November 1, 2005

All's War In Vanity Fair


It’s beginning to look like yesterday’s SCOTUS announcement marked the beginning of a Rovian counteroffensive. 

If the most obvious first strike involved the base-rallying nomination of Sam Alito, a less noticeable action that got underway involves the undermining of Joseph Wilson.  If the cabal couldn’t discredit  Wilson before, it seems Rove and Company are going to do it now.  One weapon in their arsenal –  which seemed to “coincidentally” appear in at least two places yesterday — was “the photograph.”

Long circulated in the ‘sphere as red meat for the wingnuts, the image was featured yesterday in a USA Today background article (link)

on the Plame affair. Tactically, it seemed a perfect placement, considering the publication was likely giving many readers their first

explanation of the mess.  The other exposure was a lot less innocent.  Last night, Wolf Blitzer had Joseph Wilson on “The Situation Room”

and grilled him like a defense witness. At one point, the photograph

popped up on a screen behind the guest’s head leading the two men to

tangle over it.

Here’s the portion from the transcript:

BLITZER: Even though some of your supporters were on this program

last week — Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer; Pat Lang, a former

DIA intelligence analyst. They say your decision and your wife’s

decision to let her be photographed represented a major mistake

because, if there were people out there who may have been endangered by

her name, certainly when people might have seen her picture, they could

have been further endangered.

WILSON: Her contacts and her network was endangered the minute that

Bob Novak wrote the article. The photograph of her did not identify her

in any way anybody could identify.

Now you asked me this question — you’ve asked me this question three or four times…

BLITZER: About the photograph?

WILSON: About the photograph.

Now, I have never heard you ask the president about the layout in

the Oval Office when they did the war layout. I’ve never heard you ask

Mr. Wolfowitz about the layout in Vanity Fair. But you ask me all the


So let me just get this very clear: When one is faced with

adversity, one of the ways one acts in the face of adversity is to try

and bring a certain amount of humor to the situation. It’s called


And if people have no sense of humor or no sense of perspective on that, my response is: It’s about time to get a life.

But in no way did that picture endanger anybody. What endangered

people was the outing of her name –her maiden name — and,

subsequently, the outing of the corporation that she worked for.

BLITZER: So you don’t have any regrets about the Vanity Fair picture?

WILSON: I think it’s a great picture. I think someday you will, too.

BLITZER: It’s a great picture. But I mean the fact that…

WILSON: I think someday it, too, will be in the International Spy Museum.

BLITZER: But you don’t think it was a mistake to do that?



“The photograph” appeared in the January 2004 edition of Vanity Fair

when point Wilson was actively trying to drum up attention in the MSM

to Cheney’s vendetta. The image is controversial because, although his

wife’s undercover status had been exposed, the public fact of her

identity was effectively still secret. To be fair to Wilson, questions

over the tact of the photo are neither new, nor were they confined to

the right wing press. Slate, for example, called it out in December ’03 (link), as did The Washington Post (link). 

At this point, there are two problems with the photo. First, it gives

glossy ammunition to the right to diminish Fitzgerald’s investigation

in the court of public opinion. Second, Mr. Wilson abets Rove’s smear

campaign through his own misunderstanding of the image. This picture is

not an ironic appeal which draws attention to the White House. If

anything, the shiny jaguar, the fancy watch, the car keys, the stylish

scarf and the elegant coat sleeve causes the White House to recede even

further into the background. Lets be honest. To the typical USA Today reader,

at least, this picture has to look like two well-off status seekers

seeming to making a game (or, a fashion statement) out of a deadly

serious situation.

Clearly, Wilson could have done a better job containing his ego

and social aspirations in defense of the crime perpetrated against his

wife. That said, the exploitation of the photo is a cheap shot. But

it’s a desperate White House he’s up against.

(image: Jonas Karlsson. Photo dated November 8, 2004.  Publication date: January 2004. Vanity Fair.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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