There is no question about whether Edward Snowden is a traitor. He stole millions of classified US government documents and handed them over to rogue journalists for publication, thus alerting enemies of the United States to methods and technologies that were being used to find and monitor their activities. It did not take long for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to change their communications strategies in the hope of evading US intelligence scans.
There is no greater, larger issue at stake than the future of world security and, regrettably, many members of the American news media don’t take that issue seriously enough. In a self-rationalized infatuation with “fairness” and “impartiality” too many journalists today attempt to cover both sides of the story. They don’t accept that their disclosures of secret government programs empower their enemies more than said disclosures empower the American people.
Edward Snowden’s leaks about secret NSA programs are not the first time such programs have been exposed in the media. The second Bush administration was forced to contend with investigative reporting that exposed secret government operations to America’s enemies. The media justified its investigations to the public by claiming that they were simply exposing government wrong-doing. The issue was never brought to trial so no legal wrong-doing was exposed, but the US government enacted new laws to safeguard citizens’ privacy and liberties against “potential abuse of powers by government”.
That is the problem that the news media has set about trying to solve: preventing the American government from becoming a totalitarian regime that oppresses the citizenry and deprives them of their freedom. To pursue this noble goal the news media must coax government employees into violating their oaths of secrecy — risking decades of jail time — in order to expose surveillance programs and technologies that might one day be used against the American public.
Any historian will tell you that the United States of America was founded by traitors and rebels. This country’s leadership thus has a long history of debating the rightfulness of setting aside law and authority at the personal level for a higher (but personal) moral standard. Not every such choice has turned out well. When the southern states rebelled and seceded from the Union in 1860 they launched a war that led to about a million military and civilian deaths — more than this country has suffered in any other war — in a failed bid to assert States’ Rights over the Federal constitution. We have taken away many lessons from that dreadful war but perhaps the most important lesson NOT learned that is that treason and rebellion are not always pathways to good resolutions.
As outrage over the Pulitzer Prize awarded on behalf of Snowden’s treason spreads across the Internet we must still face the sobering thought that, if the media watchdogs are right, then without the treason that occasionally sets back government efforts to defend citizens’ lives, property, and rights we may one day find ourselves trapped in a nightmare of our own making.
But the Pulitzer Prize is too often politicized and used as a weapon of propaganda to protest against government actions that have been used to defend the public interest against the prying eyes and ears of the media. In the absence of any clear evidence of wrong-doing the fear of potential wrong-doing is a very weak justification for exposing intelligence operations that have been refined through legal processes to ensure that adequate protections are in place.
And despite the alarms sounded by civil liberties activists about these programs, many legal experts have defended the constitutionality of the NSA’s metadata collection program. And numerous decisions made by the secretive FISA court charged with protecting constitutional rights and processes have found that despite the occasional technological inadequacies of NSA programs they do not violate the Fourth Amendment.
Just days after a court ruled that the NSA collection of metadata was illegal, another court found that the NSA program was indeed legal. So far critics are fighting an uphill battle as most of the judges and many legal experts have sided against them. Earlier this year the Supreme Court declined to fasttrack the issue onto its own docket, referring the matter instead to the Appellate court system.
As terrorist organizations raise their own armies and rip apart once-sovereign nations like Chad, Syria, Iraq, Niger, and others there can be no doubt that the American news media has performed admirably in covering the explosive growth of radical militantism in the Islamic world. And it is true that the Pulitzer Board has awarded prizes to journalists who have covered the war and exposed Al Qaeda’s depredations.
The question arises, then, of whether the prize should be used as a tool to counteract the so-called “chilling effect” that government legal action can have on investigative reporting. By politicizing the prize the criteria for rewarding journalists are tinged with bias.
The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service has been handed out for investigative articles about abuse of war veterans at hospitals, sexual abuse of children by priests, abuse of illegal immigrants by Immigration and Naturalization, reckless gunplay by police officers, and other issues that clearly expose dangers to public wellfare and safety.
But since 1917 there have been only two awards in this category that have focused on investigative journalism into national security, and only two awards given for stories directly tied to wars (one published in the 1940s). To say that it is highly unusual for the Pulitzer board to hand out awards for public service in response to stories that expose intelligence operations to our enemies is an understatement. They have only done that once before 2014 and that was in 2006. And at least in 2006 it was arguable that the oversight which is in place now did not exist.
The journalists have lauded each other over their efforts to undermine the so-called “war on terror” because they are waging a war on secrecy, a secrecy that is embedded in the constitution itself. It is this constitutional secrecy which indeed justifies the First Amendment guaranteeing the freedom of the press. The framers of our constitution rightly foresaw the need to have a voice outside the halls of government that should question what the government is doing.
But where no wrong-doing has been proven (as in the case of the Edward Snowden affair), and where the public safety has not been endangered (as in the case of the Edward Snowden affair), and where the public interest has been harmed by the willful disclosure of secret programs such that our enemies are empowered (as in the case of the Edward Snowden affair) it is very, very difficult to see the rational justification for any award from any organization to be handed to the journalists and publications who brought to light these programs.
After all, in the absence of government abuses if all we have to fear is the potential for abuse then is that not an argument for the success of the media in checking past government abuses?
But it is also worth mentioning that many actual government abuses were indeed exposed in 2013. Why should those stories — such as the politically motivated New Jersey bridge closings — be set aside in favor of making a political statement of support on behalf of media organizations that chose to endanger public safety?
The Pulitzer Board needs to explain its decision because an angry public is outraged at the chilling ramifications of this prize. By redefining public interest as something to be supported by willful treason which only aids and abets enemy operations in a time of war the Pulitzer Board has abandoned its role as a government watchdog. Instead, the Pulitzer Board has assumed the mantle of anarchy and faithlessness. They have set a dangerous precedent the full consequences of which may not be realized for many years.
American journalism has entered a dark time that rivals the era of yellow journalistic insensibilities. It is to be hoped that this kind of departure from safeguarding the public interest will not happen again.