Ignoring its own paper and echoing GOP faithful, Wash. Post editorial furthered numerous CIA leak falsehoods


Media Matters for America presents a side-by-side comparison of the claims put forth by an April 9 Washington Post editorial that repeated numerous falsehoods in defense of President Bush's reported authorization of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to disclose the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the corresponding falsehoods forwarded by conservatives and Republicans in the media, and the Post's own reporting -- some of it appearing in the same edition of the paper as the editorial -- that debunks these falsehoods.

On April 9 -- the same day that NBC Meet the Press host Tim Russert described The Washington Post as "hardly an organ for Republican views" -- the Post published an editorial, titled "A Good Leak," that echoed numerous falsehoods also promoted by conservative media figures and Republican activists in defense of President Bush's reported authorization of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby to disclose to the media classified portions of the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. The Post editorial board seemingly ignored its own paper's past reporting on the CIA leak scandal, which has thoroughly debunked the false claims made by conservative and Republican figures and echoed in the April 9 Post editorial.

The Post editorial commented on the April 6 revelation that court papers pertaining to special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's investigation of Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, indicated that Bush authorized Libby to disclose specific, classified portions of the NIE to former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. Libby was indicted in October 2005 on five counts of perjury, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to the FBI regarding the federal investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.

As Media Matters for America has noted, the Post's editorial page repeated without challenge the Bush administration's justifications for the Iraq war in the buildup to the March 2003 invasion and was complicit in forwarding many of the administration's false and misleading claims to justify the invasion retroactively. In a March 8 online discussion, a reader asked Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt when the editorial writers will "own up" to this record. Hiatt responded, "[W]e've acknowledged that we were mistaken in our assumptions about WMD." But the Post has yet to retract its numerous false statements regarding an alleged Iraq-Al Qaeda connection and the Bush administration's use of intelligence. To the contrary, as the April 9 editorial shows, Hiatt has continued to print flagrant falsehoods concerning the Bush administration's efforts to justify the war, even while he and the board have every reason to know -- from the Post's own reporting -- that those assertions are false.

Below, Media Matters for America presents a side-by-side comparison of the claims put forth by the April 9 Post editorial, the corresponding falsehoods forwarded by conservatives and Republicans in the media, and the Post's own reporting -- some of it appearing in the same edition of the paper as the editorial -- that debunks these falsehoods.

False Republican / conservative talking point

April 9 Washington Post editorial

Prior Washington Post reporting

"Surely the President has a right -- even a duty -- to set the record straight."

-- April 8 Wall Street Journal editorial, highlighted on the Republican National Committee website

"Presidents are authorized to declassify sensitive material, and the public benefits when they do."

Contrary to the suggestion in the Post and Wall Street Journal editorials that the administration was performing a public service in leaking the information -- that is, that Bush was fulfilling a duty to inform the public -- Post staff writers Barton Gellman and Dafna Linzer reported on April 9 that the classified information purportedly selected by Cheney and Libby to be leaked to the press, which asserted that Iraq had been "vigorously" attempting to procure uranium in Africa, had "been disproved months before."

"In authorizing Mr. Libby to disclose previously classified information, Mr. Bush was divulging the truth. That alone distinguishes it from the common 'leak.'"

--April 8 Journal editorial

"President Bush was right to approve the declassification of parts of a National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq three years ago in order to make clear why he had believed that Saddam Hussein was seeking nuclear weapons.


"As Mr. Fitzgerald pointed out at the time of Mr. Libby's indictment last fall, none of this is particularly relevant to the question of whether the grounds for war in Iraq were sound or bogus. It's unfortunate that those who seek to prove the latter would now claim that Mr. Bush did something wrong by releasing for public review some of the intelligence he used in making his most momentous decision."

The Post editorial's claim -- that in authorizing the release of the information, President Bush sought "to make clear" why he had thought that Saddam was seeking nuclear weapons -- rests on the assumption that the information leaked by Libby accurately reflected the intelligence available to the Bush administration during the buildup to war. In fact, as reported by Gellman and Linzer, Libby "made careful selections of language" from the NIE to bolster the administration's case regarding Saddam's nuclear ambitions, as the weblog Firedoglake noted.

Moreover, Cheney reportedly instructed Libby to describe the uranium story as a "key judgment" of the NIE. In fact, "the alleged effort to buy uranium was not among the estimate's key judgments" because it "had been strongly disputed in the intelligence community from the start," as the Post reported and the weblog The Left Coaster noted. Indeed, elsewhere in the NIE, the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research called the claim "highly dubious."

"Constitutionally, the authority to declare documents 'classified' resides with the president. So, under the terms of an executive order first drafted in 1982, he can declassify a document merely by declaring it unclassified."

-- New York Post columnist John Podhoretz, April 7 column

"Rather than follow the usual declassification procedures and then invite reporters to a briefing -- as the White House eventually did -- Vice President Cheney initially chose to be secretive, ordering his chief of staff at the time, I. Lewis Libby, to leak the information to a favorite New York Times reporter. The full public disclosure followed 10 days later. There was nothing illegal or even particularly unusual about that."

An April 7 article by Post staff writer R. Jeffrey Smith reported that "legal scholars and analysts" described it as "highly unusual for senior officials at the White House to take such an action so stealthily." Smith also noted that, in Fitzgerald's filing, Libby is said to have characterized the action as unique: "Defendant [Libby] testified that this July 8th meeting was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by the President's authorization that it be disclosed."

"Mentioned this for the past couple of weeks, but the real question is this: Did Bush lie about yellowcake? Did the Brits lie about uranium in Niger or did [former ambassador and husband of Valerie Plame Joseph C.] Wilson [IV]? Did Wilson lie about Niger? Did Wilson commit treason? Did Wilson make up something that he's gonna sip tea and not even investigate, come back and just say what he wanted to say what the plan was?"

-- Nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh, 10/31/05

"The Senate report includes a 48-page section on Wilson that demonstrates, in painstaking detail, that virtually everything Joseph Wilson said publicly about his trip, from its origins to his conclusions, was false."

--Weekly Standard senior writer Stephen F. Hayes, 10/24/05

"The material that Mr. Bush ordered declassified established, as have several subsequent investigations, that Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

Former CIA director George Tenet asserted in a July 11, 2003, statement that Wilson's Niger findings "did not resolve whether Iraq was or was not seeking uranium from abroad," as Post staff writers Walter Pincus and Dana Milbank reported on October 25, 2005.

Further, in an April 10 Post article, Pincus took issue with Libby's claim, detailed in Fitzgerald's court filing, that Wilson had "reported information about an Iraqi delegation visiting Niger in 1999 that was 'understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium.' " The article rebutted this claim as follows: "In fact, Wilson said he was told that a Niger official was contacted at a meeting outside the country by a businessman who said an Iraqi economic delegation wanted to meet with him. The Niger official guessed that the Iraqis might want to talk about uranium because Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger in the mid-1980s. But when they met, no talk of uranium took place."

The Post has repeatedly reported that Wilson, during his 2002 trip to Niger, "found no evidence to support allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium" from the African nation.

"I mean, obviously there was no conspiracy to ... punish Joe Wilson for what he had said about Bush's claims about Iraq. And Wilson criticized him. It turns out his criticism was completely false and Bush was right."

-- Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Fox News' The Beltway Boys, 11/19/05

"What did we learn [from federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald] about this obsessed White House with Joe Wilson? That there was, in fact, no conspiracy to out his wife, that there was no coordinated smear campaign."

-- National Review columnist Kate O'Beirne, MSNBC's Hardball, 10/30/05

"[T]his idea that somehow they were discrediting Wilson in this release is nonsense. ... It's perfectly legitimate for a government to add in a fact which the guy had left out as a way to distort information. ... That's not discrediting him personally."

--Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, 4/9/06

"Mr. Wilson subsequently claimed that the White House set out to punish him for his supposed whistle-blowing by deliberately blowing the cover of his wife, Valerie Plame, who he said was an undercover CIA operative. This prompted the investigation by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald. After more than 2 1/2 years of investigation, Mr. Fitzgerald has reported no evidence to support Mr. Wilson's charge."

Gellman and Linzer's April 9 Post article reported that Fitzgerald wrote in his recent filing that "the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that 'it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson.' " They noted that the filing had "described a 'concerted action' by 'multiple people in the White House' -- using classified information -- to 'discredit, punish or seek revenge against' a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq."

He's [Rove is] the one who told the press the truth that Mr. Wilson had been recommended for the CIA consulting gig by his wife, not by Vice President Dick Cheney as Mr. Wilson was asserting on the airwaves.

-- Wall Street Journal editorial, 7/13/05

The administration did not send Wilson over to Niger. They were not his choice. George Tenet didn't send him. It was Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who suggested him for the mission.

-- Rush Limbaugh, 7/11/05

"In fact Mr. Wilson was recommended for the trip by his wife."

The Post's prior reporting on the issue of who sent Wilson to Niger presents it as a matter of ongoing dispute and far from "fact." Indeed, as Pincus and Milbank noted in their October 25 article, Wilson -- in response to the administration's claim that his selection for the Niger mission was the result of nepotism -- "has maintained that Plame was merely 'a conduit,' telling CNN last year that 'her supervisors asked her to contact me.'" Pincus and Milbank further reported: "The CIA has always said ... that Plame's superiors chose Wilson for the Niger trip and she only relayed their decision."

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, War in Iraq
The Washington Post
CIA Leak Investigation
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