Don’t Hold Your Breath

Untitled document

Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard has a rogues gallery of bad actors in the "Plamegate" non-scandal. It is quite amusing to see it all laid out in a national publication. But even Barnes acknowledges it would be unwise to wait for any of these folks to actually apologize. Or for the media to examine its own role in constructing the whole house of cards.

So instead of Cheney or Rove or Libby, the perennial targets of media wrath, the Plamegate Hall of Shame consists of favorites of the Washington elite and the mainstream press. The reaction, therefore, has been zero outrage and minimal coverage. The appropriate step for the press would be to investigate and then report in detail how it got the story so wrong, just as the New York Times and other media did when they reported incorrectly that WMD were in Saddam's arsenal in Iraq. Don't hold your breath for this.

Not everyone got the story wrong. The Senate Intelligence Committee questioned Wilson under oath. It found that, contrary to his claims, his wife had indeed arranged for the CIA to send him to Niger in 2002. It found that his findings had not, contrary to Wilson's claim, circulated at the highest levels of the administration. And Bush's 16 words in the State of the Union to the effect that British intelligence believed Saddam had sought uranium in Africa–words Wilson insisted were fictitious–had been twice confirmed as true by none other than the British government.

Worse, Wilson failed in the single reason for his trip to Niger: to ferret out the truth about whether Iraq had sought uranium there. Wilson said no, dismissing a visit by Iraqis in 1999. But journalist Christopher Hitchens learned the trade mission was led by an important Iraqi nuclear diplomat. And uranium, of course, was the only thing Niger had to trade.

The fascination in Washington with the idea of a White House conspiracy to ruin Plame's career and punish Wilson never made sense. If there had been one, it had to be the most passive conspiracy in history. The suspected mastermind was Rove, the Bush political adviser. But all Rove did was to acknowledge off-handedly to two reporters that he'd heard that Wilson's wife, whose name he didn't know, was a CIA employee. And the two reporters were more likely to agree with Wilson about the war in Iraq than with the Bush administration. The conspiracy charge, the Post rightly concluded, was "untrue."

A few diehards in the media have tried to keep the conspiracy notion alive. Michael Isikoff of Newsweek asserts that what Armitage did and what Rove did were separate, and thus a White House smear campaign could still have gone on. Yes, but it didn't. Jeff Greenfield of CNN recalled a Post story in September 2003 that said "two top White House officials" had contacted six reporters "and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." But the Post itself has in effect repudiated this dubious story.

There are, of course, any number of people still trying to flog this mess back to life. But even with Baron Samedi in the graveyard at midnight, I suspect this is one zombie that will not get brought to life. The press is already humiliated. It will not cooperate with the zealots on this any longer.

UPDATE: Tigerhawk and a detailed analysis on possible explanations on why Powell and Armitage did not come forward and stop this thing in its tracks.

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