The British suicide bombers and the Iranian nuke demands are genuine crises. The Valerie Plame game is a pseudo-crisis. If you want to talk about Niger or CIA reform, fine. But if you seriously think the only important aspect of a politically motivated narcissist kook’s drive-thru intelligence mission to a critical part of the world is the precise sequence of events by which some White House guy came to mention the kook’s wife to some reporter, then you’ve departed the real world and you’re frolicking on the wilder shores of Planet Zongo.
What’s this really about? It’s not difficult. A big chunk of the American elites have decided there is no war; it’s all a racket got up by Bush and Cheney. And, even if there is a war somewhere or other, wherever it is, it’s not where Bush says it is. Iraq is a ”distraction” from Afghanistan — and, if there were no Iraq, Afghanistan would be a distraction from Niger, and Niger’s a distraction from Valerie Plame’s next photo shoot for Vanity Fair. —Mark Steyn —Plame security breach? It just ain’t so, Joe (Chicago Sun Times)
I’ve been finding the Plame blame game endlessly fascinating. On the surface — it’s all an accusation that the president’s trusted advisor outed a CIA agent as retaliation against a diplomat who dared to question a crucial part of the US case for war against Iraq. Two reporters who investigated the story, but never published anything on it, were threatened with jail when they declined to talk about their anonymous sources. One reporter talked (or, rather, his bosses released his notes), but the other went to jail. Even though Karl Rove, the trusted advisor, released a statement saying that he didn’t have a problem with the reporters talking about him.
The whole thing is perfectly phrased as a case study in reporter ethics. Valerie Plame was a CIA agent, but she had a Washington desk job that didn’t require a serious cover. Her identity and profession were well known in social circles, and her name (though not her profession) was published on the mideast.org website (now archived by the Wayback Machine).
Steyn is obviously playing down the case, but I think he’s onto something when he notes that, despite the First Amendment angle (which gets the attention of journalists and libertarians) the moral outrage doesn’t seem to be roiling too far outside Washington. I don’t watch TV news, and truth be told since I’m mostly a househusband this summer, and spending less time at my desk, I haven’t been reading the punditblogs either.
Anyway, Steyn uses words deftly, in an attempt to take the wind out of this scandal, and rile up the populist ire against “the elites”. The trouble is, when put alongside the missing children, shark attacks, hurricanes and terrorist bombings that fill up the time between commercial breaks, the Plame Affair is mostly a talking head story. As far as I can tell none of its subcomponents has the slightest connection with thong underwear or presidential cigars. Call me cynical, but since the blue people and the red people already know what to think out of the situation, the coverage isn’t going to matter much to them.