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In the Plame case, media took the bait
By Crispin Sartwell
Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into the Valerie Plame case is winding down, and he will perhaps indict a few people for the crime of revealing the identity of a CIA agent. I would like, however, to issue a broader indictment.
It is obvious that the Bush administration, and specifically Vice President Cheney, was intent on invading Iraq under almost any conditions. It did not, probably, simply manufacture intelligence to justify the invasion; rather, it purported to take seriously any flimsy rumor or doctored document that lent support to the case for war, while attempting to discredit all information that tended to undermine that case.
Key to this disinformation campaign was the manipulation of press coverage of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs. Among the reporters who were turned into agents of the administration was Judith Miller of the New York Times. Like many reporters and news organizations, Miller had been essentially annexed by power: Whatever she may have thought she was doing, she essentially traded independence for access.
Before the war, Miller's articles uncritically reflected the administration's claims. After the war, Cheney's office tried to annex her in the task of discrediting Joseph Wilson, who was in a position to show how flimsy the case was, and how irresponsible or mendacious the administration was in making it.
Miller is an extremely poor First Amendment heroine, because her refusal to name her sources was in effect just a way of continuing to participate in the White House campaign to manipulate public opinion.
Comparisons to Watergate? Imagine that Deep Throat was Ron Ziegler, Richard Nixon's press secretary. Then imagine that Woodward and Bernstein's revelations consisted entirely of Nixon administration press releases and that the scandal came to nothing.
Plamethrower ought immediately to make you think: All right - who other than Joseph Wilson had information damaging to the administration? And what became of these people and that information? President Bush's top adviser Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney's chief of staff I. Lewis Libby were essentially willing to commit felonies to discredit substantive criticisms.
Who else - besides thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis - were their victims?
The chief United Nations weapons inspector, Hans Blix, accused the Bush administration of "leaning on" his inspectors to produce more damning reports in the run-up to war, essentially insisting that they falsify their results. When he refused, he told the Guardian, in June 2003, the administration engaged in a wholesale smear campaign against him, up to and including planting the claim that Blix - by all accounts a happily married man - was a homosexual.
Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who insisted - accurately - that inspections had shown Saddam had disarmed in the '90s, was caught up in a scandal about cybersex, news of which was leaked to the media a week before the State of the Union address, wherein President Bush made his trumped-up case for war.
Mohamed ElBaradei has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In 2002 and 2003, he had been critical of the administration's fictional construction of Iraq's nuclear program. For his trouble, he was subjected to an ugly campaign to discredit him and remove him from office, a campaign spearheaded by current United Nations ambassador John Bolton.
Those who helped create evidence and suppress dissent have been nicely rewarded. For his loyal failure to say the truth, CIA Director George Tenet was given the Medal of Freedom. Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi "dissident" and Shia warlord whose disinfo succeeded in luring the United States into war, is now deputy prime minister of the new Iraq.
The truly disturbing cases in this schedule of rewards and punishments are likely to be those about whom we know nothing. We need not more Judith Millers but reporters with more critical intelligence and less "access."
Plamethrower is in a way not such a big deal: Neither Valerie Plame nor the nation was greatly harmed by Plame being named as an agent. But the administration's viciousness, its pettiness and its dishonesty in the service of death are, though neither unique nor particularly surprising, nevertheless terrifying.
The connivance of the American press in the process - including the idea that it is their solemn First Amendment right to protect the administration in its manipulation of the American people - is just sad.
Crispin Sartwell (email@example.com teaches political science at Dickinson College in Carlisle and writes daily at eyeofthestorm.blogs.com.