Smearing Joe Wilson, Again
By Robert Parry
September 1, 2006
In a world that wasnt upside-down, the editorial page of Washingtons 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 (Wilsons 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 Posts 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 governments 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 Posts 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 its unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.
In the view of the Posts editorial page, Wilsons 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 CIAs 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 Cheneys 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 Iraqs 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, Hiatts pro-war editorial page hailed Powells 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.
Hiatts judgment was echoed across the Posts Op-Ed page, with Post columnists from Right to Left presenting a solid wall of misguided consensus. [Washington Post, Feb. 6, 2003]
But the Posts gullibility about Powells testimony wasnt 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. [American Prospect, April 1, 2003]
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 and the failure to discover evidence supporting the administrations 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 thats not true, it would have been better not to say it. [CJR, March/April 2004]
But Hiatts supposed remorse didnt stop him and the Post editorial page from continuing their attacks on Bushs 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.coms Shame on the Posts Editorial Page.]
While some Americans might still think that a major newspaper would want to know the truth, the Posts hierarchy has behaved with petulance whenever evidence has emerged that reveals the depths of the Bush administrations deceptions and the extent of the Posts gullibility.
For instance, in 2005, when secret documents were disclosed in Great Britain describing Bushs 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 Bushs deceptions important.
On June 15, 2005, the Posts lead editorial asserted that the memos add not a single fact to what was previously known about the administrations prewar deliberations. Not only that: They add nothing to what was publicly known in July 2002.
But Hiatts assessment simply wasnt correct. Looking back to 2002 and early 2003, it would be hard to find any reputable commentary in the mainstream U.S. press calling Bushs 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 hadnt the Post reported it and why did its editorials continue to parrot the administrations lies and distortions?
Yet despite this disturbing record of the Posts 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 Wilsons wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA officer and that she had played a small role in Wilsons 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. Plames 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 doesnt mean that there was no parallel White House operation to peddle Plames 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 Bushs inner circle and presumably still sees secret information, appears to have confirmed Plames identity for Novak and leaked the information to Time magazines 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 Posts editorial does acknowledge that Libby and other White House officials are not blameless, since they allegedly released Plames identity while trying to discredit Mr. Wilson. But the Post reserves its harshest condemnation for Wilson, blaming his criticism of Bushs false State of the Union claim for Plames exposure.
It now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plames 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 Bushs closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. Its unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.
The Posts 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 Posts accusation about Wilson falsely claiming to have debunked the yellowcake reports apparently is based on Wilsons 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 Novaks column revealing Plames identity) from responsibility for protecting the identity of an undercover CIA officer and her spy network. Plames operation was then focused on Irans WMD programs including its alleged nuclear ambitions.
Contrary to the Posts assertion that Wilson ought to have expected that the White House and Novak would zero in on Wilsons wife, a reasonable expectation in a normal world would have been just the opposite.
Even amid the ugly partisanship of todays 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.'
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