Christopher Hitchens concluded that Robert Novak's July 12 "tell-all" column and his July 16 appearance on Meet the Press "dissolved any remaining doubt" that the Bush administration "outed" Valerie Plame, but presented irrelevant facts and assertions in support of that conclusion.
In a July 17 column titled "The End of the Affair" appearing in Slate, Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens concluded that syndicated columnist and Fox News political analyst Robert D. Novak's July 12 column, coupled with Novak's appearance on the July 16 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, "dissolved any remaining doubt about the mad theory that the Bush administration 'outed' [former CIA agent] Ms. Valerie Plame as revenge for her husband's [former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV] refusal to confirm the report by British intelligence that Iraqi officials had visited Niger in search of uranium." Following that claim, Hitchens "summarize[d]" what "we now know," which he apparently offered in support of his claim:
- "Novak was never approached by any administration officials but approached them instead."
- "He [Novak] was never told the name Plame but discovered it from Who's Who in America, which contained it in Joseph Wilson's entry."
- "Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had all along known which sources had responded to Novak's questions."
But none of these points support Hitchens's conclusion that there is no "remaining doubt" about whether the Bush administration outed Plame as revenge for her husband's actions.
"Novak was never approached by any administration officials but approached them instead.''
Hitchens apparently makes this assertion to rebut claims that the Bush administration deliberately disclosed Plame's identity "as revenge for her husband's refusal" to confirm President Bush's claims about Iraq seeking yellowcake uranium from Niger. But whether Novak called his sources or they called him does not directly answer the question of whether the disclosure of Plame's identity was deliberate, and on that question, Novak has made seemingly inconsistent statements. As Media Matters for America has noted, a July 22, 2003, Newsday article quoted Novak saying: "I didn't dig it [Plame's identity] out, it was given to me." He continued: "They [Novak's White House sources] thought it was significant, they gave me the name and I used it." However, in his October 1, 2003, column, Novak wrote that he learned of Plame's identity through "an offhand revelation" from his primary source. On the October 5, 2003, broadcast of Meet the Press, Novak claimed Plame's identity "came up almost offhandedly in the course of a very long conversation with a senior official about many things." In his July 12 column, Novak wrote:
In my sworn testimony, I said what I have contended in my columns and on television: Joe Wilson's wife's role in instituting her husband's mission was revealed to me in the middle of a long interview with an official who I have previously said was not a political gunslinger. After the federal investigation was announced, he told me through a third party that the disclosure was inadvertent on his part.
Further, rebutting Novak's claim -- and Hitchens's echoing of that claim -- that the disclosure of Plame's identity was not part of a deliberate effort to smear Wilson, in court filings released on April 6, Fitzgerald wrote that "it is hard to conceive of what evidence there could be that would disprove the existence of White House efforts to 'punish' Wilson." Moreover, as Media Matters has previously noted, in court filings including the indictment of former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for perjury and obstruction of justice, Fitzgerald asserted that Novak was not the first reporter to be told Plame's identity by administration officials. According to the indictment, Libby discussed Plame's CIA employment with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller on two occasions prior to Novak's July 14, 2003, column that revealed Plame's identity -- on June 23, 2003, and July 8, 2003; Matthew Cooper, then Time magazine's White House correspondent, claimed that White House senior adviser Karl Rove disclosed Plame's CIA identity to him on July 11, 2003; and an unnamed administration official reportedly leaked the information to Washington 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 action" by "multiple people in the White House" to smear Wilson after the publication of his July 6, 2003, New York Times op-ed -- in which he cast doubt over Bush's claims about Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger. Hitchens's column never mentioned Miller, Pincus, or Cooper.
"He [Novak] was never told the name Plame but discovered it from Who's Who in America, which contained it in Joseph Wilson's entry."
Hitchens repeated a popular argument among conservative media figures -- that there is significance to Novak's claim that he was not told Plame's name by administration sources but learned it from Who's Who in America. Hitchens did not explain the purported significance of this. In fact, as Media Matters has noted, whatever harm that arose from the outing of Plame resulted not from the disclosure of her actual name, but from identifying "Wilson's wife" as an employee of the CIA. As Media Matters -- and Novak -- have noted, the actual name of "Wilson's wife" could have been -- and apparently was, by Novak -- easily discovered. Even Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, and Republican attorney Victoria Toensing, a defender of Novak's, acknowledged that public disclosure of Plame's actual name had no bearing on whether there was a violation of the law.
"Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had all along known which sources had responded to Novak's questions."
While this fact, if true, may be relevant to whether Fitzgerald was satisfied with Novak's level of cooperation with the investigation -- implying that Novak did cooperate to the extent that was necessary -- Hitchens does not explain how this "dissolve[s] any remaining doubt" about whether the Bush administration purposely leaked Plame's identity. In fact, as mentioned above, Fitzgerald has also stated there was a "concerted action" by "multiple people in the White House" to "discredit, punish or seek revenge against" Wilson. Also, as mentioned above, although Novak has yet to reveal the identity of his primary source, Fitzgerald has alleged that Libby and Rove gave Plame's identity to other reporters before it was given to Novak.