CBS Interviews Armitage, But Skips Rove and Asks if He Owes Apology to Wilson?

The CBS Evening News on Thursday night became the first broadcast network evening newscast to report how former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the one who revealed how Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA, but CBS portrayed the Wilsons and taxpayers as the victims of the probe, not Scooter Libby or Karl Rove (whose name was never uttered), nor questions about the special counsel's pursuit. Couric framed the piece by asserting Wilson accused Bush of using “faulty intelligence to justify the war in Iraq” and the “leak ultimately sent a reporter to jail, got a top White House aide indicted, and set off a criminal investigation that has cost taxpayers $20 million so far.” In the “exclusive” interview with David Martin, Armitage maintained: “Oh, I feel terrible everyday. I think I let down the President, I let down the Secretary of State, I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.” Martin then asked: "You feel you owe the Wilson's an apology?" Martin did point out to Armitage, "You would have taken a lot of wind out of this whole feeding frenzy if you had come forward," prompting Armitage to say he had just honored the special counsel's request. And Martin wondered: “Did you ever think of saying, 'Mr. President, I screwed up'?”

Martin never addressed why the special counsel continued the probe when he knew up front that Armitage was Bob Novak's source, or retracted any of CBS's past mis-reporting (see below). CBS also presumed some facts not in evidence as Couric described Valerie Plame as an “undercover agent for the CIA” and Martin relayed: “It's a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer.” (Transcript follows)

My September 2 NewsBusters item, “Weekly Standard Editorial by Barnes Lists 'Plamegate Hall of Shame' Featuring the Press,” has quite a bit on recent developments in the case including how, contrary to Martin's suggestion that Armitage owes an apology to Valerie and Joe Wilson, the Washington Post editorialized on September 1:
“[I]t now appears that the person most responsible for the end of Ms. Plame's CIA career is Mr. Wilson. Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming -- falsely, as it turned out -- that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush's closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It's unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.”

A flavor of the media hyperventilation over the years on Plamegate:

July 19, 2005 MRC CyberAlert:
Evening Newscasts Continue Rove Focus, Offer Ominous Predictions.
The networks just won't let go of Karl Rove, with the NBC Nightly News leading with the supposed scandal as another week began. On Monday night, anchor Brian Williams hyped "more claims and allegations in the story involving presidential right-hand man Karl Rove." After a piece from David Gregory, Williams noted how "a lot of Democrats don't want this story to go away," a wish the media are carrying out. Andrea Mitchell concluded a second story by warning that "depending on what the grand jury decides could make this spy story more than just the usual Washington scandal." ABC's Jessica Yellin asserted that President Bush "continues to focus on whether a crime was committed, but there are questions about credibility." Yellin concluded with a self-fulfilling forecast: "The grand jury has another three and a half months till the end of October to make a decision, which means it could be a long, hot summer here at the White House." Over on the CBS Evening News, Gloria Borger delivered an ominous prediction: "I'm told by somebody close to this investigation that it's going to be very messy when the truth comes out."

July 15, 2005 CyberAlert:
CBS Airs One-Sided Anti-Rove Story; CNN Sees "Smear" of Wilson.
All three network evening newscasts last night carried stories on the Rove controversy, but CBS's report from John Roberts was by far the most one-sided. Anchor Bob Schieffer began by touting how "an expanding chorus of Democrats demanded today that presidential strategist Karl Rove be fired," and Roberts included soundbites from ex-Ambassador Joe Wilson, Democratic congressman Rush Holt and MoveOn.org protesters chanting "Karl Rove has got to go," but not a single soundbite from a Rove defender. Meanwhile, Wilson appeared on CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports on Thursday. Blitzer began his exchange with Wilson by describing questions about Wilson's veracity as an "effort to smear" him, but did at least ask Wilson to answer some of those questions.

July 12, 2005 CyberAlert:
Networks Pounce on Leaked E-mail to Begin Push for Firing Rove
Monday night and Tuesday morning, all three broadcast network newscasts trumpeted a leaked e-mail that indicated that White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove told Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper in July 2003 that Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife "apparently works at the agency," meaning the CIA. On World News Tonight, ABC's Terry Moran summoned the image of Watergate, saying White House spokesman Scott McClellan's response yesterday was to "stonewall." This morning, network morning hosts began a "Dump Rove" movement. ABC's Charles Gibson announced at the top of Good Morning America: "The big question, will or should the President fire him?" When a guest pointed out that Rove had apparently revealed neither Valerie Plame's name nor her covert status, Gibson was indignant: "Is that not a Clintonian defense?"

October 1, 2003 CyberAlert:
Networks Focus on “Leakgate,” Skate Over Wilson’s Liberal Views.
For the third straight night all the network evening newscasts focused on the supposed “leakgate” scandal as CBS’s Dan Rather asserted: “The Bush White House under increasing fire.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw declared, as if he and his colleagues had nothing to do with it: “It is now a Washington firestorm.” But the networks skated over the left-wing persuasion of Joe Wilson, who plans to endorse John Kerry. Though Wilson has driven the accusations against Bush political aide Karl Rove as the guilty party, an accusation from which he’s had to backtrack, CNN’s Aaron Brown was befuddled by the relevance of Wilson’s anti-Bush crusade: “What does Ambassador Wilson's politics have to do with either the leak or his wife's job?”

September 30, 2003 CyberAlert:
Excited Network Reporters Enter Scandal Mode on CIA Name Leak
The networks entered full scandal mode on Monday with the evening shows leading for a second straight night with the news of an investigation into who in the administration back in July told columnist Bob Novak a CIA operatives’s name, though stories conflicted on the operatives actual job duties, the source of the leak and, despite Joe Wilson on Monday morning having specifically admitted he went too far in accusing Karl Rove, both CBS and NBC relayed Wilson’s naming of Rove. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski offered this warning: “If tried and convicted, the leakers could get ten years in prison. But the political fallout could be much worse for the White House whose credibility on Iraq is already on the line.” An excited Aaron Brown proposed at the top of Monday’s NewsNight on CNN: “It seems like the good old days, doesn't it?”


The September 7 CBS Evening News with Katie Couric story, which aired just after the look at how, in Couric's words, “support for the war is slipping even in places where not long ago nearly everyone backed it.”
Katie Couric: “Valerie Plame, she's the undercover agent for the CIA whose name was leaked to a newspaper columnist three years ago after her husband publicly accused the Bush administration of using faulty intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. That leak ultimately sent a reporter to jail, got a top White House aide indicted, and set off a criminal investigation that has cost taxpayers $20 million so far. Tonight, national security correspondent David Martin has an exclusive: The man who opened the floodgates speaks for the first time.”

David Martin: “Richard Armitage, once the number two diplomat at the State Department, couldn't be any blunter.”

Armitage, sitting face-to-face wi: “Oh, I feel terrible everyday. I think I let down the President, I let down the Secretary of State, I let down my department, my family, and I also let down Mr. and Mrs. Wilson.”

Martin: “You feel you owe the Wilson's an apology?”

Armitage: “I think I've just done it.”

Martin: “In July 2003, Armitage told columnist Robert Novak, Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife worked for the CIA and Novak mentioned it in a column. It's a crime to knowingly reveal the identity of an undercover CIA officer, but Armitage didn't yet realize what he'd done.”

Martin to Armitage: “So what was it that made the light go on?”

Armitage: “I was reading the newspaper column again of Mr. Novak and he said he was told by a non-partisan gunslinger. I almost immediately called Secretary Powell and said 'I'm sure that was me.'”

Martin: “Armitage immediately met with FBI agents investigating the leak.”

Armitage: “I told them that I felt I was the inadvertent leak.”

Martin: “Did you get a lawyer?”

Armitage: “No.”

Martin: “Why?”

Armitage: “I felt terrible about what I'd done, I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me and secondarily I didn't need an attorney to tell me the tell the truth, I was already doing that.”

Martin: “That was nearly three years ago, but the political firestorm over who leaked Valerie Plame's identity continued to burn as special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald began hauling White House officials and journalists before a grand jury.”

Martin to Armitage: “You would have taken a lot of wind out of this whole feeding frenzy if you had come forward.”

Armitage: “The special counsel, once he was appointed, asked me not to discuss this and I honored his request.”

Martin: “You saw the President all the time.”

Armitage: “Yes, sir.”

Martin: “Did you ever think of saying, 'Mr. President, I screwed up'?”

Armitage: “Oh, I thought everyday about how I'd screwed up.”

Martin: “Armitage never did tell the President, but he's talking now because the special counsel told him he could. David Martin, CBS News, Arlington, Virginia.”

CBS's online version of this story.
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