Friday, December 31, 2004

"I don't know why they're upset with me. They ought to worry about themselves. I worry about myself."

Robert Novak is a strange sort of "journalist." Page A18 of today's New York Times addresses his role in the outing of Valerie Plame in Lorne Manly and Adam Liptak's "At Leak Inquiry's Center, a Circumspect Columnist." [The article can be found at]

It's there that he's quoted (answering a question from Brian Lamb on C-Span) saying, "I don't know why they're upset with me. They ought to worry about themselves. I worry about myself."

Like a character in an unfolding play by Moliere -- The School for GOP Hacks? -- Novak was trained by Rowland Evans, Jr. to always do his best to advance the interests of the GOP. Truly, he is the first act Agnes in Moliere's The School for Wives.

Joseph Wilson was bringing uncomfortable attention to the Bully Boy's remarks on yellow cake.
The echo chamber went into overdrive to discredit Wilson and Novak was there to deliver the body blow, announce in his July 14,2003 column:

Wilson never worked for the C.I.A., but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger.

With those remarks, Novak sought to discredit Wilson. Now maybe Novak wasn't aware of a number of things. Maybe he wasn't aware that he was being used to silence a critic of the Bully Boy's? Maybe he wasn't aware that he was outing Plame? [Correction: Novak was aware. He spoke on the phone with Joe Wilson on July 10th. Page 344 of Wilson's The Politics of Truth details the conversation. Without noting the conversation, or when it occurred, Novak would refer to it himself in a later column as he noted that Wilson refused to talk to him about Plame.] Robert Evans had schooled Novak to be, like Agnes, the adoring idiot.

But where Agnes's intellect slowly develops over the course of the play, Novak's gone down a different path -- schooled to be a non-thinking opinion writer, he's only excelled further at his cause.

Novak has damaged the ability of Plame to do her job. In doing so, he's put her at risk, anyone who was seen with her in her undercover days at risk and, at a time when national security at least gets lip service, she has been taken "out" an asset when one would think the nation needs her more than ever.

There's not a great deal of thought that goes into Novak's "writing," so, he very well could have had no idea that doing stenography for the Court of St. Bully Boy could imperil the nation. Once Evans steered him down the road of hack journalism, there was no controlling him.

Now he surveys the chaos he's created and shrugs. He really appears to have no grasp of the destruction he has brought about or that he was used to do just that.

Only an Agnes, perfecting the idiocy Arnolphe started her on, could be so obtuse.

At the Common Ills, we shed no tears for New York Times' reporter Judith N. Miller. Her current legal problems may be caused by Novak but there's an almost poetic quality to the fact that where the Times never demanded answers from her (over those run up to the war and after the invasion reports she filed) a prosecutor's now demanding accountability on another matter. There's almost a symmetary to it, if you think about it.

But while we may enjoy her time in the hot seat, the matter that's landed her there (at last) is another issue. One doesn't expect wisdom from Novak. But it's a real shame that Miller and Matthew Cooper are left to fight for the freedom of press while Novak grows ever more obtuse.

In the process, words like "criminal" are wrongly applied. A reporter breaking the news didn't commit a crime. The law applies only to the "two administration sources" that passed on the information to Novak. The law did not govern reporters (which would probably be seen as a restraint on the freedom of the press if it had attempted to do so).

[A reporter refusing to give the court the name of their source in this matter is a legal issue that's currently being addressed. In times more supportive of the freedom of the press, Miller and the others would be allowed to protect their sources.]

Novak didn't break the law but our modern day Agnes prefers to remain obtuse the situation he's created and leaves it for others (including Miller) to attempt to fight for the rights of the press.

If Novak had any integrity, he would have long ago stated that a reporter has a legal right to print what he did. (And Novak did have that right.) Instead others who did not break the story are left to fight for journalistic integrity and the freedom of the press.

Again, no tears for Judy at this site. But while Novak allows her and others to take the heat for his action, he demonstrates contempt for the profession he's pretended to be a part of.

There's a simple statement Novak could make to bring the focus back where it belongs, "I was doing my job." That would put the focus back on Novak's column (Miller never wrote about Plame). But it would also mean that Novak would be tested.

Would he crumple (as he's done in the past -- the Times notes that he publicly named a source before, Robert P. Hanssen)? Probably. Our Agnes wasn't in schooled in journalism ethics, only attack politics.

Were he to take the position he should take (one taken by reporters who didn't out Plame) it might be harder for him to play the uber patriot and modern day moralist he's so fond of. Difficult questions that he's largely been able to sidestep might be asked, not by a prosecutor but by a public that's largely ignored Novak's role in outing Plame. Such questions might result in a public outcry causing him to lose his cushy post at CNN. Isn't there something questionable that he's a Crossfire co-host who regularly questions others about their motives but feels he himself is beyond reproach?

Novak probably realizes that his name, such as it is, exists today not as a result of his columns (which are usually notable for being non-noteworthy) but on his self-presentation as one of the last voices standing up for decency. He probably realizes that taking a stand for free speech would destroy his "fan base."

They're accustomed to swallowing the manufactured outrage of a blow hard. Having to confront the fact that the uber patriot was willing to toss aside the "good of the country" wouldn't play well.

So he appears perfectly willing to let others fight the battle he should be fighting: the rights of a free press. I don't think he should have outed Plame. She wasn't central to the story and the outing was nothing but an attempt to divert attention from the fact that a known falsehood appeared in a State of the Union address.

The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

That's the allegation Bully Boy made in a State of the Union address. An allegation the CIA had removed from an earlier speech because they knew it to be false. Wilson wrote of his visit to Niger (on the op-ed pages of the New York Times) and questions started to be raised.

Did an American president lie to the people? Remember the faux gasps and manufactured outrage over Clinton's lie (re: Lewinsky) over a private matter? (I'm referring to his public statement, an argument can be made, that due to the definition of sexual relations, Clinton did not lie under oath. I have no interest in the matter one way or the other and this post isn't about that. My own personal opinion is that most of us have lied in some manner about sex.)

That's an issue because the State of the Union address is an official, Constitutionally mandated, task of the president (Article II. Section III). Presumably, the president is held to oath of office while delivering a State of the Union address.

David Corn (from The Lies of George W. Bush):

Nigergate opened the door for a bigger question: Had Bush oversold the case for war? Time magazine ran a cover piece under a large headline: "Untruth and Consequences." Its article focused on the Niger business, but the magazine also noted that prewar assertions by Bush on other WMD matters -- biological weapons in Iraq, Hussein's use of aluminum tubes for a nuclear weapons program, and Iraq's links to al Qaeda -- had not yet proven true (p. 292).

How would the chattering class, a group that had exhausted so much breath over Clinton's sexual lie, handle the prospect of being lied into war? Things were getting dicey as they clutched their pearls.

The water was starting to boil for the Bully Boy so "two senior administration officials" decided (either on their own or acting on the orders of someone else) to take the heat off by shopping around the non-pertinant detail that Joseph Wilson was married to Valerie Plame (not news) and that she was a CIA operative (gossip passing as news).

John Dean (from Worse than Watergate):

Using those in the news media willing to be complicit, the Bush White House is attacking enemies by planting harmful information. It has made old-fashioned gossip-mongering into high-powered smart bombs, firing explosive information by publicly releasing it and using the reporter's code of confidentiality to protect itself from blowback. This, of course, is akin to what Nixon aide Chuck Colson went to jail for (p. 170).

It was clear from the timing of Novak's first article that the leak was an act of revenge against Wilson for speaking the truth about the Bush administration's bogus claim that Niger provided uranium to Iraq (p. 171).

The ugly truths Novak wants to avoid is that he was used (willingly or not) and that this uber patriot compromised national security in his efforts to court the Court of St. Bully Boy. I don't agree with what Novak did. Valerie Plame wasn't central to whether or not Bush lied. Her undercover status wasn't not relevant. I see no journalistic reason for her to have been outed.

But if Novak wanted to argue "the people have a right to know!" I'd support his stance. I'd disagree that she should have been outed but I'd put that off as a disagreement and support his assertion that the people have a right to know and to a free press.

Novak doesn't make that argument and probably won't. The echo chamber exists to questions the motives of others and, quite frankly, Novak couldn't withstand it if the chamber he's polished the brass in religiously for many years turned on him. If he played his only card (one he should have played), those who've launched attacks on Richard Clarke and assorted others would have to train their sites on Novak and wonder, "Where is his sense of decency! Where is his patriotism!"

So he hides in the shadow and claims he can't speak about the matter on the advice of council. His silence now is in direct contrast to his early eagerness to share. A reticent Novak is laughable at this stage in his career. Who knew the attack dog would turn into a declawed tabby in his final moments on the national stage?

E-mails to this site have noted enjoyment over Judith Miller being put in the hot seat. Again, it is fun to watch her squirm. At this stage, it's fun; however, if Novak continues to let others fight the fight he should be fighting, to let others take the heat for his actions, it won't be fun.
(Yes, Yazz, here comes a "fairness" moment.)

Miller doesn't deserve to be punished for Novak's actions. It's a shame that she (and others) have to stand up for the rights of a free press while Novak's allowed to avoid the issue.

Regarding Iraq, she may have truly believed in her "scoops." I don't know if she did or if she knew they were false. From her current stance, it seems journalism and a free press mean something to her. (By "current stance," I'm not referring to what many of you saw as her attempt to present herself as the Sally Field of the press corps. I didn't see the Charlie Rose interview.) I wish they'd meant as much to her in her Iraq reporting.

But I'm not willing to pin her current problems on "fate" or "karma" when the situation can be so clearly pinned on Robert Novak who refuses to address his own actions and instead is willing to hide behind Miller and Matthew Cooper (among others).

I doubt Novak will find the inner strength to fight his own battles or to take a stand for the profession he professes to be a member of. After all, as he stated, "I worry about myself."
But maybe our modern day Agnes could stop thinking only of himself and remember these words from Moliere: "The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it." Translation, Novak, redeem yourself before the curtain closes on this farce.

For further information please check out the following:

Amy Sullivan's "Little Big Man" (

John Dean's "The Serious Implications Of President Bush's Hiring A Personal Outside Counsel For The Valerie Plame Investigation" (

John Dean's "The Leak of CIA Agent Valerie Plame Wilson's Identity:Why Competing Congressional and Special Counsel Investigations Will Inevitably Cause Problems" (

John Dean's "Why Did Attorney General Ashcroft Remove Himself From The Valerie Plame Wilson Leak Investigation? Signs that a Key Witness May Have Come Forward" (

John Dean's "A Further Look At The Criminal ChargesThat May Arise From the Plame Scandal, In Which a CIA Agent's Cover Was Blown" (

John Dean's "The Bush Administration Adopts a Worse-than-Nixonian Tactic:The Deadly Serious Crime Of Naming CIA Operatives" (

David Corn's "Nigergate Thuggery" (

David Corn's "Leak: Slime, Not Crime?" (

I'd also suggest you visit bookstores or libraries to obtain a copy of John Dean's Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidenty of George W. Bush.

[Note: A link to the Times story has been added thanks to a "___" who pointed that there was none. Also, Shirley e-mailed with three corrections needed and they've been done.]

[Note: 7-5-05 Corrections. Adam "Liptak" thanks to ____ for catching that. Also, Novak did know Valerie Plame was undercover per Wilson and Novak has confirmed speaking to Wilson on the matter.]