consortiumnews.com

Smearing Joe Wilson, Again

By Robert Parry
September 1, 2006

In a world that wasn’t upside-down, the editorial page of Washington’s biggest newspaper might praise a whistleblower like former Ambassador Joseph Wilson for alerting the American people to a government deception that helped lead the country into a disastrous war that has killed 2,627 U.S. soldiers.

The editorial page also might demand that every senior administration official who sought to protect that deception by leaking the identity of a covert CIA officer (Wilson’s wife) be held accountable, at minimum stripped of their security clearances and fired from government.

But the United States, circa 2006, is an upside-down world. So the Washington Post’s editorial page instead makes excuses for the government deceivers, treats their exposure of the CIA officer as justifiable – and attacks the whistleblower by recycling the government’s false spin points against him.

If future historians wonder how the United States could have blundered so catastrophically into Iraq under false pretenses and why so few establishment figures dared to speak out, the historians might read the sorry pattern of the Post’s editorial-page attacks on those who did dissent.

Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, who fell for virtually every Iraq War deception that the Bush administration could dream up, is back assaulting former Ambassador Wilson, again, in a Sept. 1 editorial, falsely accusing Wilson of lying and concluding that “it’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”

In the view of the Post’s editorial page, Wilson’s chief offense appears to be that he went public in July 2003 with a firsthand account of a fact-finding trip that he took in early 2002. At the CIA’s request, he traveled to the African nation of Niger to check out a report alleging that Iraq was trying to obtain yellowcake uranium, presumably for a nuclear bomb.

The yellowcake allegations had attracted Vice President Dick Cheney’s attention because, in 2002, the Bush administration was trying to build a case to justify invading Iraq. But Wilson found no hard evidence to support the suspicion that Iraq had tried to obtain any uranium ore – and U.S. intelligence subsequently agreed that the claim was a fraud.

Government Lies

Nevertheless, President George W. Bush cited the claim of Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure the yellowcake during his State of the Union Address in January 2003. The next week, on Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell made his famously bogus presentation to the United Nations accusing Iraq of hiding vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (though Powell knew well enough to leave out the yellowcake canard).

The next day, Hiatt’s pro-war editorial page hailed Powell’s evidence as “irrefutable” and chastised any remaining skeptics. “It is hard to imagine how anyone could doubt that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction,” the editorial said.

Hiatt’s judgment was echoed across the Post’s Op-Ed page, with Post columnists from Right to Left presenting a solid wall of misguided consensus. [Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2003]

But the Post’s gullibility about Powell’s testimony wasn’t a one-day aberration. As a study by Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin noted, “The [Post] editorials during December [2002] and January [2003] numbered nine, and all were hawkish.” [American Prospect, April 1, 2003]

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the failure to discover evidence supporting the administration’s pre-war WMD claims, Hiatt acknowledged that the Post should have been more circumspect.

“If you look at the editorials we write running up [to the war], we state as flat fact that he [Hussein] has weapons of mass destruction,” Hiatt said in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. “If that’s not true, it would have been better not to say it.” [CJR, March/April 2004]

But Hiatt’s supposed remorse didn’t stop him and the Post editorial page from continuing their attacks on Bush’s critics, from Democrats who showed insufficient enthusiasm when Hiatt was detecting war progress in 2005 to retired generals who challenged the war strategy in 2006. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Shame on the Post’s Editorial Page.”]

Gullibility

While some Americans might still think that a major newspaper would want to know the truth, the Post’s hierarchy has behaved with petulance whenever evidence has emerged that reveals the depths of the Bush administration’s deceptions – and the extent of the Post’s gullibility.

For instance, in 2005, when secret documents were disclosed in Great Britain describing Bush’s efforts in 2002 to “fix” the Iraq WMD intelligence to justify the war, the Post first ignored the so-called “Downing Street Memo” and then disparaged those who considered this powerful evidence of Bush’s deceptions important.

On June 15, 2005, the Post’s lead editorial asserted that “the memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administration’s prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002.”

But Hiatt’s assessment simply wasn’t correct. Looking back to 2002 and early 2003, it would be hard to find any “reputable” commentary in the mainstream U.S. press calling Bush’s actions fraudulent, which is what the “Downing Street Memo” and other British evidence have since revealed them to be.

The British documents prove that much of the pre-war debate inside the U.S. and British governments was how best to manipulate public opinion by playing games with the intelligence. If that reality “was publicly known” before the war, why hadn’t the Post reported it and why did its editorials continue to parrot the administration’s lies and distortions?

Yet despite this disturbing record of the Post’s credulity (if not outright dishonesty), Hiatt has published yet another editorial concentrating his ugliest attacks not against the administration for misleading the nation to war or against the failure of officials (like Powell) to express their misgivings in a timely fashion, but against Joe Wilson.

The context of this latest broadside is a recent published report asserting that former deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the first administration official to leak to right-wing columnist Robert Novak that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA officer and that she had played a small role in Wilson’s Niger trip.

Because Armitage was a reluctant supporter of the Iraq War, the Post editorial then jumps to the conclusion that “it follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House – that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame’s identity – is untrue.”

But does it lead to that conclusion? Just because Armitage may have blurted out this classified information to Novak supposedly as gossip, that doesn’t mean that there was no parallel White House operation to peddle Plame’s identity to reporters as retaliation.

In fact, evidence uncovered by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald supports a conclusion that White House officials, under the direction of Vice President Cheney and including Cheney aide Lewis Libby and Bush political adviser Karl Rove, approached a number of reporters with this information.

Indeed, Rove, who remains in Bush’s inner circle and presumably still sees secret information, appears to have confirmed Plame’s identity for Novak and leaked the information to Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper. Meanwhile, Libby, who has been indicted on perjury and obstruction charges, pitched the information to the New York Times’ Judith Miller.

Blaming the Victim

The Post’s editorial does acknowledge that Libby and other White House officials are not “blameless,” since they allegedly released Plame’s identity while “trying to discredit Mr. Wilson.” But the Post reserves its harshest condemnation for Wilson, blaming his criticism of Bush’s false State of the Union claim for Plame’s exposure.

“It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame’s CIA career is Mr. Wilson,” the editorial said. “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming – falsely, as it turned out – that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials.

“He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”

The Post’s editorial, however, is at best an argumentative smear and most likely a willful lie. Along with other government investigators, Wilson did debunk the reports of Iraq acquiring yellowcake in Niger and those findings did circulate to senior levels, explaining why CIA Director George Tenet struck the yellowcake claims from other Bush speeches.

( The Post’s accusation about Wilson “falsely” claiming to have debunked the yellowcake reports apparently is based on Wilson’s inclusion in his report of speculation from one Niger official who suspected that Iraq might be interested in buying yellowcake, although the Iraqi officials never mentioned yellowcake and made no effort to buy any. This irrelevant point has been a centerpiece of Republican attacks on Wilson and is now being recycled by the Washington Post.)

Hiatt also is absolving the White House, Novak and implicitly himself (since he published Novak’s column revealing Plame’s identity) from responsibility for protecting the identity of an undercover CIA officer and her spy network. Plame’s operation was then focused on Iran’s WMD programs including its alleged nuclear ambitions.

Contrary to the Post’s assertion that Wilson “ought to have expected” that the White House and Novak would zero in on Wilson’s wife, a reasonable expectation in a normal world would have been just the opposite.

Even amid the ugly partisanship of today’s Washington, it was shocking to many longtime observers of government that any administration official or an experienced journalist would disclose the name of a covert CIA officer for such a flimsy reason as trying to discredit her husband.

Only in this upside-down world would a major newspaper be so irresponsible and so dishonest as to lay off the blame for exposing a CIA officer on her husband because he dared criticize lies told by the President of the United States, deceptions that have led the nation into a military debacle.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

Back to Home Page