Couric to Portray Plame as Heroic Victim of White House 'Smear'

It's clear from Friday previews on CBS that Katie Couric's Sunday 60 Minutes interview, to promote Valerie Plame's new book, Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House, will frame the story just as the media have all along -- Painting Plame as a heroic victim of an orchestrated “smear” with little, if any, consideration to who actually gave her name to Bob Novak or the responsibility and motivation of her husband who picked a high-profile political fight with the White House. On The Early Show, Harry Smith asserted Plame's “life story reads like a spy novel,” gushing that “she is beautiful, smart, a covert agent.” Smith recalled how “Robert Novak revealed her identify as an undercover CIA agent in his syndicated column” and that “speculation was rampant that the leaking of her name, which is a crime, came from inside the Bush administration, in retaliation for her husband's column.” Whether it is a “crime” is far from settled, but without ever pointing out how Novak got the name from Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, a political enemy of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove who opposed the Iraq war, Smith noted that “no one was ever charged with knowingly leaking Valerie Plame's name.”

Couric told Smith that Plame is “very charming, incredibly intelligent and eloquent and really mad about what happened to her, angry and resentful of being outed, if you will, having her career end this way.” On Friday's Evening News, Couric avoided Armitage's name as she reported that “when senior administration officials leaked her name to reporters, they may have exposed other spies and damaged operations targeting Iran.” Couric soon relayed Plame's contention that “that the leak of her name had serious repercussions.” In a likely understatement, Couric ended her preview by highlighting how “Valerie Plame Wilson also has some harsh things to say about President Bush.”

In closest either preview came to casting any doubt on Plame's viewpoint, Smith raised “these allegations that came out after the fact, people in Washington, these insiders say everybody knew she was in the CIA, everybody knew that she was a covert op. She wasn't outed at all.” Couric countered: “She would contend that this was part of a smear campaign against her...”

Neither show raised anything about the political motives of her husband, Joe Wilson, who advised the Kerry campaign in 2004, or his culpability for penning an op-ed in the New York Times and then accepting an invitation to go on Meet the Press -- a high media profile he and his wife must have realized would bring scrutiny as to who suggested or directed the former ambassador to travel to Niger.

60 Minutes, however, may include one mild challenge to Plame for enjoying some limelight. In “The Reliable Source” column in Thursday's Washington Post, Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts relayed how Plame told “Katie Couric she regrets posing for that controversial glamorous-lady-spy photo shoot in Vanity Fair. In her first TV interview, to air Sunday on CBS's 60 Minutes, Wilson says her CIA boss 'was caught unawares' by the photo and 'gave me a really good chewing out. As I deserved to be.'”

Back in March, one media outlet delivered a contrarian take I doubt we'll hear much of from Couric on Sunday night. An excerpt from a March 8 MRC CyberAlert item, “Washington Post's Contrarian Editorial: Wilson 'a Blowhard'”
A Wednesday [March 7] Washington Post editorial, "The Libby Verdict: The serious consequences of a pointless Washington scandal," certainly didn't match the angle of the rest of the media's coverage of the Libby conviction. Far from treating Joe Wilson as a truth-telling hero, the March 7 Washington Post editorial declared: "Mr. Wilson's case has besmirched nearly everyone it touched. The former ambassador will be remembered as a blowhard." The Post castigated Libby for "lying under oath," yet explained that while "Wilson was embraced by many because he was early in publicly charging that the Bush administration had 'twisted,' if not invented, facts in making the case for war against Iraq....a bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all of these claims were false -- and that Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife."
The MRC's Kyle Drennen corrected the closed-captioning against the video to create this transcript of Couric's pre-taped session with Harry Smith aired during the 7:30am half hour of the October 19 Early Show:
SMITH: Valerie Plame spent nearly 20 years in the shadows of the CIA. Then suddenly, she became a public figure. But she's never told her own story -- until now. Her life story reads like a spy novel. She is beautiful, smart, a covert agent. She became the center of a political scandal when her husband, career diplomat Joe Wilson, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times claiming the Bush administration distorted intelligence about Iraq's efforts to obtain uranium in Africa. Eight days later, Robert Novak revealed her identify as an undercover CIA agent in his syndicated column. Speculation was rampant that the leaking of her name, which is a crime, came from inside the Bush administration, in retaliation for her husband's column. The leak grew into a scandal that embroiled the political elite in Washington. And journalists who spent their careers protecting the identity of their sources were faced with a choice of naming names or going to jail. When it was all over, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was charged and convicted of lying to investigators and obstruction of justice. President Bush later commuted his sentence. No one was ever charged with knowingly leaking Valerie Plame's name. Valerie Plame gave her first-ever interview to CBS Evening News anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent Katie Couric. I spoke to Katie earlier about it.

SMITH TO COURIC: This interview, everybody in the world has wanted this interview. This is the interview. First off, what was she like?

KATIE COURIC: She's very charming, incredibly intelligent and eloquent-

SMITH: Hmm.

COURIC: -and really mad about what happened to her, angry and resentful of being outed, if you will, having her career end this way. And she expresses it, you know, pretty openly.

SMITH: Yeah. In the interview and in the book.

COURIC: Yes.

SMITH: Here's what I want to know -- her husband writes, Joe Wilson, writes this op-ed piece for the New York Times basically saying the Bush administration got it all wrong, cooked the books on this uranium going into Niger.

COURIC: Right.

SMITH: And he writes this piece. Is she -- what is she thinking?

COURIC: Well, she knew about it. She knew he was going to submit it to the New York Times. She knew that he had gone to Niger and found that the charges that Iraq was buying uranium ore from Niger were false, in his opinion and I asked her that, Harry, because I said weren't you afraid your two worlds were going to collide, that this was going to really put you in jeopardy? And she said absolutely not. I have lived my cover. I was living my cover. Nobody knew I worked for the CIA except an extremely small circle of people, i.e., I believe her parents and the people with whom she worked.

SMITH: Yeah. What about the allegation, though? Because there were all these allegations that came out after the fact, people in Washington, these insiders say everybody knew she was in the CIA, everybody knew that she was a covert op. She wasn't outed at all.

COURIC: She would contend that this was part of a smear campaign against her, that by minimizing her role at the CIA, by diminishing and, quite frankly, by demeaning her position, which was quite high, she was head of operations for the joint task force Iraq, which was charged with finding nuclear weapons. So, I think that she would just refute that whole notion that everybody knew this was the case.

SMITH: Yeah. I want to take a look at another clip of the interview. Take a look at this.
COURIC, IN 60 MINUTES STORY: Eight days after Joe Wilson's op-ed piece, his wife's name and CIA affiliation were printed in a newspaper by conservative columnist Robert Novak. 18 years of meticulously crafted cover were gone in an instant.
VALERIE PLAME: I can tell you all the intelligence services in the world that morning were running my name through their databases to see did anyone by this name come in the country, when, do we know anything about it, where did she stay, who did she see.

COURIC: And what would be the ramifications of that?

PLAME: Well, it's very serious. It puts in danger, if not shuts down, the operations that I'd worked on.

COURIC: Did you ever hear about anything that happened to anyone with whom you had contact as a result of the leak?

PLAME: Yes, I have, and that's all I can say. Mm-hmm
.
COURIC: Was it bad news?

PLAME: That's -- I have heard. I have had some news.

COURIC: Is it safe to say people were put in danger?

PLAME: There was a damage report done by the CIA. I never saw it. I certainly didn't reach out to my old assets and ask them how they're doing, although I would have liked to have.

COURIC: You probably can speculate about the damage, though.

PLAME: Mm-hmm.

COURIC: If you had to write your own damage assessment, knowing what you know, how serious would it be?

PLAME: It would be serious.
SMITH: There were whole sections of the book, the CIA-

COURIC: Redacted. That's right. About 10 percent. And again, Valerie Plame feels this is political payback for criticizing the pre-war intelligence and the buildup to Iraq. She claims there's no classified material that was redacted, but this is a process that books written by CIA agents go through.

SMITH: Routinely, right, right, right. Cannot wait to see this on 60 Minutes.

COURIC: Really?

SMITH: Yeah.

COURIC: Thanks, Harry.

SMITH: Yeah, absolutely. Katie Couric, always a pleasure to see you. You can see Katie's interview with Valerie Plame on 60 Minutes, this Sunday night at 7:00, 6:00 central, right here on CBS.

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the video to create this transcript of the promotion on the October 19 CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: This Sunday on 60 Minutes, Valerie Plame Wilson gives her first interview since top Bush administration officials exposed her role as an undercover CIA agent four years ago. CBS News has learned she was involved in operations to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. In the interview, we talked about what it meant to have her identity revealed.

COURIC TO PLAME IN 60 MINUTES INTERVIEW: What went through your mind when you saw your name in print?

VALERIE PLAME: Oh, it was horrifying, absolutely horrifying.

COURIC: She served 20 years in the CIA, many undercover in the agency's counterproliferation division, rising to top positions and confronting one of the most ominous threats of our time.

PLAME: Our mission was to make sure that the bad guys, basically, did not get nuclear weapons.

COURIC: When senior administration officials leaked her name to reporters, they may have exposed other spies and damaged operations targeting Iran. CBS News has learned that she was involved in one highly classified mission to deliver fake nuclear weapons blueprints to Tehran. It was called Operation Merlin, and it was first revealed in a book by investigative reporter James Risen.

COURIC TO PLAME: Are you familiar with that?

PLAME: I don't think I can tell you.

COURIC: He said the idea was to give the Iranians blueprints for the bomb that were seriously flawed to set them back. Does that sound like something the counter-proliferation division would do?

PLAME: I think I can say it sounds like a good idea.

COURIC: Were you surprised to read about Operation Merlin in the press?

PLAME: Indeed. Mm-hmm.

COURIC: Is that problematic for the CIA?

PLAME: Leaks are always bad news.

COURIC: She should know, revealing for the first time that the leak of her name had serious repercussions.

PLAME: I can tell you all the intelligence services in the world were running my name through their databases to see did anyone by this name come in the country? When? Do we know anything about it? Where did she stay? Who did she see?

COURIC: And what would be the ramifications of that?

PLAME: Well, it was very serious. It puts in danger, if not shuts down, the operations that I had worked on.

COURIC: Valerie Plame Wilson also has some harsh things to say about President Bush. That and much more in our interview this Sunday on 60 Minutes.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center