Monday, November 14, 2005

What is Poland and Romania

The question being:

What are the names of the two Eastern European countries that Washington Post Media Notes columnist, Howard Kurtz, mysteriously leaves out of his column that is partly devoted to the controversy surrounding why "some liberals are angry that The Post agreed to a request by senior U.S. officials not to name the countries involved" in the secret prison story.

The bonus question might be:

How did the Washington Post find itself in Jeopardy?


Very strange.

Because even though Dana Priest didn't name Poland or Romania in the November 2nd article, Associated Press articles accessible at the Washington Post Website (one link, two links, three links) do sport the names.

Kurtz spoke to Priest:

"We are being accused of being in the pocket of the administration," Priest says. "One student called me up from a Virginia university to tell me they were burning the paper at a protest, because we're complicit in torture."

Kurtz spoke to some critics from the left:

Peter Kornbluh, senior analyst at the nonprofit National Security Archive, calls Priest a "brilliant reporter" and says she and The Post deserve credit for "groundbreaking work," and "her sources deserve credit for being courageous, too." But he sharply criticizes the paper's decision not to name the Eastern European countries, two of which were later identified by the Financial Times and other news outlets, citing information from the group Human Rights Watch.

"We are talking about the secret detention and abuse of prisoners," Kornbluh says. "There is an aspect of enabling this to go forward by yielding to the arguments these senior officials made. This is the most significant decision to withhold information since the Bay of Pigs, when President Kennedy twisted the arm of the publisher of the New York Times to take out key details" about the 1961 invasion of Cuba.

Writes Gal Beckerman of Columbia Journalism Review: "The Post is trying to have it both ways: getting credit for breaking the story, without breaking the specific details that might have caused it grief from the CIA."

Howard Kurtz is right about something. There is a Plame parallel.

It's just like when the Times pretended that Judith Miller's "entanglement" - I. Lewis Libby - hadn't already been outed by everyone else before they would admit it.

But it's just plain silly to run Associated Press articles that fill in the blanks. Obviously, The Washington Post is running scared.

From Dana Priest during a November 3rd online discussion:

Senior administration officials did persuade The Post not to publish the names of the Eastern European countries we identified. I could say they were not happy about the subject in general, but no one suggested we ditch the whole thing, although I'm sure they felt that way.

A reader later asked:

Dana-Congratulations on the amazing article. However, as a reader, one paragraph really jumped out at me:

"The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, 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."

Could you elaborate on your decision not to publish the names of the countries? Frankly, I find it amazing that The Post would withhold such information from the public. Don't you have a duty to the public -- both American and foreign -- to report the news?

Priest replied:

The decision was made by our executive editor, Len Downie, after many hours, over many days, of conversation and debate with a small number of people, myself include. So I can't speak for Len on whether it was an easy decision, but it certainly didn't feel like it. To me, it was a question of weighing the relative benefit to the story of naming the countries (exposing an illegal act in that country, authenticating a program that's been denied by the administration and that rests of unnamed sources) versus the potential risks of naming the countries; most notably that they might decide to curtail valuable counterterrorism cooperation with the US and that they might be subject to terrorist retaliation. Using the formulation "several Eastern European countries" seemed to address the authenticity and impact question.

Another reader:

Great Work!

How do you answer critics who point out this may be a 'leak' that could potentially compromise national security, ala the Plame leak?

Priest's reply:

I don't actually think the Plame leak compromised national security, from what I've been able to learn about her position. As for my article, we tried to minimize that by not naming the countries involved and, otherwise, no, I don't believe it compromised national security at all.

So Priest is saying that naming the countries would compromise national security.

If that's the case then why is WaPo letting those dirty Associated Press people compromise national security in it's own pages?

Sad. Sad. Sad.

Already this is looking like a pathetic defensive measure.

Poland and Romania are not underage rape victims.

How can one trust a newspaper that plays this kind of chicanery?

If they weren't carrying the A.P. articles one could say that at least they're being consistent.

But as the father from "That '70's Show" would put it: by trying to "have it both ways" they're behaving like a bunch of dumbasses.


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