Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter speaks on government secrecy

Lyssa Beyer

Before attending Thursday night’s Ann Devroy Memorial Forum, senior Laura Ave’Lallemant said she had never heard of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal, where hospital and medical conditions were sub-par for the injured veterans staying at the center.

However, she said the forum taught her that both journalists as well as the general public need to take a more active role in exposing the truth.

“We need to make sure government tells us everything we need to know,” she said. “Journalists need to be in everywhere to make sure we are getting talked to.”

Featured speaker Dana Priest of The Washington Post has reported extensively on CIA interrogation techniques, the 9/11 attacks and the failure of the pre-war intelligence in Iraq. In 2006, she won a Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting on CIA secret prisons and counterterrorism operations overseas. Earlier this year she received her second Pulitzer for the Walter Reed story.

Priest discussed multiple topics from the Walter Reed scandal to the delicate balance between media and government. She said the framers of the U.S. Constitution trusted neither the press nor government. Therefore, she said the Constitution was intended to establish a contest between the two.

“It is the media’s responsibility to play our role in the contest,” Priest said, “for it is the contest itself that serves the public interest.”

She said after September 11, the United States government increased the amount of information it deemed “classified.” She said increased intelligence gathering has led to deeper relationships around the world with foreign intelligence agencies with the goal of capturing terrorists. However, she said it has also led to missing people and violations of both international and domestic law.

“(Journalists) cannot fail,” she said. “Or else we can have the same mistakes as we did in Walter Reed.”

Senior Carly Borak said there is information that the government should not have to release, but she said journalists are responsible for asking the tough questions.

“The public needs to know certain information in order to protect themselves,” Borak said.

Ave’Lallemant said journalists need to do a better job of watching government, because the government will not simply give out important information, the public must demand it.

“If everything is classified, then how do we know what is going on?” she said. “It is really hard to get classified information but that’s the information we want and need.”

Priest said her Walter Reed reporting taught her the importance of blending into the environment. She said it has proven to be the best way to get vital information if the government is not talking.

“Sometimes you have to get the story a different way,” Priest said. “Because it is not always going to come with the government’s help.”

In memory of 1970 UW-Eau Claire graduate and Washington Post reporter Ann Devroy, who died of cancer in 1998, the Ann Devroy Fund was established to encourage and assist journalism students to emulate Devroy’s professional achievements. A fellowship is given every year to a student who shows exceptional promise and ability as a journalist.

Sophomore Janie Boschma won the fellowship this year. She will spend three weeks at The Washington Post in January. The fellowship also comes with a summer internship at a Wisconsin newspaper.