Thursday, October 27, 2005
“We’ve secretly replaced the White House press corps with actual reporters,” The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart quipped. And, lo, it appears to be true. On the issue of whether Karl Rove exposed the identity of Valerie Plame, the covert CIA operative married to Iraq War whistleblower Joseph Wilson, the White House press corps has suddenly come alive.
Following days of ferocious questioning, and repeated non-responses from White House Spokesman Scott McLellan—refusing to comment on an ongoing investigation—one reporter attempted to ask a stunningly simple question, bypassing the law, and asking about simple morality. “Does the President think Karl Rove did something wrong, or doesn’t he?” the reporter asked, only to get stonewalled again.
“I think we’ve exhausted discussion on this the last couple of days,” McClellan said, finally.
“You haven’t even scratched the surface,” the reporter replied.
That perspective would be heartily endorsed by David Swanson.
“The heart of the matter here is that the Bush Administration intended to deceive the public and Congress about the need for war,” said Swanson, who’s been working to break through a wall of media indifference to the Downing Street Memos—which revealed that the Bush and Blair administrations “sexed up” intelligence about Iraq’s military capabilities.
Suddenly, Swanson is not so alone. As the Republican machine predictably shifts into overdrive against Wilson, a few significant mainstream media voices have started pointing in a very different direction.
“Let me remind you that the underlying issue in the Karl Rove controversy is not a leak, but a war and how America was misled into that war,” wrote NPR’s Daniel Schorr in the Christian Science Monitor.
New York Times columnist Frank Rich also weighed in, airily dismissing the attacks on Wilson. “This case is not about Joseph Wilson,” Rich wrote, “He is, in Alfred Hitchcock’s parlance, a MacGuffin.... This case is about Iraq, not Niger. The real victims are the American people, not the Wilsons…this scandal is about the unmasking of an ill-conceived war, not the unmasking of a CIA operative.”
The rest of the media may take some time to come around. They are prisoners of deeply ingrained habits. But the connections are inescapable, and reporters are beginning to dig into the lead-up to the leak of Plame’s identity, which leads directly into the inner workings of the Bush/Cheney/Rove disinformation machine.
A front page Washington Post story this summer, “In Plame Leaks, Long Shadows,” not only examines the lead-up, but the subsequent cover-up as well, plus the strange contradiction that the administration was backing away from its uranium claims at the same time it was preparing to attack Wilson.
“In Washington, Rove and others were discrediting Wilson’s story even as then-CIA director George J. Tenet said that the yellow-cake allegation should never have been included in Bush’s speech,” the Post recalls. It also states unequivocally, “It is now clear: There has been an element of pretense to the White House strategy of dealing with the Plame case since the earliest days of the saga.”
Knight-Ridder and Gannet have consistently out-reported the Times and the Post on the realities of Iraq that contradict Bush rhetoric. A full-fledged competition to unearth the whole truth could entirely change the political atmosphere, which is already turning poisonous for Bush, with approval ratings in the mid-to-low 40s, and only 41 percent now regarding him as “honest and straightforward” in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Far fewer—just 25 percent—believe the White House is fully cooperating in the federal investigation of the leak of Plame’s identity. Bush originally promised to fire anyone involved in leaking, but now says he’ll only do it if a crime was committed.
“Put aside Mr. Wilson’s February 2002 trip to Africa,” Rich advises. “The plot that matters starts a month later, in March, and its omniscient author is Dick Cheney. It was Mr. Cheney (on CNN) who planted the idea that Saddam was ‘actively pursuing nuclear weapons at this time.’”
The logic of Rich’s advice appears compelling—it concerns the motive in outing Plame—and it leads inevitably back to the Downing Street Memos.
“The actions taken by Karl Rove and possibly others in the Bush Administration were one part of an extensive campaign to deceive the media and Congress and the American public about the war,” Swanson explains. “They did not go against Joseph Wilson because he offended someone’s ego, or showed up late for work. They went after Joe Wilson because he shot down their false claims about weapons of mass destruction and going to war, and that’s what the Downing Street Memos are about.”
In Watergate, the lesson taken was that the cover-up was more damaging than the crime. Right now, it seems that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is focusing on cover-ups—and possible perjury—over the outing of Plame. But as Swanson indicates, the entire Wilson/Plame affair is itself part of a cover-up. And the guilty party at the center of it all is not Karl Rove, but his political masters—George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Which is why there is such ferocity in the attacks against Joseph Wilson—trying to make the story all about him. It’s a strategy that’s worked countless times before. But Wilson is not like the other men Rove has maligned in the past.
Wilson was America’s last acting ambassador (charge d’affairs) to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, during the run-up to the first Gulf War, when Iraq was holding foreign citizens as hostages. On September 20, 1990, after receiving a demand that he turn over American citizens or face “capital punishment,” Wilson held a defiant press conference wearing a hangman’s noose in place of a tie.
The message to Saddam was simple, he explained: “If you want to execute me, I’ll bring my own fucking rope.” The next day, Saddam backed down.
When he returned to America, President George H.W. Bush treated him like a hero.
This time, Bush’s son has picked the wrong man to tangle with.
His party is now in full attack mode against Wilson. But perhaps they should ask Saddam how well that worked for him.
Paul Rosenberg is a staff writer at San Pedro’s Random Lengths, where this article first appeared.