Now is the time to ask: What do John Mark Karr and Joseph Wilson have in common? Wilson is no more a would-be pedophile than Karr is a former diplomat. But they are both attention-seeking liars who deliberately helped launch criminal investigations that should never have gone as far as they did. Moreover, they launched media feeding frenzies that wasted everybody's time.
It's this second point that interests me more than the first. Ever since it was reported that Karr wasn't the right guy, the media - cable news networks in particular - have been taking a beating by the professional fingerwaggers. The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz declared that the Karr episode "instantly goes down with the greatest media embarrassments in modern history."
In fairness, the fingerwaggers have a point. A woman who flew on the same plane as Karr, for example, was interviewed as if she had survived the downing of the Titanic. The Karr family baby sitter was filmed in shadows for her interview, as if she were in witness protection for ratting out Vincent "the Chin" Gigante.
"The problem is that the New York Times devoted in one of their articles ... 13 reporters to John Mark Karr. They don't have 13 reporters in Iraq. That's the embarrassment," exclaimed media writer Neal Gabler on Fox News.
But when it comes to the Joseph Wilson story, the wagging fingers shudder to a full stop. Wilson's allegations were all outright lies or, at best, deceitful insinuations. At least when Karr lied, he put the blame on himself. In Wilson's telling, he could do no wrong even as he was a one-man sprinkler system of false accusations - accusations that launched an absurd investigation, cost the vice president's chief of staff his job, put a journalist in jail and threatened to do likewise to many more, and hurt America's image around the globe.
As it turned out, Wilson's accusation that President Bush lied in his State of the Union speech about Iraq seeking "yellowcake uranium" was debunked by the Senate Intelligence Committee. As was Wilson's repeated denial that his wife didn't help him get the Niger assignment. His suggestion that Dick Cheney sent him to Africa and that Cheney deliberately ignored Wilson's shoddy report was pure Wilsonian conjecture. And, of course, his self-lionizing speculation that the White House launched a vengeful campaign against his wife never had any basis in fact. Indeed, there's good reason to believe Wilson himself leaked the information that Plame was an undercover agent.
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