The Times Finally Puts Plame Fizzle on Front Page

After almost 40 front-page stories on the leak of Valerie Plame's name to Robert Novak, the Times returns to the scene of the non-crime.

Ever since the "controversy" was ignited by Bush enemies like Joseph Wilsonthree years ago, The New York Times has run almost 40 front-page stories on the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame (Wilson's wife, who recommendedWilson be sent to Africa to investigate claims of uranium shopping by Iraq)to Robert Novak. But now that the prime anti-Bush angle has fizzled out, the Times has been notably reluctant to return to the scene of the non-crime.

This Saturday, the Times finally put the Plame-gate aftermath on the front page, in an interesting piece by David Johnston, "Leak Revelation Leaves Questions - Prosecutor Knew Identity but Still Pushed Inquiry."

"An enduring mystery of the C.I.A. leak case has been solved in recent days, but with a new twist: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, knew the identity of the leaker from his very first day in the special counsel's chair, but kept the inquiry open for nearly two more years before indicting I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, on obstruction charges.

"Now, the question of whether Mr. Fitzgerald properly exercised his prosecutorial discretion in continuing to pursue possible wrongdoing in the case has become the subject of rich debate on editorial pages and in legal and political circles."

Too bad such accusations of prosecutorial overreach, so popular in the media during the Ken Starr-Whitewater-Paula Jones era, went rarely mentioned during the two years of Fitzgerald's service. Instead the Times, as documented here previously, routinely assumed as fact that Valerie Plame was "outed" as a CIA agent by the White House.

The "culprit," of course, turned out to be Richard Armitage, former deputy to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, neither of whom are considered to be particularly partisan or hawkish.

Below are just a few examples of how the Times assumed White House duplicity.

From a Jan. 4, 2006 editorial in the Times: "The longest-running of the leak cases involves Valerie Wilson, a covert C.I.A. operative whose identity was leaked to the columnist Robert Novak. The question there was whether the White House was using this information in an attempt to silence Mrs. Wilson's husband, a critic of the Iraq invasion, and in doing so violated a federal law against unmasking a covert operative."

Columnist Nicholas Kristof, July 4, 2006: "The Times would never have been as cavalier about Valerie Plame Wilson's identity as the White House was."

Television critic Alessandra Stanley, Oct. 25, 2005: "On Tuesday night, [Mock host Stephen Colbert] asked '60 Minutes' correspondent Lesley Stahl about the Valerie Plame scandal and listened blankly as she likened the White House leak of a C.I.A. agent's identity to Watergate."

And here's Johnston himself from February 10, 2004: "At first, the investigation seemed narrowly focused on trying to identify who at the White House provided the information about Ms. Plame to Mr. Novak."

No one, as it turned out.