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More Sand in the Umpire's Eyes

NewsMax tries a new tactic in its campaign to discredit Patrick Fitzgerald: misinterpreting his words. And WorldNetDaily joins in by promoting a purported witness who later "clarified" (read: retracted) his claims.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 11/15/2005

The fact that NewsMax is trying to discredit Patrick Fitzgerald, special counsel investigating the leak of the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, isn't keeping it from approvingly citing -- and twisting -- Fitzgerald's words when it suits NewsMax's purposes.

On Oct. 29 and again on Nov. 4, NewsMax quoted Fitzgerald to make the claim that he said that Plame was not "covert," meaning that any reference to her as such -- NewsMax came up with "more than 3,100" in a Nexis search -- is erroneous.

But the Fitzgerald quote NewsMax uses to support this claim, from his Oct. 28 press conference announcing the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, doesn't say that Plame wasn't covert. This is the quote NewsMax uses:

"I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert. And anything I say is not intended to say anything beyond this: that she was a CIA officer from January 1st, 2002, forward ... We have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent. We have not charged that. And so I'm not making that assertion."

Fitzgerald is not saying that Plame was not covert; he is saying that Libby's indictment on perjury and false statement charges has nothing to do with whether Plame was covert. Nowhere in that press conference will you find a statement from Fitzgerald affirming or denying that Plame was covert.

Note the ellipsis in NewsMax's quote of Fitzgerald. What NewsMax has left out there is the following statement: "I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003." NewsMax did admit that Fitzgerald said this, but for some reason, it did not want to quote him directly. But after noting this in the Nov. 4 article, NewsMax discounted it as "a security status enjoyed by almost everyone who works at the agency." In the Oct. 29 article, NewsMax claimed that Fitzgerald's determination of Plame as a "classified" CIA employee is "casting even more doubt on the claim that her CIA job was a closely guarded secret."

Related article on ConWebWatch:

Playing the Plame Blame Game

Smears Before and After

Again, NewsMax is putting words in Fitzgerald's mouth -- he has made no determination regarding this. In his press conference, Fitzgerald used a baseball analogy to make the point that he has not been able to make a determination as to whether Plame's outing was illegal because the investigation was obstructed by Libby: "And what we have when someone charges obstruction of justice, the umpire gets sand thrown in his eyes. He's trying to figure what happened and somebody blocked their view."

NewsMax is certainly doing its best to keep that sandstorm blowing.

In the Oct. 29 article, NewsMax adds: "Surely the press will begin issuing its Leakgate retractions any minute now." That statement might have more resonance if NewsMax retracted its claim that it never reported that U2 was holding a fund-raiser for Rick Santorum.

NewsMax columnist Steve Malzberg joined in NewsMax's promoting of this bogus claim. In a Nov. 8 column, he repeated NewsMax's selective quote of Fitzgerald -- complete with ellipsis -- to berate the media: "What about that statement is so hard to understand that it continuously causes Democratic partisans and their media enablers to get it dead wrong? The answer is, nothing is difficult about the statement." If there's nothing difficult about the statement, why does Malzberg insist on misinterpreting it?

Then, in responding to MSNBC's Chris Matthews' assertion that Plame's neighbors didn't know she worked for the CIA, Malzberg wrote:

Too bad that Chris hadn't read the Washington Times story of July 15, 2005. Reporters spoke with a former CIA agent who was himself covert from 1966 to 1990. Fred Rustman also happened to supervise Valerie Plame early in her career and he says that most of her neighbors and friends knew that she worked for the agency.

Too bad Malzberg didn't read that story either. That very same Washington Times article does quote a neighbor as saying he didn't know Plame worked for the CIA. Additionally, Fred Rustmann is not Plame's neighbor and has not supervised Plame in 15 years, making anything he has to say about Plame tenuous at best.

NewsMax is still attacking Fitzgerald directly, of course. A Nov. 9 article claimed Fitzgerald's investigation is "coming unraveled" because "witness after witness" is claiming that Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, outed her CIA employment before the Bush administration did. NewsMax's James Hirsen (last seen lying about Rick Santorum and U2, followed by NewsMax lying about the lie) repeated the claim in a Nov. 14 column.

But each of those purported witnesses has some credibility problems, as Media Matters has pointed out (and one of them, NBC's Andrea Mitchell, retracted her claim the next day). Chief among them is retired military man Paul Vallely, whose allegations are being touted by WorldNetDaily.

WND's Art Moore reported on Nov. 5 that Vallely said that Wilson told his wife's job "over the course of at least three, possibly five, conversations in 2002."

Vallely retracted most of that claim three days later -- though, of course, that's not how Moore put it in a Nov. 8 article. Rather, Moore wrote that Vallely "clarified the number of occasions Wilson mentioned his wife's status ... [a]fter recalling further over the weekend his contacts with Wilson." Vallely is now claiming that Wilson mentioned his wife's occupation only once and "that it likely occurred some time in the late summer or early fall of 2002."

Another Nov. 8 WND article (this one unbylined) notes a claim that National Review contributor Victor Davis Hanson said that Wilson had told him of his wife's occupation in a pre-outing green-room conversation. WND added: "But contrary to a report, Hanson said Wilson did not disclose his wife's CIA employment."

Whose mysterious "report" is WND debunking? As Media Matters notes, it was by radio host John Batchelor -- on whose show Vallely made his original, mostly retracted claim that WND's Moore documented.

That same article also quotes Vallely as saying that "There's no personal vendetta here" against Wilson. But WND has never reported Vallely's background so that readers can made their own determination as to Vallely's motives. As Media Matters details, Vallely is an official at the conservative Center for Security Policy, whose current president is Washington Times columnist Frank Gaffney. Current and former CSP advisory board members include Former Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, and radio host and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, and former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith. These are all people who support the war in Iraq and, presumably, have an interest in discrediting Wilson and exposing Plame.

Yup, it's a veritable sandstorm out there regarding Plamegate -- and NewsMax and WorldNetDaily are doing their best to keep the fans blowing.

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