The Plame game

Posted: Jul 19, 2005 12:00 AM

From here in heartland America, I'm winging a message eastward.  It's addressed to my brothers and sisters of the mass media as they scrunch up their brows and artfully work their jaws, seeking to understand and explain what Karl Rove knew about Valerie Plame and when he knew it, assuming he knew much of anything, and whom he told, if he told anybody, and who heard, and who else knew it and why.

 And my message?

 A terse one: Just shut up, wouldja?

 Unfortunately, I already know the answer to such an excellent and timely question. The answer is a scandalized "No! How could anyone ask such a question?"

 The Washington, D.C., Beltway is in one of its periodic orgies over next to nothing. Nobody gets by with pooh-poohing such proceedings, which will proceed until 1) the Beltway has made nothing sound like something, or 2) the rest of the country tunes out totally or falls dead asleep.

 I am betting on the latter possibility, given not just the essentially opaque nature of the Plame Game -- outside feverish Washington, I mean -- but also its irrelevance to the purposes of a nation with larger fish to fry, Iraq being one of those things.

 Actually, Iraq is at the center of this thing, which helps explain the rage and indignation that fill so many Washington minds. Everything about Iraq stirs the capital to indignation, especially when it has to do with weapons of mass destruction.

 Those paying attention to this inherently silly story recall that it began in 2003, when the columnist Robert Novak wrote, almost as an aside, that Valerie Plame, "a [CIA] operative on weapons of mass destruction" had "suggested sending [her husband, Joseph Wilson IV] to Niger to investigate" reports of Iraqi efforts to buy uranium yellowcake. Which reports Wilson, on his return, said couldn't be substantiated.

 Suddenly Beltway interest shifted. Let's not talk about Saddam Hussein's malevolent intentions and designs went the new line. Let's talk about who leaked news of the Wilson-Plame connection. Forget the important stuff -- let's discuss the trivia. Accordingly, a special prosecutor was charged with finding out whether the leakers broke federal law by noting Plame's place of employment. And so on and so on to the present point. Ah, yes -- with a New York Times reporter in jail for refusing cooperation with the prosecutor.

 Is all this of no interest? No one would speak thus of a story involving possible breaches of law -- even if no such breaches seem anywhere close to being proved. The problem is the furor. What's all this about? From heartland America that seems plain enough -- and uncomplimentary enough to all involved.

 We've got here at bottom a Beltway story -- as tale not of America but of Washington. Yawn. Washington may be a nice place, but its inner workings aren't nearly as compelling to those outside the Beltway as to those inside. These people imagine normal folk sit around dishing the dirt on Valerie Plame? Fat chance.

 Then there's the media involvement: newspeople at the center, with one behind bars. That guarantees media obsession.

 We know what comes next, of course. The Bush White House is involved. The liberal Democrats who pretty well are the major media aren't going to miss a moment like this one; and even if they were inclined to, the liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill, still unable to get over the 2000 and 2004 elections, wouldn't dream of letting pass any attempt to revenge themselves on their archenemy, Karl Rove. Never mind that Rove isn't even a target of the special prosecutor's investigation. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and other Democrats want him fired anyway.

 All this with Iraq in some disarray and a Supreme Court nomination battle looming. You could get the impression we've gone collectively nuts. No, just the Beltway -- a peculiar patch of land never to be confused with the United States of America.