October 01, 2003


Stryker's wisely keeping mum on the Nom de Plame affair, but Sparkey's not. His argument today is hard to make out, amid all the irrelevant "Wilson Is a moonbat" stuff, but it seems to be:

1. All wives of ambassadors and ex-ambassadors (and presumably ex-wives of ex-ambassadors) are in the pay of the CIA. Wow, who knew?

2. By saying to Novak, "don't use her name," CIA PR effectively outed Plame themselves.

This latter point is at least interesting. Say you're PR. A journalist calls you and asks you to confirm or deny someone works for your organization that you don't want the world to know about. You have, basically, three choices.

1. "No she doesn't." Upshot: journalist runs story saying he said-they said: "My sources tell me the Ambassador's wife works for the agency, but, the agency denies it."

2. "We can neither confirm nor deny." Upshot: journalist runs story saying you had nothing to say. "My sources say bla bla, the agency had no comment."

3. "Yes she works for us, please don't use her name." This is, in fact, what the CIA said, and that Novak ignored. The hope is that you can turn off that part of the story entirely, with an appeal to the journalist's conscience or patriotism. This works surprisingly often.

You can't logically say, "whether she works for us or not, please don't use her name." No journalist could ever leave it at that. If you want to put stipulations on the use of her name, you need to acknowledge you have some relationship with the person in doing so. Nor, unless you fully trust the journalist, can you dare go into more specifics. "Yes, she's worked for us as a covert analyst for over 20 years, she worked on this file and that file, please don't use her name, because the risk is you'll compromise this and that."

If the journalist isn't willing to stop at "please don't use her name" in and of itself, then they can't be trusted to keep anything else you tell them secret either. Novak is a case in point: he was asked to keep secret and he blabbed anyway. If the PR officer involved had said anything else that was classified info, it's reasonable to assume now that Novak could well have put that in his article, too.

Short of telling Novak's sources that they'd be liable for prosecution if he went with the article (which would have been a good approach in retrospect) CIA PR went by-the-book on "how to try to squelch a story" on this one. They are in no way responsible for the leak in question.

PS: I'm really beginning to wonder at the jingopundits' fundamental sanity on this one. Instaman is apparently convinced that because the ambassador's wife's name wasn't ITSELF a state secret, that this somehow all doesn't matter. In Glenn's current world, it's apparently a legal requirement that all wives of CIA agents are henceforward introduced to any and all others as, "This is my wife/husband, mrffllflffl". (When the priest led them through the wedding vows, and said, "do you, mrffllflffl, take this man...?" did she respond, "I'd tell you, but then I'd have to kill you?") And Sully is still obsessing over the "three decades" remark by Larry Johnson. "Stay tuned?" What's to stay tuned to? He got one word wrong speaking on live television -- "for three decades" instead of "over three decades" -- and we need to stay tuned for something? This is madness...

Posted by BruceR at 12:15 PM


Some time ago, I waxed poetic about the quintessential New Republic essay, a literary sub-form found at its highest level only in the back pages of that magazine: the rambling discursive survey essay that leaves you thinking you now know more about a subject than you ever really could.

This week, we have the quintessential New Yorker essay to examine: Louis Menand's work on citations and Chicago style. It's the kind of article one can only reliably find in the pages of the New Yorker: more personal, less lofty than the TNR piece, more down-to-earth... with a subject no less important, but designed less with an eye to encyclopedic completeness, and more with an eye to flow. Rather than trying to elevate the reader to a new level of consciousness, it unlocks the complexity underlying something we thought was simple. The structure and writing carries you along, to a concluding paragraph that can only be described as masterful.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM