Dana Priest, and her newspaper, are being hit from both sides.
Some conservatives are furious over her Washington Post story | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/01/AR2005110101644.html this month disclosing that the CIA has been hiding and interrogating terror suspects at secret prisons in Eastern Europe. And some liberals are angry that The Post agreed to a request by senior U.S. officials not to name the countries involved.
"We are being accused of being in the pocket of the administration," Priest says. "One student called me up from a Virginia university to tell me they were burning the paper at a protest, because we're complicit in torture."
With the House intelligence committee launching an investigation into the leak of classified information and the CIA referring the matter to the Justice Department, the controversy could mushroom into another Valerie Plame fracas. If prosecutors get involved, Priest could face the same dilemma that confronted Time's Matt Cooper and former New York Times reporter Judith Miller: whether to reveal confidential sources under threat of imprisonment.
"Judy Miller went to jail," said author and radio host Bill Bennett, a fierce critic of the Post story. "This woman might have to go to jail, too. . . . The hypocrisy here is for the media establishment to say some great wrong was done to Valerie Plame, but where is the outrage about Dana Priest?"
Says Priest: "My overall goal is to describe how the government is fighting the war on terror, and that gets you right to the CIA. This is a tactic. People can read it and decide whether that's good or bad."
Leonard Downie, The Post's executive editor, says: "There was a lot of debate about every aspect of the story to make sure we were balancing legitimate national security concerns with informing our readers about important things that were being done in their name by the government. There were a number of discussions with senior U.S. officials, and we had a number of discussions in the office over several days with Dana and her editors."
Both the Nov. 2 prison story and the 2003 outing of Plame as a CIA operative relied on unnamed sources giving reporters secret information. In the Plame case, however, senior officials were trying to discredit White House critic Joe Wilson by focusing on the role of his wife in his inquiry into whether Iraq was trying to acquire nuclear material. Many on the left have cheered the resulting perjury and obstruction of justice charges against former vice-presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and Democrats want a stepped-up congressional probe of the administration's prewar intelligence.
On the prison story, the unnamed officials--both U.S. and foreign--were exposing an interrogation program that raises civil liberties concerns on the left. Many on the right are denouncing what they see as the damage to national security, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist--who joined House Speaker Dennis Hastert in demanding an investigation--says he is more concerned about the leak than the secret prisons. Downie and Priest declined to comment on any leak investigation.
But others have plenty to say. John Hinderaker, an attorney and blogger, says on the Web site Power Line: "It would be a great thing if the steady stream of illegal anti-administration leaks out of the CIA and the State Department could be shut down, and some of the Democrat leakers imprisoned. It's time to put the Plame farce to a good use."
Bennett condemned the Post article on National Review Online as "irresponsibility at its highest," saying it would endanger Americans and their allies in the middle of a war. "It's the old question," Bennett says in an interview. "Whose side are you on?"
Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the nonprofit National Security Archive, calls Priest a "brilliant reporter" and says she and The Post deserve credit for "groundbreaking work" and "her sources deserve credit for being courageous, too." But he sharply criticizes the paper's decision not to name the Eastern European countries, two of which were later identified by Financial Times and other news outlets, citing information from the group Human Rights Watch.
"We are talking about the secret detention and abuse of prisoners," Kornbluh says. "There is an aspect of enabling this to go forward by yielding to the arguments these senior officials made. This is the most significant decision to withhold information since the Bay of Pigs, when President Kennedy twisted the arm of the publisher of the New York Times to take out key details" about the 1961 invasion of Cuba.
Writes Gal Beckerman of Columbia Journalism Review: "The Post is trying to have it both ways: Getting credit for breaking the story, without breaking the specific details that might have caused it grief from the CIA."
By way of explanation, the Post story said U.S. officials "argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation."
Downie calls the piece "a good example of a public policy question that might not have surfaced without a number of people with knowledge of the debate going on at the CIA and the program itself having to speak to reporters without public attribution."
Priest, who is also an NBC News analyst, hears an echo among liberal critics who fault the decision to withhold the prison locations. "They say, 'This is the same paper that toed the administration line on WMD,' like we were in cahoots with the administration over bad intelligence. That doesn't sit well with me, having tried very hard before the war to truth-squad the WMD reporting."
The fiery passions surrounding the war increasingly seem to be singeing such reporters as Miller, Priest and Newsweek's Michael Isikoff, whose flawed report on an allegation of Koran desecration at Guantanamo Bay was blamed for violent protests in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Journalists aren't supposed to take sides, but there is no shortage of detractors asking which side they are on.
Searching for Support
The trial lawyers' lobby has a new technique for pressing its opposition to proposals that would reduce or eliminate liability for drug companies to manufacture vaccines.
Run a Google or Yahoo search for such terms "bird flu" or "avian flu" and a sponsored link will pop up, leading to ads by a group called People Over Profits--which is actually a unit of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. They bear such headlines as "Bird Flu and Viagra: What do they have in common?" and "President Bush and Bird Flu: What Bush is not telling you." (The group also purchased "Rafael Palmeiro," not because he has anything to do with the issue but because the ballplayer gets Googled a lot in the steroids controversy.)
Now even Web searchers aren't safe from lobbying! And since sponsors can monitor the traffic, says ATLA spokeswoman Chris Mather, "you can change your message during the day if it's not working."
It may be unpopular in the blogosphere, but the New York Times has signed up 135,000 subscribers at 50 bucks a pop for online access to its columnists and other bonus material (plus an equal number of print subscribers who get the service free). Other news outlets are surely taking note.
Under pressure from Democratic lawmakers, Armed Forces Radio has agreed to carry liberal radio talker Ed Schultz, weeks after a Pentagon political appointee vetoed an earlier deal.
Salon has hired former USA Today columnist Walter Shapiro as its new Washington bureau chief. Shapiro says he had been doing some blogging but "I felt this irresistible urge to make phone calls and go places and rather than theorize what people are saying, actually find out what they're saying."
Andrew Sullivan, one of the first bloggers to gain a wide following online, is moving his daily musings to the Time Inc. Web site, which plans to build a cyber-neighborhood around him and other bloggers.
And Furthermore . . .
The war over the war on WMD is ratcheting up, and National Review Editor Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200511110833.asp doesn't think much of the Democratic position:
"Getting suckered usually is not a sign of good judgment. On the contrary, it's something to be embarrassed by. But Democrats are making the contention that they were told lies prior to the Iraq war, and believed them, central to their party's identity.
"They are caught between their base's conviction that President Bush lied about Iraq and the fact that the cream of the party voted to authorize the war. Nearly every Democratic senator who has higher ambitions voted 'yes' -- Hillary Clinton, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, John Kerry, and John Edwards. If Bush lied, it stands to reason that they are all naifs, foolishly drawn to the seductions of a charlatan. They aren't statesmen; they're victims.
"Some of the 'aye' votes make this argument themselves. 'He misled every one of us,' Sen. Kerry charges. Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, since retired, agrees: 'We were misled.' The talented New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who voted for the war in the House, explains, 'If you believe that people like me and [Sens.] Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton drew the wrong conclusion at the time, well, that's true of a lot of Americans who were deceived by this president.'
"Surely, however, these Democrats don't rely on Bush exclusively for their information. In a demolition of the Bush-lied argument in the current issue of Commentary magazine, Norman Podhoretz recalls the other players who warned of Saddam Hussein's WMDs. Democrats could have consulted Bill Clinton, who had talked of the 'threat posed by Iraq's weapons-of-mass-destruction program.' They could have read the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that maintained 'Iraq is continuing, and in some areas expanding, its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs.' They could have asked the State Department. . . .
"Dick Polman, a political reporter for Knight-Ridder News, reminds us that Republican George Romney damaged his presidential bid in 1968 by claiming he had been deceived by the military into supporting the Vietnam War. Voters weren't looking for a president who could, by his own account, be easily misled. Gullibility is not a leadership trait."
At Media Bistro | http://www.mediabistro.com/fishbowlDC/sort_of_serious_stuff/clueless_28146.asp, Garrett Graff questions the Judy Miller rationale:
"In her comments to media this week, everyone comes out for blame--her editors, her sources, her employer, the government, and a whole lot of blame falls on Maureen Dowd--but she seems to skip the blame herself: 'Oh well, my sources were wrong and my editors, who hate the truth and freedom, kept me from pursuing what actually went on. I was stuck in the middle. Sorry folks for this whole "war" thing.'
'As she said Thursday night, 'I did not use The New York Times to lobby for the Iraq war -- it would have been inappropriate.' Sorry, 'inappropriate' makes it sound like she skipped accepting a free meal from a publicist or tickets to a Knicks game. SHE HELPED LAUNCH A WAR."
Judy did have some help, didn't she?
Arianna | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/chalabi-and-the-times-a-_b_10457.html is still on the Ahmad beat:
"In one of those delicious coincidences, Day One of the post-Judy era at the Times has delivered a noticeable shift in the paper's coverage of Judy's old pal Ahmad Chalabi.
"For months, the paper has insisted on identifying the discredited neocon darling by his latest official title -- 'deputy prime minister' -- without a nod to the key role he played in providing the bogus intel the White House used to sell the war.
"I've said before, this is like doing a story on Ken Lay and describing him as 'a prominent Houston businessman.' "
While Ms. Huffington likes one of the more recent news stories, she much prefers "an excoriating critique of Chalabi that was a model of two-fisted opinion journalism. In the piece, the Times refers to Chalabi in a wide variety of disdainful ways. Over the course of 387 outraged words, he is described as a 'multiply discredited schemer,' a 'political opportunist,' a 'destructive influence,' 'a double-dealer,' an 'unreliable source,' and a man with 'no inhibitions about embarrassing his former friends with impolitic remarks.' "
Should the media treat as big news Pat Robertson's declaration that Dover, Pa., shouldn't expect any help from God if disaster strikes (having had the temerity to vote out a pro-"intelligent design" school board)? Yes, says Jake Tapper | http://blogs.abcnews.com/downanddirty/:
"1) He is a legitimate political figure. He came in second in the Iowa Caucus in 1988 when he ran for President, White House guru Karl Rove calls him to discuss Supreme Court nominees, his call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made international news.
"2) According to Nielsen, Robertson's show on the Christian Broadcasting Network averages just under 900,000 viewers a day -- far more than a number of cable news dudes who get a lot of ink, big book deals and high-profile guests.
"I've had Christian conservative leaders tell me not to cover certain other colleagues; it all gets a bit weird because if MainStreamMedia don't cover evangelical leaders we can get accused of being elite and out-of-touch, and the same when we do cover them."
The Dems are jumping on Sam Alito's ethics, and John Aravosis | http://americablog.blogspot.com/2005/11/alito-now-says-he-didnt-inhale.html at Americablog is pretty exercised:
"Alito, trying to quell conflict-of-interest issues raised by liberal opponents, said he had been 'unduly restrictive' in promising in 1990 to recuse himself in cases involving Vanguard Group Inc. and Smith Barney Inc. After the Senate confirmed him as an appellate judge and when he subsequently ruled on routine cases involving the two companies, he said, he acted properly because his connections to the firms did not constitute a conflict of interest under the applicable rules and laws.
"Unduly restrictive? What the hell does that mean? It means when he promised not to do something, under oath I believe, he didn't really mean it. That's what unduly restrictive means.
"Son, promise you'll never lie to me. I promise, dad. But son lies to dad anyway. But under the new Alito standard, it's not really a lie. Son was simply being "unduly restrictive" when he promised he wouldn't lie. What kind of crap is that?"
Professor Bainbridge | http://www.professorbainbridge.com/2005/11/liveblogging_th_1.html , who listened in on an Ed Gillespie strategy call, :
"The Democrats' new line is not that Alito had a legal obligation to recuse himself, but that he broke a promise to the Senate to do so (see, e.g., this blog post). The White House did not offer an effective response to that charge on this call. They need a better set of talking points. What did Alito promise and did he keep that promise? Because what they said didn't cut it for me."
Pundits are falling everywhere at the LAT | http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-lat11nov11,1,1492261.storyin the post-Kinsley era: "In a major shake-up of its editorial pages, the Los Angeles Times announced Thursday that it was discontinuing one of its most liberal columnists as well as its conservative editorial cartoonist. Editorial Page Editor Andres Martinez said that Robert Scheer, a Times reporter for 17 years before he began writing a column on the Op-Ed pages in 1993, will be dropped. Cartoonist Michael Ramirez, The Times' cartoonist since 1997, will leave the paper at the end of the year and will not be replaced."
The new lineup includes . . . Jonah Goldberg.
InstaPundit | http://instapundit.com/archives/026792.php kicks up a fuss after Bush's Friday speech on prewar intelligence:
"The White House needs to go on the offensive here in a big way -- and Bush needs to be very plain that this is all about Democratic politicans pandering to the antiwar base, that it's deeply dishonest, and that it hurts our troops abroad. And yes, he should question their patriotism. Because they're acting unpatriotically."
That's usually broad-brush for Glenn, and he gets an earful:
"Well, the hate mail has poured in after my earlier post on Bush's speech. For the record, though, I didn't say that anyone who opposes the war is unpatriotic. (In fact, only antiwar people seem to keep raising this strawman). But the Democratic politicans who are pushing the 'Bush Lied' meme are, I think, playing politics with the war in a way that is, in fact, unpatriotic. Having voted for the war, they now want to cozy up to the increasingly powerful MoveOn crowd, which is immensely antiwar. The 'Bush Lied' meme is their way of getting cover. This move also suggests that their earlier support for the war may itself have been more opportunistic than sincere, which I suppose is another variety of unpatriotism."
The Agonist | http://agonist.org/story/2005/11/11/124728/48 isn't buying: "The president . . . is a liar. The Democrats did not have the same intelligence as the White House did.
"And that's all any Democrat has to say. Don't try to explain it. Don't let the Republicans misdirect you into the details or distract you in any way. Just keep hammering the same line over and over and over because the public already knows it's true: The president is misleading the American people. The Democrats did not have the same intelligence as the White House did.
"Rinse and repeat all the way to 2006."