CBS & NBC Black Out Woodward's CIA Leak Revelation That Boosts Libby's Case

November 17th, 2005 12:45 AM
Bob Woodward's revelations, in a Wednesday Washington Post front page story, “Woodward Was Told of Plame More Than Two Years Ago,” seemingly undermined two premises of special prosecutor Peter Fitzgerald's case against Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Cheney's former Chief-of-Staff -- that he was the first to tell a reporter about Valerie Plame and that everyone involved remembers when they were told about Plame. But while the developments animated cable television all day, all the broadcast networks ignored it in the morning and in the evening both CBS and NBC, which led October 28 with multiple stories of Fitzgerald's indictments, spiked the story while ABC's World News Tonight devoted a piddling 31 seconds to Woodward's disclosures. The CBS Evening News found time for supposed dangers to kids of cold medicines and a look at "why the obesity crisis is far worse for African-Americans." The NBC Nightly News provided stories on claims the U.S. used “chemical weapons” in Iraq and on the effectiveness of diet pills. (Story rundown follows.)

At his October 28 press conference, Fitzgerald asserted, as shown tonight on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume: "He [Libby] was at the beginning of the chain of the phone calls, the first official to disclose this information outside the government to a reporter." In fact, the Post reported that “a senior administration official,” not Libby, told Woodward “about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her position at the agency nearly a month before her identity was disclosed” and thus before Libby talked about it with a reporter, a disclosure which provides some support for Libby's contention that he heard about Plame from a journalist. The Post also noted how “the only Post reporter whom Woodward said he remembers telling” in 2003 about Plame's job, Walter Pincus, “does not recall the conversation taking place,” thus boosting Libby's contention that different people can have different recollections of old conversations.

What ABC squeezed in and how MSNBC's Chris Matthews saw nefarious motives (“a confidential source could be using rolling disclosure here for a political purpose” to help Libby) behind Woodward's source allowing him to talk, follows.

[UPDATE, 2:45pm EST Thursday: On Thursday morning, CBS held the development to a very brief news update item, NBC squeezed it into the very end of a session with Tim Russert while ABC actually touted it at the top of Good Morning America and provided a full story. See full rundown below.]

[UPDATE #2, Thursday 10:30pm EST: CBS and NBC caught up Thursday night with full stories -- by Gloria Borger on the CBS Evening News, by Andrea Mitchell on the NBC Nightly News.]

ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas delivered this short item on the November 16 World News Tonight:
"Well, here in Washington today a lot of people are talking about a surprising new development in the CIA leak investigation. Renowned Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward said he found out about the CIA agent's identity a month before it was revealed in a newspaper column. This is significant because the special prosecutor in the case has accused the Vice President's Chief-of-Staff, Scooter Libby, of being the first person to leak the name. Now, that claim is very much in question because the Washington Post says Mr. Woodward learned about the name from someone else."

Instead of covering the Woodward revelations, the CBS Evening News led with tornadoes, followed by Iraqis who tortured Iraqis, John Roberts on the Bush administration distracted by the torture issue and Bush's approach to North Korea, dangers to children from cold medicines, IRS efforts to pull the tax deductibility from a California church at which a minister criticized President Bush and suggested parishioners vote for John Kerry and, finally, Mika Brzezinski on “why the obesity crisis is far worse for African-Americans.”

The NBC Nightly News led with the supposed “housing crisis” for those in FEMA-paid hotel rooms who have been told to find other accommodations by the end of the month, followed by Iraqis torturing other Iraqis, the “controversy” spurred by an Italian media claim that a year ago in Fallujah the U.S. employed “chemical weapons,” specifically “white phosphoreus,” David Gregory with Bush in South Korea and how “his tour of the region has already been interrupted by Iraq and the nagging question of U.S. troop withdrawal. In Japan, the President blasted Senate Democrats for their attempt to require a pull-out schedule,” tornadoes, efforts to protect U.S. chickens from the bird flu, a full story on diet pills, the death of Ralph Edwards and, in the last piece, a look at a soldier from Buffalo back from Iraq and working to help kids he met there.

Chris Matthews spent much of Wednesday's Hardball peppering guests with his theory that the “senior administration official” who talked to Woodward allowed Woodward to reveal the conversation, but not to disclose his name, because he just wanted to help Libby and so may be an insider with a political motivation. The MRC's Brad Wilmouth took down a representative sampling of how Matthews hit Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, Jr., who appeared from the newspaper's offices:
Chris Matthews: "Well, the source, in other words, I'm afraid, well, let me ask you about being used here by a source. The source says you can testify about it, says to Bob you can testify under oath, of course, because you're fee to do that, I waive that. You can testify as to the message. You can say somebody leaked this back in mid-June of 2003 before it was leaked by Scooter Libby, according to the indictment language. In other words, that's all useful to somebody if they want to help get Scooter off. But it's not telling the whole story, just telling the useful part of the story. I mean, the people over at Libby's legal operation are ecstatic now."

Leonard Downie Jr., Washington Post: "I'm not drawing any conclusions about that. That's their business. What we're doing is maintaining our relationships with the confidential source, as we do with many other confidential sources. That's very important to us."

Matthews: "Does it bother you that a confidential source could be using rolling disclosure here for a political purpose -- in other words, peeling off the confidentiality just enough to achieve a political goal, which is to take perhaps some of the legal heat off of Scooter Libby. The reason I ask that is because, and you know this, the logic of this, it comes out just a week after Scooter Libby is indicted. If someone who is friendly to him, the Vice President perhaps, who wanted to help him, or someone else like Colin Powell who wanted to help him, would say, 'Well, get this information out to the press that he wasn't the first one to talk to the press about this, I was.'"

Downie: "Chris, I can't engage in that kind of speculation. You know that. We have a confidential source relationship to protect here. Woodward protected the name of Deep Throat for 30 years. That's why he was seeking to protect this confidential source relationship. But he should have told me about it."


The MRC's Michael Rule, Geoffrey Dickens and Brian Boyd provided transcripts of what the broadcast network morning shows delivered on Thursday morning, November 17:

# CBS's The Early Show. In the 7am news update, as his third item, Harry Smith relayed: "There is new focus for the CIA leak investigation thanks to Bob Woodward. The Washington Post reporter says that more than 2 years ago a Bush administration official told him Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA. He says he didn't think it was important at the time, his source has not been identified."

# NBC's Today brought aboard Tim Russert for a long discussion about the White House's efforts to fight back against the claims they "lied" to get the U.S. into Iraq. At the very end, Lauer raised Woodward:

Lauer: "Other big story I want to talk real briefly about. Bob Woodward has now gone and testified before the grand jury looking into the CIA leak case. Did his testimony, based on what you've heard and what you've read, strengthen or weaken the special prosecutor's case?"

Russert: "Well the Libby lawyers have called it a bombshell because they're saying that Mr. Fitzgerald, the special counsel, said that the first public official to talk to a reporter about Joseph Wilson's wife Valerie Plame was Scooter Libby. And now Mr. Woodward seems to contradict that. The Libby lawyers will then suggest, 'well you see that shows that the investigation was not as comprehensive and should have been and that people's memories can be faulty."

Lauer: "Bob Woodward also says he spoke to Scooter Libby on a couple of occasions during that time period and doesn't remember the subject of Valerie Wilson or Valerie Plame or Joe Wilson coming up which would contradict the special prosecutor's assertion that this was an ongoing, concerted effort to disclose her name."

Russert: "Absolutely and give the Libby defense a chance to say, 'you see a lot of people's memories are faulty. Maybe Libby's conversation with Tim Russert or with Matt Cooper or with Judith Miller, maybe those are all up in the air and they're two sides to every issue.' The more confusion the Libby defense team can create regarding this case the better off they think they'll be."

Lauer: "Tim Russert in Washington. Tim, thanks very much I appreciate it."

# ABC's Good Morning America didn't hide the news or shy from its importance. Robin Roberts plugged it during the 7am opening rundown of the show's top stories: "And this morning, DC all abuzz with what's happening." Diane Sawyer elaborated: "I'll say. Everybody is stunned down there. Major new twist in the White House leak case and the CIA agent. The most famous investigative reporter in America, Bob Woodward, is come out with a surprise, saying that he was in fact the first person to be told about this and he didn't even tell his own newspaper. What's going on here? More ahead."

Roberts narrated a full story about it during the first news update of the show:

Roberts: "In Washington, Bob Woodward's new testimony in the CIA leak case is being called a bombshell. It could mean that the special prosecutor's investigation will be extended. In a deposition that lasted more than two hours, Woodward revealed that a top administration official other than Scooter Libby mentioned Valerie Plame Wilson well before her identity was revealed to the public."

Ted Wells: "We urge all reporters who have relevant information to do like Mr. Woodward did today and come forward with the truth."

Roberts: "In a statement Woodward said, 'I apologized...' to Washington Post editor Leonard Downie for waiting two years before telling him about the conversation. '...I was trying to protect my sources.' Just last month Woodward denied on CNN's Larry King that he had any secret information about the Plame case."

Bob Woodward on CNN in October: "Finally, Len Downie, who's the editor of the Washington Post, called me and said, 'I hear you have a bombshell. Would you let me in on that?'"

Larry King: "So now the rumors are about you."

Woodward: "And I said 'I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I don't.'"

Roberts: "Woodward's critics question his motives for keeping quiet."

Sydney Schanberg: "I have to assume that he's got another agenda. If it's the sources, if it's the book, I don't know."

Roberts: "Who exactly is the administration official who mentioned the CIA operative to Woodward? Woodward has told the prosecutor, but he vows to keep that a secret from the public. A promise to his source."