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New York Times reporter leaked colleague's column to the CIA

Published time: August 29, 2012 16:00
Edited time: August 29, 2012 20:00
The New York Times headquarters building (Ramin Talaie/Getty Images/AFP)

The New York Times headquarters building (Ramin Talaie/Getty Images/AFP)

When The New York Times took on Barack Obama in an op-ed last year, the paper called out the president for relying on Hollywood to help boost his image — only, however, after delivering a draft of the diatribe to the CIA before firing up the presses.

Just 12 months after Times columnist Maureen Dowd drew up an op-ed attacking US President Obama and his administration, an email has been unearthed that suggests that the somewhat scathing opinion piece was not published without the involvement of America’s top-secret intelligence community. Judicial Watch has obtained emails between New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti and a CIA spokesperson dated last year that shows that even one of the nation’s more liberal — and arguably reputable — resources for news was weary of coming down on the commander-in-chief, and specifically his office’s ties with America’s spy sector.

In her August 6, 2011 column, ‘Downgrade Blues,’ Dowd dissects the president’s first term up to that point, reveling in Obama’s inability to follow through with the campaign promises he pushed on voters before the 2008 election.

“Barack Obama blazed like Luke Skywalker in 2008, but he never learned to channel the Force. And now the Tea Party has run off with his light saber,” Dowd writes in one paragraph. “The dissonance of his promise and his reality is jarring.”

Elsewhere, Dowd attacks the White House for working hand-in-hand with movie producers to help research "Zero Dark Thirty," the upcoming Kathryn Bigelow-Mark Boal flick about the May 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s Pakistani compound that left the former al-Qaeda leader dead.

“The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration,” Dowd writes. “ It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently — to the surprise of some military officers — at a CIA ceremony celebrating the hero Seals.”

Now it’s been discovered that, even before Dowd’s final draft was published in the Times, Mazzetti made sure a copy was sent to a CIA spokeswoman named Marie Harf.

In an email dated August 5, 2011, Mazzetti forwards a copy of the op-ed before it was published, adding, “this didn’t come from me… and please delete after you read.See, nothing to worry about!”

Other emails obtained by Judicial Watch shine more light onto just how updated Hollywood was kept with the bin Laden raid details that the American public were not privy to. In one correspondence, then Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Doug Wilson writes to Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Benjamin Rhodes that the film’s producers were being brought up to snuff with insider CIA info with the “full knowledge and full approval/support” of Leon Panetta, who at the time headed the agency.

In another internal email, Harf acknowledges that both Boal and Bigelow had worked closely with personnel that were directly involved in the raid, including the translator that was on the scene

“These new documents provide more backing to the serious charge that the Obama administration played fast and loose with national security information to help Hollywood filmmakers,” Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton says of the emails. “No wonder we’ve had to fight one year of stonewalling from the administration. These new documents show there is no doubt that Obama White House was intensely interested in this film that was set to portray President Obama as ‘gutsy.’”

New York Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet has downplayed the discovery of the emails, telling POLITICO that the truth to the matter isn’t as rough as reporters are making it seem.

"I know the circumstances, and if you knew everything that's going on, you'd know it's much ado about nothing," Baquet says. "I can't go into in detail. But I'm confident after talking to Mark that it's much ado about nothing."

"The optics aren't what they look like," he continues. "I've talked to Mark, I know the circumstance [sic], and given what I know, it's much ado about nothing."

Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy has since issued a statement as well. “Last August, Maureen Dowd asked Mark Mazzetti to help check a fact for her column. In the course of doing so, he sent the entire column to a CIA spokeswoman shortly before her deadline. He did this without the knowledge of Ms. Dowd. This action was a mistake that is not consistent with New York Times standards,” Murphy writes.

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