Featured Blog, I: Sit, Press, Sit
Never Mind the Pulitzers
Eric Alterman /April 18, 2004
Look over the Pulitzer Prize awards given out yesterday and you'd get the impression of a fearless, vigorous American press fighting administration deception with neither fear nor favor. While the awards represented much talent, creativity, intelligence and ingenuity in all areas, by far the most significant, politically speaking, were those given to Dana Priest of The Washington Post for disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons overseas, and by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of the New York Times for their articles on the administration's domestic surveillance program.
Ironically, while the reporters in question did unarguably great work, each of these stories remains mired in some considerable confusion about the degree to which the journalistic institutions in question were willing to back them. The New York Times held its story on domestic spying for more than a year and published it only when it became apparent that it would appear in a book by its reporter James Risen. Executive editor Bill Keller refused to discuss his decision to delay publication, or to confirm reports that top Times editors were summoned to (and possibly threatened by) the White House.
In light of the Justice Department's investigation into the identity of the leaker responsible for the story, this may be an understandable position. But Keller's "woefully inadequate" response to twenty-eight questions from the Times public editor about the case closes the much ballyhooed post-Jayson Blair era of openness and transparency at the country's most influential newspaper. Once again, Times editors are telling us that they know what we need to know, period.
In the case of the Washington Post's scoop on secret CIA prisons at old gulag sites, its editors agreed to redact the names of two of the countries involved. The Post article explained that this was "at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation." Like Keller, Post executive editor Len Downie refused to discuss his reasoning or to address the issue of White House meetings or threats, and like Keller's, his paper faced a Justice Department investigation of the leak.
But the Post's argument for withholding was weaker; the information in question was widely available elsewhere. Independently, Human Rights Watch had scoured the flight logs of airports used by the CIA for its "rendition" flights, which pointed to Poland and Romania as the sites of the secret prisons. HRW published the nations' names on its website and they appeared in publications all over the world virtually simultaneously with the Post story.
Given the Bush administration's consistent record of mendacity when it comes to leaking for its own political convenience - often leaking and lying at the same time - it's long past time that these powerful institutions banded together with their colleagues in broadcasting and said "Enough's enough," and refusing to play by the president's rules anymore. With hardly anyone in America trusting Bush's word anymore, now's the time such a fight could be won, and both journalism and American politics would be better for it.
Featured Blog, II: Fifth Column Press
A "Pulitzer for Treason"
Glenn Greenwald, Unclaimed Territory /
April 18, 2006
Several weeks ago, The Washington Post published an Op-Ed jointly written by Bill Bennett and his neoconservative comrade Alan Dershowitz, in which Bennett -- of all people -- pretended to be an advocate of a free press by decrying the media's "capitulat[ion] to Islamists." Bennett was upset that only a handful of American newspapers had published the Mohammed cartoons, arguing that by failing to publish the cartoons, "the press has betrayed not only its duties but its responsibilities."
As I noted at the time and on several other occasions, Bush supporters like Bennett are the last people who ought to be parading around under the banner of a free press, given their lengthy and intensifying efforts to destroy investigative journalism in this country by criminalizing its defining functions and threatening reporters with imprisonment who expose dubious, or worse, conduct on the part of the Bush administration. That is a very real and disturbing trend which has received far less attention than it deserves -- particularly from, ironically and revealingly enough, the press itself.
Yesterday, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau received well-deserved Pulitzer Prizes for "national reporting" based on their (year-long-delayed) disclosure of the President's illegal NSA eavesdropping program. That award has set off a new slew of bitter commentary from Bush supporters, including Bennett, proclaiming that Risen and Lichtblau belong in prison. On his radio show this morning, the great free press crusader Bennett said: "I think what they did is worthy of jail."
Powerline, as always, helpfully expounds on this definitively American principle of throwing reporters in jail who publish stories which damage the political interests of the Commander-in-Chief during a Time of War. In an item entitled "Pulitzer Prize for Treason," Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson says that Risen and Lichtblau won the Pulitzer "for their treasonous contribution to the undermining of the highly classified National Security Agency surveillance program of al Qaeda-related terrorists," which -- according to Johnson, "is a particularly serious crime insofar as it lends assistance to the enemy" -- all together, now -- "in a time of war."
According to Big Trunk, the Times reporters are even worse than Stalin apologist Walter Duranty, who wrote for the Times and won a Pulitzer in the 1930s. This is how he explains his sequencing of journalistic villains:
What about the Pulitzer Prize committee? When Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize for the Times in connection with his mendacious coverage of Stalin's Soviet Union, he performed valuable public relations work for a mass murderer. He nevertheless did no direct harm to the United States. Today's Pulitzer Prize award to the Times brings a new shame to the Pulitzer Prize committee that builds on its disgrace last year via the award to the AP.
Remember - these are the people who think that they are elevated and pure enough to invade other countries in order to teach the repressed masses about democracy and freedom. Read the rest at Unclaimed Territory...