For some time, the central mystery in the Valerie Plame saga was which members of the White House staff leaked the undercover CIA operative's identity to reporters. Although there are still many unanswered questions, at least part of the mystery has been solved: Time magazine correspondent Matthew Cooper has testified that he was told about Plame by White House senior adviser Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Yet while Cooper and his editors at Time spent two years keeping Rove and Libby's -- and their own -- role a secret, they published articles that reported, without challenge, a statement from the White House that they knew to be false.
The issue of Time's actions over the past two years was revived by an August 25 Los Angeles Times article stating that the magazine did not pursue a waiver from Rove allowing Cooper to testify in part because "Time editors were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year." While the favor this "concern" did for the Bush re-election effort has been criticized, Time's lack of disclosure about its own role in the affair has gone largely unnoticed.
As the Los Angeles Times laid out the chronology, the details of which became publicly known only earlier this summer, on July 11, 2003, Rove told Cooper that the wife of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV worked for the CIA and had a role in sending Wilson on a 2002 mission to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium there. After speaking to Rove, Cooper sent an email to Michael Duffy, Time's Washington bureau chief, relating what Rove had told him about Wilson's wife and saying that Rove had spoken on "double super secret background." The next day, Cooper spoke to Libby, who confirmed Plame's identity. Two days later, Robert D. Novak's infamous column revealing Plame's identity appeared.
Yet on October 13, 2003, three months after receiving the leak from Rove and Libby, Duffy -- the very person to whom Cooper had passed on the information concerning Wilson's wife and the source who gave that information to him -- wrote an article for Time on the subject. In the article, to which Cooper contributed reporting, was this passage:
When word spread last week that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was launching a full criminal probe into who had leaked Plame's identity, Democrats immediately raised a public alarm: How could Justice credibly investigate so secretive an Administration, especially when the investigators are led by Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose former paid political consultant Karl Rove was initially accused by Wilson of being the man behind the leak? A TIME review of federal and state election records reveals that Ashcroft paid Rove's Texas firm $746,000 for direct-mail services in two gubernatorial campaigns and one Senate race from 1984 through 1994. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said accusations of Rove's peddling information are "ridiculous." Says McClellan: "There is simply no truth to that suggestion."
Duffy wrote that Rove was "initially" accused by Wilson of being the man behind the leak, as though Wilson was no longer making that accusation or that the accusation was found to be without merit. In fact, Wilson did not back down from the charge, although he did allow that he had no proof of Rove's involvement. For instance, appearing on the September 29, 2003, edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, Wilson said, "I don't have any specific information. I would hope that an investigation would yield the information as to who was responsible for the precise leak. What I do have are any number of journalist sources, none of whom I have any reason not to believe, who have said that the White House was pushing this story after the leak, after the Novak article, and including Karl Rove."
Of course, it turned out that Wilson's charge was correct, as Cooper and his editors knew all along. Despite that knowledge, Time printed a quote from McClellan that they knew to be false without offering any refutation.
Duffy, Cooper, and Time not only failed to inform their readers in July 2003 that they were part of the story, but they continued to report on the leak without offering that information for more than a year. In addition to two stories in October 2003, Time wrote about the leak again on January 12, 2004. It was not until August 2004, when Cooper was held in contempt by the grand jury investigating the Plame leak, that it was revealed that Cooper was involved in the Plame affair.