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Outing Valerie Plame is the tape on the Watergate doors

It's a story, but only a small episode in the real story.

Miller_Keller_Sulzberger

Let's start connecting dots by looking at this photo from AP. Shot from below, the photo has a weirdly triumphalist, Leni Riefenstahl feel to it. However, the photo conveys its message clearly enough: Judy "Kneepads" Miller has management on her side. On both sides, in fact.

But why?

Miller's Chalabi-driven stenography on WMDs was the worst disaster to hit the Times since Jayson Blair; so toxic to the Pulitzer-light Time's credibility as a trusted news source that when the Times belatedly issued a grudging mea culpa for its "coverage," they couldn't bring themselves to mention Miller's name.

So why are Sulzberger and Bill "Helen" Keller standing by Miller? It would be irresponsible not to speculate. So let's connect some dots:

1. The Republican playbook includes disinformation campaigns, where members of the press or punditoracy are paid through cutouts to act as agents or operatives for the Republicans, by writing favorable stories or opinions, which are then planted, passed off as legitimate journalism.

2. Most of the press recipients of Republican cash-for-stories remain unidentified. Let's be conservative, and say Bush has $50 million in "PR" money burning a hole in his pocket (Frank Rich said $250 million). And let's be even more conservative and say he's spending most of it on the high-class Armstrong Williams ($250,000) rather than the low rent Maggie Gallagher ($21,500). So, do the math: $50,000,000 / $250,000 = 200. But we only know of six; that leaves 194 to go. Could Miller be one of those 194? Read on.

3. Bush sold the Iraq war using the same disinformation campaign page from the Republican playbook used in the Armstrong Williams affair. Colonel Gardner's research suggests that there were at least 50 manufactured or engineered stories planted in support of the war to fix the facts and the intelligence around the policy.

4. The Iraq Disinformation campaign was run by the White House Iraq Group, whose records were subpoenaed by Fitzgerald.

5. The members of the White House Iraq Group were Karen Hughes, Andrew Card, Mary Matalin, James Wilkinson, Karl Rove—and "Scooter" Libby.

6. "Scooter" Libby was the source that Judith Miller was (we are told) "protecting" (whatever, but as everyone and their sister has noted, this story doesn't add up).

7. I suggest that Times management—Keller, Sulzberger—was embedded in the disinformation campaign run by the White House Iraq Group, that Miller was their operative, and Libby was their handler. Of course, their White House handler wouldn't have been crass enough to offer them money; the access to power, and the promise of scoops, would have been enough. The scoops were to come from Chalabi. (It doesn't matter whether the White House still had faith in Chalabi; what matters is that the Times did).

8. The players are not panicked about the Plame Affair at all; Rove outing Valerie Plame to Novak is the equivalent of the Watergate felons leaving tape on the doors of the Democratic headquarters they were burgling.

9. Here's what the players—the White House Iraq Group, Times management,and all the other members of the press who agreed to plant stories—are panicked about:

The White House Iraq Group records Fitzgerald subpoenaed will reveal a massive disinformation campaign, run from the White House by Bush's direct reports, and including many hitherto well-respected pundits, reporters, editors, and news gathering operations. (At least 50 stories, remember?) As a direct result of this campaign, thousands of Americans, and many thousands of Iraqis, lost their lives.

10. Like good gang members, all the players are obeying the code of omerta. That's what Scooter Libby was saying with his bizarre message about the quivering aspens connected underground (i.e., through the networking of the White House Iraq Group and the disinformation campaign it ran). And that's the message of the Miller photo I began with: Keller and Sulzberger are "on Miller's side" the way two mob bosses walk on either side of a soldier leaving an arraignment—"Don't snitch, and we'll protect you."

NOTE It would be interesting to know if the White House Iraq Group paid for its disinformation campaign with government money, or laundered money. The Iran-Contra page in the Republican playbook suggests the latter.

UPDATE The potential felons involved in the White House disinformation campaign, including her own bosses, would be the "other sources" Miller is protecting. It would be disappointing if the deal Miller cut with Fitzgerald was that the content of the subpoenaed material from the Iraq Working Group is never revealed. If it is not, we will know that this time the cover-up worked.

UPDATE Are Keller and Sulzberger twisting slowly, slowly in the wind? That would account for the mysterious paralysis at the times. Jay Rosen notes at Media Channel:

“The news comes in code, and mostly the silences speak.” Last week, that’s how I describedwhat happens when the New York Times reports about Judith Miller and her time in jail. This is still the case, and people in journalism are noticing how weird it is. “I find the Times’ conduct at this point inexplicable,” said Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine on CNN’s Reliable Sources. (I was on the show with him; so was Glenn Reynolds. The transcript.)

The host, Howard Kurtz, pointed out that when Isikoff’s poorly sourced story on the desecration of the Koran ran in Newsweek, (see PressThink
on it) the editors “did an investigation and set the record straight.” Has the New York Times “come close to doing that here?” he asked.

No, it hasn’t. And no one knows why. The official story seems to be: “Wait for the official story.” Until then, normal operations are suspended. We’re told that Miller is talking to the paper’s reporters, and a major article is on the way. We’re also told it’s been delayed. There is no date for it. The editors will barely talk about it. Meanwhile the story keeps heating up.

The reason Keller and Sulzberger aren't doing anything is that they can't do anything. Fitzgerald has the records from the White House Iraq Group. They're probably hunkered down under their desks—or maybe Keller is hunkered down under Sulzberger's desk—hoping against hope it will all blow over. Chortle.

UPDATE Treasongate: The Crime, The Means, The Opportunity, and Now The Motive (Hint: It comes from the PNAC)

UPDATE I've organized this series of posts into a book. Click on the "Previous" and "Next" buttons to follow the story as it unfolds for us.

UPDATE Welcome, Huffington Post readers. Any of the courteous, uniformed guards of The Mighty Corrente Building will supply you with whatever amount of foil you may request for the duration of your stay.

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