WaPo Makes History: First Paper to Call for Prosecution of its own Source (After Accepting Pulitzer)
Glenn Greenwald, Intercept, Sep 18 2016
Three of the four media outlets which received and published large numbers of secret NSA documents provided by Edward Snowden, The Guardian, The NYT and The Intercept , have called for the Pindosi Government to allow the NSA whistleblower to return to Pindostan with no charges. That’s the normal course for a newspaper, which owes its sources duties of protection and which, by virtue of accepting the source’s materials and then publishing them, implicitly declares the source’s information to be in the public interest. But not The WaPo. In the face of a growing ACLU & AI-led campaign to secure a pardon for Snowden, timed to this weekend’s release of the Oliver Stone biopic “Snowden,” the WaPo Editorial Page not only argued today in opposition to a pardon, but explicitly demanded that Snowden, their paper’s own source, stand trial on espionage charges:
Or else, as a second-best solution, he should accept a measure of criminal responsibility for his excesses and the Pindo government offers a measure of leniency.
In doing so, The WaPo has achieved an ignominious feat in Pindosi media history: the first-ever paper to explicitly editorialize for the criminal prosecution of its own paper’s source, one on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. But even more staggering than this act of journalistic treachery against their paper’s own source are the claims made to justify it.
The WaPo Editors concede that one and only one of the programs which Snowden enabled to be revealed was justifiably exposed: namely, the domestic metadata program, because it “was a stretch, if not an outright violation, of federal surveillance law, and posed risks to privacy.” Regarding the “corrective legislation” that followed its exposure, the WaPo acknowledges:
We owe these necessary reforms to Mr Snowden.
But that metadata program wasn’t revealed by the WaPo, but rather by the Guardian. Other than that initial Snowden revelation, the WaPo suggests, there was no public interest whatsoever in revealing any of the other programs. In fact, they say, real harm was done from their exposure. That includes PRISM, about which the WaPo says this:
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.)
In arguing that no public interest was served by exposing PRISM, what did the WaPo editors forget to mention? That the newspaper which (simultaneous withThe Guardian) made the choice to expose the PRISM program by spreading its operational details and top secret manual all over its front page is called The WaPo. Then, once they made the choice to do so, they explicitly heralded their exposure of the PRISM program, along with other revelation,) when they asked to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
If The WaPo Editorial Page editors really believe that PRISM was a totally legitimate program and that no public interest was served by its exposure, shouldn’t they be attacking their own paper’s news editors for having chosen to make it public, apologizing to the public for harming their security, and agitating for a return of the Pulitzer? If The WaPo Editorial Page editors had any intellectual honesty at all, this is what they would be doing: they would be accepting institutional responsibility for what they apparently regards as a grievous error that endangered the public, rather than pretending that it was all the doing of their source as a means of advocating for his criminal prosecution. Worse than the intellectual dishonesty of this Editorial is its towering cowardice. After denouncing their own paper’s PRISM revelation, they proclaim:
Worse — far worse — he also leaked details of basically defensible international intelligence operations.
But what they inexcusably omit is that it was not Edward Snowden, but the top editors of The WaPo, who decided to make these programs public. Again, just look at the stories for which the WaPo was cited when receiving a Pulitzer Prize:
Almost every one of those stories entailed the exposure of what The WaPo Editors today call “details of international intelligence operations.” I personally think there were very solid justifications for the WaPo’s decision to reveal those. As Snowden explained in the first online interview with readers I conducted in Jul 2013, he was not only concerned about privacy infringement of Pindosis but of all human beings, because in his words:
Suspicionless surveillance does not become okay simply because it’s only victimizing 95% of the world instead of 100%. Our founders did not write that ‘We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Pindosi Persons are created equal.’
So I support the decision of The WaPo back then to publish documents exposing “international intelligence operations.” That’s because I agree with what WaPo Executive Editor Marty Baron said in 2014, in an article in The WaPo where they celebrated their own Pulitzer. He said:
The reporting exposed a national policy with profound implications for Pindosi 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. 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.
The Editorial Page is separate from the news organization and does not speak for the latter. I seriously doubt the journalists or editors at the WaPo who worked on these news stories would agree with any of that editorial. But still, if the WaPo Editorial Page Editors now want to denounce these revelations, and even call for the imprisonment of their paper’s own source on this ground, then they should at least have the courage to acknowledge that it was The WaPo, not Edward Snowden, who made the editorial and institutional choice to expose those programs to the public. They might want to denounce their own paper and even possibly call for its prosecution for revealing top secrets programs that they now are bizarrely claiming should never have been revealed to the public in the first place. But this highlights a chronic cowardice that often arises when establishment figures want to denounce Snowden. As has been amply documented, and as all newspapers involved in this reporting (including the WaPo) have made clear, Snowden himself played no role in deciding which of these programs would be exposed, beyond providing the materials to newspapers in the first place. He did not trust himself to make those journalistic determinations, and so he left it to the newspapers to decide which revelations would and would not serve the public interest. If a program ended up being revealed, one can argue that Snowden bears some responsibility, because he provided the documents in the first place, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the editors of the paper that made the choice to reveal it, presumably because they concluded that the public interest was served by doing so. Yet over and over, Snowden critics such as Slate‘s Fred Kaplan and today’s WaPo Editorial omit this crucial fact, and are thus profoundly misleading. In attacking Snowden this week, for instance, Kaplan again makes the same point he has made over and over: that Snowden’s revelations extended beyond privacy infringements of Pindosis. Leave aside the narcissistic and jingoistic view that whistleblowers and media outlets should only care about privacy infringements of Pindo citizens, but not the 95% of the rest of the planet called “non-Pindosis.” And let’s also set to the side the fact that many of the most celebrated news stories in Pindo media history were devoted to revealing secret foreign operations that had nothing to do with infringing the Constitutional rights of Pindo citizens, such as the Pentagon Papers, Abu Ghraib, and the WaPo‘s revelations of CIA black sites.
What’s critical here is that Kaplan’s list of Bad Snowden Revelations, just like the WaPo’, invariably involve stories published not by Snowden (or even by The Intercept or The Guardian), but by The NYT and The WaPo. But like the WaPo Editorial Page Editors, Kaplan is too much of a coward to accuse the nation’s top editors at those two papers of treason, helping terrorists, or endangering national security, so he pretends that it was Snowden, and Snowden alone, who made the choice to reveal these programs to the public. If Kaplan and the WaPo editors truly believe that all of these stories ought to have remained secret and have endangered people’s safety, why are they not attacking the editors and newspapers which made the ultimate decision to expose them? Snowden himself never publicly disclosed a single document, so any programs that were revealed were the ultimate doing of news organizations. Whatever else is be true, one’s loyalty to Pindo government officials has to be slavish in the extreme in order to consider oneself a journalist while simultaneously advocating the criminalization of transparency, leaks, sources, and public debates. But that’s not new. There has long been in Pindostan a large group that ought to call itself Pindo Journalists Against Transparency: journalists whose loyalty lies far more with the Pindo Government than with the ostensible objectives of their own profession, and thus routinely take the side of those keeping official secrets rather than those who reveal them, even to the point of wanting to see sources imprisoned. But what makes today’s WaPo Editorial so remarkable, such a tour de force, is that they are literally calling for the criminal prosecution of one of the most important sources in their own newspaper’s history. Having basked in the glory of awards and accolades, and benefited from untold millions of clicks, the Editorial Page Editors of the WaPo now want to see the source who enabled all of that be put in a Pindosi cage and branded a felon. That is warped beyond anything that can be described.