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Context of 'September 24, 2004: Novak Backs Away from Initial Advocacy of Journalists Revealing Sources'

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Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214; Wilson, 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Joseph C. Wilson, Robert Novak, CNN, Central Intelligence Agency, Eason Jordan, Valerie Plame Wilson, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Hours after conservative columnist Robert Novak tells a CNN audience that he contacted Joseph Wilson to confirm that his wife was a CIA official for his July 2003 column exposing her as a CIA employee (see September 29, 2003), Wilson tells CNN’s Paula Zahn that Novak is incorrect in his characterization of events. “Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report (see July 14, 2003) and he said a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative,” Wilson says. “He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? And I said no.” After the article appeared, citing Bush administration and not CIA sources, Wilson called Novak about the article. According to Wilson, he called Novak about the discrepancy in his citation of sources (see July 14, 2003) and asked, “What was it, CIA or senior administration?” Wilson continues: “He said to me, ‘I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.’ That makes it senior administration sources.” [CNN, 9/29/2003; CNN, 10/1/2003]

Entity Tags: CNN, Bush administration (43), Robert Novak, Paula Zahn, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Al Hunt and Robert Novak on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’Al Hunt and Robert Novak on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ [Source: Washington Post]During a broadcast of CNN’s The Capital Gang, conservative columnist Robert Novak weighs in on the controversy surrounding a recent CBS story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service. The story relied on documents whose authenticity has been questioned. Novak says: “I’d like CBS, at this point, to say where they got those documents from.… I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS.” Novak’s colleague, liberal Al Hunt, retorts: “Robert Novak, you’re saying CBS should reveal its source?… You think reporters ought to reveal sources?” Novak, tardily understanding where Hunt is going, backtracks: “No, no, wait a minute. I’m just saying in that case.” Novak has yet to publicly reveal his sources for his outing of CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Other reporters who were given Plame Wilson’s name, including the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003) and Time’s Matthew Cooper (see September 13, 2004), have disclosed their negotiations with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald over revealing information to his grand jury, but Novak has said nothing on the subject. (Hunt later confirms that, like the vast majority of the Washington pundit corps, he has refrained from asking Novak about the issue, because Novak is “a close friend… it’s uncomfortable.”) Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who spars regularly with Novak on CNN, concurs: “Look, he’s a friend of mine. I know that he can’t talk about it. I respect that fact, so I don’t bring it up.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2004] Novak has spoken with the FBI and with investigators for Fitzgerald three times (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).

Entity Tags: Paul Begala, CNN, Al Hunt, George W. Bush, Judith Miller, Robert Novak, Texas Air National Guard, Matthew Cooper, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Columnist and media observer Allan Wolper notes that while conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson apparently at the behest of the White House (see July 14, 2003), continues to “spout… off in his syndicated column, he keeps a secret he would not permit any politician to get away with.” Wolper is writing of Novak’s continued refusal to divulge whether he was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the case, or if he testified before that grand jury. Wolper calls it an “untenable ethical position,” and bolsters his position with observations from media ethicists such as Robert Steele, the director of ethics for the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. “If he has a justifiable reason to withhold that information, he should give a reason why,” Steele says. “Otherwise, he is undermining his credibility as an honest broker of ethical journalism. If he were on the other side, he would challenge journalists for not saying anything.” Novak is defended by, among others, Washington Post reporter and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who says: “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press. He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.” (Wolper is unaware as of this writing that Woodward has his own secondary involvement in the case, having been himself told of Plame Wilson’s identity several times before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003).) Wolper notes that while Novak has refused to speak about subpoenas or testimonies, Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus have both given sworn depositions to the grand jury (see June 22, 2004 and September 15, 2004). Wolper writes, “They might have been able to fight off their subpoenas if their lawyers had known whether Novak… had been called by the grand jury.” Aside from Kessler and Pincus, Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 17, 2003) testified after being threatened with jail (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005), and New York Times reporter Judith Miller is facing jail rather than testify (see December 2004). “Novak has an obligation to own up,” Wolper writes. Instead, “Novak continues to live a charmed life in journalism, writing his column and appearing regularly on CNN, where he is never challenged.” CNN media critic Jeff Greenfield says of Novak’s case, “I haven’t thought it through. I don’t want to talk about it, because I have no opinion on it.” Jack Nelson, the retired bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says: “This whole thing is really strange. Novak was the guy who wrote the column that exposed the CIA agent, and yet they don’t seem to be going after him.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Jack Nelson, Bob Woodward, Allan Wolper, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Walter Pincus, Robert Steele, Jeff Greenfield, Judith Miller, Valerie Plame Wilson, CNN, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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