The Pultizer Prize Honors Heroes, Not 'Traitors'
April 17, 2014
Edward Snowden / Reader Supported News & Juan Cole / JuanCole.com & Amy Davidson / The New Yorker
The Pulitzer Prize committee's opinion that Edward Snowden is a public servant rather than a traitor or criminal, as evidenced in its award to The Guardian and The Washington Post for their reporting from his trove of government documents, is a scandal on the American Right. But it is not a new scandal. Journalism is about the public's right to know what our government is up to. The National Security State is about preventing us from knowing what it is up to.
'I Am Grateful to the Pulitzer Prize Committee'
Edward Snowden / Reader Supported News
(April 15, 2014) -- I am grateful to the committee for their recognition of the efforts of those involved in the last year's reporting, and join others around the world in congratulating Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, Ewen MacAskill and all of the others at The Guardian and Washington Post on winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Today's decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance.
This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. My efforts would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers, and they have my gratitude and respect for their extraordinary service to our society. Their work has given us a better future and a more accountable democracy.
Top 6 Pulitzer Prize "Traitors" in American Journalism
Juan Cole / JuanCole.com
(April 15, 2014) -- The Pulitzer Prize committee's opinion that Edward Snowden is a public servant rather than a traitor or criminal, as evidenced in its award to The Guardian and The Washington Post for their reporting from his trove of government documents, is a scandal on the American Right. But it is not a new scandal. Journalism is about the public's right to know what our government is up to. The National Security State is about preventing us from knowing what it is up to.
The potential for black cells to operate within the secret government, beyond oversight of any elected official, should be obvious. Those who value order and authority and obedience over critical public debate abhor investigative journalism. Always have, always will. Voltaire had to flee several courts and several cities over the course of his lifetime, because of his writings, under threat of arbitrary royal decrees.
The other impact of the Pulitzer to The Guardian (USA edn) is to lay to rest the question of whether Glenn Greenwald is a journalist. Of course he is, and a very good one, but the middle-of-the-road American tradition of faux ‘objectivity' of tone in journalism had led some to view him as an ‘activist.' Note that Judith Miller was not tagged in a similar way, so apparently having strong commitments is only bad if they rock the boat of the Establishment.
Eve Berliner reminded us that the Pulitzer has gone in the past to persons viewed by the Right as traitors. She quotes the odious Bill Bennett, who served in the Reagan and Bush senior administrations, regarding Dana Priest, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, who won Pulitzers in 2006 for reporting that revealed W. Bush's resort to torture and warrantless surveillance:
""These reporters took classified information, secret information, published it in their newspapers, against the wishes of the President and others that they not release it. . . As a result are they punished? Are they in shame? Are they embarrassed? Are they arrested? No, they win Pulitzer Prizes. I don't think what they did was worthy of an award. I think what they did is worthy of jail. . .
"These people who reveal our secrets, who hurt our war effort, who hurt the efforts of our CIA, who hurt the efforts of the President's people, they shouldn't be given prizes and awards for this. They should be looked into under the Espionage Act."
And we who actually believe in the US constitution, Mr. Bennett, view them as heroes and view you as a miserable toady. So here is a review of some of these remarkable individuals who have done what they could to stanch the blood of our perhaps mortally wounded liberties:
1. Glenn Greenwald, then of The Guardian newspaper, which won the Pulitzer this year for the Edward Snowden revelations about extensive National Security Administration warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans.
2. Barton Gellman of The Washington Post, which shared with The Guardian in the "Snowden Pulitzer" of 2014.
3. In 2006 the Pulitzer Prize went to Dana Priest of The Washington Post for her revelation of Central Intelligence Agency black sites abroad, where prisoners were subjected to torture. Ms. Priest received extensive death threats, was blackballed by the Bush administration, and reprisals were taken against a CIA employee who, rightly or wrongly, was identified by the administration as among her sources:
4-5. Also in 2006, the Pulitzer was "Awarded to James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times for their carefully sourced stories on secret domestic eavesdropping that stirred a national debate on the boundary line between fighting terrorism and protecting civil liberty." Risen is still being pressured, under threat of jail, by the Obama administration to testify against a putative source, and he has called Obama the greatest threat to press freedom:
6. Neil Sheehan and dozens of other New York Times staff prepared the Pentagon Papers for publication and the NYT got the Pulitzer for them in 1972. The Nixon administration tried to stop publication but the then Supreme Court (which at that time was not merely a front organization for the Chamber of Commerce) found that prior restraint interfered with first amendment rights.
Nixon also tried to prosecute the whistle-blower, Daniel Ellsberg, not to mention playing dirty tricks on him such as trying to steal records of his sessions with his psychotherapist and illegally tapping his phone. Ellsberg has observed that all the illegal things Nixon tried to do to him have by now been rendered legal.
As it was, he was released by the courts because of government misconduct. That misconduct would not be so characterized by the courts today, since surveiling us without warrants and breaking into our private files is no longer considered criminal activity but just ordinary every day tools of governance.
So despite all the Pulitzer prizes, the American Fascists (that is what they are) are winning.
PBS Interviews Geneva Overholser on
This Year's Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism
(April 14, 2014) -- Journalism's highest honor was awarded to The Washington Post and The Guardian US for reporting that raised questions about privacy, surveillance and security, despite criticism about whether they should have published the stories in the first place. Gwen Ifill discusses this year's Pulitzer Prize winners with Geneva Overholser of the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy.
The Snowden Pulitzer
Amy Davidson / The New Yorker
(April 15, 2014) -- Awarding the Pulitzer for public service to The Guardian and the Washington Post should go down as about the easiest call the prize committee has ever had to make. It would have been a scandal, this year, if there had been no Pulitzer related to the documents that Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, leaked to several reporters.
This was a defining case of the press doing what it is supposed to do. The President was held accountable; he had to answer questions that he would rather not have and, when his replies proved unsatisfying to the public -- and, in some cases, just rang false -- his Administration had to change its policies.
Congress had to confront its own failures of oversight; private companies had to rethink their obligations to their customers and to law enforcement; and people had conversations at home and at school and pretty much everywhere about what they, themselves, would be willing to let the NSA do to them. Justice Scalia recently said that he fully expected these issues to be before the Supreme Court soon, because we've had a chance to read the Snowden papers.
And journalists have had to think about their own obligations -- to the law, the Constitution, their readers, and even, in the practice of reporting in the age of technical tracking, to sources they might expose or make vulnerable. Any one of those aspects would be a major public service. How could that not be Pulitzer material?
And yet, the Post itself acknowledged that some people might be angry, noting that the documents were classified and came from Snowden, "who has fled to exile in Russia, lending a controversial edge to this year's awards." Congressman Peter King, in character, tweeted that "Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace."
He's wrong. What is meant by "enabling" -- that the reporters involved were Snowden's mousy little couriers? The public-service successes wrought by these stories were not inevitable. As explosive as the papers would have been on their own, with no mediation, the shape of the scandal has also been a function of careful journalism.
It didn't have to play out this way: either paper could have bungled it. They had to be judicious and brave. Each has more documents than it has published, and has been scrupulous about what it shares, making sure to give a sense of what the acronyms and connections mean. (In a way, the Pulitzer is also for what the papers have not made public.)
Each has also reported out the stories, which includes going to the government for comment -- listening to what it has to say, dealing with its pressure sensibly and not reflexively -- and then publishing certain things that it has been told it should keep secret. The newspapers have been called criminal. As Janine Gibson, the editor-in-chief of Guardian US, said after the award announcement, "It's been an intense, exhaustive, and someTimes chilling year working on this story."
The Post and The Guardian's peers could have left them alone and exposed. Instead, half a dozen other outlets have had some part of the papers, and many more have followed up on the leads that they present. But imagine an alternate history, with journalists charged with crimes, official explanations and claims of outrageous damage unchallenged, and a couple of bad court rulings tightening the parameters on freedom of the press.
It's not farfetched. (Look at Snowden's situation.) This Pulitzer was deserved in part because publishing the papers was a risky thing to do, not despite it.
It makes sense that the prizes went to the papers, and not just to a few of the dozens of reporters and editors who worked on this story. That's not to quarrel with the George Polk Award, which went, last week, to Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Ewen MacAskill, for The Guardian, and Barton Gellman, at the Washington Post, who had the main bylines on the big stories, and who took the earliest gambles. (If one were forced to choose the single journalist who most made the story happen, it would be Poitras.)
But it's good that the Pulitzer committee is used to recognizing teams, because that's what this one took. The Post said that its contingent included twenty-eight people (including Julie Tate, late of The New Yorker); The Guardian mentioned, in addition to Greenwald, Poitras, and MacAskill, Gibson, Stuart Millar, Paul Johnson, Nick Hopkins, and ten others.
If one looks over the list of Pulitzer winners for public service, starting in 1918, it is striking how well this prize fits in. A good proportion have to do with government corruption, whether it involves money or power. The Times won for publishing the Pentagon Papers, in 1972, and the Post for its Watergate investigation, in 1973.
In 1942, the Los Angeles Times won not for a particular story but for fighting a judge's contempt order -- he wanted to keep the paper from saying what it thought he should do in a case -- up to the Supreme Court, where it was consolidated with another case.
The paper won; Justice Hugo Black wrote that its editorials did not pose a "clear and present danger." The decision was 5-4 -- again, things that seem obvious afterward are often closely fought. The 1942 Pulitzer citation praised "its successful campaign which resulted in the clarification and confirmation for all American newspapers of the right of free press as guaranteed under the Constitution."
This year, there were two Pulitzer citations for public service, one for the Post and one for The Guardian; each paper was praised in a slightly different way. The Post's coverage was said to be "marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security."
The Guardian's coverage was lauded for "helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy."
This reflects something that one hears said about the papers' respective approaches, mostly from American journalists; it's not clear that the distinction is there in the pieces themselves. It may reflect a tonal preference, or even, ever so slightly (one fears), a certain parochialism.
It's like when you're told once too often which sister is the smart one and which is the sassy one. But The Guardian had plenty of insight and authority, the Post aggressiveness and spark-setting. The citation language is the point where the Pulitzer committee may have been just a degree too defensive. Otherwise, the award is impeccable.
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