Will The Washington Post Give Back Its Pulitzer And Stand Trial With Snowden?

from the senseless dept

We already know that the Washington Post editorial board has some cognitive dissonance when it comes to Ed Snowden. Three years ago, right after the Washington Post itself, via reporter Barton Gellman, broke a bunch of the initial stories around the Ed Snowden documents -- including the first public report on the Section 702 PRISM program -- the editorial board wrote a piece condemning Snowden's leaks. Now, it's true (as many point out) that the editorial board is separate from the reporters who work at the paper, but it still is really quite amazing that the editorial board would not only burn a source like that but basically complain about its own journalism.

It appears that three years later, the Post's editorial board has not changed its perspective. In response to the campaign to pardon Snowden, the Washington Post has come out with a tone deaf editorial against pardoning Snowden, calling for him to be prosecuted, and insisting that Snowden caused real harm with the revelations. Here's the really incredible part. The Post focuses its complaint on the revelation of the PRISM program -- and that is the story that the Post broke. Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian had the first story, about the Section 215 mass phone records surveillance program. But it was the Post that had the first story about PRISM. And yet, the Washington Post now says that while revealing the 215 program may have been a public service, revealing PRISM was a crime.
The complication is that Mr. Snowden did more than that. He also pilfered, and leaked, information about a separate overseas NSA Internet-monitoring program, PRISM, that was both clearly legal and not clearly threatening to privacy. (It was also not permanent; the law authorizing it expires next year.) Worse — far worse — he also leaked details of basically defensible international intelligence operations: cooperation with Scandinavian services against Russia; spying on the wife of an Osama bin Laden associate; and certain offensive cyber operations in China. No specific harm, actual or attempted, to any individual American was ever shown to have resulted from the NSA telephone metadata program Mr. Snowden brought to light. In contrast, his revelations about the agency’s international operations disrupted lawful intelligence-gathering, causing possibly “tremendous damage” to national security, according to a unanimous, bipartisan report by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. What higher cause did that serve?
Except it wasn't Ed Snowden who publicly revealed information about PRISM. It was the Washington Post. And it won a freaking Pulitzer Prize for that reporting as well. And now it says that the revelation of that program should never have happened?

Really?

Remember that, while many people falsely think that Snowden is the one who revealed these programs to the public, that's not the case. He gave the documents to certain journalists, saying that he trusted them to sort through them and determine what was newsworthy, what was not, and what should be kept secret. It was the Washington Post that determined the PRISM program -- which is still subject to legal challenges (though so far has been found to be legal) -- was serious enough for news coverage. Not Ed Snowden. And yet now the Post says Snowden should be prosecuted for the journalistic decision it made, which earned it a Pulitzer.

Yes, the Post editorial board is free to make such a stupid decision, but it's only going to harm its journalistic staff. What source is going to go to the Washington Post now, when it's the very paper that took all the glory from publishing stories from a source -- and then called for him to be thrown in jail?

Here's what the Washington Post's Executive Editor Marty Baron said about the Pulitzer Prize when it was announced:
Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said Monday that the reporting exposed a national policy “with profound implications for American citizens’ constitutional rights” and the rights of individuals around the world.

“Disclosing the massive expansion of the NSA’s surveillance network absolutely was a public service,” Baron said. “In constructing a surveillance system of breathtaking scope and intrusiveness, our government also sharply eroded individual privacy. All of this was done in secret, without public debate, and with clear weaknesses in oversight.”

Baron added that without Snowden’s disclosures, “we never would have known how far this country had shifted away from the rights of the individual in favor of state power. There would have been no public debate about the proper balance between privacy and national security. As even the president has acknowledged, this is a conversation we need to have.”
Hmm. That doesn't seem to fit with what his own editorial board is now saying about Snowden's revelations. When asked about this now, in response to the editorial, Baron suddenly came down with a case of the "no comments."
In an email response to Fortune, Post editor-in-chief Marty Baron said: “I don’t comment on editorials. As you know, that department is entirely separate from the newsroom. You should contact Bart Gellman.”
Gellman, of course, is the reporter who wrote those stories for the Post and who has said he "profoundly" disagrees with the Post's editorial.

As he should, because the editorial is not just tone deaf and ridiculous, it's cowardly bullshit that massively harms the reputation of the Post itself, and certainly undermines its credibility with sources.

Filed Under: 702, barton gellman, ed snowden, editorial board, journalism, mass surveillance, pardon snowden, sources
Companies: washington post


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  1. identicon
    Chuck, 20 Sep 2016 @ 8:52am

    No

    No, they won't. Glad we got that settled.

    That said, the Pulitzer committee (I do believe that's a thing, but maybe the people who give out that award have a more formal name? Too lazy to look that up right now...) might consider rescinding the award.

    The vast majority of the "journalism" here - reviewing the documents, ensuring proper sections were redacted, etc - was done by The Guardian in the UK, not by ANY US paper. idk if foreign papers are eligible for Pulitzer awards, but if they are, then The Guardian should've gotten the award in the first place. WaPo never did much more than repackage The Guardian's work for a US Audience. None of the due diligence fell on their shoulders. All they had to do was American-ize the Brits work.

    Considering how ungrateful they're being, and assuming that foreign papers are eligible, I say just transfer the award to the people who did the real work.

    Who knows, maybe it might teach reporters at US Newspapers how to be, yanno, actual Journalists again. (Hint: You have to be more detective, less author and typist.)

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