Published July 19, 2005
Summer squalls are nice, a cooling afternoon diversion, particularly on a beach on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Since my visiting grandchildren, aged 8 and 12, and their guest, 13, live in Southern California where thunderstorms are rare, they're eager for the late-afternoon display of thunder and lightning, and the beauty part is that half an hour later the sun is back, the sand is hot underfoot again, and everybody's back in the water.
Empty sound and fury though it may be, a Carolina thunderstorm is considerably more consequential than the usual summer media storm in Washington, which arrives right on schedule. Bored reporters owe their debt this year to an eclectic collection of the boys (and a girl) of summer -- Karl Rove, Robert Novak, Matthew Cooper and particularly Judith Miller. And of course two ambitious bit players in this year's drama, Thomas Hogan as the federal judge and Patrick Fitzgerald as the federal district attorney brought up from the bushes for a major-league tryout.
As Nelson Rockefeller used to say, "Thanks a thousand, guys."
You might think it's too hot in Washington to argue about anything, but you shouldn't. The story line is simple: A sometime U.S. ambassador to obscure hotbeds of tranquility writes an op-ed essay in the New York Times, arguing that George W. Bush lied to the world that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy weapons-grade uranium (the wonderfully named "yellowcake") from Niger. Columnist Bob Novak writes that the distinguished diplomat, Joseph C. Wilson IV, had been dispatched to Niger through the intercession of his wife, a CIA "operative," to check it out. He identifies her as Valerie Plame, which was old news to a lot of people in Washington. The Wilsons (or the Plames) devote a lot of their time to advertising themselves as, if not exactly Beautiful People, at least as desperately aspiring Not Bad-Looking People. But she and her husband say she was deliberately "outed" by shadowy White House aides to exact revenge for the op-ed. Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Judy Miller of the New York Times get on the case, learn what a lot of people knew, and the White House, succumbing to media pressure, appoints the special D.A. to find out what who knew, why and how. When the D.A. can't find the ham sandwich to indict, he, with the connivance of the judge, lands on the reporters, insisting that they give up their sources. Judy Miller doesn't, and goes to jail. Mr. Cooper wilts. The second act ends as his colleagues scoff that he's not exactly a stand-up guy.
The third act opens as Democrats stumble, and knives come out for Miss Miller. David Broder of The Washington Post, the self-appointed "nanny of the Washington press corps," writes that not even Judy Miller is "wholly praiseworthy," because in the run-up to the war in Iraq, she wrote that Saddam Hussein was a very bad guy, relying on sources she shouldn't have, and Karl Rove remains in his job because George W. Bush won't do his duty. "The only lesson I can draw," he writes, setting up a plug for Mortuary Bob Woodward's new book, "is that reporters ought to be [*%$!] careful about accepting unattributed information. For every 'Deep Throat,' there are multiple ... [Karl] Roves."
Bored reporters are trying now to rehabilitate Matt Cooper, a nerd only yesterday, because he fingered Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as a secondary source. But Scooter was no more forthcoming than Karl, saying in answer to questions only that he, too, had heard the rumors about Valerie Plame. Now it turns out that the law prohibiting identification of covert agents doesn't even apply to Mrs. Plame; her important tasks at the CIA, though not yet disclosed, may involve nothing more deadly than scissors and a paste pot. She isn't Mata Hari or Antonia Ford at all, but may be merely the pastemaster general.
Ambassador Wilson, who was once an ambassador to Gabon, where he was an intimate of President Bongo (Dave Barry couldn't make up this stuff), and later to Sao Tome and Principe (all one mighty republic), continues his interesting career. Fortunately, a wife is available to look out for him.
So it's not much of a scandal, but the summer is young. Meanwhile, a nice dark-blue thundercloud hovers over our beach. Thunder and lightning should arrive soon. The kids can't wait.
Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.