If the leak scandal consuming the White House can be called a fiery blaze, then newspaper columnist Robert Novak is the child who played with matches.
His July 14 column exposed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. The information was supposedly linked to Novak from an administration official trying to have revenge against Plame’s husband. Novak’s column destroyed a covert CIA group, endangered lives and spurred sizzling accusations of administration vendettas. For what it’s worth, Novak is receiving his fair share of heat.
The Washington Post said administration officials urged six of their journalists to expose Plame’s identity. Obviously, these journalists knew such a leak was illegal and unethical. Although, unfortunately, they did not choose to print that officials offered them information, they had the sense not to expose a CIA operative. Novak did not and chose to publish Plame’s name after CIA officials asked him not to. There is no specific law against what Novak did – although whoever gave Novak classified information committed felonies. Novak’s actions, however, do raise the issue of journalism ethics.
Novak is claiming journalistic integrity as why he won’t reveal the “two senior administration” officials who leaked him the secret information. But his actions do not seem ethical. Instead of protecting CIA agents’ lives, Novak defends the anonymity of unethical administration officials willing to endanger them.
If Novak’s column had not run, vengeful officials would have found another way to put a gun to Plame’s head. Novak should have chosen to expose the leaker or leakers rather than Plame. Either way, Novak would have been committing immolation. He was either going to be a puppet for vindictive administration officials or become a temporary journalistic pariah.
It takes a man of integrity to make the right decision; unfortunately, Novak isn’t one.