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Just a Villain?

July 21, 2005 By:
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The plight of Judith Miller - The New York Times reporter who's now serving time for refusing to disclose sources - has been all over the media. But if, like me, the only thing you're certain about in the whole mess is that Miller's in prison, look no further than the July 18 New York magazine. It published a clever, one-page guide that laid out the players and what's at stake.

The title, a great one, was "Fixing a Leak," and the subhead noted that Miller has "landed behind bars for a story she didn't write about a crime she didn't commit."

According to compilers Franklin Foer and Ryan Lizza, the whole thing began with a Times op-ed piece written several years ago by ex-ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV that "challenged President Bush's assertion that Iraq tried to buy nuclear-bomb-making material from Africa." The administration was irked over Wilson's argument, and soon after, columnist Robert Novak wrote that Wilson was married to CIA agent Valerie Plame. He also said that two sources inside the administration provided the information. But "federal law prohibits officials from naming covert operatives." Democrats then called for an investigation, which led to the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.

The other reporter threatened with jail time was Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, who avoided the Big House when his editor in chief Norman Pearlstine turned over Cooper's notes. They revealed that Karl Rove, the man proverbially described as "Bush's Brain," was one of Cooper's sources.

So now the big questions revolve around what the White House is going to do about Rove (since President Bush originally said he would fire any person who leaked info); what Fitzgerald's motives are; and why Novak isn't in the cell with Miller.

The article referred to Fitzgerald as a "[Rudy] Giuliani wannabe," whose blunt tactics have left him friendless. The authors did ask that he be cut some slack, saying: "Tough tactics may be the only way to bust a leaker."

As for Rove, Foer and Lizza asked about whether Fitzgerald was really ready to march "Bush's Brain" out of the White House in handcuffs? The administration has, so far, "swatted away" the story, and the two writers don't think Rove will ever be sent to jail.

Then there's Novak. He's somehow managed to steer clear of Fitzgerald. But the columnist "won't say if his sources waived their confidentiality; and he won't say if he, in turn, recounted his conversations with them to the grand jury."

The authors have a theory: "Perhaps Novak's conservatism means he doesn't hold a very expansive view of the First Amendment. Then again, maybe he's just a villain."

Foer and Lizza don't think that Miller went to jail to protect Rove; the two don't run in the same Washington circles. The authors are convinced that her source was I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.

Isn't it fun to play these games, especially when none of us is behind bars?

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