Hume distorted Mitchell's Imus interview

››› ››› JEREMY SCHULMAN

On the November 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume distorted NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell's November 10 denial that she had known that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA before syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak published that fact in his July 14, 2003, column. In an apparent effort to discredit Mitchell's statement, Hume cited an October 3, 2003, interview in which Mitchell suggested that she had known about Plame's employment. What Hume did not note, however, was that in her November 10, 2005, interview -- on MSNBC's Imus in the Morning -- Mitchell specifically acknowledged that she "may have misspoken in October of '03 in that interview." In other words, Hume reported Mitchell's Imus interview as if she were now denying she had made her 2003 claim, citing only her initial assertion to Imus that she had been taken "out of context"; Hume did not report that she subsequently retracted her 2003 claim.

From the November 10 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

In the meantime, NBC News senior diplomatic correspondent Andrea Mitchell now says she never meant to say that it was, quote, "widely known" that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA before the fact was publicized by columnist Robert Novak. Mitchell says online bloggers took her words out of context. She told a talk show host that she merely said people knew that a secret administration envoy, which turned out to be Wilson, had been sent to Niger.

But in a 2003 interview, Mitchell was asked specifically about how many people knew that Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, and she answered, quote, "It was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the Foreign Service community was the envoy to Niger."

In the week leading up to Mitchell's Imus interview, conservative media figures, including Hume, had pointed to Mitchell's October 3, 2003, comments on CNBC's Capital Report as evidence that Plame's CIA employment may not have been a secret before it was allegedly leaked to Novak and other journalists.

From the October 3, 2003, edition of CNBC's Capital Report:

ALAN MURRAY (co-host): And the second question is: Do we have any idea how widely known it was in Washington that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA?

MITCHELL: It was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger. So a number of us began to pick up on that. But frankly I wasn't aware of her actual role at the CIA and the fact that she had a covert role involving weapons of mass destruction, not until Bob Novak wrote it.

On the November 10 edition of Imus in the Morning, host Don Imus said to Mitchell: "There has been some speculation that you might be called as a defense witness for Scooter Libby because, on apparently October 3, 2003, you said -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong here -- that it was widely known that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA." At first, Mitchell responded, "Well, it was out of context." On Special Report, Hume noted this response, but he did not note that Mitchell amended her response later in the interview, admitting, "I may have misspoken in October of '03 in that interview."

Nor did Hume note that Mitchell specifically denied the substance of her Capital Report claim. Referring to Plame's CIA employment, Mitchell told Imus: "The fact is that I did not know -- did not know before, did not know before the Novak column. And it was very clear, because I had interviewed Joe Wilson several times, including on Meet the Press. And in none of those interviews did any of this come up, on or off camera, I have to tell you." Later in the interview, again apparently referring to Plame's CIA employment, Mitchell stated, "I found it out from Novak."

This is not the first time that Hume has distorted Mitchell's words in a report about her Capital Report claim. On the November 8 edition of Special Report -- prior to Mitchell's retraction -- Hume cropped her 2003 quote, giving viewers the impression that Mitchell had referred to all reporters "who cover the intelligence community" and not, as Mitchell stated, "those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger."

From the November 10 edition of MSNBC's Imus in the Morning:

IMUS: There has been some speculation that you might be called as a defense witness for Scooter Libby because, on apparently October 3, 2003, you said -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong here -- that it was widely known that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA.

MITCHELL: Well, it was out of context.

IMUS: Oh, it was?

MITCHELL: It was out of context.

IMUS: Isn't that always the case when you have to testify?

MITCHELL: Don't you hate it when that happens? The fact is that I did not know -- did not know before, did not know before the Novak column. And it was very clear, because I had interviewed Joe Wilson several times, including on Meet the Press. And in none of those interviews did any of this come up, on or off camera, I have to tell you.

IMUS: Hmmm.

MITCHELL: The fact -- what I was trying to express was that it was widely known that there was an envoy, that I was tasking my producers and researchers and myself to find out who was this secret envoy. I did not know. We only knew because of an article in The Washington Post by Walter Pincus and a column by [New York Times columnist] Nicholas Kristof that someone had gone. So in that period --

IMUS: So you didn't say that it was widely know that his wife worked at the CIA?

MITCHELL: I said it was widely known that an envoy had gone -- let me try to find the quote -- but the fact is what I was trying to say, in the rest of that sentence, I said we did not know who the envoy was until the Novak column.

IMUS: Did you mention Wilson or his wife or the CIA?

MITCHELL: Yes. In a long interview on CNBC.

IMUS: No. I understand that. But at any point, in any context, did you say that it was either widely known, not known, or that it was speculated that his wife worked for the CIA?

MITCHELL: I said that it was widely known that -- [inaudible] the exact quote here -- but I said that it was widely known that Wilson was an envoy and that his wife worked at the CIA, but I was talking about --

IMUS: OK, so you did say that. Why did it take me a minute to get that out of you?

MITCHELL: No, I was talking about after the Novak column.

IMUS: Oh.

MITCHELL: And that's what was not clear. I may have misspoken in October of '03 in that interview.

IMUS: When was the Novak column?

MITCHELL: The Novak column was on the 14th of July, I believe. July 12 or 14.

IMUS: Of what year?

MITCHELL: Of '03.

IMUS: Oh, so this is well after that.

MITCHELL: This is well after that. That's why the confusion.

IMUS: Oh.

MITCHELL: I was trying to express what I knew before the Novak column, and I think there was some confusion in that one interview.

IMUS: Well, who did you find it out from, [NBC News senior vice president, Washington bureau chief, and Meet the Press host Tim] Russert?

MITCHELL: I found it out from Novak.

IMUS: Maybe Russert's lying.

MITCHELL: You know Tim Russert better than that.

IMUS: Which would break little [Don's son] Wyatt Imus's heart, by the way.

MITCHELL: Well, it would just not happen.

IMUS: OK.

MITCHELL: But this is one of those cases -- I mean we've got, you know, we've got a whole new world of journalism out there where there are people writing blogs who grab one thing and not everything else that I've written and said about this and go to town with it. And if it, you know, supports their political point of view, then --

IMUS: Bingo.

MITCHELL: Bingo, exactly.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
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