Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Mark Kleiman has been assiduously covering the intriguing story of a possible grave national security misstep on the part of the Bush administration. Apparently, a woman named Valerie Plame Wilson, who may or may not be a covert CIA agent, may or may not have had her cover blown by someone who may or may not be a senior administration official. The alleged agent's alleged status was supposedly leaked as part of a smear campaign against her husband, a former US ambassador to Gabon who publicly criticized the administration's use of the now-legendary Nigerien Yellowcake Uranium story as a justification for launching the Iraq campaign.

The details of the whole affair are terribly murky at this point, but it certainly seems worthy of serious investigation. Strangely, though, the press is giving the story very little attention. Kleiman attributes this silence to a lapdog press that depends too much on White House sources for news leaks to burn its bridges by exposing a serious scandal.

I think the real explanation, though not much less comforting, is somewhat less venal: the press has locked itself into a terribly rigid model of politics as partisan left-right combat, and has enormous difficulty covering stories that can't be cast perfectly in terms of this model. Senator Robert Byrd's occasionally intemperate language regarding race, for instance, or the recent dust-up involving homosexual epithets lobbed by a Democratic Representative, barely made waves, because the Democrats are understood to be the party that defends minorities, both racial and sexual. Likewise, the Republicans are the party of national security hawks, and a story that has them exposing CIA agents like a bunch of campus radicals left over from the sixties simply doesn't fit the conventions.

If I had to guess, I'd surmise that somebody at the White House (maybe at the highest reaches, maybe not) stepped over the line, and is now patiently waiting for either (a) the whole thing to blow over or (b) his/her head to roll. Certainly, reporters should be much more attentive to this case--and likely would be, but for its stubborn inability to fit into their preconceived notions of what a story about a Republican administration should look like.

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