Limbaugh advanced claim that Plame's identity was “known by everybody”

On the October 7 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show, Rush Limbaugh repeated the baseless assertion that the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame was “known to everybody” prior to a July 14, 2003, column by syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak exposing her as “an Agency operative.” But this claim is contradicted by several of Plame's neighbors and friends who have stated in news reports that they became aware of her CIA employment only upon reading Novak's column.

For example, a July 5 New York Times article quoted David Tillotson and Christopher Wolf on their reaction to learning that Plame was a covert CIA operative. Both Tillotson and Wolf are longtime neighbors of Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV:

On June 1, after a year's unpaid leave, Ms. Wilson, now known to the country by her maiden name, Valerie Plame, returned to a new job at the Central Intelligence Agency, determined to get her career back on track, her husband said. Neither the agency nor Mr. Wilson would describe her position, except to make what might seem an obvious point: she will no longer be working under cover, as she did successfully for almost 20 years.

“Before this whole affair, no one would ever have thought of her as an undercover agent,” said David Tillotson, a next-door neighbor for seven years who got to know the Wilsons well over back-fence chats, shared dinners and play dates for their grandchildren with the Wilsons' children, Trevor and Samantha.

“She wasn't mysterious,” Mr. Tillotson said. “She was sort of a working soccer mom.”

He recalled his incredulity on July 14, 2003, when his wife, Victoria, spotted in The Washington Post, in a syndicated column by Robert Novak, a line identifying their neighbor by her maiden name and calling her an “agency operative.” Ms. Tillotson kept calling out: “This can't be! This can't be!”

The Wilsons' neighbor on the other side, Christopher Wolf, was similarly aghast. As he sat on his deck staring at the Novak column, Mr. Wilson came out his back door.

“I said: 'This is amazing! I had no idea,”' Mr. Wolf recalled. “He sort of motioned to me to keep my voice down.”

And in a July 25 op-ed in USA Today, Wolf wrote that he had thought Plame was a consultant:

When I first met Joe and Valerie, I quickly got to the classic Washington question: What do you do? Joe explained that he was a former ambassador to a number of African countries, who had worked in both the Bush I and Clinton administrations.

Valerie's answer was more than a little vague. She quickly said she was a consultant. As a fourth-generation Washingtonian, I have learned that when someone says, “I'm a consultant,” that is a cue to back off, as it usually means the person is unemployed or “between engagements.”

So, from 1998 to July 14, 2003, we were simply neighbors sharing cookouts. ...

That surprise was nothing compared with the shock I experienced 10 days later. On that sunny Monday morning, I was sitting outside at the table on my deck, having breakfast and reading The Washington Post. When I turned to the op-ed pages, I noticed a column by Novak entitled “Mission to Niger,” addressing Joe's op-ed the previous week. I was stunned to read that “Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction,” citing two administration officials as sources.


As I finished reading the column, Joe ventured out onto his deck and offered a neighborly hello. I held up the paper and yelled over, “I had no idea about Valerie!” Joe looked stricken and gestured to me to keep my voice down. I immediately realized the “outing” of Valerie as a covert CIA operative had had a devastating effect on the Wilson family.

An October 8, 2003, Washington Post article further reported that many of Plame's acquaintances did not know of her status as a CIA operative:

Friends and neighbors knew Valerie Wilson as a consultant who traveled frequently overseas. They describe her as charming, bright and discreet. “She did not talk politics,” said Victoria Tillotson, 58, who has often socialized with the Wilsons.

“I thought she was a risk assessment person for some international investment company,” said Ralph Wittenberg, a psychiatrist who chairs the nonprofit Family Mental Health Foundation, where Valerie Wilson is a board member. In recent years, he said, Valerie Wilson has been an “unstinting” volunteer, running peer support groups for women who suffered from postpartum depression, as she had.

“I would never have guessed in a million years” that she was a spy, Wittenberg said.

Another acquaintance active in raising awareness of postpartum depression, Jane Honikman, briefly contemplated the image of Valerie Wilson slinging an AK-47 assault rifle. “I can't imagine her holding anything other than a spoon, or a baby,” she said.

Limbaugh made the claim while quoting a recent Associated Press article on the CIA leak scandal. When the article mentioned Plame, Limbaugh claimed that her “identity was known to everybody before all this anyway.” He then explained, “I added that last part to make the story true and factual and more complete.”

Media Matters for America previously noted that in two editorials in July, The Washington Times made similar claims about Plame's covert status being well known, although the newspaper's own reporting contradicted this assertion.

From the October 7 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:

LIMBAUGH: Let me give you some facts about this. Karl Rove asked to testify. He is not a target as it stands now. But even at this, the AP writes, it writes it this way: “In an 11th-hour legal maneuver, fraught with risk, Rove struck a deal with prosecutors to testify for a fourth and probably final time in the investigation into the leak of the identity of CIA officer, Valerie Plame, whose identity was known by everybody before all this anyway.” I added that last part to make the story true and factual and more complete.