“Media Matters,” week ending July 15, 2005; by Jamison Foser

The New York Times reported on July 14: “Mr. Bush's comment came nearly two years after he suggested that he would fire anyone in his administration who had knowingly leaked the identity of the operative, Valerie [Plame] Wilson.” The Washington Post reported the same day, “The White House had declared that Rove was not involved in Plame's unmasking, and, when the controversy broke in the summer of 2003, Bush said he would fire anyone who illegally outed a CIA official.”

Week ending July 15, 2005

*** Special Edition: Media treats Plamegate facts as a “double super secret” ***

This week:

Media waters down White House's broad promise to fire anyone involved in Plame leak

NY Times, CNN ignore Rove's previous denials of Plame leak

Plame's name, and other red herrings

It's super-double-secret information for a reason: Outing covert agents has consequences

Who are Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova?

Another error for “Bob No Facts”

Media waters down White House's broad promise to fire anyone involved in Plame leak

The New York Times reported on July 14: “Mr. Bush's comment came nearly two years after he suggested that he would fire anyone in his administration who had knowingly leaked the identity of the operative, Valerie [Plame] Wilson.” The Washington Post reported the same day, “The White House had declared that Rove was not involved in Plame's unmasking, and, when the controversy broke in the summer of 2003, Bush said he would fire anyone who illegally outed a CIA official.”

ABC's Jake Tapper made a similar claim:

TAPPER: Today, for the first time since Karl Rove was named as a reporter's source, [former ambassador Joseph C.] Wilson called upon the president to fire him.

WILSON (clip): But for the president to honor his word, that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak.

TAPPER: But the president never said he would fire “anybody involved in the leak.” For him, it has been all about the law.

But the Times, the Post, Tapper, and other news outlets are wrong. White House officials have made broad promises to fire anyone who had anything to do with outing Plame, as Media Matters has noted:

White House press secretary Scott McClellan explicitly stated in a September 29, 2003, press conference that Bush would fire anyone involved in outing an undercover CIA operative. McClellan did not hinge dismissal on criminal or intentional action:

Q: Scott, has anyone -- has the president tried to find out who outed the CIA agent? And has he fired anyone in the White House yet?

McCLELLAN: Well, Helen, that's assuming a lot of things. First of all, that is not the way this White House operates. The president expects everyone in his administration to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. No one would be authorized to do such a thing.


McCLELLAN: The president has set high standards, the highest of standards for people in his administration. He's made it very clear to people in his administration that he expects them to adhere to the highest standards of conduct. If anyone in this administration was involved in it, they would no longer be in this administration.

Bush himself stated on September 30, 2003, that he would “take appropriate action” against “anybody in my administration who leaked classified information.”

Neither McClellan nor Bush said anything about “knowingly” leaking information; nor did they stipulate that a conviction must occur before a firing. And with good reason: An inadvertent leak that doesn't lead to conviction is still a serious matter. It still is, after all, the disclosure of classified information. Whether the disclosure was due to malice or carelessness, it still suggests that the leaker may not be capable of keeping classified information secure.

Indeed, according to a fact sheet produced by House Government Reform & Oversight Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman (D-CA), “Mr. Rove would be subject to the loss of his security clearance or dismissal even for 'negligently' disclosing Ms. Wilson's identity” under the provisions of his Classified Information Nondisclosure Agreement. The agreement prohibits even confirmation of classified information -- meaning that the excuse that Rove merely confirmed what Novak already knew may not fly.

But regardless of the reason for the administration's broad promise to fire anyone involved in outing Plame, one thing is clear: That is exactly what Bush and his staff promised.

NY Times, CNN ignore Rove's previous denials of Plame leak

The New York Times reported:

The Rove-Novak exchange also leaves Mr. McClellan, the White House spokesman, in an increasingly awkward situation. Two years ago he repeatedly assured reporters that neither Mr. Rove nor several other administration officials were responsible for the leak.

But the Times makes no mention of the fact that Rove, too, is in an “increasingly awkward situation” as a result of his own assurances to reporters -- and the American people -- that he had nothing to do with the Plame leak.

In September 2003, Rove flatly denied having any knowledge of the leak, as ABC's “The Note” reported:

This morning, ABC News producer Andrea Owen happened to find herself near Karl Rove (who was walking to his car), and an ABC camera.

Owen: “Did you have any knowledge or did you leak the name of the CIA agent to the press?”

Rove: “No.”

In an August 31, 2004, interview with CNN's John King, Rove repeated his claim that he didn't know Valerie Plame's name:

KING: [unintelligible] ... administration officials who have been questioned in this whole investigation, did someone in the White House leak the name of the CIA operative? What is your assessment of the status of the investigation, and can you tell us that you had nothing to do with --

ROVE: Well, I'll repeat what I said to ABC News when this whole thing broke some number of months ago. I didn't know her name. I didn't leak her name. This is at the Justice Department. I'm confident that the U.S. Attorney, the prosecutor who's involved in looking at this is going to do a very thorough job of doing a very substantial and conclusive investigation.

It is increasingly clear that Rove lied both times; he did have knowledge of Plame, and he did know her name. And CNN, at least, has video of that lie -- yet it has been oddly absent from the channel's stories about the latest revelations about what Rove knew and when he knew it. And the Times ignored it completely, focusing only on the “awkward” situation McClellan is in because of his apparently false statements that Rove had no involvement in the leak. But what of Rove's “awkward” situation? He, too, apparently lied to reporters, and to the American people.

Plame's name, and other red herrings

Again and again and again, news outlets and pundits have repeated the bogus claim by Rove defenders that he is not in legal jeopardy unless he revealed not just Valerie Plame's identity, but her name as well.

David Gergen did it at least three times in 48 hours on CNN and MSNBC, claiming “as long as he didn't put the name out, I don't think he has a legal problem.” ABC's Jake Tapper said much the same thing: “To have broken the law, Rove, or anyone else, would have had to have named Valerie Plame”

Neither Gergen nor Tapper told viewers what they were basing this absurd claim on, but we know it clearly wasn't the text of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which doesn't use the word “name” a single time, but does make three separate references to “any information identifying” a covert agent. The law is quite clear; intentionally revealing any information identifying a covert agent is illegal.

Which shouldn't be surprising. If Rove had handed Bob Novak a photograph of Valerie Plame, with her Social Security number, home address, telephone number, and favorite flavor of ice cream written beneath it, would Gergen and Tapper claim that he was in no jeopardy because he hadn't said her name? That's absurd on its face -- and yet, that is what media figures who focus on whether Rove used Plame's name are suggesting. It isn't supported by the text of the law, and it isn't supported by common sense.

Another frequent spin point used by Rove's defenders, and repeated by reporters, is that Valerie Plame's status as a covert operative wasn't a secret. As Bruce Sanford, who helped write the IIPA, said on CNN, “She really had a desk job at Langley [site of the CIA's Virginia headquarters] and was driving in and out of the CIA every day. That's not exactly deep cover.” The “she worked at Langley, therefore she couldn't have been covert” talking point has been omnipresent over the past few days, repeated by conservative activists, Republican officials, and media figures.

But is it true? We have no idea how many CIA operatives with covert status are in and out of Langley each day. Rove's defenders would have us believe that being covert and going to Langley are fundamentally incompatible. So here's a suggestion for some enterprising reporter: Call the CIA. Ask them if covert agents ever come to Langley. They probably won't answer, so ask them this: Would the agency support legislation that would automatically strip covert status from any agent who sets foot on the grounds of CIA headquarters at Langley?

The “Plame wasn't covert because she went to Langley” misinformation wasn't the worst distortion of her status, though. The Associated Press falsely reported that Joe Wilson “acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her.” The AP article cited a CNN interview with Wilson in which Wilson did nothing of the kind.

It is clear from the transcript of the interview that Wilson did not “acknowledge” that his wife was no longer undercover at the time of Novak's column; he said she was no longer undercover because of Novak's column:

BLITZER: But the other argument that's been made against you is that you've sought to capitalize on this extravaganza, having that photo shoot with your wife, who was a clandestine officer of the CIA, and that you've tried to enrich yourself writing this book and all of that.

What do you make of those accusations, which are serious accusations, as you know, that have been leveled against you.

WILSON: My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity.

BLITZER: But she hadn't been a clandestine officer for some time before that?

WILSON: That's not anything that I can talk about. And, indeed, I'll go back to what I said earlier, the CIA believed that a possible crime had been committed, and that's why they referred it to the Justice Department.

She was not a clandestine officer at the time that that article in Vanity Fair appeared.

Blitzer was asking Wilson about a frequent misleading refrain from conservatives that, because Plame posed for a Vanity Fair photo shoot, she couldn't have been trying to keep her identity secret. This is, of course, absurd; the photo shoot happened after she was outed in Novak's column. That's what Wilson was saying to Blitzer: The photo shoot didn't matter, because his wife ceased being clandestine once Novak wrote his column outing her.

The AP eventually corrected its error, but not before its mistaken interpretation was [anchor to “Though the AP ran a correction”]repeated by other news organizations.

It's super-double-secret information for a reason: Outing covert agents has consequences

Too often lost amid the irrelevant noise about whether Rove said Plame's name, whether he was trying to warn reporters away from incorrect stories, or how often Valerie Plame went to Langley, is any substantive discussion of the consequences of Plame's outing. Covert agents, after all, are covert for a reason, and disclosing their identity has real-world implications.

In October 2003, Time magazine reported that Plame was a “CIA spy tracking weapons of mass destruction (WMD).” Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski told Time, “Her career as an undercover operative is over. ... She will no longer be safe traveling overseas.” In other words, the outing cost the CIA an intelligence asset -- and may have put Plame's life at risk.

But that's not all, as Time explained:

[I]n this case, the officer was one who was working on the most vital security issue of all, the proliferation of WMD. At a time when good intelligence and successful spying has never been more essential to the nation's defense, the deliberate unmasking of a spy sent shudders through the secret web of spooks worldwide. When a U.S. operative is unmasked, foreign spy agencies go back, retrace his steps, review his contacts and try to figure out how the CIA operated in their country. “Anyone who was seen with her overseas is tainted now,” warns a former officer who knew Plame. “If she went to the grocery store and talked to the grocer, people will say, 'I wonder if he was working for her?'”

In Plame's case, the damage may go even deeper. Plame was an NOC, meaning she did her job overseas under nonofficial cover and not out of an embassy or government office. Many in her family did not know she worked for the agency. Such unofficial covers are often with private companies to further disguise an operative's real work. Plame had worked with Brewster Jennings & Associates, an obscure energy firm that may have been a CIA front company. Deep covers take time, luck and work to develop; the outing of an NOC also blows the cover of the involved business or private entity.

Maybe that's why former President (and Director of Central Intelligence) George H. W. Bush said at the 1999 dedication of a CIA building named for him, “I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.” And why then-RNC chairman Ed Gillespie conceded in a 2003 interview with MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews that the outing of Valerie Plame would be “worse than Watergate”:

GILLESPIE: I think if the allegation is true, to reveal the identity of an undercover CIA operative is abhorrent. And it should be a crime and it is a crime.

MATTHEWS: It would be worse than Watergate, wouldn't it?

GILLESPIE: You know, I just -- yes, I suppose in terms of the real-world implications of it.


GILLESPIE: It is not just politics. It is people's lives...

We've recently noted the media's failure to scrutinize the consequences of Bush administration misdeeds; examining the extent of the damage done by outing Plame would be a good place to start. Were the covers of others who worked with Plame at Brewster Jennings also blown? How many were affected? How many sources dried up as a result? How long did it take to undo the damage -- if it has yet been undone? How much taxpayer money was spent fixing the damage done by the leak?

Who are Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova?

Lawyers (and spouses) Victoria Toensing and Joseph E. diGenova have frequently been called on by news outlets to provide analysis of the Plame matter; both have been reliable voices in defense of the Bush White House, often with vague descriptions like "legal analyst" that do little to help viewers assess their credibility.

Toensing isn't an impartial observer or a neutral expert. She's a former staffer to Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater, a former Reagan administration official, and a House Republican staffer in the late 1990s. She was appointed to the Law Enforcement Commission by Newt Gingrich; she is a former chair of the Republican Women's Task Force.

Nor is Toensing's husband and law partner, diGenova, the impartial observer he has been portrayed as. He has extensive experience in Republican politics, having worked for Republicans in both the House and the Senate, and as an official in the Reagan administration. He is a member of the Legal Advisory Council of the National Legal Center for the Public Interest, a right-wing organization that counts Caspar Weinberger, C. Boyden Gray, Kenneth Starr, and Ted Olson among its leadership. diGenova serves on the board of the Washington Legal Foundation, another conservative group whose leadership has included former Republican Party chairmen Haley Barbour and Frank Fahrenkopf; Swift Boat and Bush-Cheney lawyer Benjamin Ginsberg; Olson, and Starr.

As Media Matters has noted, Toensing and diGenova are also personal friends of Bob Novak.

Another error for “Bob No Facts”

Speaking of Novak, why is he still taken seriously? Why is he still employed by CNN and printed by countless newspapers across the country? Even if he did absolutely nothing unethical in the Plame matter, one thing is increasingly clear: he's wrong an awful lot of the time, earning his longtime nickname "Bob No Facts."

Novak reported a week ago that Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was prepared to submit his resignation as soon as President Bush returned to the country later that day -- going so far as to give the precise time of day when Bush's plane was to land. Novak's report was widely cited by other news organizations, but appears to be just the latest in a long line of Novak misinformation, as Rehnquist released a statement saying “I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement.”

Jamison Foser is Executive Vice President at Media Matters for America.