Fox News' Complicated Relationship With Leak Investigations

Laura Ingraham Gets Amnesia About Valerie Plame Inquiry

Deeply concerned about the state of the Justice Department in the wake of revelations that it had seized phone records from journalists as part of national security leak investigations, Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham on Sunday complained Republican critics were being accused of partisan “overreach” in their attacks. Referencing the previous Bush administration and its famous leak investigation, Ingraham asked on June 2, “How many times did we hear about overreach in the Valerie Plame prosecution? I don't remember one time.”

Thinking back, Ingraham can't remember “one time” when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was accused of “overreach” as he set out to investigate the unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee's identity by what was eventually revealed to be high-ranking Bush administration officials. That's odd, because Fox News was relentless in its criticism of Fitzgerald, and often loudly lobbed the very specific allegation that he was guilty of prosecutorial overreach.

Viewed today through the Fox News prism, the Plame investigation represents a prime example of when “the mainstream media chose fiction over fact and politics over principle,” according to Sean Hannity. In other words, the Plame investigation was portrayed by Fox News and the right-wing media as a colossal waste of time and denounced as the "criminalization" of politics. The whole fact-finding mission resembled a “witch hunt,” as Hannity suggested, with Fitzgerald starring as  “the Captain Ahab of the case,” according to Fox's Charles Krauthammer.

In fact, when Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff I. Scooter Libby was convicted on March 6, 2007 of lying to the grand jury investigating the Plame case, as well as convicted of obstructing justice by lying to FBI agents, Ingraham herself appeared on Fox and called the verdict “one of the greatest miscarriages of justice that I've seen here in Washington in quite some time.” She blamed “overzealous prosecutors” for the Republican mess and denounced the investigation as “typical Washington 'gotcha' politics.”

Yet with Obama's Department of Justice now taking on criticism for its media leak inquiries, Ingraham suddenly wants viewers to think conservatives were mute back when an investigator put the Bush administration under the microscope, as she draws a complete blank trying to recall anyone who launched attacks at the Plame inquiry.

The Fox hypocrisy isn't necessarily surprising, but it is helpful in providing context as conservative messengers in the media do their best to ramp up continued Obama “scandal” coverage. It also illustrates Fox's complicated relationship with classified leak investigations. Namely, for years it denounced Obama for not strenuously perusing them. Yet Fox is now strenuously denounces Obama for pursuing leaks too aggressively.

Also, note that while Fox chief Roger Ailes' recent chest-pounding memo saluted the First Amendment and condemned what he called the administration's attempt to “criminalize” journalism via leak investigations, in the past Ailes' Fox has openly lobbied for the prosecution of American journalists who published classified disclosures.

In June 2006, the New York Times detailed a secret Bush administration program designed to monitor international financial transactions. Rather than stand by reporters, Fox and friends tarred the Times as traitorous and suggested journalists face jail time. “I think the attorney general has an absolute obligation to consider prosecution here,” William Kristol said on Fox News in the wake of the Times story.

More recently, Fox lashed out at the Obama administration for allegedly disclosing classified information to the New York Times about the U.S.'s efforts to wage cyber warfare on Iran, and urged criminal action and a special prosecutor. The leak “was extremely damaging to the United States of America and whoever did it should go to prison for a long time,” claimed Bill O'Reilly, while Hannity said the leaks constituted a “state of emergency.”

But the Fox News talkers had no such concern with the Bush-era leak investigation surrounding the Plame affair. Not at all concerned with prosecuting either White House aides who had leaked classified information or the journalists who published it, the Fox team thought any effort to identify the Plame leaker constituted a monumental misuse of time.

That scandal sprang from the fact a senior member of the Bush administration leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Plame allegedly in an attempt to retaliate against her husband, a former U.S. ambassador who'd published a New York Times op-ed that undermined a key argument Republicans had made for the case for war with Iraq. Namely, that Saddam Hussein, on the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, had tried to purchase “yellow cake” refined uranium from Niger.

After Plame's husband Joe Wilson criticized Bush's WMD claim, the White House responded with a "concerted effort" to “discredit, punish, or seek revenge against” Wilson. Libby leaked Plame's identity to a reporter. So did Karl Rove.

The stampede of Fox News commentators denouncing Fitzgerald's work in every way possible was relentless:  

  • Fox's Hannity: “Now the tragic outcome of the media's rush to judgment was that innocent men inside the White House took the blame.” (Emphasis added.)
  • Fox's Fred Barnes: "The Plame scandal was Washington at its worst. It was the media out of control, relentlessly pursuing a story in scorched-earth fashion."
  • Fox's Monica Crowley: "“Look, in the Valerie Plame thing, the left pounded Cheney and they pounded Scooter Libby, and they ended up prosecuting Libby over nothing.”
  • Fox's Charles Krauthammer:  “I think it shows the danger of runaway prosecutors. You have is a system that essentially creates a crime in the search of a nonexistent crime.”

And then there was Ingraham, who insisted the Plame investigation “should have been shut down, and Patrick Fitzgerald should have gone on his merry way to prosecute other people.”

But remember, Ingraham can't recall “one time” when Fitzgerald  was accused of “overreach.” Her convenient amnesia confirms Fox News' complicated relationship with leak investigations.