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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, July 22, 2003



Prof. Krugman Helps Me Twice

Although his reading comprehension skills have failed him, his polemical skills remain unimpaired. Consequently, Prof. Krugman turns a double-play today: he calls attention to a brewing scandal that merits attention, and he discredits his own reputation for accuracy.

Hmm. In fairness, I should point out that, depending on just what the Earnest Professor's reputation for accuracy is, perhaps he enhanced it. Well, here we go:

...while we're on the subject of patriotism, let's talk about the affair of Joseph Wilson's wife. Mr. Wilson is the former ambassador who was sent to Niger by the C.I.A. to investigate reports of attempted Iraqi uranium purchases and who recently went public with his findings. Since then administration allies have sought to discredit him — it's unpleasant stuff. But here's the kicker: both the columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine say that administration officials told them that they believed that Mr. Wilson had been chosen through the influence of his wife, whom they identified as a C.I.A. operative.

Think about that: if their characterization of Mr. Wilson's wife is true (he refuses to confirm or deny it), Bush administration officials have exposed the identity of a covert operative. That happens to be a criminal act; it's also definitely unpatriotic.


Emphasis added.

Now, TIME has revised its story since Mr. Krugman went to press. But neither the original, nor revised versions confirm his reporting. Let's see what TIME wrote:

...some government officials have noted to TIME in interviews, (as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak) that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These officials have suggested that she was involved in her husband's being dispatched Niger...

Interesting. TIME claims to have "government" officials as a source in a story which clearly distinguishes between "government" and "Administration" officials. I wonder how Prof. Krugman chose to write that Time magazine had as its source "administration officials".

Inevitably, the next bit of the polemic collapses. Think about it: if their characterization of Mr. Wilson's wife is true (he refuses to confirm or deny it), Bush administration officials have exposed the identity of a covert operative.

I have thought about it, as have others. Quite a bit, and the links are below. Mr. Novak's sourcing was originally ambiguous, although, in the revised TIME story, we learn that "government officials" discussed the professional background of Ms. Wilson with Mr. Novak. (Whether they were his only, or original source remains a puzzle). TIME never suggested that "Administration officials" had identified Ms. Wilson as an undercover agent, although it would have fit nicely into the theme of their story. TIME was restrained by facts, a barrier that did not impair Prof. Krugman.

Now, it turns out that the characterization of her professional role is probably correct. But neither TIME, nor Novak, point exclusively at White House sources for this.

And where is the story now? At this point, it appears that a CIA agent has had her cover revealed. Since the CIA was quite forthcoming about this, I am not convinced that her secrecy was a big deal, although Newsday and Mr. Wilson offer some exciting, and clearly qualified, speculation on this point.

And perhaps White House officials were involved. Or perhaps this is an internal CIA feud. The current reporting is simply incomplete, Professor Krugman's assertions to the contrary. However, I suspect we agree that further inquiries are warranted. Howard Dean includes this at number four on his "16 Questions", and we have a story of spies, scandal, and cover-up, so we expect the media will perk up.


Sources: Robert Novak, "Mission to Niger";
David Corn, The Nation; revised TIME story.

Mark Kleiman, CORRECTION AND UPDATE ON THE PLAME STORY.

An excerpt of the original TIME story can be found here, but the link no longer works. The key revision seems to be the insertion of the parenthetical information that TIME's sources also admitted speaking to Mr. Novak.

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