Plame payback from the Post?

Bucking the White House plan, the Washington Post gives front-page treatment to a new report on the Plame case. Are journalists finally fed up with getting jerked around?

Published July 21, 2005 12:19PM (EDT)

We noted yesterday that Democrats and other administration critics aren't going to let a Supreme Court nomination stop them from pushing hard on the Valerie Plame story. Neither, it seems, is the Washington Post.

The front page of today's Post contains a new Plamegate piece from Walter Pincus and Jim VandeHei. The Post reports that the section of the State Department memo that revealed that Joseph Wilson's wife worked at the CIA -- the memo that Ari Fleischer was seen perusing on Air Force One on July 7, 2003 -- was marked with the notation "(S)" for secret. The Post says: "Anyone reading that paragraph should have been aware that it contained secret information, though that designation was not specifically attached to Plame's name and did not describe her status as covert, the sources said. It is a federal crime, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a federal official to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA official if the person knows the government is trying to keep it secret."

Sound familiar? That's because the Wall Street Journal ran a similar report earlier this week. The Post fills in a few more details, but there's little that's actually new; the Post's piece moves the story forward so incrementally that the motion is almost imperceptible.

So why the A1 treatment? We're guessing that the editors at the Post have had it right up to here with the manipulation from the White House, and the front-page play for a not exactly earth-shattering report is a little bit of payback. First the White House told the Post -- and everyone else -- that it was "ridiculous" to suggest that Karl Rove was involved in the Plame leak. Then, when it became clear that the notion wasn't "ridiculous" at all, the White House clammed up and said it wouldn't be appropriate to "prejudge" the investigation before it's over. And then, as reporters kept asking and the White House kept not answering, George W. Bush tried to change the subject. As Bloomberg reported yesterday, Bush originally planned to announce his Supreme Court pick late next week, just before leaving Washington for Crawford, Texas, but Republican sources say he moved up the process in order to shut down discussion of Rove's involvement in the Plame case. And then somebody -- the White House is saying, "it wasn't us" -- bluffed reporters Tuesday by spreading a phony story that Bush had picked 5th Circuit judge Edith Clement for the job.

So maybe the Post's editors really think this morning's Plame piece is worthy of front-page attention. But maybe this is what the White House can expect from some journalists who have finally grown tired of getting jerked around.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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