Edward Snowden Leaks Earn Pulitzer Prize For Washington Post, Guardian
The Washington Post and The Guardian have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the Public Service category for their stories resulting out of the leaks of classified information from the National Security Agency by Edward Snowden:
The Washington Post won two Pulitzer Prizes on Monday, including the prestigious public-service medal for a series of stories that exposed the National Security Agency’s massive global surveillance programs.
A team of 28 Post journalists, led by reporter Barton Gellman, shared the public-service award with the British-based Guardian newspaper, which also reported extensively about the NSA’s secret programs. Both Gellman and Glenn Greenwald, then the Guardian’s lead reporter on the NSA pieces, based their articles on classified documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former government contractor who has fled to exile in Russia, lending a controversial edge to this year’s awards.
The awards to The Post and Guardian for their NSA reporting are likely to generate debate, much like the Pulitzer board’s decision to award it public service medal to the New York Times in 1972 for its disclosures of the Pentagon Papers, a secret government history of the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.
In both the NSA and Pentagon Papers stories, the reporting was based on leaks of secret documents by government contractors. Both Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg — who leaked the Pentagon Papers to Times’ reporter Neil Sheehan — were called traitors for their actions. And both the leakers and the news organizations that published stories were accused by critics, including members of Congress, for enabling espionage and harming national security.
But Post executive editor Martin Baron said Monday 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.”
Gellman, 53, said, “This has been a hard, consequential story, which could have gone wrong in all kinds of ways. I’m thrilled at the recognition for The Post and honestly I’m relieved that we didn’t screw it up.”
On the issues surrounding the story, he said, “We have been as careful as we could be to balance the public interests in self-government and self-defense. We consulted with the responsible officials on every story and held back operational details. But we were not prepared to withhold the secret policy decisions the government is making for us and the surveillance it’s directing against us. The public gets to have a say on those things. Enabling that debate is exactly what a great news organization should be doing.”
Regardless of what one thinks about the legality or morality of what Snowden did, or of the NSA programs themselves, it seems fairly clear that the Post and Guardian reporting teams fully deserve this award. Much like the New York Times coverage of the Pentago Papers leaks in 1971, their coverage last year of the information that Snowden made public served the important and necessary role of informing the American public of actions that the government was undertaking in the name of the so-called “War On Terror.” As a result, we continue to find ourselves in the midst of a debate regarding technology, privacy, and the appropriate limits that should be placed on government under the Fourth Amendment notwithstanding the alleged public interest in gathering this information without warrants and with little actual oversight from independent authorities. Had it not been for Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and the other reporters who have covered this story and its ongoing aftermath we would not be having that debate today.
The logical question that follows from today’s award, of course, is what if anything it should mean in evaluating Edward Snowden’s actions. On some level, he’s now no different from Daniel Ellsberg, who turned over the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times which ultimately won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on those documents and what they meant for the Vietnam War and American foreign policy going forward. As I’ve said before, Snowden certainly hasn’t helped his case by fleeing first to China and then to Russia, while also seeking asylum in nations such as Venezuela and Bolivia. However, the argument in his defense that he feared being treated in the same manner that Bradley Manning was is one that I can at least by sympathetic to in some regard. Additionally, I think it’s possible to separate Snowen the person from what he did last year when he helped publicize the extent to which an agency that most Americans had barely even heard of was gathering information about them and countless other people around the world. In at least that respect, he performed as much of a public service as the reporters who reported on the information he gave them.