It is an equation that is as certain as two plus two equals four: Sean Penn + Iraq War + Hollywood movie = something less than the truth.
And so it is with director Doug Liman’s “Fair Game,” starring Penn and released last Friday, despite Liman’s contention that he made strenuous efforts to depict only those claims he could back up. “I exercised the kind of restraint you don’t normally see from a Hollywood filmmaker,” Liman told The Daily Caller in an interview Monday. “I stuck to the facts.”
The movie bills itself as “inspired by true events” and frames itself around the Joe Wilson-Valerie Plame affair. Wilson, played by Penn, was the former American diplomat sent to Niger by the CIA in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium for its purported nuclear weapons program from the African country.
The results of Wilson’s trip were viewed as largely meaningless by the CIA. But months after President George W. Bush said in his State of the Union address in 2003 in the lead up to the Iraq War that British intelligence believed that Iraq had been seeking uranium from Africa, Wilson sprung into action — claiming that he disproved the possibility of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal and suggesting the Bush administration may have been intentionally using dubious intelligence to justify the war in Iraq.
By the time Wilson began talking to the press, the Iraq War had begun and the American people were becoming disturbed that no Weapons of Mass Destruction had yet been found. In July 2003, Wilson famously wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, entitled “What I didn’t find in Africa,” suggesting perfidy on the part of the Bush administration.
After the op-ed appeared, the late columnist Robert Novak wrote a column indicating that sources told him that Joe Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame (played in the movie by Naomi Watts), was a CIA operative that recommended Wilson be sent to Niger. The revelation led the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity to Novak since intentionally revealing a covert operative’s identity is a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.
The special prosecutor discovered early on that the main source for Novak’s article was State Department official Richard Armitage. Ironically, despite claims that the revelation of Wilson’s wife’s name was done by Bush administration proponents of the Iraq War seeking to discredit Wilson and his claims, Armitage was against going to war in Iraq, at least at the time the Bush administration initiated the invasion. (Novak, too, was an ardent opponent of the Iraq War.)
You wouldn’t know this by watching Liman’s “Fair Game,” since Armitage is nowhere to be found — except in script at the very end. The narrative that Karl Rove and Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff Scooter Libby were nefarious behind-the-scenes players intent on destroying innocent reputations while pushing the nation into war on false pretenses fits too nicely into Liman and Hollywood’s leftwing vision. You can’t, after all, let facts spoil a cinematic anti-Bush diatribe.
But because the truth matters to some, here is a factual breakdown of the film’s most major inaccuracies: