No Heroes in L’Affaire Plame


Whatever their politics, many partisans regard the players in the unfolding Valerie Plame saga as white hats or black hats. Others, however, including myself, are ready to say—with the possible exception of Plame herself—there should be a pox on everyone’s house, including:

Democrats. Last Wednesday night at a Madison, Wisconsin, fundraiser, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean asked, “Who do you value more, Mr. President? Do you value intelligence operatives defending the United States of America, or do you value political operatives from Texas? We’re going to find out. Who do you value more, Mr. President? The security of the American people, or your political cronies?” Forgive me if I gag on this latest example of liberal hypocrisy in the Plame case. It’s not so much the politics that are troubling; the Dems would have been stupid, in their own interest and that of the nation, not to demand accountability over Plame’s outing as a CIA officer. But many in the left-liberal milieu are so historically ambivalent about—if not outright contemptuous of—the intelligence community that they’ve openly delighted in past revelations of operatives’ names.

Indeed, since l’affaire Plame broke, it’s as if an entirely new liberal archetype has developed: one that is simultaneously outraged that a noble, innocent undercover CIA officer has been outed for base political reasons, yet holds the CIA in contempt either for its 9-11-related failures or because it’s a shot-through-with-evil tool of American imperialism. This new left wants the Republicans held accountable for doing Plame wrong, yet really doesn’t care that Porter Goss is bollixing up Langley to the detriment of genuine national security, or that Democrats have repeatedly enabled a bunch of dubious “reforms” and aren’t likely to prevent another 9-11. (While some liberals may have enjoyed championing the 9-11 Commission recommendations simply because Bush didn’t want the panel, the intelligence community reorganization it has begotten is, in the view of many career professionals, critically flawed.) Even if Fitzgerald’s probe delives a near-fatal blow to the Bush administration, this wouldn’t help fix the intelligence community—or further accountability for its elements that have gone overboard in areas like torture and kidnapping.

The Bush White House. The actions of the president’s people that created the Plame affair were bad enough. Adding another layer of contemptibility has been the debasing attempt at damage control. The current West Wing crew and its adjuncts can hair-split, tap-dance around, and otherwise obfuscate and prevaricate about exactly who said what to whom, when, and how; in terms of avoiding indictments or jail for some of the more vulnerable players, it might even work. But even by the current standard of anyone’s official line not mattering because half the nation will treat it as the revealed Word, it’s a sad spectacle. Scott McClellan alone dodges and whines in a manner that reveals the administration’s id to be not unlike that of a craven bully finally smacked upside the head. Or, as one White House reporter told the Voice last week, “Never have so many asked so much and not only been told so little, but looked on with more contempt than pity as the president’s spokesman is ultimately reduced to answering questions about his and his masters’ credibility like he’s throwing himself on the mercy of the court with a ‘C’mon guys, you know the kind of person I am.’ That he would follow up by calling himself and the president both ‘straightforward and plainspoken’ when he’s spent a week not only not telling us anything but refusing to reconcile current reality with past pronouncements like Bush saying yes to firing leakers to his own ‘Those individuals assured me they were not involved in this’ is even more pathetic.”

Judith Miller. Here, it’s hard to say what’s more revolting: that some people don’t care a whit about the freedom-of-the-press issues raised by Judith Miller’s incarceration because they’re reveling in her karmic comeuppance for WMD-reporting transgressions; or that others have defaulted to venerating her as a First Amendment martyr for doing what any good reporter should do when the Man comes in search of confidential sources, and not acknowledging that taken in her entirety, she’s a self-serving, enamored-of-power establishment tool. Among my national security reporting colleagues, I know of no one who thinks well of Miller or her journalism. But I also don’t know anyone who thinks it’s good that she’s been trotted off to the pokey, especially given unofficial, non-coercive overtures (so far, anyway) made to some of us by federal officials engaged in other investigations.

But making her a candidate for sainthood clouds the bigger picture. Perhaps nothing captures this better than a recent letter to the Times that began, “Judith Miller, I stand in awe of your actions. That you are willing to give up your personal liberty to protect the public’s is one of the most deeply moving acts I have witnessed in this country.” This is exactly the kind of crap that works to eclipse pertinent history—specifically, that repeated examinations of Miller’s methods, product, and character reveal she’s done her colleagues, her paper, and the public repeated disservices that make her awesome only as an icon of journalistic ignominy. And while most of Miller’s partisans seem to be operating on the assumption that she’s protecting a source, it’s entirely possible that she may, in fact, have been a source to one of her sources, sharing information a bit beyond the standard reporter-source chitchat.

Joseph Wilson IV. Though certainly a legitimately aggrieved party (along, of course, with his wife), Wilson’s pompous-ass style can be grating even to those who sympathize with him. Recalling his tearful “If I could give you back your anonymity . . . ” pronouncement to his wife, more than a few CIA veterans furious about Plame’s outing thought this a bit much, as Plame’s undercover status at the time of her outing was both flimsy and dubious. “In principle, what was done to her was shitty, and someone should pay, but the way he always goes on about how it’s the end of the world for her and national security while saying she’s a real-life Jennifer Garner Alias character is just too damn much,” says one. Similarly, prominent liberals have choked on Wilson’s self-indulgence: At the Nation Institute’s annual fundraising dinner last year, some found any inspirational qualities Wilson had to offer swamped by the tsunami-like wave of his continuous ego trip. “It wasn’t just that he was sheets to the wind when he gave his speech, it was the sheer self-righteousness of it—it was like listening to a preppy version of Fidel Castro,” recalls a noted liberal activist who was in the audience that night. “His speech was something like ‘The Top 10 Reasons to Get Rid of Bush,’ and after 45 minutes that included lowest-common-denominator stuff like ‘kids going to school hungry’—hello, Joe Wilson’s now got the weight of Head Start on his shoulders?—he was only up to number five. I mean, look, I sympathize, but it was like he was looking for a cross.”

Norman Pearlstine. While editors do shitty things to reporters all the time, forking over to the feds the files of a journalist willing to go to jail not only strikes many journalists as a betrayal, but as an action that will have more of a chilling effect than the Fitzgerald probe itself. Especially at Time‘s Washington bureau but also at other publications last week, reporters were getting calls or e-mails from sources expressing concern about past and future arrangements; if a promise of confidentiality can be compromised by the actions of an editor far removed from a beat, why should anyone drop reporters a dime?