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Norma Desmond Redux


Digby catches up with the latest New York Times effort by David E. Sanger and David Johnston to elaborate on the unraveling CIA leak case.  I always feel when reading the NYT like I’m looking through a haze — they struggle to maintain such a distance from their subject, to not say anything that might further jeopardize their access to information, that it always winds up being an effort in reading hieroglyphics to try and decipher the code they are writing in.

But I thought this stood out:

But in one of those odd twists in the unpredictable world of news leaks, neither of the reporters Mr. Libby met, Bob Woodward of The Washington Post or Judith Miller, then of The New York Times, reported a word of it under their own bylines. In fact, other reporters working on the story were talking to senior officials who were warning that the uranium information in the intelligence estimate was dubious at best.

I’ve never believed Jill Abramson’s story that Judy never pitched her the idea.  I actually believe Judy on this one — I think she absolutely did try to get them to print it, like the dutiful operative she is.  But at the time, Judy had returned from Iraq and she was on probation. Her reporting was highly suspect and she had two official "minders" to watch over anything she tried to put in print, and one of those minders was David Johnston.

According to Murray Waas, Libby spoke with Judy four times about this topic — on June 23, July 8 and July 12 (twice).  Each time he gave her more information about what the White House was trying to put forward as the official Wilson story, but the NYT never bit.

From Sanger and  David Barstow’s NYT article on April 8:

Mr. Fitzgerald, in his filing, said that Mr. Libby had been authorized to tell Judith Miller, then a reporter for The New York Times, on July 8, 2003, that a key finding of the 2002 intelligence estimate on Iraq was that Baghdad had been vigorously seeking to acquire uranium from Africa.

But a week earlier, in an interview in his State Department office, Mr. Powell told three other reporters for The Times that intelligence agencies had essentially rejected that contention, and were "no longer carrying it as a credible item" by early 2003, when he was preparing to make the case against Iraq at the United Nations.

I’m guessing that at the same time Judy was coming back to the Times and pleading with them to publish her bogus story, other reporters (possibly including Johnston himself, but I have no idea) were hearing quite a different story from other members of the Administration.  Judy would then go back to Scooter and say "you’ve got to give me more, they not buying it."  After Joe Wilson’s article was published on July 6, Libby probably got desperate enough to drag out the NIE, Wilson’s trip report and one other classified documents in order to close the deal. 

According to Waas, Libby gave Judy even more information on their July 12 calls.  Emptywheel has an excellent rundown of the sequence of events.  But one thing seems clear — the administration handoff to Judy that had worked so well in the runup to war, which BooMan has done such a good job of documenting, didn’t work this time.

Bill Keller is going to be answering questions from Times readers, it seems.  Sounds a bit canned but it’s a first step.  It would be really nice if he cut through all the fog and cleared some of this stuff up. 

(note:  this post was changed from an earlier version which carried another quote from the April 8 NYT article) 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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