Wednesday :: Dec 20, 2006

Murray Waas


by eriposte

UPDATE: Also see this post by Waas and this one by John at C&L.

Given this post at Wonkette, it's time to do some "pre-emption" of my own to prevent the reputation of a good journalist from being unfairly tarred.

According to Wonkette:

The Washington City Paper, read by tens of people across DC, is working on a lengthy story about National Journal investigative reporter Murray Waas.

If you read the post in full, you'll discover pretty quickly that the story is likely to be a hit-piece of sorts - at the very least, it looks like the story will be pretty unfriendly to Waas.

That seems to be in line with what I've heard independently - that an article might get published by the same paper which suggests or alleges that Waas stole some of my reporting for use in one or more of the articles he published in National Journal in early 2006. Since "pre-emption" is all the rage these days, let me state unequivocally that if anyone were to make an allegation that Murray Waas stole any of my reporting, such an allegation would be complete nonsense.

Let me explain.

First, some background.

Back in the second week of May 2006, I received an email from a reporter at the paper in question asking about my work and whether I had collaborated with Waas on his stories. The reporter said that the question was being asked because, based on what I had researched and reported previously, it appeared as if I must have helped Waas with his National Journal articles. I didn't think there was anything wrong in someone asking me that question. So, I wrote this in response:

No, we haven't really worked together. As far as I know, we have been working on these stories independently and discovered the facts independently. I have no reason to believe he knew about my work at the time he published his excellent and important articles. Additionally, in his case, he also had sources provide him additional/new information that went beyond what I had published. Not to mention, I think he has been on the Plame case long before anyone (including I) got started on it.

To my surprise, around mid-October 2006, I heard that a story might be published by the same paper (possibly authored by a different reporter) and that it might not be friendly to Waas. So, I wrote a short email to the other reporter at the same paper and the reporter's manager/editor. I forwarded my May 2006 email to both of them and re-emphasized what I said in my earlier email:

I’m hearing that you might be doing a story on Murray Waas. I’m not sure if that is true or not --- and if true, I’m not sure what the focus of your article is likely to be, but just in case the story covers some of Waas’ reporting on the WMD beat, I’d like you to be aware of what I had written to [name redacted] 5 months ago (email below).

To repeat, Murray and I did not work together. As far as I know, we worked on our stories independently and discovered the facts independently. I have no reason to believe he knew about my work at the time he published his excellent and important articles. Additionally, in his case, he also had sources provide him additional/new information that went beyond what I had published. Not to mention, I think he has been on the Plame case long before anyone (including I) got started on it.

(Both of the above reporters that I corresponded with briefly over email were cordial to me.)

That said, I'm hearing now (and this seems plausible based on yesterday's Wonkette post) that despite my emails to the reporters, the paper will publish a negative article about Waas in which it is likely to be alleged that Waas stole some of my work. That is very disappointing and I hope the reporters and editors at Washington City Paper will reconsider their plans, if that is indeed the path they are pursuing. But, in the event they decide to go down the wrong path, I felt it is appropriate to publish this post to make sure the facts are clear to everyone, especially readers of TLC.

Some pertinent facts about my reporting and that of Murray Waas.

I consider Waas to be one of the best journalists around. If someone hypothetically - and mistakenly - claims that Waas stole from my work, that would be a baseless and wrong claim. Let me provide some additional perspective on why it would be completely wrong to allege or infer that Waas stole from my work.

It is certainly true that in the Oct-Nov 2005 timeframe, I had reported some of what Waas reported in his Feb/Mar 2006 National Journal articles. But we need to view this in light of a few other pertinent facts:

1. All of my reporting on pre-war WMD-related intelligence (e.g., the aluminum tubes, uranium from Africa and the Niger forgeries) was/is based on publicly available reports and documents that I cited clearly in my reporting (e.g., the SSCI Report, the Robb-Silberman Report). These are documents that have always been readily and easily available to any journalist or reporter in the world. So, just because Waas reported something that I had previously published does not mean that he had no way of independently finding the same information himself and reporting it independently. In fact, it is more than likely that Waas, given his long history of investigative reporting, discovered and studied the same documents himself and reported some of the pertinent information as part of a series of stories on pre-war WMD-related intelligence. (NOTE: This situation is in contrast to a hypothetical situation where a primary story is published using information that is not in the public record or not available publicly. In such a case, if a subsequent follow-up story is published by a reporter that uses information in the primary story - information that became available to the reporter only as a result of the primary story and was not readily or easily available independently - then the reporter's follow-up story could potentially be considered "stealing" if it does not cite the primary source/story. Waas' articles do not fall into this category at all.)

Let me give you another example to illustrate my point. When news first broke in April 2006 that Plamegate special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had asserted (incorrectly, as it later turned out) that Scooter Libby had claimed "that a key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was “vigorously trying to procure” uranium", I believe I was the first to point out that the uranium allegation was not one of the key judgements of the NIE. I even sent emails on this to a few well-known national security reporters immediately. Not long after my post, some major national papers started to report what I had reported previously. That, however, did not prompt me to claim that those reporters somehow "stole" my work. Why? Even setting aside the fact that those reporters were not among the ones I sent my email to, the information I had posted was independently available in the public record (in the SSCI report) and anyone could have figured that out without reading my post, if they had just read the SSCI report. (NOTE: As an aside, see my comments on the topic of attribution in the Appendix).

2. Waas reported a significant amount of additional information on the same WMD-intel related topics - information that was not available in the public record or in my past work. In fact, even a cursory reading of Waas' articles suggests that he was basing his reporting to a significant extent on sources probably within or close to the Bush administration - sources that I did not have. This provides compelling evidence for the inference that he had no reason to rely on my work for his articles and that he likely wrote his articles unaware of my prior reporting.

3. If Waas did indeed (hypothetically) "steal" material right out of my WMDgate series of posts, it wouldn't make sense for him to have ignored some of the obvious debunking of the Bush administration's claims that was contained in the very same series - debunking that Waas seems to have not been aware of at the time he wrote his articles. Let me give you one example, out of a few that I discussed explicitly in one of my posts discussing Waas' articles:

Murray Waas, 3/30/06:

Responding, Rice said: "I'm saying that when we put [Powell's speech] together ... the secretary decided that he would caveat the aluminum tubes, which he did.... The secretary also has an intelligence arm that happened to hold that view." Rice added, "Now, if there were any doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president, or me."

In fact, contrary to Rice's statement, the president was indeed informed of such doubts when he received the October 2002 President's Summary of the NIE. Both Cheney and Rice also got copies of the summary, as well as a number of other intelligence reports about the State and Energy departments' doubts that the tubes were meant for a nuclear weapons program.

In Part 1, I already discussed my previous coverage of the the October 2002 NIE summary and the other intel reports that Bush and Rice received - so I won't rehash it here. But I do want to highlight that it was not just the President's Summary that is a smoking gun here. It's the NIE itself, which, both in the Key Judgments and in the body and annex, had clear statements emphasizing the dissenting views on the aluminum tubes' end use. I discussed that in detail in my post on 11/23/05. Why is that significant?

The Left Coaster, 11/23/05 ["WMDgate: Fixing Intelligence Around Policy - The Aluminum Tubes, Part 2B-1"]:

...as far as Condi Rice is concerned, that statement was a lie, as certified by no other than Condi Rice herself - soon afterwards, in early August 2003. Here's Bob Somerby's note on that admission which the mainstream media (including Rice's shill of an interviewer Gwen Ifill) slept through, as usual :

RICE: ...I did read everything that the CIA produced for the president on weapons of mass destruction. I read the National Intelligence Estimate cover to cover a couple of times. I read the reports; I was briefed on the reports. This is—after 20 years, as somebody who has read a lot of intelligence reports—this is one of the strongest cases about weapons of mass destruction that I had ever read.

In other words, if Waas had written his articles based on information in my WMDgate series, he would have known that Condi Rice was, as usual, lying through her teeth not just because she may have received a copy of the summary of the NIE, but because she admitted on her own, that she had read the entire NIE, with all the dissents ("doubts"), "cover to cover a couple of times".

4. Finally, prior to Waas' writing the articles in question, I had not sent him any of the corresponding articles of mine that related to the specific reporting contained in his Feb/March 2006 articles. In fact, on one occasion (7/27/05) when I did send him an unrelated piece I had published here on the Niger forgeries, Waas actually mentioned that in a link on his blog on 7/31/05 (scroll to the bottom).

Let me therefore summarize, for emphasis.

Clearly, Murray Waas worked on his stories independently of me and discovered the facts independently of me. There is compelling evidence that he did not know about my work at the time he published his excellent and important articles. Additionally, he also had sources provide him additional/new information that went beyond what I had published. It would therefore be reckless, wrong and defamatory to allege that he somehow stole from my work.

I urge the folks at Washington City Paper to therefore reconsider their planned article against Waas and divert their attention and focus to the myriad, important topics and issues facing DC and the country.

APPENDIX:

Since this whole issue is about attribution, let me use this opportunity to add a note about attribution that is addressed to all writers and journalists. To be clear, this appendix has nothing to do with Murray Waas or the incorrect allegations against him that I have dispelled above. This has to do with the broader journalist-blogger "relationship".

I do consider attribution important and I try to make sure that I attribute fairly in my writings (and if I accidentally miss a link or two, I'm always happy to go back and update/correct my posts). In a similar vein, I do hope that all journalists and writers try to do the same thing. Of course, I'm not asking them to add attribution when they do not actually use a particular information source, i.e., I'm asking that they attribute fairly and accurately when they do use the source for a story or have benefited from the source in some meaningful way in their reporting. Please realize that this is not just about credit or citations. It's about something else as well. In the age of blogger-bashing, it may be difficult for a journalist to admit that a blogger beat him or her to a story since it may feel like a threat to the journalist's job security. However, this is a very short-sighted and inaccurate view of blogging and journalism because bloggers and journalists can together achieve a lot more than either one can do alone. If reporters use blogs as sources of credible information but fail to cite those blogs appropriately, they not only do themselves a disservice, they unfairly prevent the corresponding blogs from being viewed as credible sources of information and investigative journalism - sources that can open up new avenues of inquiry and attendant success for the journalists themselves.

I don't have any delusions of grandeur about blogging. Just about everyone does it nowadays. You can find many credible bloggers but it is also easy to stumble upon bloggers who are almost perpetually unreliable and inaccurate. But this is no different from the traditional, mainstream media. You can find accurate reporting and you can easily find loads of inaccurate and unreliable reporting as well. Blogs don't stop citing the media just because there are some in the media who have a tendency to be incompetent, inaccurate or liars. My point is that journalists don't need to have a confrontational, "you're the enemy" approach to bloggers in general. If you engage with credible bloggers in an honest and non-condescending way, you may benefit more from the "relationship" than you think. There is more than enough room for all of us and it's only fair that credit be given where credit is due - both ways.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

eriposte :: 7:14 AM :: Comments (8) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!