Schieffer Denounces “Dubious First” Firing of Leaker & Totenberg Praises Stories

At least one leading mainstream journalists isn't too happy about the revelation Friday that on Thursday the CIA fired an official who admitted being the leaker of top secret information about CIA prisons overseas used to hold al-Qaeda suspects. Bob Schieffer didn't withhold his personal opinion from his newscast as he introduced a CBS Evening News story by asserting that “it is no secret that the current administration does not like its people hanging out with news reporters without permission” and he described the firing as “a first -- a dubious first, to be sure.”

Citing the Washington Post story on the then-secret prisons and the New York Times article disclosing terrorist surveillance efforts, both of which won Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, NPR's Nina Totenberg declared on Inside Washington that nefarious Bush administration practices justified the decision to reward the two newspapers: "It's a good thing that they won for those intelligence stories because the Bush administration is investigating now and is threatening to subpoena and conceivably jail those reporters. So I think it's important that those stories be rewarded as something important to have done." (Transcripts follow.)

CBS's story didn't name the CIA staff member and neither did ABC's World News Tonight which held itself to a short item read by the anchor. Friday afternoon on MSNBC, and on the NBC Nightly News, Andrea Mitchell identified the fired CIA employee as Mary McCarthy of the CIA's Inspector General's office. MSNBC.com's story, by Robert Windrem and Mitchell, reported:
In a rare occurrence, the CIA fired an officer who acknowledged giving classified information to a reporter, NBC News learned Friday.

The officer flunked a polygraph exam before being fired on Thursday and is now under investigation by the Justice Department, NBC has learned.

Intelligence sources tell NBC News the accused officer, Mary McCarthy, worked in the CIA's inspector general's office and had worked for the National Security Council under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

The leak pertained to stories on the CIA’s rumored secret prisons in Eastern Europe, sources told NBC. The information was allegedly provided to Dana Priest of the Washington Post, who wrote about CIA prisons in November and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday for her reporting.

Sources said the CIA believes McCarthy had more than a dozen unauthorized contacts with Priest. Information about subjects other than the prisons may have been leaked as well....

[UPDATE: Saturday's New York Times reported: "Public records show that Ms. McCarthy contributed $2,000 in 2004 to the presidential campaign of John Kerry, the Democratic nominee."]

That Priest story was a November 2 front page article, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons: Debate Is Growing Within Agency About Legality and Morality of Overseas System Set Up After 9/11.” See this Post page for a collection of Priest's 2005 stories for which she won the Pultizer “for her persistent, painstaking reports on secret 'black site' prisons and other controversial features of the government’s counterterrorism campaign.” My April 18 NewsBusters item, “Pulitzer Prizes Award Journalists Who Undermined Anti-Terrorism Programs,” provided a rundown of the honoring of Priest and New York Times reporter James Risen, as well as of Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan for her shots at conservatives.

Schieffer introduced the April 21 CBS Evening News story:
“It is no secret that the current administration does not like its people hanging out with news reporters without permission. But the administration took that concern to a new level today and scored a first -- a dubious first, to be sure -- but a first. Jim Stewart has more on that.”

Later, on Inside Washington aired at 8:30pm EDT on Washington, DC's PBS affiliate, WETA-TV channel 26 (and which will re-air at 7pm Saturday on Washington's cable NewsChannel 8 and again at 10am Sunday on Washington's ABC affiliate, WJLA-TV channel 7 where it was taped Friday afternoon), NPR's Nina Totenberg argued:
“It's a lucky thing that the New York Times and the Washington Post -- not a lucky, it's a good thing that they won for those intelligence stories because the Bush administration is investigating now and is threatening to subpoena and conceivably jail those reporters. So I think it's important that those stories be rewarded as something important to have done....”

“One of the things that a civilized and democratic society is supposed to do is have a system of checks and balances. And this administration did not allow that system of checks and balances to exist. Congress didn't know about this stuff by in large, it didn't approve of this stuff by in large. And the administration has not tried to institute any sort of mechanisms, legal, any legal mechanisms to put, have anybody from outside check them.”

Fellow panelist Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist, retorted: “In the NSA case, that's simply not so. There were eight top leaders in the Congress who knew about the program. To say that Congress was not informed is simply wrong.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center