My old boss Bob Novak reported that Wilson's wife was a CIA operative. His original source was Richard Armitage, Bush's deputy secretary of state. Inconveniently for the storyline of "Fair Game" -- and the story the Left pushed for years -- Novak and Armitage both opposed the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq.
It's hard to argue that two Iraq War opponents got together and decided to punish Wilson for publicly questioning the case for war -- especially when Novak was doing so long before Wilson was. And Armitage was a famous dove, even by State Department standards.
Given Hollywood's bias against subtlety and complexity, the filmmakers had a choice: Lie about Novak and Armitage to make them Iraq hawks -- or simply ignore them. The screenwriters chose the latter. Novak is mentioned only once, at the moment Plame reads the column. Armitage is mentioned only in the text epilogue in the closing credits.
The filmmakers here had two compelling stories: (1) the Bush administration manipulated intelligence on the way to invading Iraq, and (2) Plame's outing and Wilson's strutting in the midst of a presidential election caused marital havoc. But tying these dramas neatly together required writing Armitage and Novak out of the script.
"Fair Game"'s decision to ignore Novak and Armitage was more honest than the common liberal tactic circa 2003 to 2005 -- distorting Novak's beliefs and motives, then smearing him in print, on television, and on the Senate floor.
"This columnist, Robert Novak," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, "publicly exposed Ms. Plame. This was done in an act of political retribution because her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, published a column in the New York Times that questioned one of the key administration justifications for the war in Iraq."
But Novak opposed the invasion of Iraq, and began undermining the case for war within six weeks of Sept. 11. In those days, while the neoconservatives were trying to tie Iraq to al Qaeda, Novak wrote that "evidence of an Iraqi connection is less than circumstantial." In the same column, Novak dismissed the existence of WMD. "The principal justification for assaulting Iraq is the need to prevent Saddam from wielding weapons of mass destruction. Since Iraq does not have nuclear capacity and chemical weapons are not a threat, the concern is biological warfare. Here, too, there is no evidence."
In May 2002, Novak wrote a column assailing the claims that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta had met with Iraqi intelligence in Prague. In September 2002, Novak said on CNN, "I don't even know that there are any weapons that they're talking about. I think it's dubious." For this reporting and commentary, Novak was slimed as "unpatriotic" in National Review by David Frum (who these days plays the victim of close-minded conservative purges).
Liberal writer David Sirota also called Novak "unpatriotic" and asserted that Novak -- unlike the New York Times' Judy Miller -- avoided jail because of his "overt willingness to suck up to the GOP power structure." But Miller was nearly a propagandist for the invasion while Novak was a consistent opponent. Sirota's charge was typical, though, and it came only a few weeks after Novak's column headlined "GOP Leaders Display Arrogance." Novak that year had also raised questions about Michael Chertoff's abuse of power at the Justice Department.
But these facts -- Novak's long history of opposing the Iraq War, questioning Iraq intelligence, and chiding the administration -- muddied a simplistic morality play many on the Left wanted to paint. Armitage's role complicated things more.
Did the Bush administration distort intelligence to justify an ideologically driven war? Probably. Did Scooter Libby (the villain of "Fair Game") try to knee-cap Wilson by leaking information on his wife? Probably. But Novak and Armitage present a twist. Novak reported on Plame because it was news and he was a newshound. Who knows why Armitage leaked?
Just as the Bush White House brushed aside evidence that interfered with their invasion plans, "Fair Game"'s writers decided not to let inconvenient facts get in the way of their neat little story.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on ExaminerPolitics.com.