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What's Fair Game?

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Cast in its best light, the Bush Administration’s Karl Rove defense boils down to this: Rove never revealed the NAME of an undercover CIA operative because he didn’t know her name. He might not have even known she was an undercover CIA operative, and you can't prove it anyway. Actually, he was merely spreading false information about the operative in an effort to smear her husband.

Remember during the 2000 Presidential campaign when the Republican mantra was that President Bush was going to “restore honesty and dignity to the White House?” How’s that going? When Vice-President Cheney accepted his party’s nomination for Vice-President in 2000, he boldly declared: “They will offer more lectures, and legalisms, and carefully worded denials. We offer another way -- a better way -- and a stiff dose of truth.” Is that what we are getting?

Today, on its online site, Newsweek magazine breaks some news. Before the publication of the infamous Novak column outing Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative appeared in newspapers around the country, Time magazine’s Matt Cooper talked to Karl Rove. The topic: Ambassador Joe Wilson’s now-proven contention that stories about Iraq acquiring uranium from Africa (later touted by the President in his State of the Union address) were pure fiction. According to Cooper’s emails, the following was said:

“Cooper wrote that Rove offered him a 'big warning' not to 'get too far out on Wilson.' Rove told Cooper that Wilson's trip had not been authorized by "DCIA" -- CIA Director George Tenet -- or Vice President Dick Cheney. Rather, 'it was, KR said, wilson's wife, who apparently works at the agency on wmd [weapons of mass destruction] issues who authorized the trip.' Wilson's wife is Plame, then an undercover agent working as an analyst in the CIA's Directorate of Operations counterproliferation division. (Cooper later included the essence of what Rove told him in an online story.) The e-mail characterizing the conversation continues: 'not only the genesis of the trip is flawed an[d] suspect but so is the report. he [Rove] implied strongly there's still plenty to implicate iraqi interest in acquiring uranium fro[m] Niger... '"

In light of this new information, it should be noted that -- viewing these facts in the light best for Rove -- as Friday’s Washington Post pointed out, there were many, many instances the White House Press Secretary and other Administration officials made, to use the parlance of the '90s, “accurate, but misleading” statements:

On Oct. 10, 2003, White House press secretary Scott McClellan was asked whether Rove; Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby; or National Security Council official Elliott Abrams had told any reporter that Plame was a covert CIA agent.

‘I spoke with those individuals, as I pointed out, and those individuals assured me they were not involved in this,’ McClellan said. ‘And that's where it stands.’ Reporters pressed McClellan to clarify that statement but he held to the words in his first answer until one reporter asked, ‘They were not involved in what?’ To which he replied, ‘The leaking of classified information.’

In the 90’s, there was a media uproar when literally accurate, but misleading, statements were made about a private sexual affair. Today, when such statements are made out a life and death matter -- the decision to go to war -- for a Nixonian purpose -- to smear truth-telling critics -- there is barely a peep from the press corps. In the days since Rove’s role became public, the White House press corps has yet to pose a question to the White House press secretary about it. Not a word about the disgusting hypocrisy of an Administration that came to office promising to “change the tone” in Washington now attacking a critic through his spouse.

According to an earlier Newsweek report, Karl Rove was telling reporters that Wilson’s wife was “fair game.” Many reporters accepted this repulsive notion. One has to wonder whether their complicity in this smear then has rendered asking the important questions about it today “off-limits.”

[UPDATE: Judging from today's White House Press Briefing and coverage, I have to admit that my final paragraph may be disproven.]