In Pursuit of Conspiracy Theory, Bill Press Lies About Novak Column

Bill Press, the former CNN and MSNBC host refuses to yield ground on the Plame story. Starting to sound a lot like a crazy guy shouting about aliens, Press creates a unified conspiracy theory of Plame. That's a little difficult given recent news events, so Press has to resort to distorting the words of columnist Robert Novak:

So where's my apology to Karl Rove?

That's what many readers want to know: Having accused Karl Rove of leading a conspiracy within the Bush White House to reveal the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame, don't I owe Rove an apology now that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has admitted that he, not Rove, was Novak's primary source?

Well, here's my answer: Hell, no! Armitage's involvement doesn't disprove the Rove conspiracy. It only proves it was a lot wider than we originally thought. [...]

In their new book, “Hubris,” Michael Isikoff and David Corn reveal that Novak and Woodward both learned of Valerie Plame from the same man, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. At least in Novak's case, Armitage told CBS News, he let Plame's identity slip “inadvertently.” He insists he was later mortified to see her name in print and realize he might have been Novak's source. Inadvertently, of course.

Hogwash. Novak is too good a reporter to let that stand. In a blistering column, written after Armitage's less-than-sincere mea culpa on CBS, Novak writes that Plame's ID didn't just slip out of Armitage's lips in idle chit-chat. Armitage not only identified Plame as a CIA agent, he told Novak what department she worked for. He blamed Plame for volunteering her husband for the fact-finding mission to Niger. And he suggested this was excellent fodder for a future Novak column.

Now, add it all up. Dick Cheney sics his staff on Wilson and Plame. And within a few days: Scooter Libby talks to Judy Miller, Karl Rove talks to Bob Novak and Matt Cooper, Dick Armitage talks to Bob Novak and Bob Woodward. And you expect me to believe that's all just one big coincidence? They all just happened to come upon the same evidence at the same time and decided to leak it to the media?

Sorry. My gullibility can't stretch that far. There were too many people involved — all out to get Valerie Plame because her husband dared undermine one of the president's key, but phony, arguments for going to war in Iraq. No doubt about it. There was a deliberate, widespread conspiracy within the Bush Administration — all the way from the White House to the State Department — to retaliate against Joe Wilson by destroying his wife's career at the CIA. And there's only one person in the White House devious and powerful enough to organize such a campaign.

That's why Karl Rove will never get an apology from me.

It's funny that on the very day news breaks about the liberal media deliberately shortening a quote from attorney general Alberto Gonzales to make the Bush admin look bad, Bill Press turns around and does basically the same thing. Novak did say the things Press imputes to him, but he said more than that as well. Here's the relevant paragraphs of the column Press mentions but noticably does not link on his web site. I've bolded the part Press conveniently left out:

When Richard Armitage finally acknowledged last week he was my source three years ago in revealing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA employee, the former deputy secretary of state's interviews obscured what he really did. I want to set the record straight based on firsthand knowledge.

First, Armitage did not, as he now indicates, merely pass on something he had heard and that he ''thought'' might be so. Rather, he identified to me the CIA division where Mrs. Wilson worked, and said flatly that she recommended the mission to Niger by her husband, former Ambasador [sic] Joseph Wilson.

Second, Armitage did not slip me this information as idle chitchat, as he now suggests. He made clear he considered it especially suited for my column.

An accurate depiction of what Armitage actually said deepens the irony of him being my source. He was a foremost internal skeptic of the administration's war policy, and I long had opposed military intervention in Iraq. Zealous foes of George W. Bush transformed me improbably into the president's lapdog. But they cannot fit Armitage into the left-wing fantasy of a well-crafted White House conspiracy to destroy Joe and Valerie Wilson. The news that he and not Karl Rove was the leaker was devastating news for the left.

According to Novak, the fact that Armitage told him about Valerie Plame Wilson ought to dispel any notion that the Bush administration was out to get Joe Wilson by telling everyone about his secret agent wife. Basically, the exact opposite of what Press wants his readers to believe.

Novak is not retracing his steps either. In a July interview on NBC's "Meet the Press," Novak stated that he learned of Plame's name from "Who's Who in America," and that he heard nothing in 2003 that she was a "covered" employee. He also reiterated his earlier remark that Plame was not an agent and that he regretted calling her an "operative."

TIM RUSSERT: When you were on MEET THE PRESS October of ‘03, I asked you about the Newsday piece, and you did repeat, you said, quote, “What I meant was that the senior official had given me her name.”

ROBERT NOVAK: Well, that, that was just—that's just a misstatement on my part. He, he—what he said exactly was his wife, his wife had done it. I got the name—because I, I, I realized I didn't have the name, and I figured out, how am I going to get this name to put in, in the column? So I said, “Maybe it's in ‘Who's Who.'” And I looked it up and there it was.

RUSSERT: In fact, you wrote, “I learned Valerie Plame's name from Joe Wilson's entry in “Who's Who” in America. And here is the “Who's Who” from 2003, Wilson, Joseph Charles IV, ambassador, married to Valerie Elise Plame August 3, 1998.” Was that the very first time you had seen or heard the name Valerie Plame?

NOVAK: Yes.

RUSSERT: No one told you?

NOVAK: No.

RUSSERT: But they did tell you “his wife.”

NOVAK: He told me his wife worked in the counterproliferation division of the—they did not say she was a covert operative, didn't say she was a covered operative. A lot of people say, “Well, why'd you call her an operative in the column?” I call all kinds of politicians operatives. It's maybe a bad habit, I—but I still do it. I see somebody's running a congressional campaign in Wyoming, I'd call them an operative.

If Karl Rove won't get an apology from Bill Press, perhaps Bob Novak can at least get a correction.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013