ABC's Tapper again misstates Bush pledge to fire Plame leaker; again lashes out at those who correct his mistakes


In a weblog post, ABC News' Jake Tapper again misstated pledges by President Bush and his aides to fire anyone who disclosed the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Tapper's post included a thinly veiled -- and false -- attack on Media Matters for America.

In a June 13 weblog post, ABC News senior national correspondent Jake Tapper again misstated pledges by President Bush and his aides that anyone who disclosed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity would be fired. Perhaps because we have previously corrected Tapper on this very matter, Tapper's post also included a thinly veiled -- and false -- attack on Media Matters for America.

After the disclosure that White House senior adviser Karl Rove will apparently not be indicted in the CIA leak investigation, Tapper wrote on his blog:

Of course, absence of law-breaking is not evidence of ethical behavior, and there are arguments to be held about Mr. Rove's behavior, how forthcoming he was with Mr. Fitzgerald, and whether Mr. Rove's involvement in the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity violated the President's pledge to fire anyone found to have broken the law.

Tapper is wrong -- again. Last July, Tapper made a similar claim, reporting twice in three days that Bush had pledged to fire aides only if they broke the law. As Tapper (falsely) explained in one of his reports, "the president never said he would fire 'anybody involved in the leak.' For him, it has been all about the law."

A day after Tapper's first false report, Media Matters corrected it, noting that, in fact, then-Bush spokesman Scott McClellan had made clear that Bush would fire anyone found to have been involved in outing a CIA agent. The next day, Tapper did it again. So, the day after that, we corrected him again.

But Tapper continues to misreport Bush's pledge. He explained in his June 13 blog post:

The latter gets a bit hinkey, because the President's pledges on the matter were repeatedly quite specific to a legal finding that a law had been broken -- "If there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of ... If somebody did leak classified information," he said in September 2003; "If someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration," he said in July 2005 -- with the exception of one time when a reporter interrupted him to ask him about a pledge the president had not made.

This is the exchange, from JUNE 10 2004

Q Given -- given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney's discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent's name?

THE PRESIDENT: That's up to --

Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And that's up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts.

It is on that hook that partisans say the President pledged to fire anyone "who leaked the agent's name." Given the president's specificity in the past, and his addition above that it's "up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts," I do not think he has pledged to fire anyone who leaked the agent's name.

But Tapper is ignoring McClellan's September 29, 2003, statement that "If anyone in this administration was involved in" the leak, he or she would be fired. McClellan's statement was in no way contingent on whether a law was broken. Tapper is further ignoring the fact that Bush echoed McClellan's statement the very next day, when he declared, "If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it, and we'll take the appropriate action."

Media Matters has previously pointed out both of those quotes in response to Tapper's misstatements about the pledge. Yet Tapper falsely claims that "partisans" rely on the June 10, 2004, statement to argue that Bush promised to fire anyone who leaked Plame's identity.

Tapper then seemed to anticipate criticism of his flawed claim, writing:

Despite the snipes of organizations who try to raise money by hiring partisan hacks to find conservative media bias in every reporter's ampersand, this is not an attempt by a reporter to protect crimes, this is an attempt to be fair and ethical and to discern the truth.

We can only assume Tapper is referring to Media Matters. Tapper has previously accused us of "dishonesty" and "partisan martyrdom," which he says is an effort to fill our "professional coffers." He has said we are "clearly all-too-eager to engage in standards more fit to last-minute political attack ads than to fair and objective journalism." We addressed Tapper's previous insults here.

As for his latest: Media Matters has not accused Tapper of "conservative media bias" or of attempting to "protect crimes." We have pointed out his factual errors. We have not speculated about his motivation; we've merely shown that he is wrong.

We leave it to the reader to decide whether factual refutations of errors in journalism are properly described as "snipes" -- and to decide whether it is Media Matters or Tapper himself who should be described as a "hack" in pursuit of "martyrdom."

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