The Blog

Dupes 'R' Us

Caught on the wrong side of the facts, Joe Wilson now blames the reporters he spoke with. Are these journalists going to fall on their swords for politics?

12:00 PM, Jul 21, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

OVER THE LAST FEW DAYS, ever since Ambassador Joseph Wilson's credibility was thrown into question by the Senate Select Committee's report on prewar Iraq intelligence, the ambassador has taken to the airwaves to defend himself. How do you respond, he's been asked, to charges that, in numerous conversations with reporters over the last year, you inflated your role in "debunking" foreign government intelligence reporting which suggested Saddam Hussein's Iraq sought uranium from Africa? And Wilson gave his answer. He blamed the reporters he had snookered only months before.

Thing is, the reporters don't seem to mind.

On Sunday, for example, Wolf Blitzer read Wilson these damning passages from the Senate report:

"Committee staff asked the former ambassador"--Blitzer pointed across the table at the ambassador--"that would be you." He paused. "How the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the dates were wrong and the names were wrong when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports [purporting an alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal]." Blitzer continued: "The former ambassador said that he may have misspoken to the reporter when he said he concluded the documents were forged." He paused again. "At issue here," he said, "an article in the Washington Post in which you were the source, you acknowledge being the source. You spoke of forged documents long before anyone ever knew they were forged."

The article Blitzer was talking about was written by Walter Pincus and published in the June 12, 2003, Washington Post. Here is an excerpt:

During his trip, the CIA's envoy spoke with the president of Niger and other Niger officials mentioned as being involved in the Iraqi effort, some of whose signatures purportedly appeared on the documents.

After returning to the United States, the envoy reported to the CIA that the uranium-purchase story was false, the sources said. Among the envoy's conclusions was that the documents may have been forged because the "dates were wrong and the names were wrong," the former U.S. government official said.

And this is how Wilson answered Blitzer: "Yes, I am male, I'm over 50. By definition, I can misspeak. I have gone back and taken a look at this particular article. It refers to an unidentified former government official. If it is referring to me, it is a misattribution, of facts that were already in the public domain and had been so since March. My first public statement on this, in my own words, was on July 6." [Emphasis added.]

Wilson said something similar to Paula Zahn on Monday:

Zahn: I want you to respond to that very specific allegation in the addendum to the Senate report, which basically says that your public comments not only are incorrect, but have no basis in fact.

Wilson: Well, I'm not exactly sure what public comments they're referring to. If they're referring to leaks or sources, unidentified government sources in articles that appeared before my article in the New York Times appeared, those are either misquotes or misattributions if they're attributed to me.

It's a puzzling strategy, to say the least. If there were only one instance of "misquotes" or "misattributions," then Wilson might have a point. Certainly the reporters Wilson blames for "misquotes" and "misattributions" should respond. On Tuesday, I called the Post's Pincus for his reaction to Wilson's charges. Pincus didn't pick up his phone, so I left a message. I haven't heard back from him since.

There are two other instances (so far) where Wilson, on background, told reporters a misleading account of his trip to Niger. So does Wilson mean to say that New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof also "misquoted" or "misattributed" him in this May 6, 2003, column?

In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the CIA and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged. . . .

The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted--except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.

We know that Wilson was the source for this column, because a January 2004 Vanity Fair profile reports that Wilson met Kristof at a Democratic policy conference in Washington, D.C., only a short time before the column was written. Wilson delivered this account to Kristof over breakfast one morning, and told the columnist he could write about it in the Times, "but not name him."