Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A New Round of McCarthyism
A New Round of McCarthyism
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer

So . . . were we all a bit too quick to hang Mary McCarthy?

Actually, I think the media's response was perfectly logical. The CIA fired her, saying she had flunked a polygraph and admitted unauthorized contacts with reporters and, the official guidance went, she helped The Post's Dana Priest on the secret prisons story.

McCarthy made no comment, issued no statement, and didn't have a lawyer or a spokesman issue any statement. Ergo, she was not disputing the charges.

Except now she is.

Although the whole thing is still a bit strange. She has still made no comment, issued no statement, etc. Instead, a friend of hers is putting out the denial--several news cycles after the story broke.

Whether McCarthy is ultimately found to be one of Priest's sources is beside the point in terms of the larger debate. Priest assembled that story from sources with access to classified information, and they are all vulnerable to firing or prosecution. Lots of people, mostly conservatives, say The Post should not have published that story. Lots of other people, more on the liberal side, view it as a public service, as did the Pulitzer board.

The news broke yesterday with this Mark Hosenball/Mike Isikoff piece in Newsweek:

"A former CIA officer who was sacked last week after allegedly confessing to leaking secrets has denied she was the source of a controversial Washington Post story about alleged CIA secret detention operations in Eastern Europe, a friend of the operative told NEWSWEEK.

"The fired official, Mary O. McCarthy, 'categorically denies being the source of the leak,' one of McCarthy's friends and former colleagues, Rand Beers, said Monday after speaking to McCarthy. Beers said he could not elaborate on this denial and McCarthy herself did not respond to a request for comment left by NEWSWEEK on her home answering machine. A national security advisor to Democratic Party candidate John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign, Beers worked as the head of intelligence programs on President Bill Clinton's National Security Council staff and later served as a top deputy on counter-terrorism for President Bush in 2002 and 2003. McCarthy, a career CIA analyst, initially worked as a deputy to Beers on the NSC and later took over Beer's role as the Clinton NSC's top intelligence expert.

"McCarthy's lawyer, Ty Cobb, told NEWSWEEK this afternoon that contrary to public statements by the CIA late last week, McCarthy never confessed to agency interrogators that she had divulged classified information and "didn't even have access to the information" in The Washington Post story in question.

"After being told by agency interrogators that she may have been deceptive on one question during a polygraph, McCarthy did acknowledge that she had failed to report contacts with Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and at least one other reporter, said a source familiar with her account who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. McCarthy has known Priest for some time, the source said."

Everyone else plays catchup. The New York Times: "Mr. Cobb said he did not believe that Ms. McCarthy, who has not spoken publicly since her dismissal, intended to fight her termination either in court or in the public arena.

'This is not somebody who's hoping to make $20,000 a day on the lecture circuit,' Mr. Cobb said. 'Going to war with the government is not high on her list.'"

The Washington Post: "Though McCarthy acknowledged having contact with reporters, a senior intelligence official confirmed yesterday that she is not believed to have played a central role in The Post's reporting on the secret prisons."

Balloon Juice has at least some sympathy for Ms. McCarthy:

"Congratulations to Mary McCarthy, this week's rightwing hate magnet. Whether or not she committed a crime remains to be seen, but you can practically smell the flopsweat as the rightwing blogosphere dances chanting around her burning effigy in an effort to drive away unpleasant visions of a fading party and a presidency sunk beyond repair.

"Don't get me wrong, McCarthy appears to have committed a breach of some sort (although she now denies it) and will likely face more retribution for her actions than simply losing her job. That is fine with me, as far as I am concerned anybody who breaks the law should be prepared to go to jail. If you broke the law for what you see as a good reason, fine, go to jail and feel good about it. Movement-wise jail did no harm to Martin Luther King or Ghandi. It is also fine with me if rightwingers want to spin elaborate theories in which every one of their hated enemies will get sucked into a web of conspiracy and go down en masse. Good luck with that guys, I'm sure that those Wilson indictments are just around the corner.

"Apparently among other crimes McCarthy gave money to the Democratic party. Score one for the Partisan Activist smear. . . .

"Another logical pretzel holds that America does not really disappear foreign suspects into gulag-style prisons that operate outside any sort of legal oversight, but McCarthy damaged American security by making people think that we do. Huh?"

Jos Cafe makes the inevitable Plame comparison:

"Scooter Libby is trashed in the press for something he didn't do, nor has he been indicted for: leaking the name of an in-active undercover CIA agent.

"Mary McCarthy admits to her bosses that she 'DID' leak information to the press and is fired. [This was pre-Newswek.]

"One is innocent.

"One is guilty.

"The Difference?

"One is a Republican

"One is a Democrat.

"Yet, John Kerry comes out and says that Mary McCarthy should be looked at as a 'whistleblower.' The women confessed to violating the law and she's a whistleblower? Why should she get a pass?"

Late Final observes that McCarthy cannot have acted alone, if indeed she did aid in the leak:


"Mary McCarthy denies being a source of leaked information for Dana Priest's story on 'black sites' that the U.S. used to imprison captured terrorists.

"But a lot of other folks may have reason to worry. From Priest's original story - which won her a Pulitzer - here are her source attributions:

" . . . according to U.S. and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement.

" . . . according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents.

" . . . said one former senior intelligence officer who is familiar with the program but not the location of the prisons.

" . . . according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign sources. This figure, a rough estimate based on information from sources who said their knowledge of the numbers was incomplete, does not include prisoners picked up in Iraq.

" . . . said current and former and U.S. and foreign government and intelligence officials."

" . . . according to former government officials.

" . . . said a former senior intelligence officer who worked in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center, or CTC, during that period.

" . . . another former senior CIA official said.

"...according to several former and current U.S. government and intelligence officials.

" . . . said a senior CIA officer.

" . . . one intelligence official said.

" . . . Several former and current intelligence officials, as well as several other U.S. government officials with knowledge of the program, express frustration...

" . . . said the intelligence official.

"So it's clear that Priest's wasn't a one-source story.

"The one person who could clear up whether McCarthy was a source is Priest herself. But she's declined comment so far."

Yes. It's called protecting confidential sources.

Well, I can't grumble about the latest poll being touted as a "new low," since this CNN survey really is a new low:

"President Bush's approval ratings have sunk to a personal low, with only a third of Americans saying they approve of the way he is handling his job, a national poll released Monday said."

Bush is at 32 percent--if that were Farenheit, he'd be freezing.

More congressmen are found pushing the ethical envelope. USA Today: "Sen. Arlen Specter obtained a $200,000 grant last year for a Philadelphia foundation represented by the son of one of Specter's top aides, the latest example of how the Pennsylvania Republican has helped clients of lobbyists related to members of his staff."

The Wall Street Journal: "Rep. Alan B. Mollohan, the West Virginia Democrat whose real-estate holdings and financial disclosures have drawn federal scrutiny, last year bought a 300-acre farm with the head of a small defense contractor that had won a $2.1 million contract from funds that the congressman added to a 2005 spending bill."

Conspiracy theorists take note: At the HuffPost, Miles Mogulescu comes out and says it's time to Get McCain:

"If John McCain secures the Republican nomination in '08, he is probably the greatest threat to any Democratic nominee -- With brand recognition as a maverick straight-shooter, adored by much of the mainstream media, he stands a good chance of collecting millions of votes among moderate independents and even among Democrats who would otherwise vote Democratic. A recent national poll shows McCain beating Hillary Clinton by 52%-39%.

"We have to start rebranding McCain as a conventional flip flopping, double-talking politician, removing any notion that he stands above conventional politics. It's time to show that the Straight Talk Express is running on a very crooked track.

"· McCain was one of the few Republicans to oppose Bush's 2001 tax cuts. Even as the deficit soars, he now supports making the deficit-inducing tax cuts for the rich permanent.

"· McCain previously called Jerry Falwell an 'agent of intolerance.' Now he plans to give a commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University. Falwell complimented McCain, calling him an advocate of 'the husband-female family.' McCain now says he is convinced that Falwell--who blamed gays, feminists and pro-choice advocates for the attacks on 9/ll--is not intolerant.

"· While McCain has a pro-life voting record, he also has said 'Certainly in the short-term, or even the long-term I would not support repeal of Roe v Wade, which would then force women in American to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.' Recently, however, he endorsed South Dakota's punitive anti-abortion legislation which would make it a felony punishable by 5 years in prison for a doctor to perform an abortion and makes no exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the woman...

"Recently, there have been a few cracks in the mainstream media's love-fest with McCain and some criticism of his flip-flops. The progressive blogosphere and media outlets must repeat, over-and over, the flip-flopper image of McCain."

So much for fair and balanced.

The New Republic's Jonathan Chait isn't deterred by a little political dexterity:

"Last week, I wrote in this space that John McCain is repositioning himself from Bush-smiting champion of the center-left to Falwell-feting champion of the loony right. I also wrote that that's not such a bad thing.

"How could I condone such a colossal flip-flop? The answer is that, unlike most other liberal journalists, I never swooned over McCain for being a dreamy military hero and straight-talker. Sure, McCain's courage as a prisoner of war was almost indescribably heroic. But the whole idea of choosing political leaders on the basis of their personal character is silly. Duke Cunningham was a war hero too, but he turned out to be a crook. Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr. were adulterers. Great leaders can be bad human beings and vice versa.

"My swoon over McCain was for ideological reasons. McCain adopted all sorts of positions I shared. And his reasons seemed genuine."

Yes, says Chait, the senator has committed some "acts of weaselry. But like I said, I don't really care. Politicians can always persuade themselves to make small compromises in the pursuit of a larger good. I think McCain has a genuine desire to transform his party and his country, and he's willing to say things he doesn't agree with in order to be able to do it."

Michelle Cottle dismisses the idea behind the NYT headline "Democrats Eager to Exploit Anger Over Gas Price":

"During the last presidential race, I wrote a column outlining why the Dems' attempts to use high gas prices as an election year rallying cry were completely understandable -- as well as shameless, dishonest, and ultimately doomed to failure.

"With the public growing ever more hostile toward the party in power, it's entirely possible that pump prices will prove a more successful weapon for Dems this time around. But that doesn't make their exploitation of the issue any more honest or less shameless. I mean, does anyone really believe Dems would have done a better job of tackling our long-term energy crisis -- much less short-term gas prices -- than the Bushies have? And I say this in the context of the Bushies having tackled bupkiss. I like to kick around the administration as much as anyone, but on the issue of energy, neither party seems able to free itself from some ugly combination of knee-jerk ideology and special-interest money long enough to get serious about hashing out a workable compromise."

Compromise? In an election year? Hahahahaha.

I often find myself writing about journalists who plagiarize, but these days they start young:

"Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore accused of plagiarism in her debut novel, acknowledged yesterday that she used portions of another writer's book, but insisted the act was unconscious and unintentional. In a statement released by publisher Little, Brown & Co., Viswanathan apologized and said future printings will be revised to eliminate the similarities," the Boston Globe reports.

"Viswanathan, 19, who had received a two-book contract worth $500,000, was accused of closely paralleling, and in some cases copying almost verbatim, sentences from 'Sloppy Firsts,' a young-adult novel published in 2001."

The lame excuses are starting younger too.