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Editor's Note: Examining Raw Story's leak reporting

John Byrne

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In the past few months RAW STORY has worked tirelessly to bring you the latest, breaking news about the leak of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Often, these stories have been groundbreaking and have subsequently been reported by the mainstream media after they first appeared on RAW STORY. Lately, there have also been a number of misconceptions about our reporting on this issue.

Before going any further, I want to say that I stand behind our reports. This reporting has been the hardest I personally have ever been involved in because of the high level of secrecy and the surprising inability of the mainstream media to penetrate the case. It's difficult to stand alone while we wait for all the facts to come out - some of which may never be known, some of which may not come out for years.

Don't get me wrong, we're human, and there may be times when we get a fact or facts wrong. We hope that won't happen, but when it does we have and will continue to immediately correct it. The New York Times as well as other major newspapers and magazines publish corrections on a daily basis. In a fast-paced news environment where new information is always emerging, news organizations are always revising previous reports. When we got something wrong it was usually in haste by getting a year wrong or mispelling a person's name. We have always corrected such errors right away. On the content and basic facts of the story in general and within the framework of the articles in particular, we have been highly accurate.

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Still, we strive for accuracy and spend an enormous amount of time vetting stories that are anonymously sourced. We take our reputation very seriously, and I believe we have an excellent track record. Jason Leopold spent a year cultivating sources on the Plame leak. He previously reported on the Enron scandal and the California energy crisis for the Wall Street Journal and as bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. Many of you know that he went through some difficult times at these agencies, but his stories ultimately panned out. Larisa Alexandrovna has also worked assiduously � and with meager pay -- cultivating sources on the Plame leak. In my opinion, she is one of the best and most aggressive reporters investigating pre-war intelligence. Her tenacity and never-back-down approach is the reason that she was the first person in this country to report - exclusively for RAW STORY - the now infamous Downing Street memos, working closely with the original London Sunday Times reporter on the story.

Reporting on an ongoing investigation involves constant vigilance, and changing information. On Tuesday evening, we reported that Fitzgerald would be briefing the grand jury. On Wednesday, we learned that the meeting had been canceled, and on Thursday we learned the reason: Fitzgerald flew to Chicago to present additional charges against former media mogul Conrad Black. The reporting wasn't wrong, but the facts changed.

We're often asked "how" we get our sources. Some say we "just can't have the sources we have." Curiously, most of these individuals are not doing their own independent reporting on the case - our conversations with various mainstream reporters generally are very supportive of our reporting. Obviously, we can't speak to confidential sourcing, but we can say this: journalists who work hard at any publication and dedicate their time to investigating stories rather than relying on wire reports can do amazing work.

In addition, when working with sources we establish right from the start that the relationship is mutual and based on good faith. What that means is that we value our reputation as much as the sources value their privacy and that shared concern is what allows for us to protect our sources. However, our sources also know that if the good faith relationship is something that they abuse, we are under no obligation to continue our end of the agreement. As a result, we get sources who we value and who are just as concerned with truth as we are.

There are a lot of people willing to talk to reporters who will be honest with them and not "spin" their story. I myself have several high-value sources who came to me saying: I don't trust the Washington Post, and I don't like how they treat me." Raw Story has a strong reputation among whistleblowers for telling it like it is, rather than telling it like the Bush Administration, or the Democrats, or anyone else purports it to be.

One might have asked the same question of us when we first revealed the actual copies of the Downing Street Memos and said they were verified. They were the real deal, and we were the first to reveal many of the actual memos, and there were questions of their authenticity at the time. Since then, however, every single element panned out.

Now to the specifics of our reporting on the Plame leak.

Confirmed reports

We reported Oct. 18 and Oct. 19 that Cheney advisers John Hannah and David Wurmser had a role in disseminating information about undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Days later, the New York Daily News reported that "Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, meanwhile, is combing over testimony by John Hannah and David Wurmser, national security aides to Vice President Cheney who sources questioned under oath say may be the key to the probe." The New York Times also listed Hannah, mysteriously, at the end of one of their leak articles, saying that he had been interviewed in the case. In 2004, United Press International, citing FBI sources, reported that Hannah was a target in the case and that he was suspected of being a leaker.

We were the first to report on Oct. 12 that Vice President Dick Cheney was under close scrutiny in the leak investigation, and that Fitzgerald was trying to determine whether Cheney had a role in the CIA outing. This was confirmed by the New York Times Oct. 24, when they revealed that Cheney had been one of Libby's sources (An important note: The New York Times erred in this piece. They alleged that Libby "first learned" of Plame's identity from Cheney. This is untrue: the indictment indicates an individual tied to the CIA was the first to tell Libby of Plame's identity).

We reported that Rove was facing likely indictment. This was confirmed by the Washington Post, the New York Times and various other news outlets. Rove was facing indictment, but Fitzgerald opted not to indict him after a last-minute move by Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin. We reported that Luskin was offered a plea deal on Tuesday by Fitzgerald, which was also confirmed.

We reported that the Washington Post's Jim Vandehei told Hardball that law enforcement agents interviewed Valerie Plame's neighbors to see if they were aware of her CIA status. This was confirmed. We later reported they were interviewed in an attempt to convince a skeptical grand jury that White House officials may have violated a law criminalizing the outing of CIA agents, and that the jury was unlikely to accept such a charge. This was true; no charge was made in the indictment.

We reported that Rove was "Official A" in the Libby indictment. This was confirmed.

We reported that Fitzgerald had secured a single indictment before his announcement Friday, the first news agency to signal Rove might elude indictment.

We reported that Libby was indicted before Fitzgerald's official announcement - the first news agency to report the indictment. This was confirmed.

We reported that Vice President Cheney had lied in his public statements about not knowing about the leak. This was confirmed.

We reported that the CIA leak investigation would not end with Libby's indictment, despite the fact that before the indictments some news agencies indicated it would. This was confirmed.

We revealed in an interview with Joseph Wilson that he believed there was a larger administration role in the CIA leak case. It was later revealed that Cheney had played a role in providing information to Libby about Plame. This was confirmed.

We reported that uproar over Judith Miller, who was placed in jail for more than 80 days in connection with the case, had caused an uproar in the New York Times newsroom with numerous reporters questioning publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and Executive Editor Bill Keller. This was reported that there was a sense of unease at the Times newsroom over Miller's role in the CIA leak scandal. This was confirmed also in the New Yorker piece, and in a piece in Vanity Fair.

We reported that Rep. John Conyers had written Bush asking him to promise he wouldn't pardon those indicted in the leak case. This was confirmed.

We reported that Rep. John Conyers had written Bush asking that Rove explain his role in the leak case or resign. This was confirmed.

We advanced a speech given by Rep. Louise Slaughter in which she said that America deserved better than "no comment" on the leak case. This was confirmed.

We reported that senior Democrats sought assurances that Fitzgerald would issue a final report. This was confirmed.

We reported that Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) sent a letter seeking reassurances that witnesses in the leak case would not be granted immunity. This was confirmed.

Reports confirmed abroad

We reported that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley was the source for Bob Woodward at the Washington Post as regards information about Valerie Plame Wilson. Hadley has not denied that he was the source; his aides have. Besides Bush and Cheney, he is the only current senior administration official who did not deny being Woodward's source by name or through a named spokesperson. Richard Armitage, a former deputy to Colin Powell, has also declined to comment. The story was confirmed by the London Sunday Times. It has not been reported by a major news organization in the United States.

Unconfirmed reports

We reported that Susan Ralston, a special assistant to Karl Rove, was told not to log a call placed by Time reporter Matthew Cooper, who spoke to Rove about Valerie Plame Wilson. We also reported that Ralston was called back to testify a second time. This report remains in question. An attorney for Ralston told a reporter that Ralston did not in fact testify a second time, and did not say anything about not logging a call. Raw Story is currently trying to reach Ralston's attorney.

We reported that two other officials faced indictment other than Rove or Libby which did not transpire. It remains unclear, however, if these officials made late deals with Fitzgerald, as Rove did.

We reported that Hannah and Wurmser had been given directives to spread information about Valerie Plame Wilson. This information has not been confirmed. Hannah's attorney Thomas Green told NEWSWEEK his client "knew nothing" about the leak. In an effort to correct the record, or at least allow Hannah's attorney to present his side of the story, Raw Story has sought to contact Green without success.

Originally published on Thursday December 15, 2005

 


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