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
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
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.
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  and January  numbered nine, and all were hawkish.”
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
“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,
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.”]
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
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’
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
“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
“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
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.'