04/18/2006 07:11 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Washington Post 's Unusual Interpretation of "Corroborating Evidence"

A year ago I wangled a seat next to Angelina Jolie at a dinner party. After the introductory chit-chat, I said, "The two of us should get together some time; the view from my apartment is spectacular." Ms. Jolie turned her head and never spoke to me again. Then, three weeks ago, Page Six quoted a knowledgeable source who believes I could be the father of Angelina's child. When my lawyer demanded that the New York Post show some proof, the editors referred to someone who overheard our dinner party conversation, which they thought corroborated my paternity. Except for one item, everything in that story was made up. I've never been anywhere near Ms. Jolie or any Page Six reporter. Neither knows I'm alive, and I am grateful for that. But that precise line of reasoning - take an aborted attempt at making contact, then assert that it's evidence of an illicit relationship - has in fact been used, several times, by a major metropolitan newspaper, the Washington Post. On Sunday, ombudsman Deborah Howell provided a rationale for an earlier Post editorial which said:

" Mr. [Joseph] Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth. In fact, his report supported the conclusion that Iraq had sought uranium."

Ms. Howell explains:

"The 'supported' in the editorial refers to Wilson's report that there was a trade meeting between officials of Iraq and Niger. Though news accounts have said there was no talk of uranium, the meeting was seen as corroboration that the Iraqis were seeking uranium, because that's mostly what Niger has to export."

Ms. Howell shaded some facts. There was no "trade meeting"; the reference to "Wilson's report" is misleading; and the only ones who inferred corroboration were those CIA analysts afflicted with "group think" that disregarded anything not supportive of their preconceived notions.

To have a trade meeting, you must discuss trade. In 1999 an unnamed businessman insisted that a Niger official meet an Iraqi delegation interested in "expanding commercial relations." But, "the Niger official was wary of discussing any trade issues with a country under United Nations (UN) sanctions, [so] he made a successful effort to steer the conversation away from a discussion of trade with the Iraqi delegation." (See how the Angelina story is analogous?)

Another detail: CIA procedure precludes Wilson ever issuing a "report." That is, he could never see anything written about his trip. As I learned from Larry Johnson, someone on a mission like Wilson's would, upon his return, orally debrief two CIA officers, who would then prepare a written report of what they heard. But Wilson could never verify the accuracy or slant of what was written. Later, Wilson gave his recollection, recounted above, to staffers at the Senate Intelligence Committee.

"[T]he meeting was seen as corroboration" by whom? Not the State Department, who thought Wilson's findings confirmed their disbelief in any sale to Iraq. Not the Department of Energy. Not General Carlton Fulford and Ambassador Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, who also investigated the matter in Niger. Only the CIA and perhaps DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) analysts, the ones who never bothered to read the crudely forged documents which they accepted as truth, thought the meeting corroborated anything.

To defend the Post's accusation that "Mr. Wilson was the one guilty of twisting the truth," Deborah Howell twisted more.

SIDEBAR: The "corroborating evidence," first invented by Pat Roberts, was paraphrased by the Post, then echoed by the Post Ombudsman.

The urban myth about the "corroborating evidence" was initially spread by Post almost two years ago, when Susan Schmidt paraphrased Senator Pat Roberts' talking points and passed them off as legitimate reporting. Read the description of the same facts by four different sources. Draw your own conclusions.

"Report Disputes Wilson's Claims on Trip, Wife's Role" By Susan Schmidt Washington Post July 10, 2004:

"Wilson's assertions -- both about what he found in Niger and what the Bush administration did with the information -- were undermined yesterday in a bipartisan Senate intelligence committee report. The panel found that Wilson's report, rather than debunking intelligence about purported uranium sales to Iraq, as he has said, bolstered the case for most intelligence analysts".

"Additional Views" Pat Roberts, joined by Christopher Bond, Orrin Hatch:

"As discussed in the Niger section of the report, not only did he NOT 'debunk' the claim, he actually gave some intelligence analysts even more reason to believe that it may be true."

Senate Intelligence Committee Report:

"(U) Conclusion 13. The report on the former ambassador's trip to Niger, disseminated in March 2002, did not change any analysts' assessments of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal. For most analysts, the information in the report lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal, but State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts believed that the report supported their assessment that Niger was unlikely to be willing or able to sell uranium to Iraq."

["Most analysts" signified that the CIA had more analysts pursuing the matter, not that there was a majority view.]

"The Wilson-Plame Affair (Cont'd)" by Ombudsman Michael Getler, Washington Post July 18, 2004:

"Wilson takes issue with Schmidt's reporting that his report on the trip to Niger 'bolstered the case' about purported uranium sales to Iraq. But the study concludes that Wilson's March 2002 report, which noted that the former prime minister of Niger said that in 1999 he was approached by a businessman insisting he meet with an Iraqi delegation (which he did not do), 'lent more credibility to the original CIA reports on the uranium deal.'"