Ex-Cheney Aide Details Media Tactics

By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
The Associated Press
Saturday, January 27, 2007; 10:05 PM

WASHINGTON -- A smorgasbord of Washington insider details has emerged during the perjury trial of the vice president's former chief of staff.

For example, when Dick Cheney really needed friends in the news media, his staff was short of phone numbers.

No one served up spicier morsels than Cheney's former top press assistant. Cathie Martin described the craft of media manipulation _ under oath and in blunter terms than politicians like to hear in public.

The uses of leaks and exclusives. When to let one's name be used and when to hide in anonymity. Which news medium was seen as more susceptible to control and what timing was most propitious. All candidly described. Even the rating of certain journalists as friends to favor and critics to shun _ a faint echo of the enemies list drawn up in Richard Nixon's White House more than 30 years ago.

The trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby owes its very existence to a news leak, the public disclosure four summers ago of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity.

A private brainstorm of Plame's in 2002 brought a rain of public attacks on Cheney the following year. Cheney was accused of suppressing intelligence and allowing President Bush to present false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Plame's husband, ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson, started the attack. Her unit at the CIA had sent him to Niger in 2002 to check a report Iraq was buying uranium for nuclear weapons. Cheney and the departments of State and Defense wanted to verify that.

Wilson thought he had debunked the report, but Bush mentioned it anyway in his State of the Union address in 2003. The story helped justify war with Iraq.

Wilson claimed Cheney's questions prompted his trip and Cheney should have received his report long before Bush spoke.

Wilson's charges first surfaced, attributed to an unnamed ex-ambassador, in Nicholas Kristof's New York Times column. But Martin testified she felt no urgency to set him straight because Kristof "attacked us, our administration fairly regularly."

But by July 6, 2003, Wilson wrote his own account in the Times and appeared on "Meet the Press" on NBC.

After that much exposure, Cheney, Libby and Martin spent the next week trying get out word that Cheney did not know Wilson, did not ask for the mission to Niger, never got Wilson's report and only learned about the trip from news stories in 2003.


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