The Washington Post and the Guardian (U.S. edition) were both recognized with Pulitzer Prizes this week for their reporting on Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents. This...

The Washington Post and the Guardian (U.S. edition) were both recognized with Pulitzer Prizes this week for their reporting on Edward Snowden’s leaking of classified documents. This controversial topic has provoked a public debate over the balance between national security and personal freedoms. What are your thoughts on this debate, and what do you think of the prize being awarded in the “Public Service” category?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As someone who held security clearances with the U.S. Government for 23 years, and who signed the same forms as Edward Snowden committing to never divulge the information to which I was privy, I cannot condone his conduct, and do not believe newspapers who literally had the stories for which they were recognized by the Pulitzer Committee fall into their laps are deserving of such recognition.  I have helped whistleblowers and supported the passage of legislation designed to protect whistleblowers from punitive measures by the agencies for which they work.  I have no problem with Daniel Ellsberg leaking the history of the Vietnam War to the media, as that document was directly relevant to the source of Ellsberg's consternation.  In addition, exposure of the "Pentagon Papers" did not pose a threat to any U.S. citizen or foreign intelligence source working on behalf of the United States.  Similarly, corporate whistleblowers who act with the best interest of the public at heart in exposing corporate malfeasance, for example, automobile manufacturers who ignore safety warnings, are worthy of my respect and protection.  Edward Snowden and PFC Bradley Manning, however, are not candidates for my respect and are not deserving of protection as whistleblowers.

In both the Snowden and Manning cases, the individuals made no attempt to limit their disclosures to information or data directly related to the sources of their discontent.  This was especially the case with Manning, who simply engaged in a huge document dump that served primarily to undermine U.S. diplomatic efforts around the world and which had zero connection to the source of his grievance, the conduct of U.S. military operations in Iraq.  Snowden's "leak" was more specific to the causes of his grievances, and those grievances are valid.  The American public does have the right to know that its government has potentially violated its constitutional rights to privacy and has violated legal protections against unwarranted searches.  I have no argument with that proposition.  Furthermore, I was entirely sympathetic to Snowden's initial exposure of information, as those early reports did indicate government excesses that deserved public airing.  I turned against Snowden, however, when he did two things: (A) fled the country to take up residency in foreign countries hostile to the U.S. (in terms of national security) and whose intelligence services are active opponents of U.S. interests, and (B) leaked to the media far more documentation than was necessary or warranted to make his point.

When I took the oath of secrecy, which was renewed every five years, I accepted that it would not be my place to determine unilaterally what classified information should or should not remain classified.  Snowden could have easily made his case with a far more limited exposure of information that he had agreed not to divulge in the first place.  That decision by him, as well as his decision to run from the consequences of his actions and hide out in a country that -- end of the Cold War aside -- remains a potential adversary (witness, for instance, ongoing events in eastern Ukraine and in Moldova) leaves me to conclude that he is guilty of treason.  That newspapers had a field-day publishing articles based upon Snowden's leaks is not a testament to the courage and competency of those newspapers, but to their willingness to publicize information without regard for the consequences -- information for which they did not have to dig, but which was handed to them by the aforementioned traitor.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The answers above are excellent, and I have little to add to their commentary other than the observation that these awards seem to have been given as a kind of political or humanitarian approval for Snowden's actions.

These awards remind me of Barack Obama's receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, before he ever really even had the opportunity to prove himself on the world's stage. It seems to me that this award was based on a kind of optimistic hopefulness rather than on any substantive evidence that the President of the United States had accomplished anything in the way of world peace.

In the same way, the Pulitzer Prizes given to the Washington Post and the Guardian seem to be more of a stamp of international approval for Snowden's traitorous actions than a real award for real journalistic endeavors. One proof of that, of course, is that the awards were given in the category of "Public Service" rather than for writing or reporting. It does seem as if the rest of the world does enjoy seeing the United States being taken town a peg, and Edward Snowden's actions certainly managed to do just that.

As mentioned in earlier posts, what these reporters did was not really reporting; instead they took what they were given and published it. That is a simplistic view, I know, but it is not far from the reality. In contrast, consider the past finalists and winners for investigative reporting (linked below). These reporters spent months and even years doing the gritty and sometimes risky work of uncovering a heinous or widespread wrong. They followed leads, found sources, and wrote what they discovered. That's reporting.

The only thing that makes these Pulitzer awards at all palatable is that they were not given for investigative reporting. Snowden is not a patriot, as these awards seem to infer, and those who published the information he gave them are not exemplary journalists simply because they did so. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that Snowden has done more ill than good with his disclosures, and he has certainly gone beyond the parameters of professional integrity. What is also disturbing is how major newspapers selectively report on issues. For, while myriad reports have been made on this First Amendment issue with Snowden, yet others dealing with the same Amendment go unreported. For example, there were few papers that took up the targeting of Fox reporter James Rosen by the White House. The New Yorker reported that the government subpoenaed Rosen’s private e-mails while accusing him of being “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in an alleged crime. Said The New Yorker:

Rosen was not charged with any crime, but it is unprecedented for the government, in an official court document, to accuse a reporter of breaking the law for conducting the routine business of reporting on government secrets.

In addition, there were journalists who were not permitted to report what they knew about the attack on the embassy in Benghazi. Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Atkisson recently has come out and said,

"I think had many legitimate questions yet to be asked and answered. Interest was largely lost in that story as well on the part of the people responsible for deciding what goes on the news.”

Interestingly, the break-in of the Watergate Hotel long ago was relegated to the back pages of The Washington Post, but CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite pursued this story and, as a result, a president left office, but he was in a different political party. Now, stories are killed unless they suit some certain function that usually must agree with political designs. 

Snowden's story is not one that The Washington Post should have won the Pulitzer Prize for; there were others even more disturbing.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is very hard, and perhaps impossible, for me to add anything to what kipling2448 has to say.  What he says completely matches my point of view.

I would say that the newspapers did very little that was praiseworthy.  If they wanted to expose certain types of wrongdoing on the part of our government, they should have limited their disclosures to those leaks from Snowden or Manning that were actually relevant to that particular sort of wrongdoing.  Reporting, for example, on leaks about the ways in which our diplomats were talking about political leaders in the countries to which they were posted was completely unrelated to any sort of wrongdoing on the part of our government.  The leakers leaked things indiscriminately, seemingly more for the purpose of calling attention to themselves than for the purpose of actually combatting government wrongdoing.  The newspapers took this windfall and published anything that might garner interest, not things that were legitimately connected to actual wrongdoing.

I do not think that the leakers or the papers did much in the way of a public service.  In particular, the papers did not do anything that is very worthy of praise as they did not do Watergate-style investigation but rather simply printed things that had been given to them out of the blue.

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