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Time reporters deceived readers about Rove's role in Plamegate
Media Matters
Media Matters February 07, 2006

Summary: At least three reporters involved in an October 2003 Time magazine article that suggested Karl Rove was no longer under suspicion of outing Valerie Plame, and that contained Scott McClellan's denial that Rove was involved, knew at the time of the article that Rove had, in fact, outed Plame.

On October 13, 2003, Time magazine ran an article that included a quote from White House press secretary Scott McClellan insisting that White House senior adviser Karl Rove had nothing to do with outing undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame. As Media Matters for America has previously noted, at least two Time editorial employees involved in the article knew McClellan's denial was false: correspondent Matthew Cooper and Washington bureau chief Michael Duffy. Cooper knew the denial was false because Rove had outed Plame to him. Duffy knew the denial was false because Cooper had sent him an email relating what Rove had told him.

Former Time White House correspondent John Dickerson, in a first-person account of his knowledge of the Plame matter, now acknowledges that he, too, knew that Rove was Cooper's source well before the October 2003 article -- an article on which he, like Cooper, received reporting credit.

Dickerson, now Slate.com's chief political correspondent, wrote a February 7 article in which he described being on a July 2003 presidential trip to Africa when two senior Bush administration officials, speaking to him on background, criticized former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who had gone on a 2002 mission to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there. On July 6, 2003, The New York Times ran an op-ed by Wilson in which he challenged claims made by the administration in making its case for the Iraq war. According to Dickerson, the officials encouraged Dickerson to look into who sent Wilson to Niger. In his Slate article, Dickerson described a conversation he had with Cooper shortly after speaking with the Bush officials:

It had been a long week. I was co-writing a long story on the trip for the European edition, filing each day to the Web site and also filing for the domestic cover story on the fallout over the 16 words. Oh, and I also had to file a story on violence in Liberia. My inbox was a mess. In the middle of it was an e-mail from Matt Cooper telling me to call him from a land line when I had some privacy. At some time after 1 p.m. his time, I called him. He told me that he had talked to Karl Rove that morning and that Rove had given him the same Wilson takedown I'd been getting in Uganda. But Matt had the one key fact I didn't: Rove had said that Wilson's wife sent him.

So, in July 2003, Time reporters Cooper, Duffy, and Dickerson all knew that Rove had outed Plame. But three months later, all three of them helped produce a Time article (Duffy received a byline; the others were credited with having contributed to the reporting) that falsely suggested that Rove had nothing to do with it:

When word spread last week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was launching a full criminal probe into who had leaked Plame's identity, Democrats immediately raised a public alarm: How could Justice credibly investigate so secretive an Administration, especially when the investigators are led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose former paid political consultant Karl Rove was initially accused by Wilson of being the man behind the leak? A TIME review of federal and state election records reveals that Ashcroft paid Rove's Texas firm $746,000 for direct-mail services in two gubernatorial campaigns and one Senate race from 1984 through 1994. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said accusations of Rove's peddling information are "ridiculous." Says McClellan: "There is simply no truth to that suggestion."

Cooper, Duffy, and Dickerson all knew McClellan's statement was false. But despite that knowledge, they participated in the publication of an article containing that quote, with no indication that it was untrue. They participated in the publication of that article, which, in reporting that "Rove was initially accused by Wilson of being the man behind the leak," implied that Rove was no longer under suspicion -- even though they all knew that Rove was, in fact, Cooper's source.

Further, the October 2003 article was not the last Dickerson would write about Rove's possible involvement in outing Plame. Dickerson co-wrote a January 12, 2004, Time article (subscription required) with fellow reporter Viveca Novak:

If there are culprits in the White House who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, they may now be dependent on reporters to protect their identities. ... Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the probe last week, and federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago was appointed to head it up. It's still likely that no charges will be filed when the investigation winds down. Whatever the outcome, it will test the adage that, in politics, the cover-up is more damaging than the crime.

Dickerson knew at the time there was no question of whether there were "culprits" in the White House who outed Plame. He knew there was at least one, and he knew who it was. Yet he told readers it was an open question and that no charges were likely.

In addition, Time reporter Viveca Novak (also credited on the October 13 article) knew that Rove was Cooper's source, though it isn't clear when she first learned this information. In a December 19, 2005, first-person account of her role in telling Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, that Rove had outed Plame to Cooper, Novak wrote:

Toward the end of one of our meetings, I remember Luskin looking at me and saying something to the effect of "Karl doesn't have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt." I responded instinctively, thinking he was trying to spin me, and said something like, "Are you sure about that? That's not what I hear around TIME." He looked surprised and very serious. "There's nothing in the phone logs," he said. In the course of the investigation, the logs of all Rove's calls around the July 2003 time period--when two stories, including Matt's, were published mentioning that Plame was Wilson's wife--had been combed, and Luskin was telling me there were no references to Matt. (Cooper called via the White House switchboard, which may be why there is no record.)