Wash. Times reporter Joseph Curl's pattern of misinformation

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

In recent weeks, Washington Times White House correspondent Joseph Curl has made regular appearances on Fox News to discuss the investigation into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. Media Matters for America examined four appearances by Curl on Fox News Live since October 13; in at least three of them, Curl offered or confirmed false or misleading statements regarding the Plame case or its participants. This year, Curl has appeared often on Fox News Live to discuss topics that relate to his coverage of the White House, such as the Supreme Court nomination of John G. Roberts Jr. In addition, as Media Matters and others have documented, Curl previously provided misleading accounts in his news reporting for the Times.

Curl has appeared four times on Fox News Live since October 13 to discuss the Plame case. During three of those appearances, he promoted or confirmed misinformation about the investigation:

Curl furthered false claim that both Clinton and Libby had been "charged with lying about a crime that apparently never was committed"

November 4: Curl endorsed a false statement and misleading comparison made by host Jon Scott. Scott asked whether Democrats who defended President Clinton during his impeachment trial were being hypocritical in attacking former vice-presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Curl agreed with Scott's false assertion that both Clinton and Libby had been "charged with lying about a crime that apparently never was committed" and added that "a lot of people ... talked about the similar charges." However, Clinton's false statements concerned a consensual relationship; they were not "about a crime" and were not made in the context of a criminal investigation. By contrast, Libby is charged with making false statements and obstructing justice in the context of -- and allegedly having the result of -- impeding a criminal investigation. Moreover, the fact that no one has been charged in the Plame case with a crime over the leak itself does not mean that no crime was committed. At the press conference to announce the charges, special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald said that Libby's alleged actions blocked his investigation of the underlying act.

SCOTT: Democrats used to complain that the charges that were brought against President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal were sort of much ado about nothing. Republicans complain, Joseph, that what's going on right now with the Scooter Libby indictment is really not that big a deal -- you know, charged with lying about a crime that apparently never was committed. Is this sort of the shoe being on the other foot? Is this a replay of what happened to the Clinton administration?

CURL: Well, it certainly sounds like it. I mean, there were a lot of people that talked about the similar charges. Perjury and obstruction of justice in the Clinton case. Same thing here, but, of course, it's not the president who was charged with perjury and obstruction; it was the chief of staff for the vice president. So it's quite a bit different in this case, but there are a lot of, you know, liberal organizations that haven't talked very much about the difference there. I think there are a lot of people playing up the charges against Cheney's chief of staff.

Curl repeated false claim that Wilson said Cheney sent him on mission to Niger

October 20: Curl repeated the false claim that Plame's husband, ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, had misrepresented who sent him to Niger. He also asserted as fact the disputed claim that the CIA sent Wilson to Niger "at the request of his wife, Valerie Plame":

SCOTT: So much of this is, you know, going to be answered when the special prosecutor finishes his report or the indictments or whatever. There has been a lot of discussion about the fact that maybe neither one of these men [Libby and White House senior adviser Karl Rove] knew that Valerie Plame was actually a covert agent.

CURL: Well, that's right. What they knew is going to be for the grand jury to decide. But what you have to remember in this case is that July 6 [2003], you have Joe Wilson's [New York Times] column questioning the motive for war and the intelligence on uranium yellowcake from Niger, and July 14 is [Robert D.] Novak's column. So, in between that time, people are trying to figure out who Joe Wilson is. Joe Wilson said that he was sent on this mission to find out in Niger from Cheney's office. And in fact, that turns out not to be true at all, it was not Cheney's office. It was the CIA, at the request of his wife, Valerie Plame. So there are a lot of people, including The Washington Times and other newspapers, asking the vice president's office: Who sent Joe Wilson? So I think that a lot of people, like you said at the beginning of this, a lot of people were talking about this, and it is not surprising that the president's right-hand man is talking to the vice president's right-hand man about who this guy Joe Wilson is.

Wilson, in his July 6 New York Times op-ed, in fact stated that he was sent by the CIA to investigate reports that Iraq had acquired uranium from Niger -- and that the CIA decided to send someone to Niger in order to respond to questions posed by Cheney's office.

Curl made dubious assertions about Intelligence Identities Protection Act

October 13: Curl asserted that in order to be protected by the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), Plame "must have been on a long-term assignment within the last five years to be a -- what they call a non-official cover," because that "is what the law says." As Media Matters has documented, the IIPA statute does not mention a requirement that an agent be on a "long-term" assignment to qualify as "covert" under the law. Moreover, Curl said that Plame had to be "out on a foreign assignment" that was "a long-term assignment" to qualify as covert under the IIPA. But that statute does not state that the agent must have been stationed abroad to qualify as covert, and, despite the certainty with which Curl spoke, the issue of whether the statute requires that an agent be stationed abroad to qualify as "covert" is unresolved.

SCOTT: Joseph, the way I read, the way this law was written, the law that, you know, may have been violated here, the CIA operative had to be in an undercover capacity sometime in the previous five years --

CURL: Right.

SCOTT: -- in order for there to be a violation of the law. Now, Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson were both overseas but then back in this country for six years at the time she was supposedly outed. That sounds like on its face that it's going to prevent there being a conflict in terms of just the revealing of the name.

CURL: That's right. And what we're starting to hear now from lawyers that are involved in the case is that this case has evolved into something completely different from what it was when it began. We're hearing now much more from these different lawyers involved on the fringe of these things. No one knows exactly what is happening. We're starting to hear that timeline of what they're looking at goes much further back to, instead of July when the column comes out, they're looking much earlier at a June 10 memo that moved around in the state department, May and June when Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador, was actually very vocal in criticizing this. So we're hearing that it may be moving in the direction of perjury charges, a broad conspiracy charge, which is very difficult to prove, or something like obstruction of justice or false statements.

SCOTT: But in terms of the, you know, the felony of actually revealing the identity of an undercover operative, that's not necessarily the focus of it anymore?

CURL: That's what we're hearing. I mean, what they've basically said is that this law doesn't appear to apply. Whether she was actually a covert op at the time is still up for debate. But we know that -- we know she wasn't out on a foreign assignment within the last five years, which is exactly what the law says. She must have been on a long-term assignment within the last five years to be a -- what they call a non-official cover, which is called a NOC. So we know she wasn't that.

In addition to his false and misleading statements on Fox News, Curl co-authored, with Times reporter Stephen Dinan, a July 15 Washington Times article that quoted former CIA operative Fred Rustmann, who supervised Plame for one year early in her career and retired from the agency in 1990 -- more than a decade before Plame's identity was allegedly leaked. According to Curl and Dinan's report, Rustmann asserted that Plame's CIA employment was not a secret: "Her neighbors knew this, her friends knew this, his [Wilson's] friends knew this." But the same article mentioned only one of Plame's neighbors by name: David Tillotson, who told The Washington Times that he "absolutely didn't know" Plame worked for the CIA.

Curl has also offered misleading or false accounts in other news articles. As Media Matters noted, Curl falsely reported on April 1 that the Robb-Silberman commission's report on intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction said "that the Bush administration did not distort evidence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program." In fact, the report of the commission, led by Charles S. Robb, former Virginia governor and U.S. senator, and Laurence R. Silberman, an appeals court judge, specifically declined to examine the use of intelligence by policy-makers, including President Bush and his administration. Rather, the panel limited its examination to the intelligence community.

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Intelligence, War in Iraq
Stories/Interests
CIA Leak Investigation
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.