Ignorance on the NYT Editorial Page: Bob Novak, War Hawk?

In Saturday's lead editorial, "The Case Against Scooter Libby," the New York Times tries to tie the complicated Joseph Wilson-Valerie Plame-Niger-uranium affair up with a bright-red conspiratorial bow by making out that columnist Bob Novak was out to get diplomat turned (discredited) anti-war activist Joseph Wilson.

By the Times' tendentious reading, the "conservative hawk" Novak went after Wilson for contradicting the White House on Saddam Hussein seeking uranium in Niger: "Mr. Novak reported that Mr. Wilson's wife worked at the C.I.A. and had suggested Mr. Wilson for the mission. In the eyes of Mr. Novak and other conservative hawks, that made the trip suspect because they saw the C.I.A. as an adversary. The office where Mrs. Wilson worked was not toeing the line on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction."

But the Times once again reveals its lack of knowledge concerning what conservative thinkers actually think. If the Times had bothered to read Novak's actual column (or his previous ones) rather than simply assuming all conservatives are Bush loyalists, it would have realized the iconoclastic Novak is hardly a "conservative hawk." That inconvenient information rather puts the kibosh on the paper's conspiracy theory.

No less than conservatism's house organ National Review basically drummed Novak out of the conservative movement in April 2003 for his anti-war and anti-Israel views, a few months before Novak wrote his infamous "Mission to Niger" column that supposedly outed the then-non-covert Valerie Plame.

The paper also ignores that Novak's actual column is quite respectful toward Wilson. Here's an excerpt:

"[Wilson's] first public notice had come in 1991 after 15 years as a Foreign Service officer when, as U.S. charge in Baghdad, he risked his life to shelter in the embassy some 800 Americans from Saddam Hussein's wrath. My partner Rowland Evans reported from the Iraqi capital in our column that Wilson showed 'the stuff of heroism.'"

The editorial continues: "At one point, according to the indictment, Mr. Libby accosted Mr. Cheney's C.I.A. briefer to complain that C.I.A. officials were making critical comments to the press about Mr. Cheney's office, and mentioned Mr. Wilson's trip to Niger and his wife. This deeply improper harassment occurred a month before Mr. Novak's column appeared."

Cliff May has an alternate reading at National Review's blog : "In other words, in the view of the Times, leaks from the CIA designed to damage the president are good leaks, even if those leaks contain falsehoods. Complaining about those leaks is 'improper harassment.'"

The Washington Post has a more responsible take on the matter, factoring in Wilson's lack of credibility: "[Libby and Rove] may have believed that Ms. Plame's involvement was an important part of their story of why Mr. Wilson was sent to investigate claims that Iraq sought uranium ore from Niger, and why his subsequent -- and mostly erroneous -- allegations that the administration twisted that small part of the case against Saddam Hussein should not be credited. To criminalize such discussions between officials and reporters would run counter to the public interest."

The New York Times, typically, doesn't breathe a word about Wilson's whoppers.

For more examples of New York Times' bias, check out TimesWatch.

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Clay Waters's picture