Who Gives a Flying Flag? the Smearing of Joe Wilson, the Excuses for Karl Rove: For the Pundits of the Right, National Security Is Just a Bumper Sticker

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LOOKING AT THE REACTIONS OF THE right-wingers to l'affaire Novak-Rove-Wilson-Plame, you'd have to conclude that, for them, national security is a sometime thing--a talking point or a symbolic flourish, but not a real-world imperative involving actual lives, dangers, and government workings. The smears and (to be generous) fat, sloppy errors directed against former Ambassador Joseph Wilson pour forth as thick and fast as finger paint. The anticipatory excuses for Karl Rove--who, if he did not commit actual crimes, may have at the least leaked classified information about Wilson's CIA-agent wife en route to the smears against Wilson--pour forth just as thick, just as fast. When there's White House discipline to be maintained, who gives a flying flag about national security?

Consider David Brooks, whom many persist (but why?) in thinking must know better. Brooks has echoed the White House line, persisting in the falsehood that Wilson credits Vice President Dick Cheney with sending the former ambassador to Niger. Here's Brooks on NPR's "All Things Considered" (July 14): "Joe Wilson was going around saying that the vice president sent him to Iraq, which turns out to be untrue." Ten days later, Brooks echoed himself on Chris Matthews' Hardball, where Matthews repeated the same line, specifically citing Wilson's appearance on Meet the Press on July 6, 2003. But here is what Wilson said on that occasion: "The question [about whether Iraq was shopping for Nigerian uranium] was asked of the CIA by the office of the vice president." Here is what he wrote in his famous op-ed piece of the same date: "In February 2002, I was informed by officials at the Central Intelligence Agency that Vice President Dick Cheney's office had questions about a particular intelligence report ... that documented the sale of uranium yellowcake ... by Niger to Iraq in the late 1990s. The agency officials asked if I would travel to Niger to check out the story so they could provide a response to the vice president's office." Why does Brooks believe different? (Brooks failed to reply to my e-mail asking him to make sense of this discrepancy.)

PAGE THROUGH WALL STREET JOURnal editorials or The Washington Times, scroll through the National Review Online, scan FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the wing-o-sphere and you'll find a cornucopia of fractionally baked and downright raw accusations against Wilson. "A fraud," huffed the Journal's editorialists, citing Republican apparatchik Pat Roberts' Senate Intelligence Committee's tendentious cleanup job for the White House. Limbaugh wins the prize for extravagance, referring to "this [CIA] plot to bring down the president."

One of the right's loudest talking points (see Brooks, above) has been that Wilson claimed to have been sent to Niger in 2002 by the CIA at the behest of Cheney's office. Interesting, then, that two years ago, just after Wilson's op-ed piece appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Times' own Bill Sammon wrote, "Although he opposed the war against Iraq and helped shape former President Bill Clinton's Africa policy, Mr. Wilson was nonetheless asked by the Bush administration's CIA in February 2002 to check out reports that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger" (italics added for emphasis). Two years and five days later, Sammon had gotten his line straight for a FOX News appearance. "Was it wrong for Rove to correct the impression that Cheney had sent Joe Wilson to Africa?" he asked (again, italics added). "Because, remember, that's what the original allegation was, that Cheney had sent him."

The Plastic Man Prize for the longest stretch--also the most laughable, abstruse historical reference--goes to U. S. News & World Report's Michael Barone, who in a syndicated column wrote that "Joseph Wilson is our latest Titus Oates," who in 1678-79 "accused various English Catholics of a 'popish plot' to assassinate King Charles II."

Far from a rogue leaker, Rove was a "whistle-blower," said the Journal, leaping into the breach to claim that Rove only echoed what reporters told him. …