BROOKE GLADSTONE: Meanwhile, in Washington, an acrimonious argument over continuing hearings on Iraqi prison abuse. The president and his congressional allies see it one way--
GEORGE W. BUSH: Under the dictator, prisons like Abu Ghraib were symbols of death and torture. That same prison became a symbol of disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Others in Congress claim the blame goes much higher, and they say that the half dozen Pentagon inquiries now completed or ongoing won't reveal the truth, because the Army cannot investigate itself. The Senate Armed Services Committee is eager to keep probing, House Republicans charge it with playing politics, and the reporting goes on, fueled by Congress. It's quite a change from last November when investigative reporter Scott Armstrong told us that the coverage of the run up to war had been over-cautious because of congressional passivity. Congress, he said, is supposed to act as a kind of anvil, providing a platform for stories in which journalists can hammer out the truth. Without Congress, reporters had to initiate investigations and risk being charged with bias. In the nervous days post-9/11, it rarely happened.
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: What happens is, when you don't have a public forum, when you don't have either a congressional committee, when you don't have that anvil, the media is insecure -- it feels that it's not able to pin it down. It's looking for other people to take the responsibility, and so it writs it in a very namby-pamby way. Right now, we're swinging the media hammer, and it's just flying through the air. It's not hitting anything. The Congress isn't there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, Scott, six months and many congressional hearings later on 9/11 and Abu Ghraib, are we finally hearing the clanging of hammer hitting anvil?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: I think we're beginning to hear some clanking. These pictures have made it very difficult to ignore the issues that underlie them, so both sides -- the media and the Congress -- are beginning to ask questions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And of course the anvil that started it off, I guess, was 60 Minutes II by offering those pictures to the public. Does that mean that the media finally functioned as anvil first and then the Congress assumed the role?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Well, between the probing of 60 Minutes, their bringing it out to national attention, and the fact that one of the most aggressive investigative reporters in, in America, for that matter, in the world, Seymour Hersh has been on this from the beginning, has made it pretty hard to ignore.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, let's talk about the Seymour Hersh factor. He's the famous investigative reporter who has been reporting on Abu Ghraib in the New Yorker. If the photos had been there but Seymour Hersh's reporting hadn't been there, where do you think this investigation would be now?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Well, we'd be getting some questions posed by Congress, but I think they'd be accepting the answers that would be coming out of Secretary Rumsfeld or have come out of Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz and a variety of the military people. Remember that the report itself said that this was something that happened because of lack of supervision, poor command and control. But basically it was a few bad apples, and what Hersh has done is to say - it doesn't make any sense. A bunch of kids don't come up with methods to humiliate and torture people that are highly sophisticated psychological methods. What Hersh is saying is that this is a military intelligence, not a military prison, problem. It's a story where Hersh has an editorial line, and it seems to be coming together pretty well.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So then, getting back to the process, the key to this symbiotic relationship between Congress and the media are investigative reporters who are willing to stick their necks out when most of the media outlets are waiting for Congress or some photos to appear?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Well, it -- the investigative journalist is the one who really picks out that piece of metal that's going to be shaped by the hammer and the anvil, and he puts it in a way that the process of shaping it doesn't stop with just one or two raps. And that's why - the reason this one is good is it starts with pictures about prison abuse, but it takes you into the heart of the intelligence community -what they were doing - what they were thinking--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay. So then, thanks to Hersh and thanks to pictures, the anvil and hammer are working fast and furious on the Abu Ghraib story, but absent those particular elements, has Congress and the media continued to drop the ball on important stories?
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: Well the underlying feature of this story is that the individuals involved that haven't been questioned, haven't answered questions, are involved also in the search for the weapons of mass destruction. They're involved in the question of how we're pursuing the war against terrorism. There's a little body of highly secretive organizations within the Pentagon, within the CIA that are responsible for this, and we have not seen them have to face any scrutiny or any light. The press will nibble around the edges, but they will gradually begin to get pieces of it if Congress pursues it. No I'm, I'm still skeptical as to whether or not the Congress and the mass media really have the, the willingness to pursue this, to try and find out what's happened. There's still too many images that come up from 9/11. There are too many times when terrorism and the threat that Al Qaeda is now in Iraq are used to try and damper the story. It's an awful lot to ask of the press, given the poor performance so far, to ask tough questions of the president. What did he know and when did he know it. There needs to be a lot of intermediate bridges that are going to be followed up. I'm not sure they're there.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So this clang and bang that you're hearing is a temporary condition brought about by some pictures and by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, and you don't really see hope for a continuing trend -- a kind of momentum.
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: No, I always have hope. That's what journalism is. [LAUGHTER] Journalism is the reporting of information with the hope that somebody will actually use it. And when things change as a result of people's asking questions and demanding answers and not being satisfied with the answers that they're given that are the made-up answers long before, that are the go-away-and-leave-me-alone answers -- once they probe beyond those, you really have something that's very interesting. That's how a democracy is supposed to function. And the press likes it. The Congress likes it. At least some of the Congress likes it. So there's - I, there's some reason for optimism. It could work.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Scott, thank you so much.
SCOTT ARMSTRONG: And thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Scott Armstrong is a Washington journalist and founder of the National Security Archive.