By Alan Nathan © 2007

We seem to have no effective gauge for measuring what separates the painfully banal from the truthfully outrageous.

Vice President Cheney’s former chief-of-staff, I Lewis “Scooter” Libby, was found guilty of making false statements and obstructing the government’s investigation into an act that was later shown to break no laws! These were activities relevant to the not-criminally leaked identity of then CIA operative Valarie Plame.

(Why the leak wasn’t a crime: The Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 is violated when an intelligence agent’s covert identity is revealed within a certain number of years of having returned to the United States. After that time, that law no longer applies and such was the status of Valarie Plame.)

Her husband, Ambassador Joe Wilson, had claimed she was outed as punishment for his July 6, 2003, New York Times column contending that Bush lied about Saddam trying to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. After the jury’s verdict, most in the news reporting media backed the Democrats’ mythical re-labeling of the results:

Vice President’s ex-aide convicted of lying in outing of CIA operative. CNN’s “Story Highlights,” March 7 edition

A Federal jury convicted I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby yesterday of lying about his role in the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s identity, culminating a four year legal saga that transfixed official Washington and revealed the inner workings of the White House and the media. The Washington Post’s March 7 edition

How long have these folks been denied rehab? You can’t lie about not having committed a non-existent crime, because it’s impossible to violate a non-applicable law. Not one of the charges referenced culpability in the outing of anyone, and the reporters of both CNN and The Washington Post know this.

Fortunately, the editorial board of The Washington Post was far more responsible in their own March 7 piece entitled, “The Libby Verdict”:

Mr. Wilson was embraced by many because he was early in publicly charging that the Bush administration had “twisted,” if not invented, facts in making the case for war against Iraq. In conversations with journalists and in a July 6, 2003, op-ed, he claimed to have debunked evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had been dispatched by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that his report had circulated at the highest levels of the administration.

A bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all of these claims were false — and that Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife.

Libby was essentially found guilty of lying about the actions of those later shown unconnected to the same absent crime that triggered the original investigation. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was the leak source of Plame’s identity, and few mainstream media operations want to give that pivotal fact its richly deserved attention.

I believe he did lie and should be punished. Even if those he was endeavoring to shield didn’t need the protection, who cares? He lied under oath and should be subjected to the pains of discipline.

However, there no longer seems to be any contextual proportionality in the way news outlets prioritize their reportage. The standards of legitimacy for a story were once based on its eventful impact.

How does this melodrama come to merit such ferocious focus when cataclysmically worse charlatans like former Clinton National Security Advisor Sandy Berger commit stupendously more egregious violations against the people, but receive less scrutiny than a lost brazier at the Playboy mansion?

This vile entity illegally removed secret classified documents from the National Archives originally meant for review by the 9/11 Commission, hid them under a construction trailer for later retrieval, and then destroyed them with scissors once he was again comfortably ensconced in the privacy of his own office.

While Berger was fined $50,000 and given 100 hours of community service, permanently lost was any verifiable accounting of those items because they were National Security Council staff papers which are consequently never inventoried.

I look forward to having US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales back on my show so that we might discuss why the media was so cooperative with the Justice Department’s rug-sweeping wishes.