(updated below - updated again)
The Washington Post's Dana Priest is one of the nation's most accomplished and (in my view) most impressive journalists. Last year, she won the Pulitzer Prize for her superb work in uncovering and informing Americans about the Bush administration's network of Eastern European secret prisons -- CIA "black sites" at which detainees in U.S. custody are "interrogated" and held beyond the reach of the law or monitoring of any kind.
In a 2006 appearance on Meet the Press, Priest gave one of the most articulate and insightful defenses of the purpose of a free and adversarial press, and did so as she sat next to (and adeptly embarrassed) Bill Bennett, who was arguing that journalists like her and Jim Risen who expose the Leader's secrets should be imprisoned (an argument Bennett had made previously). And this interview Priest recently gave to PBS' Frontline (h/t E&P) is a genuinely compelling account of the true purposes of investigative reporting, of the unprecedented attempts to control information by the Bush administration, and of the severe flaws plaguing our nation's press corps.
Within the past few days, Priest (along with Post reporter Anne Hull) has published two separate, amply documented articles detailing the wretched conditions which the Bush administration has imposed on U.S. troops who are wounded in battle. Priest's articles powerfully demonstrate that those who exploit troops as a prop to shield themselves from criticism and justify a whole array of extremist policies could not, in fact, care any less for the welfare of the troops whom they exploit.
Today, in National Review's The Corner, Jonah Goldberg referenced the two Priest articles and said this:
I don't trust Dana Priest that much, and I am suspicious of some of possible motives behind the series, so with those caveats in mind, I still think the Post's series (See here and here ) on what some of our wounded troops go through is must-reading. Hospitals for vets returning from the front should be palaces and the last thing in the world any of them deserve are bureaucratic hassles. Though I should say that I've visited wounded troops and from my very limited experience they are surrounded by people who really do care.
So Jonah thinks that Dana Priest is an unreliable source, does not "trust" her, and is "suspicious" of her motives. So what does he propose instead in order to get to the bottom of this, to find the real truth here? This:
Still, here's an idea for Fox News. Take Geraldo Rivera off the Anna Nicole beat and put him full time on this one. I'm not exactly a huge fan of Rivera's but he launched his career exposing the scandalous condition of mental hospitals if I recall, and he has just the right amount of preening self-righteousness (see Hurrican [sic] Katrina) to scare the bejeebers [sic] out of the relevant bureaucrats and politicians.
That pretty much sums up what has happened to our country for the last six years. Evidence and information which reflects poorly on the Leader is suspect because it comes from the likes of Dana Priest, and things cannot be believed until Fox News' Geraldo Rivera -- currently on "the Anna Nicole beat" -- is able to look into things and tell us the real story.
UPDATE: Jonah adds two updates to his original post in which he defends himself by asserting that Priest "has something of an agenda in my opinion" -- without, as usual, bothering himself to provide any support whatsoever for that accusation. He does, though, bring himself to add: "I'm hardly the first person to raise such a complaint" -- without identifying anyone who previously made such allegations against Priest and, again, without providing any actual rationale for the accusation.
What kind of a person publicly hurls accusations like that -- that Priest's reporting is suspect and untrustworthy because she's driven by some secret "agenda" -- without offering even the slightest basis or documentation to enable the reader to assess if the accusations are true? The reality is that Priest is an investigative reporter whose articles sometimes reflect poorly on the conduct of the Bush administration. That is enough to know that she cannot be "trusted"; by itself, that constitutes "proof" that she is burdened by an "agenda."
Jonah then adds a new post in order to re-print an e-mail he received from an anonymous Marine claiming that "about 5% of the Marines we had [at Walter Reed] complained endlessly about their treatment" and that "the WaPo found almost all of them." So, as Attaturk points out in comments, this anonymous e-mail means that this is all much ado about nothing -- just a handful of petulant, self-involved whiners who were hyped by The Washington Post in order to create a story where there is none. That settles that. Scandal resolved. "This is, of course, good to hear," pronounces Jonah.
This is what Priest and Hull did to report this story:
Two Washington Post reporters spent hundreds of hours in Mologne House documenting the intimate struggles of the wounded who live there. The reporting was done without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials, but all those directly quoted in this article agreed to be interviewed.
the despair of Building 18 symbolizes a larger problem in Walter Reed's treatment of the wounded, according to dozens of soldiers, family members, veterans aid groups, and current and former Walter Reed staff members interviewed by two Washington Post reporters, who spent more than four months visiting the outpatient world without the knowledge or permission of Walter Reed officials. Many agreed to be quoted by name; others said they feared Army retribution if they complained publicly.
But the story is suspect because Jonah Goldberg says that Dana Priest -- who actually removes herself from her chair to do some of the country's most difficult and valuable investigative reporting -- has some unnamed, nefarious "agenda," and besides, Jonah got an e-mail from someone who says it's all exaggerated. So we need Fox and Geraldo to get the real story here.
This is how they try to discredit any and all journalists -- even ones who produce the most accomplished and thorough investigative reports -- who reveal facts which are politically adverse to the White House. That's how things were really, really great in Iraq all that time and the agenda-driven reporters were just trying to make it seem like things were going badly in order to hurt The President. Bush followers routinely smear disobedient journalists with accusations of harboring secret agendas and then insist that their anonymous e-mailers and Fox News reports are much more reliable.
UPDATE II: Several commenters make the case that my reading of Jonah's post is ungenerous, that he was merely suggesting a Geraldo story in an effort to bring more attention to the plight of these troops. More on that in a minute. But it is worth noting, as Scout does, that Jonah at least mentions and links to the Post stories, as contrasted with the conspicuous silence from virtually every other war-cheering commentator who otherwise never passes up an opportunity to feign concern for "The Troops" in order to advance their political agenda. So credit is at least due there.
Nonetheless, what is noteworthy, and clearly worthy of criticism, is Jonah's baseless and fact-less claim that Dana Priest harbors some "agenda" and her reporting is therefore suspect in terms of its motives. And, while my acknowledged admiration for Priest's reporting may admittedly be cause for bias in this matter, his comparing and/or contrasting her with Geraldo Rivera was just too much to ignore.
Finally, whatever benign intent might have been inferred from Jonah's original post was undermined, I think, by his subsequent posting with approval of that anonymous e-mail which had no purpose other than to suggest that this whole story was overblown and contrived. Either way, it simply is striking that upon reading those very lengthy, well-documented, and somewhat wrenching articles, Jonah's instinct was to question the reporters' credibility and quickly post an unverified e-mail designed to dilute the entire story. But that reaction is preferable, I suppose, to Jonah's fellow troop-exploiting warmongers, who seem to want to ignore the story completely.