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Summer Fashions

Anonymous sources are in; anonymous sources are out. It depends on who your source hurts.

12:00 AM, Jul 20, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
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EARLIER THIS SPRING the journalistic world celebrated the most famous of all anonymous sources, Deep Throat. More than three decades after he inadvertently began the Age of Anonymous Sourcing, Mark Felt became the toast of media circles when he acknowledged his role in Watergate, the scandal that broke the presidency and gave birth to the modern era of investigative journalism.

The media, stung by recent debacles like the Killian memos at CBS and the ignominious departure of Eason Jordan, toasted Felt as a true American hero. Newsweek had just turned an anonymously-sourced and ultimately false story about Koran abuse at Guantanamo Bay into wild Muslim riots that killed 17 people, but reporters suddenly remembered how anonymous sources could help bring out truth and justice and hold the powerful accountable. Kurt Anderson informed us that "Journalism exists to get us closer to all sorts of truth, and anonymous sources are essential to the endeavor. Even now, they provide more social benefit than they extract in moral costs." Woodward himself told the Wall Street Journal that, fearing a "secret government," he thinks the press doesn't make enough use of anonymous sources.

Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote just last month that Mark Felt's nameless assistance to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein gave Americans a "chance to learn just how perverse were the values that infected the Nixon White House." He scolded Chuck Colson and Pat Buchanan for pointing out that Felt broke the law and claimed that they provide an example of why journalists have to have access to anonymous sourcing:

In these comments, Americans born in the 1970s, '80s and '90s can learn everything they need to know about the dangerous delusions of the Nixon era. The mind-set that created enemies lists, the blind loyalty to a deeply flawed individual, the twisting of historical fact to turn villains into heroes and heroes into villains--they are all there.

And yet, over the past week, we have an example of an anonymous source who warned a reporter about an abuse of power in a secretive government agency, involving an operative who deliberately spread misinformation about intelligence work--and the press has spent their energy castigating him for his efforts. The efforts to blame Karl Rove for the supposed "outing" of Valerie Plame in a Robert Novak column is hypocrisy from the same media that lauded an FBI agent for leaking material to the Washington Post to stop an abuse of power three decades ago.

Last week, Matt Cooper of Time testified that he spoke with Karl Rove on "double super secret background" shortly after an editorial written by Ambassador Joseph Wilson appeared in the New York Times. Wilson wrote that he had been sent to Niger based on a request from Vice President Dick Cheney to investigate claims that Saddam Hussein had attempted to purchase uranium, banned in the sanctions placed on Iraq after the Gulf War. Attempts by Saddam to acquire nuclear material would suggest that Saddam planned on rebuilding his WMD programs. Wilson claimed in his editorial that he had found no evidence of such an effort and that President George W. Bush had lied in his State of the Union speech by claiming Saddam had tried to buy the material.

Cooper called Rove--not the other way around--days after its publication, and after discussing an unrelated issue, asked him about the Wilson report. After ensuring that the conversation would remain confidential, Rove warned Cooper not to let his magazine get "too far out on Wilson." He told the reporter that Wilson, despite his claims, did not get authorization for the Niger trip from Cheney or CIA Director George Tenet, but instead got the assignment from his wife, who "apparently worked at the agency on WMD."

As it turns out, Rove gave Cooper a good tip. Not only did Wilson misrepresent the nature of his selection for the Niger mission, he lied about what he found there, as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence later determined: