The hole in the "oil spot" strategy for Iraq.

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Nov. 14 2005 3:46 AM

The Hole in the "Oil Spot" Strategy

Plus--You Can't Shut Anyone Up Anymore.

(Continued from Page 9)

This is not a passage that's held up well. Kristof has no idea whether Wilson reported that the signature was that of an out-of-office minister, it turns out. Nor was Wilson's oral report passed around and "accepted"as authoritative by the entire administration, at least by its more neoconnish precincts. Wilson may not even have been that "unequivocal" in his conclusions, which--remember--addressed whether the deal went down and not the forged documents themselves.

A less experienced correctioner might have written something like, "The column was wrong to imply that Wilson debunked the documents as opposed to the deal, or that it was specifcally his report that higher administrations officials saw or accepted."

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Instead, Kristof notices something: Wilson might conceivably have cast doubt on the forged signatures without seeing them, if the name of the person signing, which was wrong, was known (even if the U.S. didn't have the actual documents). So Kristof writes

"[W]hile it's possible that he reported that the signatures were wrong, that seems to me unlikely."

This is a terrific formulation. I'll have to remember it the next time I need to weasel out of a bit of sloppiness. In one breath, it says "Hey, I might still be right!" while drawing praise for its fairminded admission that this possibility is "unlikely." It's so much more complex and interesting than a vulgar, flatfooted word like "wrong."

4. Equal time for the planes that land safely: "As for the quote about the State Department and bamboozlement, I think that's [sic] stands up well." I hadn't seen any fuming on the right about that quote, but it's good to be reminded of a sentence in the column that wasn't wrong.

5. In the end, it doesn't matter if the Hitler Diaries are real or not! Kristof grudgingly acknowledges that Wilson "may have exaggerated how strongly he debunked the documents," but then produces this extraordinary paragraph:

More generally, I find the attacks on a private citizen like Wilson rather distasteful. Sure, he injected himself into the public arena with his op-ed column and TV appearances, and so some scrutiny is fair. But I figure it's more important to examine and probe the credibility of, say, the vice president than a retired ambassador.

Hmm. Is it also distasteful to attack a publicity-shy private citizen like, say, Dr. Steven Hatfill? ... O.K., cheap shot! But does anyone of authority at the NYT endorse Kristof's sentiment? It's allright to scrutinize federal officials but actively "distasteful" to scrutinize former officials who lead loud public election-year campaigns against them? Is Kristof suggesting that he should be let off the hook because it was more important to blast Cheney than get Wilson right? (A: Yes.)

It's also more important to "examine and probe the credibility" of the vice president than that of the Attorney General or the Governor of Mississippi. Does that mean those other officials get a pass from columnists?

P.S.: Kristof shouldn't be ashamed of his columns. He broke an important story. The first press accounts of an event often get non-trivial details wrong. But why not just admit it when that happens? Is it because admitting it would also be admitting that Cheney and Libby and Rove had at least some legitimate reasons to want to set the record straight on Wilson back in 2003?

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