2/16/2007

What would a "not guilty" verdict in Libby trial mean for the mainstream media?

It is difficult to watch media coverage, mainstream or otherwise, of the ongoing Scooter Libby trial without coming out of the experience with the overwhelming impression that Libby must be guilty of something. For months now, ever since the Time Magazine and New York Times reporters were tossed in jail for refusing to expose their source when ordered by a federal judge, the media has been convulsing before our eyes. No rational observer would contend that Libby, or Vice President Cheney for that matter, have been given the respect deserved of the nation's executive branch officials either during the investigation by US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald or during the lead-up to and during the trial proceedings.....

This case has fascinated me since the day Joesph Wilson wrote is ridiculous op-ed piece in the New York Times accusing George W. Bush of distorting the intelligence report he filed with the Vice President's office upon returning from the fact finding trip to Niger that his wife so kindly volunteered him for while working "clandestinely" in Langley, Virginia, behind a desk at CIA headquarters. Interestingly, Wilson accused the president of falsely asserting in his now famous 18-words during his 2002 State of the Union speech, that Iraq had "purchased" yellow-cake uranium from Niger. He would have been correct, if in fact that was what the president said, but as we have all seen and heard over and over and over again, Bush's exact words were, "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." In a simple Google search I discovered a timeline published by the BBC which lists the statements made by British intelligence, the US president and his then National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, IAEA nuclear inspector Mohammed El-Baradi, Ambassador Wilson, then CIA director George Tenet and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair among others regarding the accuracy and basis of this assertion. They are listed as follows...

  • 24 September 2002- "There is intelligence that Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Iraq has no active civilian nuclear power programme or nuclear power plants and therefore has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium." (Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction: The assessment of the British Government)


  • 28 January 2003- "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." (US President George W Bush's State of the Union address)


  • 7 March 2003- "Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents - which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger - are in fact not authentic. We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded." (UN nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei's report to the UN Security Council)


  • 3 July 2003- "It is very odd indeed that the Government asserts that it was not relying on the evidence which has since been shown to have been forged but that eight months later it is still reviewing the other evidence... We recommend that the Government explain on what evidence it relied for its judgement in September that Iraq had recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. We further recommend that in its response to this Report the Government set out whether it still considers the September dossier to be accurate in what it states about Iraq's attempts to procure uranium from Africa in the light of subsequent events." (House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report)


  • 6 July 2003- "It was highly doubtful that any such (Niger-Iraq) transaction had ever taken place."- (Wilson writing in the New York Times in February 2002)


  • 8 July 2003- "The president's statement was based on the predicate of the yellow cake [uranium] from Niger. So given the fact that the report on the yellow cake did not turn out to be accurate, that is reflective of the president's broader statement." (White House spokesman Ari Fleischer)


  • 8 July 2003- "The evidence that we had that the Iraqi Government had gone back to try to purchase further amounts of uranium from Niger did not come from these so-called "forged" documents, they came from separate intelligence." (British Prime Minister Tony Blair testimony to the House of Commons Liaison Committee)


  • 11 July 2003- "The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety... Some specifics about amount and place were taken out. With the changes in that sentence, the speech was cleared. The agency did not say they wanted that sentence out. If the CIA - the director of central intelligence - had said "Take this out of the speech," it would have been gone. We have a high standard for the president's speeches." (National security adviser Condoleezza Rice on US President George W Bush's State of the Union address)


  • 11 July 2003- "These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president. The president had every reason to believe that the text presented to him was sound. I am responsible for the approval process in my agency." (CIA Director George Tenet)


  • 12 July 2003- "The CIA expressed reservations to us about this element of the September dossier... However, the US comment was unsupported by explanation and UK officials were confident that the dossier's statement was based on reliable intelligence which we had not shared with the US... A judgement was therefore made to retain it." (UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in a letter to Donald Anderson MP, Chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee)




To quote one of my favorite Sesame Street skits, "Which one of these is not like the others, which one of these just doesn't belong?" For those of you out there who excelled at this section of the SATs, I assume it was pretty easy to single out the assertion of former-Ambassador Wilson that it was "highly doubtful that any such transaction ever took place." Once again I return to my trusty Google companion to find out what impact Wilson's statements may have had on the inclusion of that controversial assertion made by the president, and sure enough, an article posted on factcheck.org, under the title, Bush's "16 Words" on Iraq & Uranium: He May Have Been Wrong, But He Wasn't Lying, it became clear that Wilson had in fact given credibility to intelligence gathered from other sources that in 1999 an Iraqi delegation had traveled to Niger and it was the impression of the Nigerian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki that they were obviously intent on purchasing Uranium from his country. Additionally, the Ambassadors oft cited assertion that his trip had been the primary basis of the president's comments is also easily rejected in the web-site's article, which cites both the 2003 Senate Intelligence Report and the UK's Butler Report (equivalent), both of which claim that the president's statement had been entirely consistent with intelligence gathered and confirmed regarding Iraqi contacts with Niger, as well as with Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The reason I have taken the effort to thoroughly discredit the Ambassador again is because if you watch the media reports on Scooter Libby's trial it would be entirely reasonable to conclude that the president had in fact lied and his administration had, upon being outed by Wilson, embarked on a mission to destroy not only Wilson's reputation and credibility, but that of his "covert" wife too.

When I was working in Washington as an intern, I went to watch a lecture and Q & A session with Sam Donaldson, former-host of Dateline. For the most part, his talk was engaging and his demeanor pleasant- but then he started talking about the Judith Miller situation. Miller was facing serious jail time if she refused to come forward with the name of her source in the White House, and Donaldson was noticeably disgruntled. His rant was soaking with self-righteousness, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, because I assumed he had once hidden behind such journalistic privilege and had spoken with Miller about the situation and trusted in her journalistic integrity. Then it became aware to everyone in subsequent weeks and months that Donaldson, and pretty much every other big name journalist and editor, could not have cared less about Miller, who in fact went to jail, and were ready to sell her up the river based on (hilariously) her reporting of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War.

A simple search of Google News will yield proof that the media is biased beyond humility, and equally as opportunistic as the embarrassingly unprofessional legislators on both sides of the aisle. I have previously cited my feeling that history will look upon this generation of civil servants to be particularly unenlightened and driven by opportunistic impulsiveness, but how will we look back on the media?

Don Imus seriously considered the possibility that the members of the mainstream media may have lied under oath, and his buddies at NBC, Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert, are in the center of the storm. I have a feeling that the Imus Show is right on the money, even though they have already risen Russert to the producer's studio this morning to have Imus sound little bit more like he is kidding, as the translation of his sarcasm is sometimes that it was not in fact sarcasm.

What if this whole experience, which has been given little, if any, serious thought and reflection since it began following Ambassador Wilson's editorial in the New York Times, comes full circle? What if in the end Libby gets off? My guess is that it would be a hard pill for Chris Matthews to swallow. I expect that "they" would immediately jump to a defensive posture, with Matthews screaming about injustice. I would not put it past the Gonzalez justice department to file perjury charges against the Meet the Press host, for they have already proven by taking the case this far that they are serious about the problem (or at least making sure that somebody takes the fall for it).



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