Frankly, the more I read and learn about the Plame leak, the more confused I get. The White House’s telling, sudden silence on the matter, compared with bold assertions of administration innocence in 2003 and last year, may have some chortling; since I’m already looking a little foolish on the topic by repeating accusations that I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby was the leaker, rather than current prime suspect Karl Rove, I’m reluctant to say anything, let alone chortle.
If Rove is to blame, he may yet wriggle free. The New York Times hints at that today by quoting experts saying it’s “not easy to break” the 1982 law that criminalizes the outing of covert agents. And I’m not entirely willing to admit defeat on Libby, who is Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, since the White House has also said he had nothing to do with the leak, and “nothing,” in this case, may be a little strong.
What’s lacking in the reporting on this topic is narrative. The more complicated the news is, the simpler its reporting must be, and frequently that means storytelling — breaking out of the traditional “objective” style of news writing and using what are still regarded as the techniques of fiction. I have yet to read coverage of the Victoria Plame affair that merely tells what happened, to the best of current knowledge, rather than lapsing into the scattered and sometimes bewildering manner of the inverted pyramid. Big newspapers often turn to graphics to do this (in what are usually called “timelines”) rather than require it of their reporting.
It’s this that probably resulted in the perception that Libby was the leaker, along with reporters’ tendency to write for themselves, their sources and a knowledgeable elite rather than the average, uninformed (if intelligent) reader.
By the way: Anyone curious as to why the Times’ Judith Miller is in jail when she didn’t even write about Plame may be interested to ponder the theory that it’s Miller herself who’s the leaker.