Ever since my two-week free trial to the New York Times select feature ran out, I’ve been missing the opportunity to read the columns that so frequently used to make the Top 10 Most E-mailed Articles of the Day list. (They haven’t been making the list so often anymore, since it’s not that fun to e-mail opinion pieces to your friends if they have to subscribe/pay money to read them). Maureen Dowd has made #2 today, though, and so I went out and found her column on Lexis Nexis.
After W. was elected, he sometimes gave visitors a tour of the love alcove off the Oval Office where Bill trysted with Monica — the notorious spot where his predecessor had dishonored the White House.
At least it was only a little pantry — and a little panting.
If W. wants to show people now where the White House has been dishonored in far more astounding and deadly ways, he’ll have to haul them around every nook and cranny of his vice president’s office, then go across the river for a walk of shame through the Rummy empire at the Pentagon.
The shocking thing about the trellis of revelations showing Dick Cheney, the self-styled Mr. Strong America, as the central figure in dark conspiracies to juice up a case for war and demonize those who tried to tell the public the truth is how unshocking it all is.
It’s exactly what we thought was going on, but we never thought we’d actually hear the lurid details: Cheney and Rummy, the two old compadres from the Nixon and Ford days, in a cabal running the country and the world into the ground, driven by their poisonous obsession with Iraq, while Junior is out of the loop, playing in the gym or on his mountain bike.
Mr. Cheney has been so well protected by his Praetorian guard all these years that it’s been hard for the public to see his dastardly deeds and petty schemes. But now, because of Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation and candid talk from Brent Scowcroft and Lawrence Wilkerson, he’s been flushed out as the heart of darkness: all sulfurous strands lead back to the man W. aptly nicknamed Vice.
According to a Times story yesterday, Scooter Libby first learned about Joseph Wilson’s C.I.A. wife from his boss, Mr. Cheney, not from reporters, as he’d originally suggested. And Mr. Cheney learned it from George Tenet, according to Mr. Libby’s notes.
The Bush hawks presented themselves as protectors and exporters of American values. But they were so feverish about projecting the alternate reality they had constructed to link Saddam and Al Qaeda — and fulfilling their idee fixe about invading Iraq — they perverted American values.
Whether or not it turns out to be illegal, outing a C.I.A. agent — undercover or not — simply to undermine her husband’s story is Rove-ishly sleazy. This no-leak administration was perfectly willing to leak to hurt anyone who got in its way.
Vice also pressed for a loophole so the C.I.A. could do torture-light on prisoners in U.S. custody, but John McCain rebuffed His Tortureness. Senator McCain has sponsored a measure to bar the cruel treatment of prisoners because he knows that this is not who we are. (Remember the days when the only torture was listening to politicians reciting their best TV lines at dinner parties?)
Colonel Wilkerson, the former chief of staff for Colin Powell, broke the code and denounced Vice’s vortex, calling his own involvement in Mr. Powell’s U.N. speech, infected with bogus Cheney and Scooter malarkey, ”the lowest point” in his life.
He followed that with a blast of blunt talk in a speech and an op-ed piece in The Los Angeles Times, saying that foreign policy had been hijacked by ”a secretive, little-known cabal” that hated dissent. He said the cabal was headed by Mr. Cheney, ”a vice president who speaks only to Rush Limbaugh and assembled military forces,” and Donald Rumsfeld, ”a secretary of defense presiding over the death by a thousand cuts of our overstretched armed forces.”
”I believe that the decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less,” Colonel Wilkerson wrote. ”More often than not, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was simply steamrolled by this cabal.”
Brent Scowcroft, Bush Senior’s close friend, let out a shriek this week to Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker, revealing his estrangement from W. and his old protege Condi. He disdained Paul Wolfowitz as a naive utopian and said he didn’t ”know” his old friend Dick Cheney anymore. Vice’s alliance with the neocons, who were determined to finish in Iraq what Mr. Scowcroft and Poppy had declared finished, led him to lead the nation into a morass. Troop deaths are now around 2,000, a gruesome milestone.
”The reason I part with the neocons is that I don’t think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful,” Mr. Scowcroft said. ”If you can do it, fine, but I don’t think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse.”
W. should take the Medal of Freedom away from Mr. Tenet and give medals to Colonel Wilkerson and Mr. Scowcroft.
And then I went and found her column on Judith Miller, because I’m fascinated by all of the weirdness surrounding the Plame reporting. I’ve always liked Judy Miller. I have often wondered what Waugh or Thackeray would have made of the Fourth Estate’s Becky Sharp.
The traits she has that drive many reporters at The Times crazy — her tropism toward powerful men, her frantic intensity and her peculiar mixture of hard work and hauteur — have never bothered me. I enjoy operatic types.
Once when I was covering the first Bush White House, I was in The Times’s seat in the crowded White House press room, listening to an administration official’s background briefing. Judy had moved on from her tempestuous tenure as a Washington editor to be a reporter based in New York, but she showed up at this national security affairs briefing.
At first she leaned against the wall near where I was sitting, but I noticed that she seemed agitated about something. Midway through the briefing, she came over and whispered to me, ”I think I should be sitting in the Times seat.”
It was such an outrageous move, I could only laugh. I got up and stood in the back of the room, while Judy claimed what she felt was her rightful power perch.
She never knew when to quit. That was her talent and her flaw. Sorely in need of a tight editorial leash, she was kept on no leash at all, and that has hurt this paper and its trust with readers. She more than earned her sobriquet ”Miss Run Amok.”
Judy’s stories about W.M.D. fit too perfectly with the White House’s case for war. She was close to Ahmad Chalabi, the con man who was conning the neocons to knock out Saddam so he could get his hands on Iraq, and I worried that she was playing a leading role in the dangerous echo chamber that Senator Bob Graham, now retired, dubbed ”incestuous amplification.” Using Iraqi defectors and exiles, Mr. Chalabi planted bogus stories with Judy and other credulous journalists.
Even last April, when I wrote a column critical of Mr. Chalabi, she fired off e-mail to me defending him.
When Bill Keller became executive editor in the summer of 2003, he barred Judy from covering Iraq and W.M.D. issues. But he acknowledged in The Times’s Sunday story about Judy’s role in the Plame leak case that she had kept ”drifting” back. Why did nobody stop this drift?
Judy admitted in the story that she ”got it totally wrong” about W.M.D. ”If your sources are wrong,” she said, ”you are wrong.” But investigative reporting is not stenography.
The Times’s story and Judy’s own first-person account had the unfortunate effect of raising more questions. As Bill said yesterday in an e-mail note to the staff, Judy seemed to have ”misled” the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case.
She casually revealed that she had agreed to identify her source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, as a ”former Hill staffer” because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. The implication was that this bit of deception was a common practice for reporters. It isn’t.
She said that she had wanted to write about the Wilson-Plame matter, but that her editor would not allow it. But Managing Editor Jill Abramson, then the Washington bureau chief, denied this, saying that Judy had never broached the subject with her.
It also doesn’t seem credible that Judy wouldn’t remember a Marvel comics name like ”Valerie Flame.” Nor does it seem credible that she doesn’t know how the name got into her notebook and that, as she wrote, she ”did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby.”
An Associated Press story yesterday reported that Judy had coughed up the details of an earlier meeting with Mr. Libby only after prosecutors confronted her with a visitor log showing that she had met with him on June 23, 2003. This cagey confusion is what makes people wonder whether her stint in the Alexandria jail was in part a career rehabilitation project.
Judy refused to answer a lot of questions put to her by Times reporters, or show the notes that she shared with the grand jury. I admire Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Bill Keller for aggressively backing reporters in the cross hairs of a prosecutor. But before turning Judy’s case into a First Amendment battle, they should have nailed her to a chair and extracted the entire story of her escapade.
Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover ”the same thing I’ve always covered — threats to our country.” If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.
That column, actually, starts out a bit too bitter and personal for me, though the points at the end are well taken. “Investigative reporting is not stenography.” Nice.