Wednesday, January 04, 2006

NY TimesWatch: The False Whistleblower Meme Rides Again 

The Moron Watch is really getting tiresome this morning, but I suppose someone has to do it:

Given the Bush administration's appetite for leak investigations (three are under way), this seems a good moment to try to clear away the fog around this issue.

A democratic society cannot long survive if whistle-blowers are criminally punished for revealing what those in power don't want the public to know - especially if it's unethical, illegal or unconstitutional behavior by top officials.

You can set your watch by it... out comes the Fog Machine, full-force:

The longest-running of the leak cases involves Valerie Wilson, a covert C.I.A. operative whose identity was leaked to the columnist Robert Novak.

And why is this the "longest-running" of the leak cases? Because after years of investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and relentless distortion of the facts by the Times, the Affair Plame scorecard stands as follows:

- 0 indictments under the Intelligence Identities Protection act (the "leak" part)

- 0 proof that Ms. Plame was, in fact, "covert", or that the CIA ever affirmatively tried to keep her identity "secret" (is this so hard?)

- 1 NY Times reporter who lied to the prosecutor, spent 85 days in jail, still has not yielded up her other source, made misleading and inaccurate statements about things which are written right in her own notebook (which she says she "forgot", though she was sitting in jail for 85 days which seems plenty of time to "remember" such a detail), yet got off scot-free

- 1 WaPo reporter who apparently knew far more than he was telling but didn't "feel" like testifying and got off scot free

- 1 White House staffer who made misleading and inaccurate statements, has been working full time at a very busy job all this time, also claims to have a poor recollection. He, of course, is under indictment. But not for the crime that was originally being investigated.

Clarice Feldman neatly skewers the Times' position with deft snark:

...the New York Times’ ...doomed effort in the Plame case to argue there was a First Amendment right to refuse to respond to the subpoena issued by the Special Prosecutor. A Special Prosecutor whose appointment it had demanded to investigate the non-outing of a non-covert agent, a matter with absolutely no national security implications; a matter which was, in fact, not criminal at all.

As I noted here, the Times was in high dudgeon when they thought a White House aide trangressed against their sacred IIPO: a law it thought "an abomination that should be stricken from the books" when it was passed in 1982. A law that suddenly became a convenient tool for Speaking Truth to Power once a Republican administration seemed vulnerable. A law that...oopsie! all of a sudden didn't appear to have been violated when Judy Miller suddenly decided to go to jail rather than reveal her source:

Meanwhile, an even more basic issue has been raised in recent articles in The Washington Post and elsewhere: the real possibility that the disclosure of Ms. Plame's identity, while an abuse of power, may not have violated any law. Before any reporters are jailed, searching court review is needed to determine whether the facts indeed support a criminal prosecution under existing provisions of the law protecting the identities of covert operatives.

But Judy changed her mind again (those quaking aspens again!), prompting the NY Times editorial board to demonstrate a degree of nimbleness that would do credit to the most ardent devotee of the Kama Sutra. And so once more, the famed flexible urban sensibility of the Times thunders throughout the Land:

The Valerie Wilson case began with a cynical effort by the administration to deflect public attention from hyped prewar intelligence on Iraq. The leak inquiry in that case ended up targeting the press, and led to the jailing of a Times reporter...Leak investigations are often designed to distract the public from the real issues by blaming the messenger.

Holy Mackeral. Talk about the Mother of all Distractions!

According to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report, which has been banished from the pages of the NY Times (but which your hard-earned tax dollars paid for) Joseph Wilson lied about the following things:

- who recommended him for the junket (contrary to his assertions, it was his wife)
- who saw his report (according to sworn CIA testimony, his report was not shown to the White House because it "added nothing" to known intelligence
- whether it was even used in the SOTU address and in those "infamous 16 words" (it wasn't)
- whether Iraq, in fact, did try to get uranium from Niger:

The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts. And contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address.

Most unbiased observers (which seems to firmly rule out the NY Times) would conclude that since Joe Wilson has been shown to have lied on each and every one of these important allegations, he is, in fact, NOT a whistleblower since his allegations were untrue.

And in point of fact, had Ms. Plame in truth been a covert agent, the "outing" of her covert identity would have been a crime. Which would have made Judy Miller's refusal to cooperate with the investigation requested by the Times and other media sources aiding and abetting a criminal in the commission of a crime against the government of the United States. It's a good thing this was the Most Asinine Case of the Century - otherwise we might have been forced to take it all seriously.

Now the Times is bobbing and weaving again, refusing even to answer to its own public editor. But as Clarice notes, we can't all be reporters. Some of us have to be adults in life, and follow the rules:

As I understand their main contentions they are (a) these were not leakers, but “whistleblowers”, and (b) the case shows again the need for a federal law protecting journalists’ privilege. Both these argument are preposterous.

5 U.S.C. 1213 sets up the procedures by which federal whistleblowers are to proceed.

Complaints are to be filed with the Office of Special Counsel. If they are found to be of merit and they involve “foreign intelligence or counterintelligence information” and disclosure of information described in the complaint is “prohibited by law or by Executive order, the Special Counsel shall transmit such information to the National Security Advisor, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, and the Select Committee on Intelligence of the Senate.”

These are the very people, as it happens, that the President did fully inform of the program. There is simply no provision in the Act for calling New York Times reporters in lieu of the Office of Special Counsel.

As I've pointed out over and over again, the press are not above the law.

The First Amendment is not some uber-Federal Shield Law.

And the media are not our de facto unelected and unaccountable Fourth Branch of Government.

Not while I'm alive.


By Blogger Charlottesvillain, at Wed Jan 04, 12:00:00 PM:

I'm glad you still have the courage to peer at the NYT editoral page. I've lost my stomach for it. Starting each day trembling with rage is just incompatible with my current lifestyle.

Keep up the good work.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 04, 12:51:00 PM:

To quote myself (self-referentiality being a pre-requisite for bloggers),

"And they ask me why I drink..."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Jan 04, 01:38:00 PM:

"Timespeak" - "truth to power" by "none of the brave"

No AUTHOR/S NAMES are affixed to the "Timespeak" editorial.
So what is written to read as a courageous "truth speaking to power"
has been composted* by "none of the brave".

*originally a TYPO - BUT TOO APT TO CORRECT!

January 4, 2006
On the Subject of Leaks

Given the Bush administration's appetite for leak investigations (three are under way), this seems a good moment to try to clear away the fog around this issue.

A democratic society cannot long survive if whistle-blowers are criminally punished for revealing what those in power don't want the public to know - especially if it's unethical, illegal or unconstitutional behavior by top officials. Reporters need to be able to protect these sources, regardless of whether the sources are motivated by policy disputes or nagging consciences. This is doubly important with an administration as dedicated as this one is to extreme secrecy.

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 04, 02:04:00 PM:

What is it the Phrench say?

"It is to laugh..."


By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Wed Jan 04, 04:09:00 PM:

Hiya Hawkers,

Happy New Year and all that. I've been away too long!

Question: Why didn't the Bush administration start the leak investigation a year ago when they knew the NYT had the story? The leak investigation smells more like a way to rally folks like yourselves than like a genuine concern.

Should the press tell us that our government is monitoring millions of our telephone calls, internet communications, faxes, etc? NO. The Government should.

If they won't, then the press will have to do.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 04, 04:39:00 PM:


I've been wondering where you were.

First of all, where there is classified information involved and there is also a law against revealing it (and the leakers are BREAKING THE LAW in telling the press) then if the press accepts the leak, they are also BREAKING THE LAW.

The right answer is the SAME ONE my husband always gives when some Lance Corporal comes screaming into his office wanting to whine about something: have you talked to your Staff NCO or Sergeant yet?

"ummm... no."

"Why not?"

"Ummm. I dunno".

"How can he fix the problem if you don't give him the opportunity first? Did it ever occur to you that we have a system for these things?"

"Ummm... no".

"Go talk to your Sergeant. If he doesn't fix it, go to your Captain. If he doesn't fix it, go to the XO. If HE doesn't fix it THEN YOU CAN COME TO ME."

The right answer is, let people do their jobs. You don't go screaming to the top of the heap and you don't break the law because you've decided you are special and are anointed by the Almighty. They are doing exactly what YOU accuse Bush of doing. So what is YOUR justification for that?

Sorry. NO SALE.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Wed Jan 04, 04:41:00 PM:

Why didn't the Bush administration start the leak investigation a year ago when they knew the NYT had the story?

Because you know as well as I do that this would have drawn attention to the program Screwy.

That's kind of a silly question. You can't open a special prosecutor's office on the sly. Come on :)  

By Blogger Gordon Smith, at Thu Jan 05, 10:13:00 AM:

I'm guessing that there are plenty of internal investigations that have gone on without public knowledge. Unlike the Plame leak, which involved people who Bush interacts with regularly and who could have simly been asked about their actions by the President, the leak about the data-mining program is one that directly affects the civil liberties of every American.

Data-mining has been a poorly kept secret for years, so the NYT's reporting of it isn't exactly a breach. Echelon and systems like it have been very public in other nations. The European Union released reaults of an inquiry into it some years ago.

As evidenced by the Bush administration's penchant for avoiding congressional oversight (torture, secret prisons, WMD intelligence, etc.), this White House seeks more power than it's allowed. The free press is not a fourth branch of government, but it effectively acts as another check to governmental power. The 'revelation' of this program has not stopped it, but it has created the circumstances under which Congress and the judicial system can play their constitutional roles in balancing the power of the Executive.

The Plame leak was the executive branch selectively leaking information for political ends. Both instances are worth debate. The White House does not have carte blanche to act in any way it sees fit. There are laws to be followed, and the President took an oath to follow them.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Jan 05, 11:08:00 AM:

The broadcasting of programs like this drives communications underground that otherwise would not be conducted clandestinely and publicizes things that would not otherwise not be widely known: why else publicize them???.

Good question, no?

A question the Times management might want to ask itself.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Thu Jan 05, 11:11:00 AM:

And by the way, it has not been established that any laws have been broken, but it HAS been established that there IS a law in force whereby these types of things are to be handled and that LEAKS of classified information are ILLEGAL.

But you knew that, didn't you? You just don't really care. You will excuse any type of lawbreaking because you think the end justifies the means when it suits your side. This makes no sense to me, Screwy. You can't argue that it is OK to break the law when *you* say so.

On the other hand, the Times has not shown that the law has been broken yet.


Well I'm sorry. I don't.  

By Blogger Cardinalpark, at Fri Jan 06, 08:40:00 AM:

Screwy - one other response...you keep making references to "too much presidential power" without any relative references to our history. The current administration's executive power is miniscule compared to that of other presidents in American history in time of war. So your reference to an accumulation of executive power relative to congress is simply wrong factually. Again. Would you like more facts? Or do you know them already?  

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