Did Bob Novak Disclose Plame's "Covert" Status?

From avoiding Joseph Wilson's credibility collapse to misreading columnist Robert Novak, the New York Times just can't seem to get the facts of the Plame "scandal" straight.

Tuesday's lead scoop by David Johnston, Richard Stevenson and Douglas Jehl puts Vice President Cheney in the middle of Plame-gate ("Cheney Told Aide Of C.I.A. Officer, Lawyers Report").

The aide in question is Cheney's chief-of-staff, I. Lewis Libby, who is being investigated by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the matter of who leaked the name of C.I.A. officer Valerie Plame.

The paper describes its revelation this way: "Lawyers involved in the case, who described the notes to The New York Times, said they showed that Mr. Cheney knew that Ms. Wilson [Plame] worked at the C.I.A. more than a month before her identity was made public and her undercover status was disclosed in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak on July 14, 2003."

But Novak did no such thing. This is the relevant excerpt from Novak's July 14, 2003 column:

"Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife, Valerie Plame, is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me his wife suggested sending Wilson to Niger to investigate the Italian report."

Nothing about "undercover status" there.

Writing solo, reporter Jehl made a similar mistake in an August 2003 story: "Mr. Wilson's wife was identified by name as a covert C.I.A. operative in a column by the conservative columnist Robert Novak, a disclosure that Mr. Novak has attributed to senior administration officials." Novak wrote nothing about "covert."

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Clay Waters's picture

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