The Washington Post proclaims that “Bush Raises Standard for Firing Aides In Leak Probe.” Reporters Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen find that Bush raised the standard when he said today that “if somebody committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” That quotation appears in the second sentence of the story. A dozen or so paragraphs later, one finally reaches the Post’s account of the exchange in which Bush allegedly set a lower standard. Says the Post, “In June 2004, Bush was asked if would ‘fire anyone found to’ leak the agent’s name. ‘Yes,’ he replied.”
Unfortunately, the Post neglects to provide its readers with key parts of the June 2004 exchange. Here they are, courtesy of Ramesh Ponnuru at NRO’s Corner:
Q. [D]o you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent’s name? . . . [A]nd do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?”
The reference by the questioner to Bush’s pledge is important because it does not appear that Bush actually had ever pledged to fire anyone found to have leaked the agent’s name. Instead, in September 2003, he made this statement:
[I]f there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is. And if the person has violated law, the person will be taken care of. . . . If somebody did leak classified information, I’d like to know it, and we’ll take the appropriate action.
Assuming that this is the pledge the June 2004 questioner, and the president, had in mind (and I know of no other “pledge” on the subject), then the question to Bush contained a false premise, since nowhere in the quoted language does Bush state that he will fire someone just for being the leaker. Given the insertion of incorrect information into the question, Bush’s answer can just as fairly be read as a pledge to adhere to his initial pledge (which did not include a pledge to fire the leaker regardless of the circumstances) as a pledge to fire the leaker in the absence of a crime.
At a minimum, the Post should have provided the fuller version of the June 2004 quotation, and the text of the original pledge, so that its readers could have an adequate basis for deciding whether the president actually lowered the standard. But the Post’s standard of journalism seems to have less to do with informing its readers than with taking shots at the president.
UPDATE: Tom McGuire is the go-to guy on this subject right now. His updates encompass the mistreatment of the “moving goal-post” story by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Post.
JOHN adds: The left’s claim that Bush has changed his position is even weaker than it appears from the above quotes. Here is the complete exchange on the subject during President Bush’s June 10, 2004 press conference:
Q Given — given recent developments in the CIA leak case, particularly Vice President Cheney’s discussions with the investigators, do you still stand by what you said several months ago, a suggestion that it might be difficult to identify anybody who leaked the agent’s name?
THE PRESIDENT: That’s up to —
Q And, and, do you stand by your pledge to fire anyone found to have done so?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. And that’s up to the U.S. Attorney to find the facts.
Q My final point would be — or question would be, has Vice President Cheney assured you —
THE PRESIDENT: It’s up to the —
Q — subsequent to his conversations with them, that nobody —
THE PRESIDENT: I haven’t talked to the Vice President about this matter, and I suggest — recently — and I suggest you talk to the U.S. Attorney about that.
It is simply absurd for liberals to claim that this exchange is somehow different from what Bush said in 2003 and again this year, i.e., that he would fire anyone found to have engaged in an illegal leak.