Another Black Cat News Story

Posted: Oct 02, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- White House Special Advisor Karl Rove is in need of an exorcist. Perhaps a witch doctor will suffice. Whatever choice is made, I advise that the president get a master of the occult over to Rove's White House office immediately, and before another day of CNN broadcasts alarm the nation.

Anyone listening to CNN or reading the liberal press knows that something diabolical has happened to Rove. Thanks to columnist Robert Novak, a former American diplomat who goes by the swank name of Joseph C. Wilson IV and the extreme left-wing Nation magazine, Rove is being victimized by another Washington Black Cat News Story. A Black Cat News Story is a bizarre phenomenon known only to national news reporting, usually in Washington. It is an ominous, catastrophic story that, like a black cat, leaps across a public figure's path -- and, all of a sudden, that public figure's luck turns sour.

He is abandoned by friends. On his way to a photo-op with Kofi Annan, the zipper on his pants breaks. During a reception in the White House Rose Garden, an overhead bird evacuates on his new tie. The phone rings, and it is Arianna Huffington announcing that she will be his weekend houseguest -- and she is bringing her new boyfriend, the one with the ponytail who wears sandals.

You think I am kidding? These Black Cat News Stories can do a lot of damage. There was one years back that Vice President Dan Quayle had a girlfriend, a girlfriend in common with half the Republicans on Capitol Hill. There was another one that President George Bush I had a girlfriend. These Black Cat News Stories caused little damage in career terms, but they did tarnish reputations hitherto unsullied. Most such stories lack substance and usually die after a terrific media pothering.

The administration of Bush II has already suffered the Enron Black Cat News Story and the Sixteen Words Black Cat News Story. Yet sometimes the story really sends its victim into oblivion. There was the Black Cat News Story about White House Chief Of Staff John Sununu using government transportation to pursue his stamp collection. That was the end of Sununu. Is Rove headed for retirement and a weekend with Arianna?

The story supposedly hexing him is that in a July 14 column Novak wrote that "senior administrative officials" told him that Wilson had been recommended to serve on a CIA mission to Niger to investigate uranium transfers to Iraqi agents by his wife, Valerie Plame, whom Novak identified as a CIA "operative." Precisely what the term "operative" meant remains a mystery. However, two days later Novak's identification of Plame roused indignation from an unlikely source, the left-wing Nation, an otherwise anti-CIA publication that had never minded this sort of outing in the past.

Soon Plame's husband jumped in. He had suffered the inspiration that Novak's "two senior administration officials" were actually one official, the unsuspecting Rove. And he was even angrier than the Nation. Wilson announced that he would like "to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs." Revealing the identity of an undercover CIA agent is a crime. By the way, Wilson is a writer as well as a diplomat. In March, a very critical essay of the Bush foreign policy appeared under his name in the extreme left-wing Nation.

Wilson believes that his criticism of the Bush administration motivated Rove to expose his wife. Now Rove has been a brilliant political strategist for three decades, but the plot that Wilson attributes to Rove is so fanciful I cannot imagine it ever even being adopted for a prime-time television melodrama.

The White House denies that Rove was Novak's source, and for his part Wilson seems to have backed off a bit on his accusation, saying he has no evidence Rove was involved. Thus my guess is that if the White House hangs in there, this story, too, will die. Rove is too much the pro to have been involved in such a thing.

The only matter that troubles me about the episode is that the CIA would employ a man as left-wing as Wilson to go to Niger unless they planned to leave him there. Unfortunately, he has returned.