Former WaPo reporters call for restraint on national security issues

Americans remain deeply divided over issues of national security, former Washington Post reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau said on Monday.

The Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters joined together in Washington to denounce war talk as “toxic sludge” and call on the nation’s political leaders to think twice before taking military action.

“This election is a choice for the next generation, for their children, for their grandchildren,” Lichtblau said at a panel at the Newseum. “There is a fundamental difference between having this war talk and taking military action, and both can have devastating consequences for U.S. military personnel and civilian bystanders.”

Lichtblau and Risen have published critical stories about the government’s warrantless surveillance programs, as well as the 2013 use of lethal drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, on the Op-Ed pages of the Post.

But they also frequently testify before Congress in favor of the government’s activities. Lichtblau took issue with the growing scrutiny the news media have received for its reporting on national security issues.

“To many people, the recent controversies we’ve seen in Washington are kind of emblematic of what the rules of the game are now. Which means the game is: If you feel threatened by us, you find out who we are and everything we do and you attack that person or organization,” Lichtblau said. “That is not a level playing field we have in mind.”

Risen said the media needs to become more skeptical.

“We must keep asking questions,” Risen said. “And the more we can demonstrate, clearly and indisputably, that we don’t write things that are inaccurate, we don’t write things that are distorted, we don’t write things that are misleading, we don’t run things into the ground, the more we’re telling the American people, the more we’re listening to them.”

Risen, who has faced criminal charges since 2009 under the Espionage Act in an attempt to quash his reporting, came to the same conclusion.

“Public opinion, that’s the main thing. Politicians listen to the public,” Risen said. “If the public is not going to trust this, then politicians will act in ways that they’re not going to in the event of yes, press criticism or the right reportage.”

The panel discussion was moderated by Heather Digby Parton, co-founder of the Nieman Foundation.

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