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July 18, 2005
Broder Can't Read, Either

Unfortunately, the Plame investigation has uncovered a genuine national scandal -- the inability of the national news media to read a government report. David Broder provides another example in yesterday's Washington Post, where he continues to misrepresent the facts surrounding naming of Valerie Plame in a 2003 Robert Novak column. He starts off in a chatty vein by explaining the use of anonymous sourcing and the trust it requires, but quickly gets down to misrepresenting reality:

The first publication of Plame's name came in a column by Robert Novak, who said he had been given her identity and occupation by two Bush administration officials. The obvious intent of the leak -- and of the column, which ran in The Post and other newspapers -- was to discredit her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had just published an op-ed article in the New York Times challenging a presidential claim that Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase nuclear material in Niger.

Wilson had been sent to Niger to see if that had been attempted. He concluded that it had not -- knocking one more hole in the administration case that Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction. By exposing his wife's supposed role in sending Wilson on that mission, the White House was trying to link his finding to a well-publicized bureaucratic war in which elements of the CIA were doing all they could to undercut the case for going to war with Iraq.

No, no, no. As Matt Cooper states, he called Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, not the other way around, to get background on the Wilson article. The intent of Rove's warning to Cooper was to keep Time from printing a further reinforcement of Wilson's misinformation, as the Senate Select Intelligence Committee later corroborated. As Broder might have explained to his readers, journalists call anonymous and well-placed sources for just that purpose -- to find out whether they are barking up the wrong tree. The most famous and celebrated of these anonymous sources, Deep Throat, did the same thing for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein; Mark Felt gave them little real information but guided them through their story by confirming or rejecting various interpretations and strategies.

Most egregiously, Broder repeats the utterly false claim that Wilson found no attempt by Saddam Hussein to buy uranium from Niger. Quite frankly, I may have to create a macro on my computer to keep repeating this information, but the SSIC report unanimously points out that Wilson actually substantiated that information when he spoke to the Nigerien government:

[Wilson's] intelligence report indicated that former Nigerien Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki was unaware of any contracts that had been signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of yellowcake while he was Prime Minister (1997-1999) or Foreign Minister (1996-1997). Mayaki said that if there had been any such contract during his tenure, he would have been aware of it. Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999,(REDACTED) businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq."

Again, as I have repeatedly pointed out, Niger only exports four commodities: livestock, cowpeas, onions, and uranium. It doesn't take a genius to deduce that Saddam would have little interest in opening back-channel, secret negotiations to buy cowpeas and onions.

Broder praises Cooper for revealing Rove as his source while castigating Miller for remaining silent. Does he reject the use of anonymous sourcing? No; he just feels that Miller doesn't deserve any sympathy for her obstinacy, a position with which I agree but for different reasons. She has no privileged position within American law to ignore a court order, and so she has no one to blame but herself for her incarceration. Broder, on the other hand, thinks she deserves scorn and little sympathy for her present position for having used Ahmed Chalabi as a source before the Iraqi invasion:

But no one, not even Judy Miller, is wholly praiseworthy. She is the same reporter who, in a series of influential articles before the war, vividly portrayed the threat that Saddam Hussein's weapons supposedly posed. Only afterward was it learned that many of her "scoops" came from Ahmed Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile who had dreams of supplanting Saddam Hussein as Iraq's new ruler -- with the support of a conquering American army.

Her use of an unnamed source in that case was a distinct disservice to the country; had we known his name and motivation, much less credibility would have been attached to her reports.

That's the problem with anonymous single sourcing, though. If Broder thinks less of Miller, than what about Michael Isikoff? Mary Mapes and Dan Rather? Why single out Miller, when many more embarrassing debacles come easily to mind? It seems that the point of view of the articles has more to do with Broder's sympathy than the use of solitary sourcing.

I will write more about anonymous sourcing and the media schizophrenia surrounding it in my Daily Standard article later this week. I hope David Broder reads it, but I really would prefer that he and his colleagues read the SSIC report on Joe Wilson and stop spreading the misinformation that Wilson injected into the Iraq War debate -- originally as an anonymous source, of course.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 18, 2005 12:40 PM

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