One of the great joys about writing a book is that you learn a lot. I learned a lot about how memory works, and I learned that people often remember with great clarity things that didn’t happen.
I wasn’t very interested in the outing of Valerie Plame. I was meeting with Scooter Libby to get an answer to a very important question I had, which was – after four months of hunting fruitlessly for WMDs in Iraq – “How did we get the intelligence so wrong?”
So the outing of an agent was simply not as important as my overall goal of trying to understand how this colossal intelligence failure had occurred, and that’s what I was focused on.
Why did you leave The New York Times in 2005?
I clashed with the publisher over how long I should stay in jail. He wanted me stay even after I had gotten the waiver I needed from Scooter Libby and even after the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, agreed to stop asking for things I wasn’t prepared to give him, such as my notebooks. I felt we had won a great victory. The publisher of The New York Times didn’t think so. He didn’t want me to testify at all and was prepared for me to spend up to another five years in jail.
When I came out, they basically blamed me for [faulty] WMD intelligence, and it was just made clear to me that I wasn’t going to be able to do the kind of reporting I had done that had won so many awards. I wasn’t fired. But there was no point in staying at a place where I was so uncomfortable and unwanted.
You write in The Story that “there is a greater diversity of opinion at Fox” – where you now work as a commentator – “than there was at the Times.” Can you elaborate?
Well, I think it’s pretty clear that very few conservatives work at The New York Times. And the wonderful thing about Fox is that it has a wide variety of views. It has people from Sean Hannity to Alan Colmes, and it also has a reporting staff very much committed to objective news.
At the Times, most of the staff tended to be liberal or left of center. There was an editorial slot or two given to people of a conservative bent, but they weren’t really embraced or welcomed.
Many people might find your comments on Fox surprising considering that it is often thought of as a right-wing propaganda machine.
I’ve never been told at Fox News that I can’t say something. I’ve never had a story rejected for its political content or implications. I think it’s a good place to do reporting, and they’re also very supportive of reporters who take positions of principle on first amendment issues such as James Rosen, who was mercilessly hounded by the Obama administration, and Jana Winter, who nearly went to jail. I’m proud of my association with Fox.