In spite of all the publicity over the cases of Time reporter Matthew Cooper and New
York Times reporter Judith
Miller�cases the Supreme Court declined to hear�little is known definitively
even now about how many times reporters were contacted by those unnamed
�administration officials� who leaked the item that former Ambassador Joseph
Wilson�s wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.
In his July 14, 2002, column utilizing this leak,
conservative pundit Robert Novak stated, �Wilson never worked for the CIA, but
his wife, Valerie Plame, is an
Agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration
officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate
the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected
Wilson and asked his wife to contact him. 'I will not answer any question about
my wife,' Wilson told me.� This sentence sequence, of course, clearly implies
though it does not state that the same �two senior administration officials�
informed Novak that Plame was a CIA operative.
The thoroughness of this outing should not be
underestimated, or doubted. A search of the published journalism database in
Lexis-Nexis yields zero results for the name �Valerie Plame� for 2002 in all
major newspapers, wires or transcripts (and precious few mentions of Joseph
Wilson, whose ill-fated Niger trip was obviously never intended by the
administration to bring light). For 2003, it yields 642�all dating from after
Novak�s column. (For the record, Lexis yields zero mentions of Valerie Plame in
all major categories from 1980 to mid-2003.) When this administration outs
someone, that person gets outed and stays outed.
The ability of the man in the White House to exert pressure
on any senior administration official, from his own chief of staff on down,
should also not be doubted. Had the White House acted affirmatively, the
identity of the leaker�who surely was not acting unconsciously�would be known
by now without putting the taxpayers to the expense of a federal investigation.
�Senior� is code for a pretty small and well-placed group.
It is hard to understand why Miller�s case, in particular,
is about �protecting sources.� This was not a source but a user; the object was
not to disclose something in the public interest but to help a White House bent
on deceitful and destructive secrecy�by punishing someone, Joseph Wilson, who had
disclosed things to the public, by outing his wife as a CIA operative. The
public has not been told definitively whether Miller did promise to keep the
�source��that is, the administration official�secret. The implication is that
the source called her, rather than the other way around, and reportedly they
did the same with several prominent news outlets.
I sympathize with Matthew Cooper and do not understand why
his case is tied to Miller�s. If Cooper picked up the ball and ran with it by doing
further investigation and then writing an actual article on the topic,
something Miller did not do, then his administration contact became arguably an
actual source. That makes his case less like Miller�s and more like that of
freelance writer Vanessa Leggett in Texas. I hope he ends up with a book deal
But as Miller�s defense has repeatedly pointed out, she
never even wrote an article on this outing. Therefore, her defense seems to be
not that she was working as a journalist at the time but merely that she is a
journalist, and that�s why she received the phone call/contact.
To a non-lawyer, this seems like arguing that a priest has
the protected secrecy of the confessional even when he�s just sitting at a bus
stop and some murderer confesses a crime to him.
Giving that kind of blanket protection�that we do not give
even to priests�to every journalist who gets a phone call would give a blanket
incentive to call up reporters and tell them things, just so they will never be
reported. This official, be it again noted, was no Daniel Ellsberg releasing
papers the public needed to see, and no staffer who had things wormed out of
him by a persevering reporter under a promise of secrecy. It was
someone�perhaps in the White House itself�who called up at least six reporters
to tell them a highly selective item of information, about somebody�s wife at
that, and at the expense of both full disclosure to the public and national
security. Not a feat everybody could pull off.
Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the Washington, DC, area, can be
reached at email@example.com.