Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha

Posted: Jul 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Just as the New York Times reported that Bush guru Karl Rove disclosed to a Time magazine reporter that Bush-hater Joseph C. Wilson was married to a CIA operative -- without naming her -- the Times had a real scoop: Valerie Plame "prefers" to be known as Valerie Wilson. Funny, for years, the Times and her husband referred to Mrs. Wilson as Valerie Plame. Now that reports say Rove mentioned that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, Plame is Valerie Wilson -- a fact that conveniently further damns Rove.

 America now knows that Rove told a reporter that former ambassador Wilson, an official in the Clinton administration, was sent to Niger to investigate reports that Iraq had tried to obtain uranium for nuclear weapons -- and on the recommendation of his wife, who worked for the CIA. After Wilson wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about his mission, Rove questioned his credibility.

 I understand the front-page treatment in the Times and The San Francisco Chronicle when it came out that Rove spoke about Plame with Time’s Matthew Cooper. President Bush made the mistake of saying he would fire any staffer who leaked “classified” information -- a Clintonesque pledge and hedge. Bush owes the public an explanation. If he doesn’t fire Rove, he should explain why.

 There is no evidence, however, that Rove broke the law, as he seemed completely unaware that Plame was a covert operative. He wasn’t out to punish Plame, but rather to discredit her husband, who discredited the Bushies.

 Now, Rove critics argue that Rove was wrong to leak anything to the press, not because he might have broken the law, but because those White House denials undermine the Bushies’ credibility.

 This is funny, because Wilson has been caught in some truth-twisting himself. While the media focus on White House discrepancies, discrepancies in Wilson’s story go underreported. While Wilson denied that his wife recommended him for the Niger trip, a Senate bipartisan Select Committee on Intelligence found a memo in which Plame recommended sending her husband to Africa.

 More important, Wilson’s report did not debunk the Niger story, as he asserted, but instead bolstered the story’s credibility to the CIA, although State Department officials were skeptical.

 Spare me the hand-wringing about “the national security of our country,” as Sen. John F. Kerry put it. I agree that the White House is too lofty a perch for bad-mouthing a federal employee -- that’s what the Republican National Committee is for. Be it noted, however, that America is no less safe with Valerie’s name -- be it Plame or Wilson -- in the spotlight.

 Besides, surely Wilson knew he was compromising his wife’s anonymity when he wrote the piece for The New York Times.

 If there were stories that endangered the lives of Americans serving abroad, they were the stories of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, and later the overblown Quran stories that graced the Times’ and The Chronicle’s front pages in June -- stories that incited anti-American sentiment across the globe. Rove critics aren’t demanding an investigation to see who leaked those stories, although some on the right wanted an investigation to see who leaked the original (and inaccurate) Quran-flushing report to Newsweek.

 Note how, after Newsweek got the Quran-flushing at Guantanamo Bay story wrong, The New York Times followed with we-told-you-so reports that there were abuses of the Quran at Gitmo. Stop the presses: A defense contractor stepped on the Quran, for which he apologized; a guard splashed urine on a Quran -- by accident; the night shift tossed water balloons in a cellblock, Quran copies got wet. Somehow that non-story was front-page news.

 That Times editors saw the Quran story as top-of-the-page material is a sign of pure hysteria. Torture at Abu Ghraib was front-page news; a damp Quran is not.

 Here’s an example of how tone-deaf the Times has become: Its magazine wanted a photographer to depict the abuse of prisoners at Iraqi facilities and Gitmo, so the editors hired Andres Serrano, the photographer who angered America with his photograph of a crucifix in urine.

 Call the Quran and Rove stories examples of a new trend: We-told-you-so journalism. Gotcha journalism has a new name: Gotcha this time. No, gotcha this time. No, really, gotcha this time.

 If a new story reinforces an old story that the public didn’t care about before, it lands on page one.