From a purely semantic point of view, yeah. The words "Valerie Plame" didn't exactly roll off his tongue. But that's a very simple argument for such a complicated issue.
Now, for the sake of argument, let's take a step back and look at what the law says for libel and defamation of character. Yes, I know, separate laws, and that there is already a law that says it's illegal for people to out a CIA undercover agent. Just work with me here. And yes, I know I'm not a lawyer.
For a plaintiff to win damages in a libel suit, most plaintiffs must prove:
- Defamation (presence of defamatory language)
- Identification (defamation was about the plaintiff)
- Publication (defamation was disseminated)
- Fault (defamation published as a result of negligence/recklessness)
- Falsity (this burden only for person suing for defamation related to matters of public concern)
- Personal harm (loss to reputation, emotional distress, loss of business revenues, etc.)
If this were a simple libel case, Rove's lawyer's angle would focus on the "identification" portion of it - that's all he has to go on. Because he said "Wilson's wife," and not "Valerie Plame," he hopes that this will get his client off the hook. But I don't think any court would rule in favor of Doughboy based on this.
Because, if one were to do a Google search on "Joseph C. Wilson IV," you'd find a corporate bio on him written for Corporate & Public Strategy Advisory Group, in which it says he is married to "the former Valerie Plame." Anyone reading that Novak column would be able to make the identification if they tried hard enough.
Thanks to this article for the heads up.