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October 06, 2003

THIS IS WEIRD: A reader somehow interprets this post from Saturday, about the need to subpoena reporters to get at the truth of the Plame affair, as advice to the White House on how to cover the story up.

Actually, the press -- at least the members who were leaked to, and those with whom they've spoken -- knows the answer to this story already. It's possible that the White House (or at least George Bush) doesn't. I'm trying to get the story out, not keep it in. If there's a coverup here, it's the press that's conducting it.

It's true, of course, that this approach might discourage such leaks in the future. But that's a good thing, isn't it? From what we're hearing -- especially from critics of the Administration -- this wasn't one of those leaks that does good. It's a major threat to national security, we're told, and it was done purely for spite. If that's true, discouraging similar leaks in the future would seem to be a benefit, not a drawback. This isn't a "whistleblower" leak, where somebody exposes government misconduct on condition of anonymity. Here, it's the leak itself that's the misconduct, and it's the anonymity that let it happen, and that is keeping the leaker from being punished for conduct that everyone seems to regard as wrong.

Interestingly, I caught a bit of "Reliable Sources" at the airport yesterday, and Joe Conason was saying two things that I agreed with. First, that if, as we're hearing, the six reporters are gossiping about the identity of the leaker, that's very bad: if it's really a "confidential source," you don't tell anyone except your editor and maybe your lawyer. Certainly if journalists are willing to "leak" the identity of the leaker, their claim that they shouldn't be forced to expose it publicly, when they're sharing it with friends and hangers-on, becomes awfully weak. Whatever happened to "the public's right to know?"

Conason also suggested that President Bush publicly release the reporters from any duty of confidentiality, on behalf of the Administration. I kind of doubt that this would fly -- I imagine that reporters view confidentiality as something they owe the source personally, and not something that can be waived by the source's boss -- but it's worth a try, I suppose. At any rate, it's nice to see that Conason and I are in agreement about the importance of getting beyond claims of confidentiality, and finding out the truth. I wish I'd seen the rest of the show, but I had to board my flight, so I don't know how his comments were received by the other guests.

UPDATE: Reader Mike Hancock sends this suggestion:

There is something Bush could do that would be more effective than Bush himself denouncing any confidentiality agreement with anyone in his administration concerning Ms. Plame. He could--and should--order all his White House staff to execute a letter releasing any reporter from any confidentiality agreement with any such employee. Failure to execute such a letter would result in dismissal.

Yeah. Though I still wonder if reporters would care.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Here's more from John Rosenberg, who disagrees with me (somewhat) in the update at the bottom.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Chris Evans agrees with Rosenberg, more or less, and thinks that I've got this wrong:

Why wouldn't this be a whistleblower's leak? If the leaker thought that Wilson was sent to Niger because his CIA wife recommended him, wouldn't revealing that fact be damaging to Wilson's credibility and to the CIA?

It makes no sense to try and damage Wilson by outing his wife. It DOES make sense to leak an example of corruption in the CIA, which led to the Wrong Guy going to Niger. I'm pretty sure the CIA recommendation was accepted without further investigation because it came from the CIA; they're the ones who are supposed to know this and make these recommendations. In theory, the administration shouldn't have to recheck the CIA on these things.

The CIA made a bad recommendation, (perhaps) based on nepotism, and someone leaked this to the press. Or Novak asked someone "why was this guy sent to Niger" and got an earful. Apparantly, the administration missed the media's shift from "CIA=EVIL" to "CIA=Not quite as EVIL as BUSH".

Hmm. For this to be true, the press would have to be so blinded by anti-Bush feeling that it's missed the real story.

[NOTE: The Rosenberg link was broken -- I had a typo I didn't notice -- but it's fixed now. Sorry. I try to check those, but I've been busy today.]