Libby Case Shows How D.C. Runs

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby lost today, and the Bush administration comes out of his trial looking venal and vindictive, but some say the real loser in the investigation into who leaked the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame is the media -- specifically, the Washington, D.C., media.

"The media looks sloppy. It looks kind of confused, and it looks, in some cases, like stenographers to the administration," says Slate.com political correspondent John Dickerson.

To understand Dickerson's charge, go back to 2002 and 2003.

During the buildup to the Iraq War, critics say, the mainstream media failed to aggressively question the evidence the administration presented -- since proved erroneous -- about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.

And for many media critics, the Libby trial raised the question of whether the cozy relationship between reporters and the policymakers they cover was to blame.

Cocktails and Gossip

"Washington is a city in which you have the public message and then you have the hidden agenda. And almost everybody in Washington has some kind of hidden agenda," Dickerson said. "It doesn't need to be nefarious, but there is always another story line, and it's the reporter's job to find out what the real story line is. And sometimes, to get the real story line, you need a conversation that's a little more gossipy than something that's very formal."

Gossipy interaction over cocktails, information about Wilson's wife casually dropped over cocktails or a coffee, here and there, hither and yon. Part of the zeitgeist's indictment of the media is that reporters have been too close with the administration, a friendliness perhaps seen most glaringly in the relationship between Libby and former New York Times reporter Judy Miller, whose front page reporting helped the administration make the public case about Iraq's WMDs.

Asked during his grand jury testimony whether there was a reason Libby met Miller at her hotel rather than his office, Libby said having less formal meetings was part of the nature of his job.

"Part of my job to talk to the press about different sorts of things and one of the types of things we do when we talk to them is, you know, here's how the administration generally is thinking about Iraq … usually as an off-the-record discussion over lunch just to orient them to how we think about a problem," he said.

It was during that dish session at the St. Regis Hotel that Libby told Miller that Ambassador Joe Wilson -- a critic of the administration's case for war -- was sent by the CIA to investigate evidence in Africa only because his wife Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, not because the vice president's office sent him.

"It was a piece of gossip too powerful to not put out because it, in a single moment, undermined Wilson's case," Dickerson explained.

From Formal Interviews to Casual Conversations

Wilson had served at the U.S. mission in Baghdad before the first Gulf War, and had been a diplomat in Niger, Burundi and South Africa; his wife claims she did not send him to Niger in 2002 for the CIA. But the Bush administration had its story to get out. How did it? An audiotape from the trial reveals a conversation between former State Department official Richard Armitage and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward dishing about Joe Wilson's wife. (You can listen to an excerpt of Woodward's tape recording of their conversation BY CLICKING HERE.)

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