Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, July 25, 2003
Plame Wars

The number of Google pages on Valerie Plame is now double what it was when I tried only a few days ago - 78 actually displayed from 39. The actual hits have increased by more, but the percentage is smaller. Due to the mysteries of Google ranking, this blog is in the highly desirable #3 position, which has given me dozens of hits today. There are a few extra accounts in mainstream media, including this very brief and uninformative reference by Howard Kurtz, the only reference to appear to date in the Post. Still not a word in the news columns of the Post, Times, or WSJ.

Conservatives remain mostly quiet. This attack on Wilson is so over the top nutty that I had to check other material at the site to convince myself that it was a real right wing crackpot and not a liberal satire. Donald Luskin writes an odd post which also seeks to blame Wilson:

Who outed her, the White House or the CIA? Both. Both are understandably furious with Wilson -- the White House for the embarrassment he has caused and for what they see as his disingenuous and partisan statements in the media. But outing Ms. Plame was not to punish Wilson, but to refute him: Ms. Plame's involvement in Wilson's selection for the Niger assignment trivializes him, makes him seem less an expert and more of a hack on a nepotistic boondoggle. The administration officials who spoke to the press probably weren't even thinking about outing Ms. Plame, as such -- after all, Wilson had effectively already done that when he outed himself by going public with his CIA-sponsored work. And therein lies the reason why the CIA is furious at Wilson -- what he has done is an enormous breach or protocol and security.

But Wilson revealed very little when he went public on his trip to Naimey. After all, he has been an ambassador and a senior State Department bureaucrat. For those jobs he had to be publicly nominated and approved by the Senate. Wilson's connections to the US government were easily discoverable for anybody who wanted to know them, and surely all intelligence agencies already had a dossier of some sort on him. Based on publicly available records, as I've said before, his experience in both Iraq and West Africa made him a natural selection for the assignment.

Luskin's posts make a real effort to be honest, but you can see the conservative blinders holding off reality. In an earlier item, which he has now been honest enough to substantially back away from, Luskin goes after Paul Krugman:

I smell another New York Times retraction coming up. And a big one. Paul Krugman has made a statement in his Times column today which -- if it had been directed against a private individual rather than public officials -- would almost certainly trigger a libel suit. It's an extraordinarily serious allegation, tantamount to accusing Bush administration officials of treason.

There can't be a libel suit since the charge was not made against a specific person. More to the point, there hasn't even been a denial, although the White House press corps has repeatedly invited McClellan to issue one. Luskin also makes the unintentionally amusing observation: "I can't imagine how a scandal-crazed press could not be spreading this story all over the front page every day -- it's certainly been a topic at White House press briefings." You can almost hear Luskin's thoughts: "How is this possible? The media jumped all over scandals much less significant to get Clinton. Why it's almost as if the press doesn't really have a liberal bias. And I know that isn't possible. Can't allow mere evidence to shake that doctrine. It has to just be a mysterious, inexplicable event, like the records that showed Bush completing his National Guard duty for not existing for some unknown reason."

Bloggers Minuteman from the right and Mark Kleiman from the left have both written extensively and well about this topic and are must reads for anybody following it closely.

The topic was raised again at the White House press briefing, with very similar non-answers from McClellan. The White House flatly refuses to deny that its senior officials have violated national security and committed a felony. The media continues to regard this as not a story.

McClellan says that the White House doesn't know anything, which is natural enough because, as he admits, they've made no effort to learn anything. He says there are no grounds for an investigation because, as long as any investigation is carefully avoided, he has no evidence that anybody in the White House is guilty. As for the fact that the White House does have something to investigate, since a crime of revealing the identity of an undercover agent has been committed, some of the small number of people who knew the information and could have potentially been the guilty party are close to the President, and a prominent conservative journalist has explicitly said that the deed was done by two senior administration officials, McClellan has nothing to say.

It reminds me of an explanation I once saw from a tabloid editor about a story he had printed - in this case I believe it was that NASA had located WW II bombers on the moon. He explained that it was company policy not to investigate those stories - the ones that they knew were obviously fake - too closely. If they investigated, after all, they'd find out it was false. But as long as they didn't investigate, they didn't actually know it was false. And, as long as it might hypothetically be true, the story was OK to print.

Why does the White House go to considerable lengths to act guilty? Perhaps they're just praying this will go away, and figure that announcing an official investigation would just draw attention to a story that the press is generally ignoring. But as Bush is learning in Iraq, optimism is a poor substitute for a plan.

A formal inquiry in Congress now appears likely, although the dangers to Bush from this look small. As an intelligence matter, the inquiry is likely to be held in private, and both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are headed by loyalists who won't rock the boat in an election year.