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The Baltimore Sun on the Plame case

SHOWCASE | August 26, 2005

'Not simply about the Karl Rove brand of politics taken too far, but about the fabrication that launched a war,' says the newspaper in an editorial.

By Barry Sussman



Murrey Marder, whose gift to the Nieman Foundation led to creation of this Web site, has pointed me to a Baltimore Sun editorial, written in July, that, as much as any single report I’ve seen, lays out the significance of the leak that outed Valerie Plame as a CIA secret agent. It provides focus that is often missing.


The editorial starts out by saying, “The Plame-Wilson-Novak-Rove-Libby-Cooper-Miller-Fitzgerald drama is more than a case of the usual hardball style of White House politics straying a little too far over the line. It's different, because it gets at the very heart of the way in which the U.S. went to war in 2003.”

The editorial (click here) states, as many of us no doubt recall, that the nuclear threat, not concern over other weapons of mass destruction, was the clincher in going to war. “[Nuclear weapons] became the capstone - the one piece of the argument that lent urgency to the march to war. It was the nuclear option that put the wheels in motion, because delay could potentially be fatal.”

The editorial, which appeared July 24th, makes the case that it was a capstone with no foundation.

There were two underpinnings for the nuclear scare, the editorial states.  One was that Iraq had sought to acquire yellow cake uranium from Niger. That’s what Wilson, after going to Niger, reported to be groundless. The second underpinning was that aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq could have been used to construct nuclear weapons. “Experts quickly threw cold water on this idea,” the editorial states.

In the end, “The nuclear threat was the only justification for the urgency of war, and not only was it baseless but because of what [Wilson] wrote, it was now clear that the architects of the war knew it was baseless…The excitement over Iraq's supposed uranium purchases in the months leading up to the war wasn't a mistake, or an exaggeration. It was a lie,” the editorial states.

In the words of the Sun editorial, "This is the context in which the continuing investigation by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, must be viewed. This is not simply about the Karl Rove brand of politics taken too far, but about the fabrication that launched a war."

From time to time others, most notably Frank Rich of the New York Times, have written from this perspective. It's necessary that reporters focus on it as they deal with the leak investigation.

Marder (Nieman 1950), has been building a file on the case and has mixed views on the coverage. “At times,” he says, “the reporting is really good and properly aggressive but at times it’s very poor. And it can be good one day and poor in the same paper the next.”

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