Two years ago, when the Valerie Plame affair first surfaced, the conservative response was largely one of yawning silence. Still, the conservatives who did speak up mostly conceded that, yes, if someone in the White House exposed the identity of a CIA agent, it was a bad thing to do. And if it was done as part of a political campaign to discredit a critic, it was an especially bad thing to do.
During the past month, however, the growing evidence that someone in the White House really did expose Plame has caused more than a bit of panic — and a change of heart. We've already heard from Fox's John Gibson, who not only thinks it was OK to expose the identity of a covert CIA agent to the press, but apparently thinks it was a positive social good. Valerie Plame "should have been outed by somebody," he said, and Karl Rove deserves a medal for being the only guy with the guts to do it.
In other words, if Rove's failure was merely that he didn't care enough to check on Plame's status, then he did nothing wrong. If he knew she was covert but didn't realize that the CIA prefers its covert agents to stay covert, then he did nothing wrong. If he knew that too, but outed Plame in a conversation that someone else initiated, then he did nothing wrong. And finally, even if he knew all those things, but his motivation was merely to score points against Joe Wilson, rather than to ruin Valerie Plame's career, then he did nothing wrong. These criteria essentially justify in advance virtually anything that Rove might plausibly have done.
Nearly every conservative blog now follows this line.