a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Plame and Wilson: still “Fair Game” for the Washington Post

Posted by Thomas Nephew on December 6th, 2010

This weekend I saw the movie “Fair Game,” and I highly recommend it.  I also highly recommend you read the Washington Post editorial condemning the movie, which might be titled “Who ya gonna believe — us or your lying eyes?”  It should become Exhibit A for evidence of the true function of the Washington Post: not so much a newspaper as the lying mouthpiece of the permanent government of the United States.

The online version of the Post will tell you online that a Saturday, December 4 editorial in that paper was headlined “Hollywood myth-making on Valerie Plame controversy.” But that’s just the first lie you’ll encounter in this hit piece, which was actually titled “Dirty ‘Game’” in the print edition.  The piece begins, “WE’RE NOT in the habit of writing movie reviews. But the recently released film “Fair Game” – which covers a poisonous Washington controversy during the war in Iraq – deserves some editorial page comment, if only because of what its promoters are saying about it,” and continues:

…Fair Game,” based on books by Mr. Wilson and his wife, is full of distortions – not to mention outright inventions. To start with the most sensational: The movie portrays Ms. Plame as having cultivated a group of Iraqi scientists and arranged for them to leave the country, and it suggests that once her cover was blown, the operation was aborted and the scientists were abandoned. This is simply false. In reality, as The Post’s Walter Pincus and Richard Leiby reported, Ms. Plame did not work directly on the program, and it was not shut down because of her identification.

That’s interesting, because what Pincus and Leiby actually reported was this:

As reporters who covered the Plame CIA leak affair, as it came to be known, we compared the reality of what unfolded in Washington in that era against the events that the screenwriters and director of “Fair Game” boiled into their narrative. The movie holds up as a thoroughly researched and essentially accurate account — albeit with caveats.

Moreover, the “caveats” amount to quibbles — mainly about the centrality of Plame’s precise role in the Iraqi scientist program, and this: “[a]lthough the film suggests that the blowing of Valerie’s cover led directly to the shutdown of the Iraqi scientist exfiltration, an intelligence insider told us: “Something like this, if it was going on, wouldn’t have been canceled for this reason.” Well, say no more!  Any anonymous intelligence insider’s word should do for a Washington Post reader.

But even if you take the ‘agency officials’ and ‘insiders’ at their word and grant the accuracy of their estimates,

(1) whether or not the exfiltration was canceled because Plame’s cover was blown by Novak’s article doesn’t change that the blown cover put the Iraqis at greater risk, and
(2), Plame’s fundamental connection to the pre-war CIA Iraq WMD investigation — whether her spot in some CIA org chart was ‘central,’ ‘direct,’ ‘lateral,’ or ‘upside down’  — is actually substantiated by the Pincus/Leib report.

As the reporters write, “The movie effectively dispenses with the canard that Valerie Plame Wilson was not a covert operative” – rebutting a frequent suggestion at the time that no real crime had been committed in revealing her CIA connection.

The editorial also revives the myth that Bush’s famous sixteen words in his 2003 State of the Union speech — “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” — were in fact “well founded,” citing the Butler Report and the Roberts Senate Foreign Affairs Committee report. Setting aside the metaphysics of whether believing something happened when it clearly didn’t could ever be ‘well founded’, Steve Benen points out that’s not so: the White House knew the claims were dubious at the time… as the Washington Post’s own Peter Eisner reported 3 years ago:

Dozens of interviews with current and former intelligence officials and policymakers in the United States, Britain, France and Italy show that the Bush administration disregarded key information available at the time showing that the Iraq-Niger claim was highly questionable.*

The editorial also more or less baldly recycles the innuendo that Joe Wilson was recruited by his wife, as some kind of gift to a failing career, to go to Niger and look in to claims of a huge yellowcake shipment to Iraq (“it was long ago established that Mr. Wilson himself was not telling the truth – not about his mission to Niger and not about his wife.”).  But the movie shows very successfully, how that was always an intentional distraction: as Wilson asks a student forum, “How many of you know the sixteen words Bush said about uranium in Africa? ”  None raise their hands.  “How many of you know my wife’s name?”  Everyone raises their hands.

Meanwhile the Post hosts foaming-at-the-mouth neocons like Charles Krauthammer — delicately tiptoeing (as it were) to the brink of calling for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange’s assassination in a “might someone wield a poison umbrella and rid us of this meddlesome hacker” kind of way.  (This for publishing leaked material Assange first offered to the State Department for vetting for dangerous information.  Clearly, the Brezhnev-era KGB could have used Krauthammer, he’s their kind of guy.)  Earlier this year, after the similarly harmless Iraq leaks, Marc Thiessen called for development of a computer virus that would destroy computers accessing the Wikileaks site.    Don’t get me wrong: it’s Krauthammer’s and Thiessen’s perfect right to say whatever authoritarian, borderline insane notion crawls into their minds, and it’s the Post’s right and apparent duty to provide them with a lucrative platform to do so.  It’s also mine to despise them for wanting to actively and destructively reduce the information available to citizens of the United States.  (For its part, the Post editorial board has merely tut-tutted about lax security in the Pentagon that allowed the leaks.)

But back to “Fair Game” and Iraq.  Had the Washington Post not been an active party to the disastrous war fever that swept Washington and the country (and me along with it) back in 2002 and 2003, this might be merely pathetic, or perhaps darkly comical.  After all, we have here the Washington Post editorial board (presumably Fred Hiatt) twisting its own reporting and the facts in eerily precise analogy to the Bush White House twisting its intelligence findings or lack thereof.  There’s also evidence of learning from the Rovian master in how the Post piously decries the film as evidence of a “troubling trend of political debates in Washington in which established facts are willfully ignored” — a charge more sensibly leveled at Cheney, Bush, Rove …and the Washington Post, for that matter.   Good boy Freddy! — here’s a cocktail party invitation.

But the Post was a party to that war — as eager and willing to beat the drums then and now as Hearst’s yellow journalism was in other bad old days.  So it’s not pathetic and it’s not funny — it’s disgusting and it’s outrageous.  Almost worse — given its role as a newspaper of record in a republic allegedly professing democratic ideals and a distrust of power — it’s an active party to an ongoing propaganda campaign to twist and rewrite the history of that war.

The masthead of the Post’s editorial page reads “The Washington Post: An Independent Newspaper.”  Would that it were so.

* Moreover, as ThinkProgress’s Matt Duss points out, what the Butler report actually says is that British intelligence on the Iraq-Niger connection was seriously flawed, ignoring important caveats and relying on third hand reports to arrive at its conclusion.

NOTE: Something I first learned from the movie — and not disputed by Pincus/Leib or the editorial —  was that Wilson ascertained that the “sixteen words” in fact referred to the Niger claim he had debunked, and not some other corner of Africa.  I mention this because my initial reaction to the Wilson article in July 2003 — during my regrettable support for the Iraq War — was a rather technical view that the “sixteen words” were, at least on their face, carefully and plainly chosen enough not to be a lie: someone else made the claim and I thought it might not have been about Niger. That becomes unsupportable with this added piece of information.

UPDATE, 12/7: Peter Eisner leaves a comment (see below), and David Corn — author of Hubris, and editor at Mother Jones — weighs in (“Washington Post: Still Spinning the CIA Leak Case): “…it’s the Post editorial board that is ignoring key facts and selectively citing evidence to manufacture a narrative of its own liking: Joe Wilson lied, and Bush & Cheney did not (with an assist from the Post editorial page) mislead the nation into war. The difference between the editorialists and the filmmakers, though, is that Hiatt and his colleagues, as journalists, cannot claim dramatic license.”

2 Responses to “Plame and Wilson: still “Fair Game” for the Washington Post”

  1. Peter Eisner Says:

    Thanks for the mention of my story. I wrote something about the Post Editorial yesterday at my blog, World Desk, at

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Thank you very much for writing! Sorry my comment system is hard to put links in; Mr. Eisner’s post is “Thoughts about the Film “Fair Game” — And a Review on the Washington Post Editorial Pages“. It’s all very interesting, of course, but this is just great:

    There’s an interesting sidelight to the story. As a result of Cheney’s role in the war, Knut and I reported that Rove had considered dropping Cheney from the ticket in the 2004 elections, and that Cheney was deeply miffed. I mentioned this in an interview on CNN on April 2, 2007, and was met with a mighty denial from the Bush White House. Comes now Bush’s memoir –and he acknowledges the same thing that the White House had denied at the time. We had that right — and the Bush White House denial was a lie, was it not? Perhaps Rove wasn’t around to fact-check Bush’s book for him.

    ha 🙂 I didn’t know that, but I’m so much happier now that I do.

    Mr. Eisner and Knut Royce are co-authors of The Italian Letter (April 2007), in which the yellowcake story and the forged document purporting to document it are investigated.

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