Fox News' Special Report and ABC's Good Morning America featured nearly identical -- and misleading -- stories about a lawsuit filed by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame, against Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and White House senior adviser Karl Rove. Both segments uncritically reported columnist Robert D. Novak's claim that he "saw no such campaign" by White House officials to discredit Wilson, ignoring assertions by the special counsel in the case of a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish, or seek revenge against" Wilson.
The July 13 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume and the July 14 broadcast of ABC's Good Morning America featured nearly identical -- and misleading -- stories about the decision by former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV and his wife, ex-CIA officer Valerie Plame, to file a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and White House senior adviser Karl Rove. Both segments uncritically reported Fox News analyst and syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak's July 12 claim that he "saw no such campaign" by White House officials to discredit Wilson, as well as the response from Rove's attorney that the lawsuit was "absolutely and utterly without merit," without offering any rebuttal to Novak or Rove's attorney. Specifically, both the ABC and Fox News reports ignored the assertion in court filings by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald of the existence of a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish, or seek revenge against" Wilson. Nor did either note that Novak himself has by no means been consistent in his comments about the motivations of his sources. Finally, neither report mentioned that Fitzgerald secured the indictment of Libby on charges that he lied about the fact that he disclosed Plame's identity after being informed of it by Cheney and others.
On Good Morning America, ABC Washington correspondent Sonya Crawford reported on the lawsuit, noting:
CRAWFORD: The Wilsons accuse the defendants of conspiring in an anonymous whispering campaign designed to discredit them. They believe the White House retaliated after Joseph Wilson wrote an article accusing the Bush administration of twisting pre-war intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Crawford then reported that Novak claims "a senior administration official inadvertently mentioned Plame, as a part of a larger conversation about her husband," and aired a video clip from Novak's July 12 interview on Fox News' Special Report in which Novak asserted that he "saw no such campaign" by White House officials to discredit Wilson. Crawford concluded: "A spokesman for Karl Rove responded to the lawsuit, saying the allegations are 'absolutely and utterly without merit.' "
Crawford's report was nearly identical to a segment aired the previous evening on Special Report, in which host Brit Hume also discussed some of the lawsuit's contentions, Novak's claims, and then Rove's response.
Neither report offered any further analysis of the lawsuit (though later in Special Report, the lawsuit became a topic of discussion during a roundtable conversation), nor did either note Fitzgerald's assertions that a coordinated campaign to discredit Wilson did indeed appear to exist or even that Libby was indicted on charges stemming from the investigation into Plame's outing.
As Media Matters for America has previously noted, in court filings including the indictment of Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice, Fitzgerald has asserted the existence of a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Wilson. According to the indictment, Libby discussed Plame's CIA employment with New York Times reporter Judith Miller on two occasions prior to Novak's column -- on June 23 and July 8, 2003. Further, Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper claimed that Rove disclosed her CIA identity to him on July 11, 2003. And an unnamed administration official reportedly leaked the information to Post staff writer Walter Pincus on July 12, 2003. It was this pattern, among other things, that led Fitzgerald to assert the existence of a concerted effort to smear Wilson after the publication of his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed -- in which he cast doubt over President Bush's claims about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger. Novak revealed Plame's CIA identity in a July 14, 2003, column.
Further, by uncritically reporting Novak's assertion that he "saw no such campaign" to discredit Wilson, both Hume and Crawford ignored Novak's apparently contradictory statements about the motivations of his sources. As Media Matters noted, initially, far from describing the disclosure as inadvertent, Novak reportedly told Newsday shortly after the publication of his July 2003 column naming Plame that his sources thought Plame's identity "was significant" and that "they gave me the name and I used it."
In an October 2003 column, Novak seemed to change his account, reporting that his primary source had not come to him with the information, but instead had mentioned Plame's role at the CIA in an "offhand" way. Four days later, during an October 5, 2003, interview on NBC's Meet the Press, Novak again claimed that his original source had mentioned Plame's role at the CIA "offhandedly." When asked by host Tim Russert to "explain" the discrepancy between his quote in Newsday that his sources had regarded the information as significant and his more recent claim that the disclosure was "offhand," Novak said his earlier statement was not "very artfully put" and insisted that there existed "no inconsistency between those two."
As noted by Media Matters, during an interview on the July 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Novak provided yet another explanation for the apparent contradiction between his assertion that Plame's identity was disclosed purposely and his subsequent claims that the disclosure of her identity was inadvertent. This time, rather than characterizing his assertion in Newsday as not "very artfully put," Novak instead accused Newsday reporters Timothy M. Phelps and Knut Royce of misquoting him.
From the July 14 edition of ABC's Good Morning America:
JUJU CHANG (ABC correspondent): Now to the lawsuit targeting Vice President Cheney and members of his inner circle. The case stems from the controversy over the leak of a CIA agent's name. ABC's Sonya Crawford has the details.
CRAWFORD: Valerie Plame Wilson, the woman at the center of this controversy, is breaking her silence. Three years after her CIA cover was blown, she and her husband are suing Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff Scooter Libby, and presidential adviser Karl Rove. The Wilsons accuse the defendants of conspiring in an anonymous whispering campaign designed to discredit them. They believe the White House retaliated after Joseph Wilson wrote an article accusing the Bush administration of twisting prewar intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The lawsuit states, "As their chief method of punishment, the White House officials destroyed Plame's cover by revealing her classified employment with the CIA to reporters." Columnist Robert Novak, who first published her name, says a senior administration official inadvertently mentioned Plame, as part of a larger conversation about her husband. In an interview on Fox News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, he said he doesn't believe there was a coordinated effort to discredit the Wilsons.
NOVAK [video clip]: I saw no such campaign. Nobody in the administration ever said anything critical about Wilson to me.
CLAIRE SHIPMAN (ABC senior national correspondent): A spokesman for Karl Rove responded to the lawsuit, saying the allegations are "absolutely and utterly without merit." For Good Morning America, Sonya Crawford, ABC News, Washington.
From the July 13 edition of Fox News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Former CIA employee Valerie Plame, whose work for the agency was exposed in 2003, is suing Vice President Cheney, White House political adviser Karl Rove, and former vice presidential adviser Scooter Libby. Her husband is also a party to the action. Plame, seen her with her husband Joe Wilson arriving for a policy luncheon with Senate Democrats today, claims White House officials conspired to destroy her career. Last night on this program, the columnist Bob Novak, who first revealed Plame's identity, said he saw no sign of any effort or any conspiracy by the Bush administration to discredit Iraq war critic Wilson by disclosing his wife's name.
A spokesman for Rove calls Plame's allegation, quote, "absolutely and utterly without merit."