Watchdog Blog

Saul Friedman: Journalism at its Best

Posted at 12:18 pm, February 23rd, 2007
Saul Friedman Mug

Where are those critics now, the right-wing know-nothings and the bloviating Bill Bennett who wanted to arrest the Washington Post’s Dana Priest for treason when she outed the CIA in November 2005 for hiding captives in “black sites”? She was a shill for the Democrats, one wingnut cried. Why are they not congratulating Priest and her colleague, Anne Hull, for exposing the shameful conditions for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center?

Bennett, you’ll recall, was among those who, when she won a Pulitzer, said she ought to tried for giving away state secrets. She replied, a bit caustically, that publishing classified information is no more a criminal offense than, say, gambling. But more seriously, Priest demonstrated in the CIA stories what reporting and digging and putting together bits and pieces to make a story. Take a look some of her other stories and you’ll see, as she insisted, that she does not depend on leaks as too many reporters do now. Washington is so accustomed to leaked stories, stories that have an agenda besides journalism, that it has forgotten what real journalism looks like.

Thus, Priest and Hull did what none of the Pentagon or White House reporters bother to do much anymore besides sitting around waiting for leaks and briefings. They went to talk to the people involved: the wounded, the patients that no one listens to. They did not go to the Walter Reed officials or their PR people until they had their facts and their story. Did it embarrass the hospital, the Army? You bet. That is what journalism is all about, shaming officialdom into doing the right thing. If that be treason, Mr. Bennett, well you know what to do.

There’s another lesson there, the value of the newspaper, which when the journalism is done right can raise hell. The immortal A.J. Liebling, who knew how to poke the press and its barons, once said that newspapers give him pleasure because every once in a while, despite all the nonsense, they publish a gem, well-written, well-reported by someone who cared.

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