Michael Getler, ombudsman of the Washington Post, has a short piece today responding to my criticism of Susan Schmidt's article which appeared on July 10th.
"[I]n general," he writes, "I didn't find the criticism of this story persuasive."
Yet after reading his piece I get the impression that he agrees with at least two of my three points of criticism.
One of those three was Schmidt's claim that Wilson had reported that Iraq had tried to purchase 400 tons of uranium from Niger in 1998. In fact, the Report says it was Iran. The Post ran a correction of that error on Tuesday. And Getler says that error was "not central to the main points" of Schmidt's article -- a characterization that I think is probably a fair one.
A second point was my criticism of Schmidt's discussion of the legal implications of whether or not Wilson's wife recommended him for the mission in question -- an interpretation which comes right out of the mouths of the White House's defenders and is, I believe, demonstrably false. With respect to this, Getler writes that "there was one paragraph of speculation about the possible impact of the report on the administration's case in the [Fitzgerald] investigation that, in my view and the view of critics, should have been left out."
This sounds like at least a tacit agreement.
My third point of criticism was whether Schmidt was right to say that "contrary to Wilson's assertions and even the government's previous statements, the CIA did not tell the White House it had qualms about the reliability of the Africa intelligence that made its way into 16 fateful words in President Bush's January 2003 State of the Union address."
I think this is false since the CIA repeatedly tried to warn the White House off the 'uranium from Africa' story, though the Report alleges that they failed to do so just before the State of the Union address. The Report itself goes into great detail about how the CIA struggled to get the charge removed from the president's 'Cincinnati speech' in October 2002. Getler repeats the same facts, but sees this as confirming Schmidt.
There is one other point in Getler's piece that caught my eye.
In Wilson's letter to the Post, he took Schmidt to task for "uncritically citing the Republican-written Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report." Getler says 'no' it was "a bipartisan report."
Both of them, I think, come up a bit short on this one, but Getler more so. It is a 'bipartisan report'. But on the Wilson-Niger matter it's not unfair to identify this as a Republican document since the Democrats did not agree with the majority's conclusions on this matter. Indeed, as the Republicans themselves (specifically Sens. Roberts, Bond and Hatch) complained in their 'additional views' (p. 442) section, "Despite our hard and successful work to deliver a unanimous report ... there were two issues on which the Republicans and Democrats could not agree: 1) whether the Committee should conclude that former Ambassador Joseph Wilson's public statements were not based on knowledge he actually possessed, and 2) whether the Committee should conclude that it was the former ambassador's wife who recommended him for his trip to Niger."
And one other point -- one not directly relevant to all this back and forth about Niger and Wilson, but an example of how journalism too often works, or, rather, fails to.
In a bandwagon-type column out today in USA Today, Richard Benedetto quotes the Report thusly ...
Second, the Senate report said that Wilson "was specifically recommended for the mission by his wife, a CIA employee, contrary to what he has said publicly."
As we've noted here previously, consistently from day one until today, Plame's bosses at CIA have insisted that the idea to send Wilson was theirs, not hers -- a presumably relevant fact the committee Report fails to mention.
Still, that quotation sounds even more definitive than the Report made out. And in fact it is. Benedetto says he's quoting the Report, but he's actually quoting Schmidt.