You know the mainstream media’s hatred of George W. Bush is beyond the pale when national reporters, who are essentially egos with ears, thumb their noses at the Pulitzer Prize that has been waiting to be plucked from l’affaire Wilson-Plame.

If the mainstream media could step back a bit and see past their get-Bush obsession, they would see a plot that rivals anything that Cold War intrigue novelists Fletcher Knebel and Eugene Burdick wrote in the 1960’s.

As the media see it, the Plame scandal is about the White House outing a CIA agent because her husband, Joe Wilson, dispatched by the White House, said Saddam Hussein didn’t try to get yellowcake uranium from Niger, thus undermining Bush’s rationale for war. Even though that characterization has proven demonstrably untrue in almost every respect, the media still stick with it.

On the other hand, you have a rogue CIA that disagrees with a president about going to war with Iraq, so they, not the White House, send Joe Wilson, who was recommended by his wife, the now-famous CIA employee Valerie Plame, to Niger to debunk the yellowcake story, not to confirm it. Wilson meets a few people and drinks some tea in Niger and then comes home. He reports to the CIA that it’s possible Iraq did seek uranium from Niger, and then writes a New York Times op-ed column that pretty much contradicts his report.

Meanwhile, the White House has been completely out of this loop. Wilson and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof put out the fiction that it was Vice President Dick Cheney who dispatched the oily Wilson in the first place. Understandably, after reading this in the Times, Cheney wanted to know who this Wilson fellow was that was saying all these untrue things about him.

When the VP asks a question, people respond. Cheney’s staff, and deputy chief of staff Karl Rove’s, began trying to get to the bottom of the story. In pursuing the truth, they learn that Wilson’s wife works for the CIA, something many reporters in Washington apparently already knew, at least according to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who said on CNBC on Oct. 3, 2003, that “it was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community” that Plame was Wilson’s wife.

It was this same Andrea Mitchell who, just eight days earlier, on Sept. 26, had reported that the CIA had asked the Justice Department to investigate the outing of an undercover agent by the White House. It is widely felt that the CIA itself leaked this story since it benefited the CIA and Wilson, and hurt the Bush White House by reviving the flagging story of Wilson and Plame.

Again, the mainstream media elect to ignore strong evidence that the CIA was involved in an effort to hurt the Bush administration. In other eras the bare hint of a notion of a suspicion that the spooks at the CIA were trying to undermine a popularly elected president would have sent The New York Times and The Washington Post into full editorial overdrive. In other eras, too, the outing of undercover agents would have been applauded by the mainstream media, who are not averse to compromising undercover operations themselves.

What if the media were to attack this story the way Neil Sheehan attacked the Pentagon Papers story, or the way Woodward and Bernstein attacked Watergate. What if a reporter demanded to know who suggested Wilson for the Niger trip, what his wife really did for “the company,” how high up the chain the effort to undermine a sitting president really went, who gave the orders, demanded documents via the Freedom of Information Act, camped out on the Wilson-Plame doorstep until they gave adequate answers, all accompanied by tough editorials from their editorial page demanding to know who tried to subvert the will of the people?

Surely a Pulitzer would await such effort. As it is, the media are ignoring what looks like a CIA black op against the White House and are, instead, going bonkers over the “outing” of an agent who was not covert, hadn’t been covert in at least six years, and who was effectively outed years earlier by her own husband, who wasn’t happy unless he was the center of attention. It’s gotten so bad that a reporter would rather lose a Pulitzer than write anything that doesn’t hurt George W. Bush.

With reporters like these, Watergate would still be thought of as a third-rate burglary.

Jon Ham is vice president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of its newspaper, Carolina Journal.