.
York deceptively stated that "there had been talk" that Plame's neighbors knew she worked for the CIA, but he failed to reveal that the two neighbors with whom he had spoken told him that they had not in fact known of Plame's CIA affiliation:
YORK: [T]he whole question was -- early on in this thing was -- did anybody else know that she worked for the CIA? And there had been talk that her friends and neighbors did. And I did meet two of the neighbors this evening, and I said -- well, the FBI agents were re-interviewing you, right? And they said no. When they came on Monday, it was the first time they'd ever been contacted by anybody from Fitzgerald's office.
It was only in an entry York posted later that evening on National Review Online's group weblog, The Corner, that he acknowledged that "both men said they did not know that Mrs. Wilson worked for the CIA" -- a statement he did not make on Hannity & Colmes.
Coulter, York, and Limbaugh's suggestion that many of Plame's neighbors were aware of her covert status apparently originated in a July 15 article -- and two subsequent editorials -- in The Washington Times, although Limbaugh was the only one to cite the Times directly. As Media Matters for America noted at the time, the only neighbor mentioned by name in the Times report, David Tillotson, told the newspaper that he "absolutely didn't know" she worked for the CIA, which corroborated the assessment of other neighbors who were mentioned by name elsewhere.
However, the article also cited Fred Rustmann, a former supervisor of Plame's at the CIA who claimed that "[h]er neighbors knew" of her CIA employment. Yet even though Rustmann was not Plame's neighbor and had supervised her for only one year at the beginning of her career, a July 19 Times editorial used his account to baselessly conclude that "most of Plame's neighbors in Northwest Washington said they knew she worked for the CIA." The claim was then repeated in a July 26 Times editorial, which stated that "numerous neighbors were aware that she worked for the agency."