Time’s “Minor Wrinkle” Is the New York Post’s Mountain Range

Those who turn first to the New York Post for their PlameGate news can be excused for feeling confused (or even abused) this morning. “Plame’s Anti-W Money” is the headline on Deborah Orin’s Post article today (picked up by FoxNews.com under the headline, “Report: Plame Gave Money to Anti-Bush Group”). “Outed CIA spy Valerie Plame last fall gave a campaign contribution to go toward an anti-Bush fund-raising concert starring Bruce Springsteen, it was revealed Tuesday night. It’s the first revelation that Plame participated in anti-Bush political activity while working for the CIA,” Orin reports breathlessly.

Surely this bit of “anti-Bush political activity” — buying two tickets to one of the America Coming Together concerts last fall — must be a violation of some CIA rule, we thought to ourselves, given the treatment it receives in the Post’s lead.


Orin reports: “CIA rules allow campaign contributions, but the fact that Plame gave money to the anti-Bush effort is likely to raise eyebrows,” raising her own eyebrows right to her hairline.

So, if Plame didn’t violate any rules by buying tickets to the concert — apart from Orin’s imaginary rule that apparently requires that every federal employee must support Bush’s re-election — what about the other tidbit in Orin’s story: that Plame appears to have listed herself as “retired,” rather than, say, “SPY!” on the form that groups like America Coming Together are required to ask donors to complete (and listed her employer as “N.A.” rather than “CIA”)? What rule did Plame break if she in fact did list herself this way (which Joe Wilson says she doesn’t recall doing, Orin reports)? Orin gets a partial answer from Larry Noble of the Center For Responsive Politics who notes, “You don’t have to provide [this information] but you shouldn’t provide false information on those forms — like saying you’re retired if you’re not.” (Would someone please send Noble an explanation of the word “covert,” as in “covert” CIA agent?)

Far be it from the Post to make a mountain out of a molehill — or “minor wrinkle,” which is how Time.com characterized this bit of information which it broke last night in the ninth and final paragraph of a story by Timothy J. Burger and Massimo Calabresi headlined, “The Plame Case: The Hill Gets Into the Act.” Burger and Calabresi didn’t tell readers whether Plame broke any rules by attending the concert or listing herself (if, in fact, she did the listing) as “retired” when she was not. At least Orin — who did credit Time in her piece — makes an effort to answer the sixth “W,” which too many reporters ignore after answering who, where, what, when and why: “So What?”

But in doing so, Orin deflates the hype of her own making. Unfortunately, Orin also repeats a long-discredited talking point when she writes that Wilson “went on an Iraq-linked CIA mission arranged by his wife” (emphasis ours). (For a recent explanation of why “arranged by his wife” is inaccurate see this PlameGate piece in today’s Washington Post, filed under the mercifully underwhelming headline: “Prosecutor in CIA Leak Case Casting a Wide Net.”)

Liz Cox Barrett

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.