Vieira Tougher Than Couric With Plame, Still Frets Over War With Iran

Meredith Vieira on Monday's "Today" show, like Katie Couric on Sunday's "60 Minutes," offered a sympathetic venue to Valerie Plame Wilson, but unlike Couric, her replacement pointed out how the leaker of Plame's name was not a White House operative with a vendetta against Plame's husband and quoted an editorial that contended Plame's outing was her husband's fault.

Vieira began the interview by prompting Plame to explain her perception of “four-and-a-half years of character assassination.” When Plame said she felt “betrayal,” Vieira suggested: “By the President himself?” Vieira also invited Plame to denounce the supposed “beating of the drums” about Iran, “a lot of the rhetoric that you heard leading up to Iraq from the President and from the Vice President,” and wondered: “Do you believe what happened in Iraq could possibly happen in Iran? Do you believe we are headed toward war in Iran?”

Unlike Couric, Vieira noted how “the first source that Novak used, that revealed that you worked for the CIA was a State Department official, who had no bone to pick with your husband, a lot of people said this isn't really about retaliation from the White House.” Vieira even read from a September 1, 2006 Washington Post editorial that held Plame's husband culpable: “This was an editorial, last September: 'It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue.' And it goes on to say, 'It now appears the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame as a CIA career is Mr. Wilson.'"

An October 22 MRC CyberAlert article, “Couric Portrays Plame as Heroic Victim of White House 'Smear,'” recounted:

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, framed the story just as the media have all along -- Painting Plame as a heroic victim of an orchestrated "smear" with little 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....

Couric went so far as to suggest President Bush's personal involvement in the "smear" effort: "When all is said and done, the top aides to the President and Vice President leaked your name to reporters, do you think President Bush was in on this?" Plame replied: "I don't know about that. But I, like most other Americans, saw President Bush say on TV that he would fire anyone from his administration found to be involved in leaking my name. It turns out the President is not a man of his word."...

Couric did mention Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, but failed to note he was Novak's source, preferring to spin a larger conspiracy and allow Joe Wilson to accuse the Bush team of "Mafia-like" tactics:

COURIC: The special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, found evidence there were four leakers: Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the Vice President's Chief of Staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, President Bush's closest confidante, Karl Rove, and White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. All avoided the most serious charges by claiming not to know she was undercover. But Joe Wilson says that's no excuse.

JOE WILSON: It was a mafia-like tactic. And the idea of going after your family, even in Washington, was an outrage. Nobody went after Karl Rove's family. Nobody went after Scooter Libby's family. They went after my family.

The 60 Minutes piece, however, did include a mild challenge to Plame for enjoying some limelight as Couric also noted the "partisan" take of the couple...
The MRC's Geoffrey Dickens provided a transcript for the PLame coverage on the October 22 Today show:
MEREDITH VIEIRA, 7am tease: And then Valerie Plame Wilson, she's probably the most famous spy in America since she was outed four years ago. She has finally written a book telling her side of her story. And this morning, in her first live interview, she's with us already in our studio, she's gonna talk about her years in the CIA, her experiences since then and why she believes the President of the United States betrayed her.

MATT LAUER, 7:23am: Coming up in our next half-hour the most famous spy in the world. Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA operative whose cover was blown after her husband questioned the rationale for war in Iraq. Coming up her first live interview.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, 7:30am: Coming up in this half-hour the woman who launched 1000 headlines, Valerie Plame Wilson. Her career as a covert operative for the CIA came to a crashing halt in the summer of 2003, when her name was published in a high-profile newspaper column. Well it set off a political scandal and brought down Vice President Cheney's right hand man. This morning Valerie Plame Wilson tells her side of the story in her first live interview.

LAUER: "That should be fascinating. We'll look forward to that."

...

Vieira: First, when Valerie Plame joined the CIA more than 20 years ago she expected danger but the woman who became America's famous spy did not expect to find herself at the center of a political firestorm or exposed by her own government. NBC's John Yang looks back now at the unmasking of the woman the CIA called, “Val P.”

[On screen headline: "Spy Games, Who Is Valerie Plame Wilson?"]

JOHN YANG: For years Valerie Plame Wilson shunned the spotlight. The mother of twins told friends and neighbors she was a consultant. But for more than two decades she was a covert, CIA operative, so secret she still can't say she worked for the Agency from November 1985 until January 2006. The twisting path to her public exposure began in early 2003 as President Bush made the case for going to war with Iraq.

GEORGE W. BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

YANG: After Saddam was toppled her husband, career diplomat Joseph Wilson, wrote in a New York Times op-ed, that when the CIA sent him to Africa to check out that claim in 2002, he concluded it was “highly doubtful.” In fact the CIA had deleted the claim from the draft of a previous presidential speech. Her CIA cover was blown a week later when Robert Novak named her in his column and linked her to Wilson's Africa trip.

VALERIE PLAME WILSON: I felt like I had been hit in the gut. I, it was over in an instant and I immediately thought of my family's safety.

YANG: Joseph Wilson said it was White House retaliation orchestrated by Vice President Cheney and adviser Karl Rove. The President denied it and vowed to bring the leaker to justice. In the end, only one person was prosecuted, former Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby was convicted of lying and obstructing justice during the investigation. No one's ever been charged with the leak itself. Now free to tell her story or as much of it as the CIA will allow this former covert operative is now the very public face of a political scandal. For Today, John Yang, NBC News, Washington.

VIEIRA: Valerie Plame Wilson's new memoir is Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House. Ms. Wilson, good morning to you. May I call you Valerie?

VALERIE PLAME WILSON: Yeah, of course. Good morning.

VIEIRA: When I came up to introduce myself and said you finally get to tell your story. You, you said to me, “It's been four-and-a-half years of character assassination.” What do you mean?

PLAME: Well, I served my country, proudly, in a career that I loved and I get to write about these things in my book, going, training at the farm and then later, focusing on kind of proliferation issues. Things I thought were really important to our national security. And then, as you talk about in the set-up piece in July 2003 my husband wrote a 1500 word op-ed piece for the New York Times, entitled, “What I Did Not Find In Africa.” And he, he refuted the administration's primary claim for going to war with Iraq, which was the nuclear threat.

VIEIRA: And a week later you were outed.

PLAME: That's right and I went from being a very private person to a public persona overnight.

VIEIRA: Immediately there were reports that, everybody in Washington or most folks knew along the, the cocktail party circuit that you worked for the CIA, you were not covert. One Congressman even suggested that you were little more than a glorified secretary. Set the record straight. At the time you, your cover was blown what were you doing for the CIA?

PLAME: At the-, I was covert. And that has been confirmed by the Director of the CIA, General Hayden, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald and the judge in the Libby trial. There's no doubt that I was covert. And only a handful of people knew what I was really doing, until July 14th, 2003.

VIEIRA: So why do you believe, I mean if, if you were handling such sensitive material, why would they want to blow your cover?

PLAME: Well I believe that it was political payback. They were furious that he would have the audacity to question their reasoning, their rationale. And then they went after me. And, you know, my book, I think you could call it a cautionary tale of speaking truth to power and the importance of holding your government to account for its words and deeds.

VIEIRA: But when it turned out that the, the first source that Novak used, that revealed that you worked for the CIA was a State Department official, who had no bone to pick with your husband, a lot of people said this isn't really about retaliation from the White House. I want to read to you from the Washington Post. This was an editorial, last September. “It follows that one of the most sensational charges leveled against the Bush White House -- that it orchestrated the leak of Ms. Plame's identity to ruin her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson -- is untrue.” And it goes on to say, “It now appears the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame as a CIA career is Mr. Wilson."

PLAME: I can tell you it was like reading Pravda, which was the newspaper under the Soviet regime, where that's, you only got to read what the government wanted you to hear. And it was, you know, it, it just made, it felt like falling down the rabbit-hole in Alice In Wonderland, where black is white and white is black. There, in the SSCI report that came out, there was something even in there, that some analysts thought my husband's report, coming back from Niger, where he said, 'You know there's really nothing to this allegation.' That, in fact, it strengthened some analyst view that, in fact, there was some transaction between Niger and Iraq. And that it was just so crazy. And, you know, I think they went after Joe and they went after me as part of the whole payback. Intimidation.

VIEIRA: And afterwards you, you, well you sai-, were worried, you said, that, that your family's lives could be in danger.

PLAME: Absolutely.

VIEIRA: That the lives of those people you dealt with at the CIA could be in danger. It's since been reported that no national security has been jeopardized. Does that square with what you know? What you believe to be the truth? Have lives been put in danger because of you being outed?

PLAME: There was a damage report done. I have not seen it, I don't believe Congress seen it. I do know that, you know, the network of assets that I worked with, is jeopardized. And that's why, what happened, was a real crime of violence against our national security.

VIEIRA: You spent 20 years, giving your life to this country. You're a public servant dealing with matters of high security. Just, on a personal level, how do you feel?

PLAME: Oh it, it was a betrayal. A deep-

VIEIRA: By the President himself?

PLAME: I don't know what he knew or when he knew it but it was clear, as special prosecutor Fitzgerald said, that there was a, it, a conspiracy by a multitude of people within the White House to undermine and discredit Joe Wilson. And I was, just sort of, collateral damage.

VIEIRA: I want to ask you, before we go, about the situation now in Iran. There's been, almost the beating of the drums. A lot of the rhetoric that you heard leading up to Iraq from the President and from the Vice President. I know you've been out of the CIA for a while now but, for a year, but given what you know and you were working on proliferation in Iraq, in Iran, I understand. Do you believe what happened in Iraq could possibly happen in Iran? Do you believe we are headed toward war in Iran?

PLAME: There is no doubt that Iran has intent. And they're, it's malevolent. However, I hope that the American people have learned the lesson to pay close attention to what their leaders are saying and try to educate themselves and get as much information before we rush headlong, again, into a disastrous war based on twisted intelligence.

VIEIRA: But do you believe the administration is capable of doing that in Iran?

PLAME: I do.

VIEIRA: Alright Valerie, thank you so much.

PLAME: Thank you for having me.

VIEIRA: Valerie Plame Wilson. And if you'd like to read an excerpt from Fair Game, you can find it on our Web site, at todayshow.com.
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