Sean Penn in Fair Game

Movie Review: Fair Game

Fair Game digs up a story that should have brought the Bush presidency down – the witch-hunt of the CIA agent Valerie Plame after her husband, Joe Wilson (both now Santa Fe residents), exposed a White House maneuver to bolster the case for invading Iraq by concocting a story about Saddam Husseins alleged effort to buy uranium from the African country of Niger.

The CIA warned Bush not to include a mention of this in his State of the Union address in 2003. He did, and the country fell for it. Even Bush now admits that there werent any WMD, which is exactly what he was told back then.

As one of the crucial terrifying “facts” in Bushs State of the Union message in 2003, the uranium story had the impact of a smoking gun. When the Iraqi cash-for-uranium tale turned out to be smoke and mirrors, the White House officials who worked on the speech couldnt explain how it got there. Nor could The Decider. “I was just readin the prompter,” was the gist of what he could offer by way of explanation. Later Condoleezza Rice would declare that “mistakes were made.” The rest is history, as they say, and history is what Americans tend to forget. Just look at the elections. Karl Rove (also the author of a self-serving book) started calling journalists to tell them that Plame worked undercover for the CIA. She was outed, in what seemed like a violation of the law, and it took years for journalists who were told about her would reveal their source. (Im al for the First Amendment, but in this case youre reminded of Bush and Cheney refusing to disclose which energy CEOs met with them at the White House.

Naomi Watts in Fair Game

Naomi Watts in Fair Game

Does anyone remember when Philip Agee outed CIA agents working in Europe and elsewhere back in 1975. Neo-cons were indignant then. Why didnt that indignation kick for the neo-cons in the Cheney camp (Elliot Abrams, etc.) in when it was Valerie Plame who risked exposure?

Fair Game takes us back to all this. Sean Penn and especially Naomi Watts look their parts as the couple who pay the price for truth-telling. Director Doug Liman also gets the atmosphere right. Colleagues are outraged, but they retreat when it comes to putting their own careers on the line. (Whats that old line about the military, that people will risk their lives, but not their careers?)

The film also shows what can happen to “assets” (i.e., real people working with you) in places like the Middle East when it is revealed that one of their contacts works for the CIA – its a lot worse than what happened to Valerie Plame. In Abu Dhabi, Doug Liman said his film was about telling the truth and about the difficulty of telling the truth when the government has another story to tell. He acknowledged that the public could be battle-weary – for war stories and for politics.

Yet they seem eager to hear George W. Bush talk about his book. Go figure. In the best of worlds, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame might encounter George W. Bush in a television green room, as all of them hit the talk-show circuit, huckstering their respective entertainment products — the film revealing the Bush administrations revelation of Plame as an agent and the selectively-revealing memoir that seeks to rehabilitate Bush as the Nice-Guy-in-Chief. Bush, who commuted Cheney aide Scooter Libbys sentence but didnt pardon him, was a lot close to pardoning Libby than he was to pardoning Wilson and Plame. Id love to be there when they meet.

I went back to the book, Fair Game to review what Plame had written. It reads like something told to a friend, which makes Plame look like more than a faceless bureaucrat. Shes too glamorous to be a faceless anything. Yet the book is packed with clichés and folksy family scenes, along with plenty of evidence of how politics weighed heavily on the CIA. For a book that is committed to setting the story straight, it has neither an index nor footnotes, which is inexcusable, although an afterword by Laura Rozen does broaden the context. It was bad enough that Fair Game was released after the election.

The effect will be to send you back to the press coverage of those days. Youll find that the story was there in the mainstream for anyone who was interested, even though the White House story was treated deferentially. You wont find it revisited in Bushs memoir. Someone should ask him about that. Dont bet on it happening.

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