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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK
US media's leak feeding frenzy
By Rachel Clarke
BBC News Online in Washington

It has taken nearly three months for the "outing" of a CIA agent to become headline news, and it seems as if the US media is seeking to make up for lost time.

US President George W Bush
Some commentators say Mr Bush's body language now looks strained
White House press briefings have become dominated by questions about it and reporters raise the matter with the president and other senior officials whenever they appear at functions, no matter what subjects those functions are supposed to address.

At issue is who leaked the identity of the wife of Joseph Wilson to syndicated columnist Robert Novak - an act which could be a crime as she works for the spy agency.

Questions of who said what and when and why are fuelling news broadcasts and articles.

The affair is also allowing journalists to turn the spotlight back on people like Mr Bush's political adviser Karl Rove - who holds no public position but is often seen as a power behind the presidency.

There is also new attention on whether the president looks his usual energetic, buoyant self.

The press is in a slightly uncomfortable position because it thrives on leaks - some sanctioned, some not - but is now pushing for the leaker or leakers to be unmasked.

Usual and unusual

The Washington Post - which resurrected the story with the news that the CIA had asked justice department officials to investigate the exposing of the agent's name - noted an unusual twist in the saga.

The original leak could almost be treated as "politics as usual", with sources from the administration giving out information to discredit someone who is known as an opponent of the White House.

But a senior Bush administration official broke ranks to say that the original leak had been "meant for revenge" against Mr Wilson, the paper reported.

"What sets this case apart is that it was a Bush administration official who turned (anonymously) on other Bush administration comrades," the Post said in an editorial.

[The inquiry is] an unsettling novelty for the staff of a president who won office vowing to restore 'honour and integrity' to the Oval Office, who railed against leaks that threatened lives and who has so far largely weathered controversies without a hint of criminal inquiry
Todd Purdum and David Sanger,
New York Times
It repeats allegations that the reason for the original disclosure was "purely and simply for revenge".

If true, it says the actions of the administration leaker were an abuse of the public trust.

But the paper does not stop at the actions of the leaker - it says that this is an opportunity for President Bush to show he means what he says when he claims he wants to find out the truth.

Todd Purdum and David Sanger, writing in the New York Times, said it was far too early to guess what results could be expected from any inquiries.

But they noted that the beginning of the justice department investigation - and the White House's order to its staff to keep all materials that may be deemed relevant - was damaging by itself.

"Tuesday's directive was an unsettling novelty for the staff of a president who won office vowing to restore 'honour and integrity' to the Oval Office, who railed against leaks that threatened lives and who has so far largely weathered controversies without a hint of criminal inquiry," they said.

[The president] must do all in his power, immediately, to identify and fire the malefactors
Washington Times editorial
The writers said the affair "could hardly come at a worse time".

"Just when President Bush's job approval ratings are slipping, when his would-be Democratic rivals are stepping up their criticism of his rationale for war in Iraq and his handling of the aftermath, and when Mr Bush would prefer to focus on winning support for rebuilding Iraq - and a second term in office."

The timing is certainly a factor in some of the attention being given to the story, both by the media and by Mr Bush's opponents in the US Congress.

Scandal 'buzz'

But even traditional supporters of this administration are asking questions.

The conservative Washington Times newspaper did not carry a report of the leak inquiry on its front page. But its top editorial urged the president to act, even though it added that it still expected to support him in next year's election.

"He must do all in his power, immediately, to identify and fire the malefactors - whomsoever they may be. There is a need for an internal investigation - now," it said.

Over on the West coast, the Los Angeles Times still led its front page with the latest on next week's vote on whether to recall the state's governor.

But it also covered the spy scandal and noted how Washington was "abuzz" with speculation.

"The raw elements - espionage, unauthorised leaks, bureaucratic intrigue and, now, an FBI investigation - already add up to a new kind of Washington scandal," said reporters Doyle McManus and Bob Drogin.




SEE ALSO:
Chinks in Bush's armour revealed
30 Sep 03  |  Americas
Q&A: CIA leak row
30 Sep 03  |  Americas
CIA 'questioned UK uranium claim'
31 Jul 03  |  Politics
Q&A: The Niger link
15 Jul 03  |  Americas
Bush backs CIA chief
12 Jul 03  |  Americas
Aide takes blame for uranium claim
22 Jul 03  |  Americas


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