I watched Meet the Press today, which featured Joe Wilson and Robert Novak. I thought that Wilson came across well, and not at all over-the-top in his discussion of the possible harmful effects that might result from his wife’s CIA cover being blown. Novak was, of course, in a much less comfortable position since he was the one who exposed her cover.
Novak refused to apologize or say he regretted the publication of her cover. His only regret was that he used the word “operative” (which is now his basic position). So, if I understand his position, he regrets using the word operative in a loose way because by using that word in his original story he opened himself up for criticism that he knowingly exposed a CIA undercover agent. Now he wants to clarify and have us believe that he had no way of knowing that she was undercover.
Novak also strenuously argued that, while it is common for journalists to be used by politicians to plant information, his considerable experience in journalism tells him that his source was not using him to plant information. It simply came up in a casual conversation that Joe Wilson’s wife was a CIA agent, and he felt free to use that information. Hmmmm, okay.
According some accounts I’ve heard, the Wilson-Plame-CIA story angle was shopped around to at least five other news sources (which suggests that the story was an intentional plant). But let’s assume that Novak was the only person who heard this story, and that he really thought it was not planted information. Was the conversation so casual that he felt it inappropriate to inquire from his source what sort of cover Ms. Plame had? Novak seems to have an approach to this that borders on cavalier. He says “everyone knew” that she was a CIA agent.
Well, what her status is
will be has been documented; she was a NOC agent (i.e. “non-official cover”), which is the most sacrosanct CIA cover. It’s possible that she was widely known in certain Washington circles to be a CIA agent, and perhaps Novak knew that when he published the report. However that still doesn’t minimize the seriousness of what he did. Did his vast journalistic experience not suggest to him that perhaps he should find out what her status was before he published the story? Was he too eager to publish the story, and, if so, why?
Novak is a jourrnalist and he is swathed in First Amendment protection so even if he doesn’t reveal his source he probably isn’t going to jail. He said that if he reveals his source his credibility will be harmed so he won’t do that. I’m sure conservatives will stand by Novak but I think his credibility as a journalist was harmed by his decision to publicize Ms. Plame’s status, and it is harmed further by his refusal to simply admit he made a mistake.
And for the conservatives who support Novak, especially those in the Bush Administration, I have one suggestion. If you don’t openly condemn what Novak did then you have no credibility when you suggest that we are living in a time where National Security is of paramount importance. If blowing a CIA agent’s cover isn’t a serious National Security problem then I don’t know what is.