Kopel cited misleading Washington Post editorial in criticizing Denver Post's Plame coverage

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Rocky Mountain News media critic and Independence Institute research director Dave Kopel chastised The Denver Post for "barely acknowledg[ing]" that "the White House was not the culprit" in a leak exposing the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Kopel also commended The Washington Post for its editorial claiming that the disclosure that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the primary source for a column exposing Plame's identity exonerated the White House of attempting to discredit Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson. But Kopel did not acknowledge that Karl Rove and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby reportedly leaked Plame's identity to other journalists.

In his September 9 Rocky Mountain News column, media critic and Independence Institute research director Dave Kopel chastised The Denver Post for "barely acknowledg[ing]" that "the White House was not the culprit" in a leak exposing the identity of former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Kopel then commended The Washington Post for an editorial claiming that the revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the primary source for syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak's 2003 column exposing Plame's identity exonerated the White House of a deliberate and coordinated effort to discredit Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Kopel further commended the Rocky Mountain News for printing other articles he claimed informed readers "that Plamegate was not, after all, a case of the White House 'outing' a CIA agent." But Kopel did not acknowledge that, in addition to Armitage, White House senior adviser Karl Rove and former vice presidential chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby reportedly leaked Plame's identity to other journalists and that Rove reportedly confirmed Plame's identity to Novak.

Kopel's column reported that a Newsweek article "recently revealed ... the man who first disclosed Plame's identity (accidentally, through gossip, not malice) [as] Richard Armitage, a State Department official critical of the Iraq war." Kopel went on to commend The Washington Post for publishing "a scathing editorial acknowledging that the accusations against the White House were false," and he claimed "the White House was not the culprit" in exposing Plame's identity.

Contrary to Kopel's claim, as Media Matters for America has noted, Rove and Libby played significant roles in the leak scandal. Rove and Libby reportedly were the original sources of the information regarding Plame's CIA employment for two other reporters -- then-Time magazine White House correspondent Matthew Cooper and then-New York Times reporter Judith Miller, respectively. For example, an October 16, 2005, New York Times article by Miller reported that on July 8 and July 12, 2003, she had conversations with Libby about Plame working for the CIA. Novak's column exposing Plame's identity was published on July 14, 2003.

The assertion in The Washington Post editorial that it is "untrue" that White House officials "orchestrated the leak of Plame's identity" is contradicted by many other Washington Post articles published in the three years since Novak's 2003 column, as well as by court documents filed by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald -- which The Washington Post acknowledged later in the same editorial. One such article, in the April 9 edition of The Washington Post, reported that Fitzgerald "described a 'concerted action' by 'multiple people in the White House' -- using classified information -- to 'discredit, punish or seek revenge against' a critic of President Bush's war in Iraq."

Kopel also commended the News for publishing "one New York Times article plus a pair of national columns informing readers that Plamegate was not, after all, a case of the White House 'outing' a CIA agent." An August 30 New York Times article by Neil A. Lewis published in the News reported that Armitage "was the initial and primary source for the columnist Robert D. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, identified Valerie Wilson as a CIA officer," but it made no claims that the investigation into allegations over the CIA leak "was not, after all, a case of the White House 'outing' a CIA agent."

However, a September 1 New York Times column (subscription required) by David Brooks published in the News did assert that "the leaker [Armitage] cannot be used to discredit the president." Brooks further stated that "the primary leaker was not Rove at all, but Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state." However, Brooks's column made no mention of the fact that in a July 12 column, Novak wrote that he "interpret[ed]" Rove as "confirming" the information about Plame that Armitage provided.

Furthermore, although Rove was not identified as Novak's "primary leaker," Novak reportedly tried to protect Rove for his role in the leak. On May 25, National Journal investigative reporter Murray Waas reported: "On September 29, 2003, three days after it became known that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame, columnist Robert Novak telephoned White House senior adviser Karl Rove to assure Rove that he would protect him from being harmed by the investigation, according to people with firsthand knowledge of the federal grand jury testimony of both men."

Kopel also praised The Washington Post editorial for reporting, in Kopel's words, "that Plame's husband (Joseph Wilson) had lied when he claimed in 2003 to have proven that Saddam Hussein was not attempting to obtain uranium from Niger." Kopel was referring to The Washington Post's assertion that "Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials." As Media Matters has noted, that assertion in the editorial contradicts years of reporting by The Washington Post's own staff. For example, an October 25, 2005, article by staff writers Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus reported:

Wilson's central assertion -- disputing President Bush's 2003 State of the Union claim that Iraq was seeking nuclear material in Niger -- has been validated by postwar weapons inspections. And his charge that the administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq has proved potent.

[...]

Wilson also had charged that his report on Niger clearly debunked the claim about Iraqi uranium purchases. He told NBC in 2004: "This government knew that there was nothing to these allegations." But the Senate committee said his findings were ambiguous. Tenet said Wilson's report "did not resolve" the matter.

Further, in an April 10 Washington Post article, Pincus took issue with Libby's claim, detailed in Fitzgerald's court filing, that Wilson had "reported information about an Iraqi delegation visiting Niger in 1999 that was 'understood to be a reference to a desire to obtain uranium.' " The article rebutted this claim as follows: "In fact, Wilson said he was told that a Niger official was contacted at a meeting outside the country by a businessman who said an Iraqi economic delegation wanted to meet with him. The Niger official guessed that the Iraqis might want to talk about uranium because Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger in the mid-1980s. But when they met, no talk of uranium took place." The Washington Post has repeatedly reported that Wilson, during his 2002 trip to Niger, "found no evidence to support allegations that Iraq was seeking uranium" from the African nation.

Similarly, in his September 7 broadcast, KOA radio host Mike Rosen cited The Washington Post editorial:

ROSEN: So, I just read to you from this Washington Post editorial. Let me read this one passage again.

"Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge claiming falsely, as it turned out, that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials."

Washington Post says that "Wilson's charges that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium shopping in Niger are false." That's what The Washington Post says.

From the September 9 Rocky Mountain News column by Kopel:

Since 2003, the News and The Denver Post have run many dozens of articles about the claim that the White House "outed" CIA agent Valerie Plame. But as recently revealed in Newsweek, the man who first disclosed Plame's identity (accidentally, through gossip, not malice) was Richard Armitage, a State Department official critical of the Iraq war.

Commendably, The Washington Post (Sept. 1) published a scathing editorial acknowledging that the accusations against the White House were false, and that Plame's husband (Joseph Wilson) had lied when he claimed in 2003 to have proven that Saddam Hussein was not attempting to obtain uranium from Niger.

Also commendably, the News ran one New York Times article, plus a pair of national columns informing readers that Plamegate was not, after all, a case of the White House "outing" a CIA agent.

The Denver Post, unfortunately, covered the revelation with a mere three paragraphs in its national briefing. Although the Post editorially, and its columnists, had considered the story worthy of attention approximately two dozen times, the news that the White House was not the culprit was barely acknowledged.

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