Plame Over

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 17 2007 5:38 AM

Plame Over

The Washington Post leads with former CIA officer Valerie Plame's congressional testimony, in which she broke her long-standing public silence and attacked the Bush administration for leaking her identity. The Los Angeles Times plasters its front page with Plame but devotes its top news spot to what could be the biggest drug bust ever, in which Mexico City authorities confiscated $205 million in U.S. currency from a gang of methamphetamine dealers. The New York Times stuffs Valerie and leads with the indictment of three city police detectives over the killing of an unarmed 23-year-old black man. And the Wall Street Journal leads with word that Blackstone Group, the "king of private equity," is preparing to make an initial public offering.

Plame's testimony provided an unflinching  account of both her status at the CIA and her role in sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, to Niger in 2002, in an attempt to discover if Iraq had made efforts to purchase nuclear material. On the first issue: "I am here to say I was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency." And on the second: "I did not suggest him. There was no nepotism involved. I didn't have the authority."

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For journalists, it was love at first sight. "Plame calmly but firmly knocked down longstanding claims by administration allies that the disclosure was not criminal because she had not worked in a covert capacity," gushes the Post. "As she talked more, her voice seemed to gain force, volume and velocity—a confident bearing to match her appearance," drools  the Times. (As the Post's Dana Milbank puts it, "The passion is palpable.")

But the LAT, in an exercise of Olympian restraint, spends a good portion of its story meta-reporting on the media spectacle: "As she sat down to testify, there were twice as many photographers as lawmakers arrayed before her."

In news south of the border, two of the seven people arrested in the huge Mexican drug raid were Chinese nationals, prompting suspicions that the Mexico City group was part of an international drug ring spanning Asia and the Americas. (For those who are just curious about what $205 million in cash looks like, there's a picture that could make Scrooge McDuck swoon. The pile of money weighs at least 4,500 pounds.)

After three days of deliberation, a New York grand jury indicted the police officers on two counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless endangerment. During what is described as a "chaotic" and vague early morning encounter in November 2006, the officers fired a total of 50 shots into a car containing three unarmed men. Sean Bell, who was killed, was supposed to have been married the same afternoon.

On a less morbid note, Blackstone Group, which helps move public companies into private ownership, is expected to offer about 10 percent of its management company at an IPO. But while such a move "would give Blackstone even greater financial clout," the Journal speculates that it may also "signal that Blackstone partners think the financial market has hit a peak."

Also on the front page of the New York Times is a worthwhile feature on the increasingly intertwined economies of Iran and Iraq—which can't be great news for an administration that's trying its darndest to reduce Iranian influence. There's no shortage of irony here: Trade between Iraq and Iran was closely regulated under Saddam Hussein but has "exploded since the American-led invasion of 2003," so that now, despite the Bush administration's best efforts, the countries are "becoming closely integrated, with Iranian goods flooding Iraqi markets and Iraqi cities looking to Iran for basic services."

It's St. Patrick's Day, so the papers roll out a variety of appropriately themed features. The NYT fronts a look at companies that give you a chance to buy a little piece of Ireland—which is to say, a bag of "Official Irish Dirt." The L.A. Times, meanwhile, pulls out the stops and profiles an entertainment company that books dwarfs for live events, and thus thrives on leprechaun-rich St. Paddy's Day. Of course, the LAT does the mature thing and reaches for every low-hanging pun in sight. (Headline: "Opportunities grow for little performers." Nut graph: "Business has never been bigger." And so on.) But the piece also gets around to speculating about why the dwarf business is booming. The answer? In short: Austin Powers.

But are there any ethical qualms about hiring a dwarf? "Our standard was that it was not different from hiring strippers or escorts," says one dwarf-friendly party-goer. Cool.

A couple of stories that tumbled out earlier this week get a nudge forward. Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and Republican Lindsey Graham have called for an investigation into accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's allegations that he was tortured during three years of CIA custody. And the White House can't seem to decide who dreamed up the idea of firing all those federal prosecutors. For most of the week, officials claimed it was the hapless Harriet Miers. Now, no one seems sure. Says Tony Snow: "At this juncture, people have hazy memories." A good juncture will do that.

A month after the N.Y. Times did a front-page write-up of firedoglake's Libby-trial blogging, this morning's Los Angeles Times leaps into the blogosphere with a piece on Talking Points Memo. And, like the earlier NYT piece, the LAT concludes that blogs have some not-to-be-scoffed-at advantages—such as "the ability to communicate almost instantaneously with readers via the Internet and to deputize those readers as editorial researchers, in effect multiplying the reporting power by an order of magnitude."

This sort of piece is becoming a trend: Blog outdoes mainstream media; mainstream media returns favor by writing flattering profile of blog.

And, finally, if you're not suffering from Obama-profile fatigue, the NYT takes a  long look at the senator's Hawaiian childhood. (Hagiography and racial angst ensue.) Oh, but the L.A. Times did this piece a week ago. Any guesses when we'll see it in the Post?

Conor Clarke is a former editor at the Atlantic and the Guardian as well as the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism.

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