I tried to say nothing when news of Novak’s announcement came. I had nothing good to say, though my own father died of brain cancer and I empathize with Novak and his family for that–it is a horrible way to die, particularly for someone whose identity was tied with his intellect.
But I couldn’t resist a snark on twitter:
Cue Woodward claiming he got deathbed confession about what really happened during the 7/9/03 conversation Novak & Libby hid.
Perhaps Woodward will–as he did with Reagan’s CIA Director and Iran-Contra co-conspirator, Bill Casey, who also died of brain cancer–make dubious claims about deathbed conversations with Novak.
But the fact is that Novak died with most of his role in the Plame outing still shrouded in secrecy. That’s partly true because of the significant changes in Novak’s story over time. All of the following Novak claims changed as the stage of the investigation suited:
- Whether he understood the leak was intended to seed a story or it was an offhand remark
- From whom he learned the name "Plame," changing from "they" (his sources, then in the plural, not "two"), to possibly Who’s Who, to definitely Who’s Who
- From whom he learned that Valerie Wilson worked in counterproliferation and whether that person made it clear this meant she was covert
- His use of the word "operative" and whether he really confused Valerie Wilson with someone running a congressional campaign in Wyoming (really! he claimed to have–and other journalists bought it!)
- From whom he learned that Joe Wilson had learned that an "Iraqi delegation had tried to establish commercial contacts"–a detail that was in the CIA report on Wilson’s trip (which remained classified until after Novak spoke to his claimed sources for the story), though Novak used the wrong date for it
- When he spoke to Rove–which changed from July 9 to maybe July 8 or 9
On all those details, Novak’s story changed repeatedly. And then there’s one I’ve never heard anyone ask: from whom Novak got the talking point, "The White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, and not just Vice President Cheney, asked the CIA to look into it," a talking point that shows up in Libby’s note from Cheney on Plame’s identity and may appear in Judy Miller’s notes.
Yet today, most journalists assume Novak’s final answers–the ones that eventually shielded Rove and Libby and Cheney from most consequences–were truthful, and believe they know what happened.