Part 2 of Frontline’s The News War aired last night. Part 3 airs next Tuesday (February 27) and part 4 concludes the series on March 27. If I understand correctly, parts 1 and 2 of the series can be watched online here. Series producer Arun Rath advises us that whatever of the interviews of John and me that they use will be included in part 3 of the series next week.
Parts 1 and 2 of the series address the political and legal forces confronting the media today, including “the line between legitimate national security concerns and the public’s right to know.” On the series preview page, Frontline has posted six video clips. Two of the clips are excerpted from interviews with New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin. In the two interview clips they are asked most pointedly about the Times story disclosing the existence of the NSA terrorist eavesdropping program. I commented on the issue framed by the series in those interviews in “Is the New York Times a law unto itself?”
I watched the “chapters” of part 1 of the series that address the Plame investigation. The series’ account of Plamegate is incredibly disappointing. It begins with the alleged falsity of “the sixteen words” in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address, continues with Joseph Wilson’s alleged effort to expose their falsity and with the administration’s purported effort to “punish” Wilson by “outing” his wife. Interviews with Wilson and with Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, among others, convey the received account of Plamegate.
Nowhere is there any discussion of the accuracy of “the sixteen words,” of the falsity of Wilson’s account of his trip to Niger, or of the Senate Intelligence Committee report finding Wilson’s account to be a hodgepodge of lies. See, for example, our own “Joseph Wilson, liar” and Steve Hayes’s “The Incredibles.” Based on part 1’s account of Plamegate, it is impossible to consider the possibility — a possibility that I believe to be the case — that rather than “punishing” Valerie Plame by “outing” her, the administration was attempting to fight back against a cynical campaign attacking its credibility that was based on an elaborate set of falsehoods.
In short, the series’ account of the Plame investigation is itself an installment of “the news war” that the series purports to chronicle.
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