The condensed Joseph Wilson.

How to read juicy books.
May 6 2004 6:33 PM

The Condensed Joseph Wilson

Slate reads The Politics of Truth so you don't have to.

BOok cover

Joseph Wilson didn't write the first tell-all about the Iraq war, nor the best, but he did write the longest. His new memoir, The Politics of Truth, weighs in at a lumbar-cracking 514 pages—34 more than Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack and 194 more than Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies.

This is odd since Wilson, a former diplomat, played no more than a cameo role in Saddam's ouster. In short: He wrote a New York Times op-ed rebutting the Bush administration's claim that Saddam had tried to purchase uranium in Niger. Eight days later, the columnist Robert Novak revealed that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA agent—a tip leaked by "senior administration officials." This leak was meant to suggest that Wilson was the beneficiary of nepotism and couldn't be relied upon, or else was a partisan hack, or something—the logic was never entirely clear.

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Wilson's book is perhaps best summarized as a 19th-century bildungsroman: Wilson styles himself as a virtuous man, starry-eyed and innocent, journeying out to confront the savage world of Washington politics. Slate zips you straight to the good parts.

Wherein the Diplomat, Our Hero, Meets a Strange Bald Man

Page 28: Wilson travels to Niger and turns up no evidence of Iraqis trying to purchase uranium. The closest thing to the goods: A source tells Wilson he spoke with buffoonish Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf—also known as "Baghdad Bob" and "Comical Ali"—about expanding trade with Niger. The source says uranium might have come up in the course of conversation, but he doesn't remember.

Page 334: Wilson's op-ed, "What I Didn't Find in Africa," appears in the New York Times on July 6, 2003. The following Sunday, Wilson spots Bob Novak in the Meet the Press greenroom.

Page 343: A friend of Wilson's hails Novak on Pennsylvania Avenue. Novak casually tosses out charges of nepotism: "Wilson's an asshole. The CIA sent him [to Niger]. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She's a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him [to Niger]."

Page 344: Two days later, Novak phones Wilson to apologize for the outburst. He asks Wilson if his wife works for the CIA. Wilson demurs, and then Novak apologizes again and hangs up.

Page 348: Novak's column runs on July 14 and outs Plame as a CIA agent. At the moment, Wilson can muster only weak anger: "I felt that punching the man in the nose would not have been an unreasonable response."

Page 394: Wilson again encounters Novak on the set of Meet the Press. They shake hands. Wilson writes, "Around Washington his critics call him Bob 'No Fact' for his sloppy tabloid-gossipy articles. … Having long since prostituted himself to the Right as its uncritical shill, he offers little original insight." Now, that's more like it, Joe!

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