BROOKE GLADSTONE: The now long-running investigation into which senior administration official leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame grinds on. This week, Time magazine's Matt Cooper was served with another subpoena, and so was Judith Miller of the New York Times. The Washington Post's Walter Pincus managed to avoid one, because his source identified himself to prosecutors. Earlier this month, Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, publicly came forth saying he had spoken to reporters but not revealed the agent's name. Of course, the only reporter to actually use the information was columnist Bob Novak, and if he felt any moral or professional obligation to name his source, he probably couldn't have run with the leak, but he could, and did, attributing it by journalistic tradition to a couple of (quote) "senior administration officials." That's a phrase applicable to just about anyone above a certain government pay grade. How can we figure out which senior administration official is which? Harry Jaffe, national editor at Washingtonian magazine, recently penned a field guide to the senior administration official -- in Washington parlance, the SAO. Harry, welcome to the show.
HARRY JAFFE: I'm pleased to be with you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let's go through some of the tips you offer readers in your guide. If the quote, say, concerns the Middle East, who's likely to be the SAO?
HARRY JAFFE: If it's the Middle East, I would say Elliott Abrams.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And what if it's about Europe?
HARRY JAFFE: The European specialist is Dan Fried.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And how about economic affairs?
HARRY JAFFE: Ah, this is a sticky wicket here. It used to be that the most talkative one was Greg Mankiw. He's the president's chief economist. He's chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors. Then he made a comment that you might recall about the fact that outsourcing jobs was good for the economy. We haven't heard very much from him-- [LAUGHTER] recently. Good chance it's Rob Nichols, who is the chief spokesman for the Treasury Department.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You know, the reporter could make this whole process a little more transparent by offering those locational guides -- for instance, State Department official, Defense Department official, and so forth. But usually, the laws of Washington journalism prevent that, don't they?
HARRY JAFFE: Well, a deal is cut every time there is an interview. The terms of engagement -- whether it is off the record - on background - on deep background - not for attribution -- these are part of the negotiations of almost any interview in this town.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And so if they don't say State Department, it means that the reporter was told - you just have to attribute this to the administration in its vastness.
HARRY JAFFE: Well, I can tell you that every journalist starts with the desire to quote the person by name. It may be hard to grasp, but we journalists actually do like to serve readers, and readers, we know, want to know who the actual person was behind a quote. So we begin by saying can we quote you "Greg Mankiw" and he says - no. Then how can we quote you? Can I quote you as an economic advisor? No. [LAUGHTER] Can I quote you as someone who is a top official of the Treasury Department? No. How about a senior administration official? Okay. [LAUGHTER] So it's a slippery slope down to a guy walking down the street who happened to take an economics course in college.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right. So, Harry the most inflammatory use of the SAO in recent times was in the aforementioned Bob Novak column -- his highly-placed senior administration official revealed the identity of then-CIA agent Valerie Plame. What can you deduce about that unnamed source, using your guide?
HARRY JAFFE: Well, I would think that the principal suspect here is Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is Dick Cheney's chief of staff. Cheney's shop has the reputation of being more politically-attuned and also a little bit more of a bunch of knife-fighters. I mean, look -- the other name that was on the tips of everybody's tongues in Washington was Karl Rove. This clearly became a very important political matter.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And the release of Valerie Plame's name would be seen as a political move, because her husband, Joseph Wilson, had written in the New York Times that Iraq had not sought uranium from Niger, as the government had contended.
HARRY JAFFE: Joe Wilson became an enemy. Let's use Novak to discredit Joe Wilson. But your question is, and our unanswered question is, and the prosecutor would like to know -- who was that SAO?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Would you like to see the abolition of the phrase "senior administration official" from all newspapers?
HARRY JAFFE: Absolutely. I think that there should be names behind quotes, as much as possible. Let's at least say that this is a high-ranking official -- give us a department at least. National Security Council. You know, Council of Economic Advisors. I think the question becomes, you know, does it really help the reader to know who is the author of a particular quote. I think yes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And the likelihood of the disappearance of the SAO from newspapers?
HARRY JAFFE: Well, I actually think that it may be a glacial change, but I think if there is pressure on newspaper reporters from inside and from readers, and I think that while it may not happen next week or certainly before this next election, I think that in the future we're going to see better identification of sources.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. Thank you very much.
HARRY JAFFE: Appreciate being with you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Harry Jaffe is the national editor at the Washingtonian.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps complains about terrible judgment -- at the FCC, and Candidate Kerry clams up.