For his level-headed professionalism, Lester Holt is on my [admittedly short] list of MSM faves. But while Holt did hit former Ambassador [to Gabon, São Tomé and Príncipe] Joseph Wilson with one tough question on this morning's "Today," he let Valerie Plame's husband hijack the beginning of the interview, lobbed him numerous softballs, and failed to challenge Wilson on his blatant misrepresentation of Plame's role in sending him to Niger.
View video here.
In the set-up piece preceding the interview, "Today" aired a clip of Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) asking Plame, during yesterday's congressional hearing, whether she was a Republican or a Democrat. For the record, Plame sardonically acknowledged that she was indeed a Dem.
When the interview began at 7:15 AM EDT, and before Holt could get off a question, Wilson launched into an attack on Westmoreland for having posed that question to Plame, and extolled his own and Plame's record of bi-partisan public service. When Holt eventually gained control, he did hit Wilson with the following question, the only challenging one of the dialogue:
LESTER HOLT: "Ambassador, your wife did say, and made it clear she considers herself a victim of political assassination, or at least being used politically in this case. Would her testimony, and the fact that she has a book coming out soon, the fact that you have been so outspoken, could that also be described as a form of political retaliation?"
JOE WILSON: "You're suggesting that somehow Valerie and I are engaged in political retaliation?"
HOLT: "I'm not suggesting, I'm asking the question."
WILSON: "I would remind you, yeah, I would remind you of course that everything I said in my article has proven true. There was no substance to the assertion that Saddam had attempted to purchase uranium from Iraq [sic]. With respect to Valerie's book [NB: for which she has reportedly received a $2.5 million advance], that's still hung up in negotiations with the CIA. And with respect to her testimony, she was invited [NB: by committee chairman and friendly fellow Dem Henry Waxman, D-Calif.] to testify before Congress. It is totally appropriate to respond positively to such an invitation."
Holt didn't challenge Wilson on his assertion that there was "no substance to the assertion" that Saddam had sought yellow-cake from Niger. Others, including Christopher Hitchens, say otherwise, as in this Slate article, Sorry everyone, but Iraq did go uranium shopping in Niger.
Later, Wilson asserted that in her testimony Plame had debunked the "lie" that "she was responsible for suggesting or sending me to Niger." Holt again failed to challenge Wilson on his very dubious assertion. Consider this WaPo article, which flatly states:
"Former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, dispatched by the CIA in February 2002 to investigate reports that Iraq sought to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program with uranium from Africa, was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly."
Holt then served this one up on a platter: "Ambassador Wilson, do you expect to get an apology from the White House? Would you like to get an apology from the White House?"
WILSON [managing to take a swipe at both President Bush and his parents]: "You know, I don't, frankly, and I'm disappointed in that because I thought they raised people more correctly than that down in Texas."
Finally, Holt failed to react when Wilson made a controversial claim regarding former presidential press secretary Scott McLellan.
HOLT: "Have you had a conversation with anyone from the White House subsequent to all this?"
WILSON: "No. I did run into Scott McLellan in the green room at a different station, and we commiserated on the fact that we both had been lied to by this White House."
Not Lester's finest journalistic hour. As for Wilson, a combination of anger and preening egotism does not wear well.
Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org