Following Newsweek's publication of an email proving that White House senior adviser Karl Rove told Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper that former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's wife worked at the CIA, Rove responded through his lawyer that he did not give Cooper the name Valerie Plame -- Wilson's wife's maiden name -- or Valerie Wilson, but merely referred to "Wilson's wife." The media, including ABC News, The Washington Post, and Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, have reported Rove's response -- that he didn't give the actual name -- as if this exonerates him legally and politically. But the distinction he has drawn might have no legal -- and definitely has no practical -- merit.
On the July 10 broadcast of World News Tonight, ABC News quoted Joseph E. DiGenova, identified by an on-screen graphic as a "former US attorney," flatly stating that Rove "is not in any legal jeopardy" regarding the 2003 outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. Correspondent Geoff Morrell seemed to agree with that assessment, stating, "Indeed, Newsweek notes that nothing in Cooper's emails suggests Rove used the name of Wilson's wife or even knew she was a covert operative."
Similarly, on July 11, The Washington Post reported Rove's lawyer's response that Rove "did not mention her name to Cooper" and highlighted this defense in the headline, accepting without question or support that the law recognizes a distinction between actually naming her and providing enough information so that she could be easily identified.
On CNN's Inside Politics later the same day, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who wrote the story on the Cooper email, reiterated the Rove defense, claiming once again, without offering any legal support, that it was an "important distinction" that " Karl Rove doesn't identify Valerie Plame by name."
But Howard Kurtz, the Post's own media critic, found the distinction irrelevant. From the July 11 edition of CNN's Live From..:
WOLF BLITZER (host): And there's no indication he actually released a name to Matt Cooper other than saying she worked over at the CIA on WMD matters.
KURTZ: Well, I think the name thing is a matter of semantics. He says it's Joe Wilson's wife, therefore it's Valerie Plame. I don't think that gets Rove off the hook.
And a July 11 Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) was less conclusive than Kurtz, but noted the ambiguity in the law, reporting that it is "unclear whether 'naming' [under the law] would literally have to be the person's name."
Moreover, what Kurtz suggested -- but none of these stories noted -- is that by referring to "Wilson's wife," Rove did -- as a practical matter -- name her. Anyone with Google access could have instantly discovered that "Wilson's wife" was Valerie Plame. At the time, a simple Google search of Wilson's name would have turned up his biography on the Corporate & Public Strategy Advisory Group's website. The biography, which referred to his wife as the "former Valerie Plame," appeared on the site as far back as February 8, 2003, according to the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine.