2006.03.04: March 4, 2006: Headlines: Journalism: First Amendment: Freedom of Speech: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Dana Priest says journalism sets the stage

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Dana Priest says journalism sets the stage

Dana Priest says journalism sets the stage

Who presents the debate? Priest says it's an institution that is often under attack: the mainstream media. "The only way to set the stage is through journalism. All bureaucracies should be exposed to sunshine. The mainstream media plays a critical role. "Who's going to put the information out? Bush and the Republicans are in power. When they mess up, the Democrats are taking advantage, but they're not unearthing any new approaches.

Dana Priest says journalism sets the stage

Post reporter who exposed secret CIA prisons to speak in Santa Cruz
By TOM HONIG
Sentinel Editor

Caption: Dana Priest interviews an Afghan farmer in the mountains above Shomali in Afghanistan. Photo: NBC/Norman Ng

SANTA CRUZ Dana Priest, traitor or Bush lackey?

Of course, she's neither. She's the Washington Post reporter who covers national security and intelligence, and the one who broke the story last year about secret prisons overseas.

She'll be speaking at UC Santa Cruz at 7:30 p.m. Monday, but don't expect her to be driving home any partisan points during her talk.

"I'm a reporter," she said during an interview in Santa Cruz last week. "I have the inclination that reporters should go forth and bring back information and then let the reader decide what to do with it."

Priest graduated from UCSC in 1981, with a degree in politics. She's here to give a talk, as well as accept the campus's first Distinguished Social Sciences Alumni Award.

She's also under consideration for a Pulitzer Prize in international reporting because of her story on covert interrogation facilities overseas used by the CIA.

Priest acknowledges that a number of people want to use her story as evidence of Bush administration misbehavior, but her message is one of much greater complexity.

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In fact, she said, other stories that she's uncovered just might be more important.

"For example," she said, "while people weren't looking, the military has been put in charge of foreign policy." And that trend started before the Bush presidency, when the U.S. intervened in Kosovo in the late '90s.

In the Balkans, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, she said, "the military is in charge of making war and making peace.

"It's not good. It's not that they the military are bad people. It's just that when you go to war to change the political leadership of a country, things get very different on the ground. ... The military option is not the way to go to counter terrorism."

Citing an old military saying, she said: "If all you have is a hammer, then all you see is a nail."

In the aftermath of her story on secret prisons, Priest said, she was criticized in blogs and on talk shows. Some said she was a traitor for breaking the story in the first place. Some criticized her for not going further and identifying the location of the prisons beyond saying that many of them were in Eastern Europe.

On Friday, she met with a group of UCSC students who are interns at the university's Center for Global, International and Regional Studies. The director, Paul M. Lubeck, was Priest's professor when she was an undergrad.

She sat at a table at Upper Crust Pizza on Mission Street, and between bites of a pizza, she told the students why she and her editor, the Post's Leonard Downie, declined to identify the location of the prisons.

"It was our decision. ... It was not negotiated, because we hold all the cards," she said.

They refused to identify the prisons out of fear that their host countries would be targeted by terrorists. "It could get people killed," she explained.

Likewise, Priest said that the Post has refused to report on other details about the cooperation of intelligence operations between certain countries because the mere reporting of them would cause the cooperation to cease.

Nevertheless, her reporting has caused the administration discomfort. "This government is operating with a tremendous amount of secrecy," she said.

In addition, her stories have explored the tactics of the military and the CIA, and raised questions about using torture. "They are pushing the limits of the law and of morality," she said in the interview. She said that her stories, she hopes, could spark "a great debate about national security and tactics to deal with it. Are we on the right track?"

Who presents the debate?

Priest says it's an institution that is often under attack: the mainstream media. "The only way to set the stage is through journalism. All bureaucracies should be exposed to sunshine. The mainstream media plays a critical role.

"Who's going to put the information out? Bush and the Republicans are in power. When they mess up, the Democrats are taking advantage, but they're not unearthing any new approaches.

"The mainstream media has the resources and the experience. If we went away ... who would tell the story? Our motives are better than people think."

Contact Tom Honig at thonig@santacruzsentinel.com.





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Story Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Journalism; First Amendment; Freedom of Speech

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