Sunday, July 02, 2006

Dana Priest has a moralist for breakfast

If you missed today's edition of Meet the Press, your blogstress advises you to view the podcast of the roundtable segment, wherein Bill Bennett, for whom gambling is a virtue, repeated his charge that the Pulitzer Prize won by the Washington Post for Dana Priest's reporting on the secret U.S. prisons overseas was "a disgrace." This time, however, Priest was sitting next to Bennett, cool as a cucumber, ably defending her position. Also present were William Safire and John Harwood, who might as well have stayed home, as Bennett stole the show with his eye-rolling and twitchy demeanor. From the official NBC transcript:

MS. [ANDREA] MITCHELL [(MODERATOR)]: Dana, let me point out that The Washington Post, your newspaper, was behind the others but also did publish this story. And a story you wrote last year disclosing the secret CIA prisons won the Pulitzer Prize, but it also led to William Bennett, sitting here, saying that three reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize—-you for that story and Jim Risen and others for another story-—were, “not worthy of an award but rather worthy of jail.” Dana, how do you plead?

MS. PRIEST: Well, it’s not a crime to publish classified information. And this is one of the things Mr. Bennett keeps telling people that it is. But, in fact, there are some narrow categories of information you can’t publish, certain signals, communications, intelligence, the names of covert operatives and nuclear secrets.

Now why isn’t it a crime? I mean, some people would like to make casino gambling a crime, but it is not a crime. Why isn’t it not a crime? Because the framers of the Constitution wanted to protect the press so that they could perform a basic role in government oversight, and you can’t do that. Look at the criticism that the press got after Iraq that we did not do our job on WMD. And that was all in a classified arena. To do a better job—and I believe that we should’ve done a better job—we would’ve again, found ourselves in the arena of...

[...]

MR. BENNETT: All right, now you’ve got, you’ve got, you’ve got three people on one side, you’ve got me on the other side. Let me just, let me just state my position.

It’s not time to break out the champagne and the Pulitzers. This is not about politics, not from my perspective. It’s about the United States of America and the security of the United States of America. The difference is, the government was elected. People may not like the Bush administration, but they were elected and they are entitled to due consideration on these matters. The American people, in fact, believe in a free press, as I do, and I don’t believe in prior restraint of the press. But the American people are saying, if you listen to them in very, very large and consistent numbers—and an awful lot of people across the board are saying this—is four times now, four times in eight months, Dana Priest’s story, the National Surveillance Security Agency monitoring story, the USA Today story about data mining...

MS. PRIEST: You know, I heartily appreciate your talking on behalf of all the American people because when...

MR. BENNETT: ...it’s—it’s not—I’m not. I’m talking about a lot of the American—wait, let me finish. Let me finish.

MS. PRIEST: ...my stories ran I received several—many, many people thanking me because they thought that they went—including...

MR. BENNETT: You don’t want to be—you don’t, you don’t want to put this to an opinion poll.

MS. PRIEST: ...including four-star...

MR. BENNETT: You do not want to do this on an opinion poll.

MS. PRIEST: ...including active-duty four-star generals.

MR. BENNETT: Can I, can I just...

MS. PRIEST: Some people think that the administration has gone too far in some of the counterterrorism measures they’ve taken, and that some of the things that we were—are revealing are creating a debate that could not have happened before.

MR. BENNETT: Yeah, and the shutting down of prisons...

MS. MITCHELL: Bill Safire...

MR. BENNETT: ...and countries that say...

MS. PRIEST: The prisons have been moved. They have not been shut down.

That’s a big difference.

MR. BENNETT: That’s a different...

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