Jewish World Review Jan. 3, 2006/ 3 Teves, 5766

Wesley Pruden

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Can this scandal finally be saved? | Nobody could credibly accuse anyone at the New York Times, the severe, scolding nanny of the secular establishment, of praying. But the succession of national-security "scandals" that harassed the old gray lady in the year of our Lord 2005 demonstrates once more the risks of getting what you ask for.

No one panted in hotter pursuit of the "scandalous outing" of Valerie Plame quite like the New York Times, quivering for months with the anticipation of a spinster imagining noises downstairs at 3 o'clock in the morning. Karl Rove's days were numbered.

Only in certain precincts of Washington and the Upper East Side of Manhattan did anyone try to figure out what the scandal was supposed to be about, or why anyone should care. It was obvious to everyone that a special prosecutor, with the assistance of a congenial judge, was trying to justify enormous sums of money spent in pursuit of ... gossamer. How can you hiss a villain named "Scooter"?

A summer amusement descended deep into farce at year's end when Val and Joe's 5-year-old son surprised passengers at Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport with the day's most dramatic announcement: "My daddy's famous and my mommy is a secret spy!"

Mommy may or may not have been a "secret" spy, but it's certainly true, as the truth-telling babe told it, that fame is what Mommy and Daddy, the New York Times and much of the mainstream media had been about for months.

Dave Barry, who grew rich and famous as a humor columnist by mining the real foibles of actual people, got the Valerie and Joe scandal calibrated in just the correct perspective in his year-end review of the news of '05:

"... the juiciest story by far in Washington is the riveting scandal involving New York Times reporter Judy Miller, who [was] jailed for refusing to answer questions before a grand jury called by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is trying to find out whether the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame was leaked to columnist Robert Novak by an administration source such as presidential confidants Karl Rove or Ari Fleischer, or Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, chief of staff to vice president Dick 'Dick' Cheney, in an effort to discredit [Miss] Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, in connection with the use of allegedly unreliable documents concerning ... Hey! Wake up! This is important."

Farce or not, egging on the D.A. when he's after George W. can be tons of fun, but both sides can play the special prosecutor game. Now the New York Times is about to be on the business end of a big stick in the hands of government lawyers. The president has ordered an investigation into the leak to the New York Times, exposing the government's tapping of telephone conversations of al Qaeda terrorists without a warrant. The story revealed how Big Brother embarked on a domestic surveillance program capable of monitoring Bubba when he orders pizza, Peggy Sue when she orders room service, good ol' Charlie when he orders a room at the Holiday Inn for a tryst with his neighbor's wife, and a lot of orders in between.

"This is a limited program designed to prevent attacks on the United States of America, and I repeat — limited," the president says. "It seems logical to me that if we know there's a phone number associated with al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate, and they're making phone calls, it makes sense to find out why. I have a responsibility, obviously, to act within the law, which I am doing. It's a program reviewed constantly by Justice Department officials, a program to which the Congress has been briefed, and a program that is, in my judgment, necessary. ... There's an enemy out there. They read newspapers, they read what you write, they listen to what you put on the air, and they react."

The president concedes that a lot of people worry about the slippery slope, that necessary programs can be easily abused. It's happened before. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson cut corners during World War I, and FDR did things to make ACLU lawyers retch and gag. George W.'s critics, including the editors of the New York Times, provide useful oversight until they descend into sniping just to see a president bleed.

Nobody beyond the Beltway cared what the Plame game was about; it sounded like more of the intramural games popular in Washington. But the public understands when a president talks about the necessity of tuning in to catch terrorists before they blow up Kansas City. Government lawyers are never welcome in anybody's newsroom, but the pomposities of the mainstream media should remember who invited them in this time.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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