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The Incredibles

The only debate about Joseph Wilson's credibility is the one taking place at the Washington Post and the New York Times.

2:30 PM, Oct 25, 2005 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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ON JUNE12, 2003, when he first published a story about the matter, Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus became the second journalist to have been used by Ambassador Joseph Wilson to peddle bogus information about his February 2002 trip to Niger.

Wilson told Pincus that he had debunked Bush administration claims that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger. He was specific and apparently seemed credible. And Pincus bought it all.

He wrote:

Armed with information purportedly showing that Iraqi officials had been seeking to buy uranium in Niger one or two years earlier, the CIA in early February 2002 dispatched a retired U.S. ambassador to the country to investigate the claims, according to the senior U.S. officials and the former government official, who is familiar with the event. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity and on condition that the name of the former ambassador not be disclosed.

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.

There is one problem with this: It's wrong. Wilson lied and lied repeatedly. His central contention--that he had seen documents about the alleged sale and determined that they were forgeries--was a fabrication. We know this because Wilson took his trip in February 2002 and the U.S. government did not receive those documents until October 2002. It could not have happened the way Wilson described it to Pincus.

Wilson was later confronted about his misrepresentations. He told investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee that he may have "misspoken." CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Wilson specifically about these obvious discrepancies, citing Pincus's June 12, 2003, Washington Post story. Wilson decided to share the blame. He pointed the finger squarely at Walter Pincus:

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]

The following day, Wilson was confronted again, this time by CNN's Paula Zahn. This time he played dumb before once again blamed the reporters who retold his phony story.

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 [July 6, 2003] appeared, those are either misquotes or misattributions if they're attributed to me.

It was a stunning reversal. Wilson had turned on the very people who had given him prominence and had trusted that his story was accurate.

All of which brings us to the very bizarre story in today's Washington Post. The article is a rather transparent attempt to rehabilitate Joseph Wilson, casting the current debate about his credibilityas a battle between Wilson's antiwar supporters and his pro-war critics. It fails.

IT FAILS BECAUSE outside of the pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times, there is no real debate over Joseph Wilson's credibility. He doesn't have any. It is something that Walter Pincus should understand well, having been one of the earliest peddlers of Wilson's fabrications. And one might think that Pincus would be angry at Wilson after the former ambassador accused him of sloppy reporting to cover up Wilson's own misrepresentations.

But one would be wrong. Pincus is the co-author--along with Dana Milbank--of this morning's amusing attempt to reframe the Wilson story.

"To his backers, Joseph C. Wilson IV is a brave whistle-blower wronged by the Bush administration," claim Pincus and Milbank. "To his critics, he is a partisan who spouts unreliable information."