The Pulitzer Prize ‘Traitors’
Assault on a Vigilant Press in a Time of Secrecy and War
By Eve Berliner
The White House
President George W. Bush with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at his swearing-in ceremony in February 2005.
Dana Priest’s classified revelation of secret CIA “black site” prisons in The Washington Post won her the 2006 Pulitzer Prize.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on wartime executive power and the NSA secret domestic surveillance program.
By Eve Berliner
And so it was the Pulitzer Prize "traitors" who exposed the atrocities of war and the lies and manipulations of Presidents and thieves.
The journalist: enemy of corruption, subjugation, exploitation.
They bear witness. They bring to light. They hold to account. They are the conscience of the nation, the journalists of sacred rage.
On April 17, 2006, the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism was awarded to national security reporter Dana Priest of the Washington Post, for her stunning revelation of secret CIA "black site" prisons in Eastern Europe, dens of sadistic torture where others do our dirty work and suspects "disappear" into the void.
Also recipients of the nation's most prestigious prize, were James Risen and Eric Lichtlam of the New York Times for their startling expose of the secret, warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, authorized by the President and carried out by the National Security Agency, the extent of which continues to mushroom with incendiary force.
In each case, George Bush personally intervened and urged editors not to publish these explosive reports. The New York Times, in the interests of "national security," acceded to the wishes of the White House and withheld the NSA story for one year.
The Pulitzer Board honored both investigations with the highest honor in journalism, the Pulitzer Prize.
Both stories raise profound moral questions for America.
On the day following the announcement, Bill Bennett, formerly of the Reagan/Bush administrations, now CNN commentator, had this to say on his national radio program:
"These reporters took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the President and others that they not release it... As a result are they punished? Are they in shame? Are they embarrassed? Are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer Prizes. I don't think what they did was worthy of an award. I think what they did is worthy of jail...
"These people who reveal our secrets, who hurt our war effort, who hurt the efforts of our CIA, who hurt the efforts of the President's people, they shouldn't be given prizes and awards for this. They should be looked into under the Espionage Act."
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales had this to say about the Times classified disclosures: "Obviously our prosecutors are going to look to see all the laws that have been violated. And if the evidence is there, they're going to prosecute these violations.”
“We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected...We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity," he told the ABC News program, "This Week."
It has now come to light that accusations of treason and the prospect of criminal prosecution of reporters is circulating in the back corridors of George Bush's Washington. There is talk of resurrecting the provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917, the focus of which was spies not newspapers.
The antagonism between government and the press has long been fueled by the hunting down and firing of high government leakers of classified material and subpoenas and imprisonment of reporters to force disclosure of confidential sources.
The criminal prosecution of journalists under the espionage laws would alter the nature of our democracy, the rules of engagement between government and press, the public's right to know. It would virtually shut down dissent. The focus no longer would be the leaker but the disseminator of the message, the press itself.
"I'm not sure journalists fully appreciate the threat confronting us," Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, wrote in an e-mail to Murray Waas of The National Journal. "The Times in the eavesdropping case, The Post for its CIA prison stories, and everyone else who tried to look behind the war on terror...Maybe some people are a little intimidated by the way the White House plays the soft-on-terror card...
"Some officials in this administration, and their more vociferous cheerleaders, seem to have a special animus towards reporters doing their jobs. There's sometimes a vindictive tone in the way they talk about dragging reporters before grand juries and in the hints that reporters who look too hard into the public's business risk being branded traitors...[S]ome days it sounds like the administration is declaring war at home on the values they profess to be promoting abroad."
The seminal event of journalistic courage occurred in 1971 when New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, stood his ground, despite dire warnings and cries of treason, and fought Richard Nixon all the way to the Supreme Court for the right to publish The Pentagon Papers, the government's top-secret study of the Vietnam War that exposed the long classified history of lies, deceptions and misjudgments that sucked the nation into the quagmire of Vietnam.
In 1972, the Pulitzer Prize was awarded to The New York Times for its "distinguished example of meritorious public service by a newspaper for the publication of The Pentagon Papers."
The Pulitzers have a long history of honoring greatness and guts.
In the end, The New York Times and The Washington Post who had joined in the litigation, served journalism and served the nation.
But ominous events continue to unfold. Cries of treason escalate daily with the further disclosure by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times of a secret government surveillance program of international banking records, a revelation condemned by the president as “disgraceful,” and decried by Vice President Cheney with vehemence. New York Republican congressman, Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has called openly for criminal prosecution of the Times under the Espionage Act and the National Review has asked the White House to revoke the newspaper’s press credentials.
The soul of America darkens, something tainted seeping into the American consciousness, America the beautiful, purple mountain majesties, such shining ideals. Where art thou?
We maintain faith in the First Amendment to the Constitution, the bulwark of democracy.
Free speech and a free press.
And if it is war on the press, if the press is under surveillance, if there is a witch hunt, we will not go down with the silence of the lambs.
The journalist is the guardian of the public trust.
The journalist is the conscience of the nation.