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December 03, 2003

OKAY, I'M OFFICIALLY PRONOUNCING THE PLAME SCANDAL BOGUS:

Former ambassador Joseph Wilson has been quite protective of his wife, Valerie Plame, in the weeks since her cover as a CIA operative was blown.

"My wife has made it very clear that -- she has authorized me to say this -- she would rather chop off her right arm than say anything to the press and she will not allow herself to be photographed," he declared in October on "Meet the Press."

But that was before Vanity Fair came calling.

The January issue features a two-page photo of Wilson and the woman the magazine calls "the most famous female spy in America," a "slim 40-year-old with white-blond hair and a big, bright smile." They are sitting in their Jaguar.

No word on whether she's missing an arm. . . . Wilson says the pictures won't identify her. Sorry -- if you're really an undercover spy, and really worried about national security, you don't do this sort of thing. Unless, perhaps, you're a self-promoter first, and a spy second. Or your husband is.

UPDATE: Reader Ira Ozarin emails:

I read the WashPost article via the Instapundit link. You neglected to point out an interesting detail in the article:

Plame may be the most well-known figure in a modern Washington scandal whose face is unknown. The Justice Department is now investigating which senior administration officials leaked Plame's CIA role to columnist Robert Novak after Wilson began debunking President Bush's State of the Union claim that Iraq had tried to buy "yellowcake" uranium from Niger. (my emphasis)

Do the Post people still not know that Bush never said anything about yellowcake and Niger in the State of the U address, or is that something we're all supposed to just 'know' was true? Or maybe they just don't fact-check anymore?

Sadly, I'm so used to seeing that that I didn't even notice. Sigh. Sorry. Thanks to everyone (there were quite a few emails along these lines) who pointed it out.

Meanwhile a couple of readers wrote to say that Plame's cover (assuming that there was one) has already been "blown," so what's the problem with doing an Vanity Fair spread. Hmm. It was "blown" in October, too, when she said she couldn't be photographed. (And if the "it's already blown" analysis applies, why the self-dramatizing stuff about how she can't be recognized from these photos?)

Serious people don't do self-promoting spreads in Vanity Fair where important questions of national security are involved. Self-promoters (Wilson is trying to pitch a book, the article reports) do. Not knowing the underlying facts, I have to make my judgment by the behavior of the parties. And judging from that, the scandal is bogus, and Wilson is a self-promoter who can't be trusted. That's my judgment on this matter. Yours, of course, may vary. But if you see Wilson as anything other than a cheesy opportunist, well, then yours really varies.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Robert Tagorda is a bit more measured:

Glenn proclaims the scandal "bogus." Though I hesitate to sign on to the proclamation just yet, I frankly wouldn't be surprised to learn down the line that the matter was overblown, given the Wilson couple's act.

Here's what irks me the most: Wilson claims that the White House leaked his wife's identity for political reasons. Yet he's using the scandal for similarly ignoble reasons, including book deals. To be sure, the leak is far more serious. But there's something very unsettling about how Wilson criticizes the administration for inappropriately using intelligence when he himself fails to treat the matter with the delicacy it deserves.

I can understand if he's railing against the Bush inner circle in the interest of exposing its alleged thuggery. I can also understand if Plame's out in public and photographers just happen to snap a shot. But posing for a magazine, even if "disguised," indicates a slimy agenda.

What he said.

YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Roger Simon weighs in: "Wilson, obviously, is no George Smiley--he's more of a 'Smiley George.'" [LATER: Lots of interesting comments on Simon's post.]

MORE: A snarky reader points out that Bush was in Vanity Fair. Um, yeah, and I guess that would matter if he were, you know, claiming to have a secret identity or something.

MORE STILL: Slate's "Whopper of the Week" ("Goodbye Plamegate") has the photographs, which leave little to the imagination, and observes:

Plame's extended striptease, enthusiastically touted by her husband, now has Chatterbox wondering how much of Wilson's story to believe. (It also has Chatterbox wondering when the couple will start renting themselves out for birthday parties.)

Indeed. And if this were a serious matter, would they be acting that way?

STILL MORE: Tom Maguire says I told you so. He also notes that saying that Wilson is bogus isn't quite the same as saying that the scandal is bogus. I guess that's right, in theory. But the claim that Plame was endangered is what drove this scandal, and it came from Wilson, who seems to be, well, bogus. (Read this, too). I suppose it's still theoretically possible that somebody in the White House deliberately and illegally outed Plame as a way of getting revenge on Wilson for his dumb -- and deeply unprofessional -- oped about his "mission" to Niger. But if you assume that nothing that Wilson says can be relied on because he's a self-promoter who'll stretch a fact to get attention, which seems extremely plausible, then you're not left with much evidence. And the Wilson/Plame couple certainly isn't acting like Plame's life is in danger. They're acting like opportunists milking their 15 minutes and hoping for a lucrative book contract. So pardon me if I conclude that their actions speak louder than Wilson's words.

This is deeply disappointing to the people who were entertaining an almost-religious faith that this would be the scandal that would bring down Bush. But such disappointments seem to be their lot.

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