My 13-year-old daughter, Molly, comes home one day this
week and tells me that, during science class, Geena told her that Zach told
Geena that Molly is "too shallow."
But Geena could impart this information only in confidence, because Zach
told her not to tell. So in language arts class, my daughter confronts Zach,
saying that "a friend" who heard this conversation (technically true) revealed
the "shallow" allegation. In public now, Zach puts on a good show. "I would
never . . . "
Why does this tale of teenage woe sound so familiar? Then it hits me: the
Libby trial! Pull back the curtain on the flow of information in the nation's
capital, and the White House and the Washington press corps are so, like,
Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney - they're the
bullies who run the game. They get power not just from their offices, but from
their ability to use all information as a weapon. And it doesn't matter what
kind of information: true, false, fact, opinion. A well-timed, well-placed
comment is the political equivalent of a sniper's bullet. Before you know it,
someone's doing detention.
You remember those big shots from seventh grade. Everything they did and
said was calculated to enhance their own agenda. They might happen to casually
mention certain facts, like, "That Joseph Wilson, he doesn't know anything.
Didja know his wife got him that junket to Niger?" And pretty soon it's all
over the playground ... I mean the press.
After this week's guilty verdict, newsrooms needed interactive graphics to
depict the sordid flow of information. It's like tracking the social slights of
13-year-olds. For example:
On Jan. 28, 2003, President George W. Bush tells everyone that the Brits
columnist Nicholas Kristoff gets all coy and suggests that a "former U.S.
ambassador to Africa" says the uranium investigation was a total dud.
Then CIA Director George Tenet tells Vice President Dick Cheney that
Kristoff's "unnamed ambassador" is one Joseph Wilson, and his wife is CIA
employee Valerie Plame. Can you believe it?
So Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, tells New York Times reporter Judith
Miller that Wilson's wife might work for the CIA. Bob Woodward says that
someone - "not Libby" - told him about Plame. Later Armitage, the deputy
secretary of State, admits he clued Woodward in.
On July 6 Wilson finally tells everyone that he's the Africa guy and the
uranium thing was bogus. Next day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer
says in a briefing that, oh yeah, that uranium claim was a bit, um, wrong. So
Time magazine's Matthew Cooper calls up Rove, who tells him that Plame is a)
Wilson's wife and b) works for the CIA. But Rove fails to mention that this was
supposed to be a secret.
Next day - get this - Cooper calls Libby, who won't confirm anything!
Columnist Robert Novak publicly ID's Plame, and cites two anonymous sources
who later turn out to be Rove and Armitage. The CIA demands an investigation.
And Bush is, like, all tough: "I want to know who it is and if the person has
violated the law, they will be taken care of."
Don't you miss seventh grade?
There were two facts in question, and both turned out to be true. Wilson
did investigate the Hussein-uranium charge and concluded there was nothing to
worry about. Wilson's wife was an undercover CIA agent.
Journalists, when they do their jobs well, are supposed to tell us the
truth. But they also are supposed to help the public sort through which truths
are important. In this case, behind the veil of the reporter-source shield
ideally created for a whistle-blower, not a vice president's chief of staff,
reporters ended up obscuring the truth.
Having promised confidentiality, they could not report everything they knew
about the Plame revelation, most importantly the motivations behind it.
The government sources were using Wilson's marriage to tarnish his
reputation and undermine the veracity of his conclusions on Iraq, but reporters
couldn't reveal who these people were. The many journalists who had the facts
about Plame at first and judged them too inconsequential to report still were
bound to protect the sources as the facts became public.
Remember why junior high was so miserable? The flow of information made the
world an unpredictable place. You never knew when you'd find yourself a victim
of a smear campaign. Fairness and justice were impossible fantasies. And truth?
You'd think we would have learned something back then.