'The Washington Post': At War With Itself
By Greg Mitchell
April 9, 2006
The newspaper's editorial page on Sunday declared Scooter Libby's notorious 2003 gift to reporters "The Good Leak." On the same paper's front page two reporters thoroughly debunked the notion.
(April 09, 2006) -- It's no secret that the Washington Post's editorial position and its news reporting often are not on the same page--in more ways than one. But rarely has that gulf seemed wider than in the Post's Sunday edition this week.
The editorial page, a co-producer and then staunch defender of the war in Iraq, declared in a headline on Sunday that the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) info "Scooter" Libby gave to reporters in 2003 was in reality "A Good Leak." The White House was not out to punish Ambassador Joe Wilson for raising doubts about pre-war intelligence; in fact, Wilson is the bad guy in this story for making false claims. Bush, in a sense, is the hero, for instantly declassifying the key NIE document--he was only out to inform the public. Now the poor guy, the Post complains, is the target of "hyperbolic charges of misconduct and hypocrisy" from the Democrats.
The Post editorial concludes, "It's unfortunate that those who seek to prove" that grounds for the war were bogus "now claim that Mr. Bush did something wrong by releasing for public review some of the intelligence he used in making his most momentous decision."
As often the case in Post editorials related to Iraq, reporting in the newspaper proves that much of the above is pure hogwash. This reality checking usually doesn't happen the very same day, however.
On page one on Sunday, Post reporters Bart Gellman and Dafna Linzer observed that Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald this week in his latest court filing had for the first time described a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" using classified information to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Wilson. "Bluntly and repeatedly, Fitzgerald placed Cheney at the center of that campaign," they write.
Fitzgerald said the grand jury has collected so much testimony and so many documents that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson."
Then, getting right to the point, the two reporters debunk their own paper's "public service" defense by observing "that the evidence Cheney and Libby selected to share with reporters had been disproved months before." Libby, allegedly at Cheney's direction, "sought out at least three reporters to bolster the discredited uranium allegation." In other words: Far from serving our citizens, the White House was misleading and manipulating them.
So, in summary, you can take NIE, replace the first letter with an "L," and you pretty much have it. But that doesn't bother the Post editorial page one bit. It calls it "A Good Leak."
Also, the NIE was not first published for public consumption but leaked to "friendly reporter" Judith Miller of The New York Times. Even then, Libby selectively quoted from the NIE, accentuating the part that seemed to bolster the Bush case and ignoring the doubts. This cherry-picking, in fact, mirrored the conduct of the administration (and the Post editorial page) during the entire run-up to the war.
In fact, the "good leak" amounted to this: "Unknown to the reporters, the uranium claim lay deeper inside the estimate, where it said a fresh supply of uranium ore would ‘shorten the time Baghdad needs to produce nuclear weapons.' But it also said U.S. intelligence did not know the status of Iraq's procurement efforts, ‘cannot confirm' any success and had ‘inconclusive' evidence about Iraq's domestic uranium operations." In other words: a big nothing.
The ThinkProgress.org web site published an analysis of the Post editorial on Sunday, saying the paper had to "mangle the facts" to make its Bush defense. Part of its analysis of the Post's claims:
CLAIM: There is no evidence of a White House effort to punish Wilson.
FACT: "Moreover, given that there is evidence that other White House officials with whom defendant (Libby) spoke prior to July 14, 2003 discussed Wilson's wife's employment with the press both prior to, and after, July 14, 2003... it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to ‘punish' Wilson." [Prosecutor Fitzgerald filing, pg. 29-30]
CLAIM: There was nothing "particularly" unusual about the leak.
FACT: "Defendant (Libby) testified that this July 8th meeting was the only time he recalled in his government experience when he disclosed a document to a reporter that was effectively declassified by virtue of the President's authorization that it be declassified." [Prosecutor Fitzgerald filing, pg. 23]
No wonder the Post, in today's editorial, calls Wilson's trip to Niger "absurdly over-examined." This is what people say when they want to change the subject instead of having to renew an indefensible position. The Post's editorial page has been wrong from the start on Iraq so we must at least applaud its consistency.
Greg Mitchell (email@example.com) is editor of E&P.