Snowden Speaks At SXSW Interactive Conference in Austin, Texas — Videos
FULL: Edward Snowden and ACLU at SXSW
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Snowden’s first live: ‘Constitution being violated on massive scale’ (FULL VIDEO)
Speaking remotely from Russia on Monday, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden told attendees at the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, Texas that encryption is still a powerful deterrent against government surveillance.
“Obama Is BIG BROTHER And He’s A LIAR!”
Edward Snowden looms over Pulitzer Prizes
Next month, the trustees who oversee America’s most distinguished journalistic award could face their toughest decision in at least four decades.
The issue before the Pulitzer Prize Board: Does it honor reporting by The Washington Post and The Guardian based on stolen government documents that are arguably detrimental to the national security of the United States, and which were provided by a man who many see as a traitor? Or, does it pass over what is widely viewed as the single most significant story of the year — if not the decade — for the sake of playing it safe?
Snowden speaks at SXSW
The politically charged debate surrounding the National Security Agency’s widespread domestic surveillance program, and the man who revealed it, Edward Snowden, is certain to prompt intense discussion for the 19-member Board as it gathers to decide this year’s winners, according to past Board members, veteran journalists and media watchdogs. The debate echoes the historic decision in 1972, when the Board honored The New York Times for its reporting on Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, they said.
“This is an institutional question for them,” said Robert Kaiser, the veteran Washington Post journalist and a previous Pulitzer Prize finalist. “This is a very good argument to have, and there are members of that Board who are going to raise these questions and want to talk about them.”
The risks are manifold, and there is no easy answer: Honoring the NSA reporting — particularly in the coveted category of Public Service — would inevitably be perceived as a political act, with the Pulitzer committee invoking its prestige on behalf of one side in a bitter national argument. In effect, it would be a rebuttal to prominent establishment voices in both parties who say that Snowden’s revelations, and the decision by journalists to publish them, were the exact opposite of a public service. President Barack Obama has said that Snowden’s leaks “could impact our operations in ways that we may not fully understand for years to come.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney has called him “a traitor.” Snowden, who is living in Russia, is facing three felony charges in a criminal complaint filed by the Justice Department.
Yet to pass on the NSA story would be to risk giving the appearance of timidity, siding with the government over the journalists who are trying to hold it accountable and ignoring the most significant disclosure of state secrets in recent memory. It would also look like a willful decision to deny the obvious: No other event has had as dramatic an impact on national and international debates over state surveillance and individual privacy. Last December, in a move that Snowden later described as vindication, a federal district judge ruled that the NSA surveillance Snowden exposed most likely violates the Constitution. Another judge later found the surveillance lawful.
“The stories that came out of this completely changed the agenda on the discussion on privacy and the NSA,” said David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. “There’s an enormous public good in that, and it’s yet to be proven at all that somehow did great damage to national security.”
Two teams are being considered for their work on the NSA leaks, POLITICO has confirmed. One is made up of The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, who published the first landmark report on the NSA’s collection of Verizon phone records, and have since played an integral role in building upon those revelations. The other is Poitras and Barton Gellman, who reported on the wide-ranging surveillance program known as “PRISM” for The Washington Post.
Here, too, the Board faces a challenge: In the eyes of privacy advocates, Greenwald’s work has been much more consequential in the larger arc of the Snowden story, and it was Greenwald who flew to Hong Kong to meet with Snowden and earn his trust. But Greenwald, a staunch anti-surveillance advocate with a brash, outsider’s persona, is not the type of journalist the Pulitzer Board has typically admired. Gellman, by contrast, with his serious and soft-spoken demeanor and decades in the business, comes straight out of Pulitzer central casting. But on what grounds could the Pulitzers recognize Gellman and not Greenwald?
All of these questions will be on the table when the Pulitzer committee meets on April 10 and 11. The winners will be announced on Monday, April 14, at a 3 p.m. news conference at Columbia’s Journalism School.
Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes, and several board members declined to comment on the group’s approach to the NSA reporting, citing the confidentiality of the selection process. “Jurors sign oaths of confidentiality. We certainly do not comment on what is or is not entered or nominated,” Gissler said.
Both Greenwald and Gellman also declined to comment, as did the top editors at The Guardian and The Washington Post. Submissions in each category have already been considered by separate juries, which nominate three finalists to the Board. The Board then considers those nominations for the prizes; with a three-fourths vote, they can move a submission to a different category or recommend another work for consideration. The Guardian’s reporting was conducted through its U.S. outlet in New York, making it eligible for submission.
Several journalists believe that Snowden’s actions should have no bearing on the Pulitzer board’s considerations. It is the reporting that is being honored, not the source, they said.
“The question always is, ‘What was the best journalism produced in the past year?’ And it’s hard to think of a story that has had the impact of the NSA revelations,” said Rem Rieder, the media editor and columnist at USA Today . “These articles made public really important information that the public needs to know, and started a very important national debate over something that should not be decided unilaterally by the executive branch without public input or knowledge.”
Others have a harder time drawing such a definitive line. Michael Kinsley, the veteran political columnist and commentator, has wondered if there isn’t a dubious double standard in the way journalists are honored as heroes while their sources are portrayed as criminals. “If Snowden is guilty of a crime, why isn’t Bart Gellman guilty also?” he asked in an essay for The New Republic last year. Kinsley declined to comment for this piece.
Many of Snowden’s critics are often quick to paint Greenwald, Snowden’s staunchest public advocate, as an accomplice. James Clapper, President Obama’s director of national intelligence, even referred to “Snowden and his accomplices” while testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January.
Whatever the Board’s intention, the decision to give an award to any NSA-related journalism would almost certainly be interpreted as a vindication of Snowden’s efforts, many said. That perceived declaration would surely invite blowback from those who see Snowden in a negative light. In January, after The New York Times editorial board called for clemency for Snowden, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) accused the paper’s editors of being “apologists for terrorists.”
The complications don’t end there. If the Board does decide to honor the reporting on the NSA, it will then have to wrestle with the fact that reporters from two publications were involved in the revelations. Though the Board has given dual awards in the past — the last occasion was in 2006 when The New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald split the Public Service award for their coverage of Hurricane Katrina — Greenwald’s role as an advocate could further impact the decision. The Brazil-based lawyer, who now works for Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, has kept a high profile throughout the past nine months, publicly advocating on Snowden’s behalf — and against the U.S. government — in television appearances, news interviews, and on social media.
“This institution [the Pulitzers] has a tendency to take itself awfully seriously,” said Kaiser, who described Greenwald’s work as “causist” reporting. “Whether committed causes should get a Pulitzer Prize for any kind of reporting is an open question. They’ll have to decide how judgmental they need to be.”
Gellman’s more traditional handling of the NSA story may have more appeal to the board. Instead of jumping into the fray on a near-daily basis, fighting on Twitter and giving contentious cable news interviews, Gellman has produced a few comprehensive reports that sought to put new revelations in a greater context. His ties to The Washington Post have also given the NSA story the imprimatur of “old media” integrity, which the Board is said to value.
Finally, there is the issue of effort. Though Greenwald and Gellman have dismissed the suggestion that Snowden’s trove of NSA files simply fell into their laps, the Pulitzer Board could feel conflicted about giving an award to the recipients of stolen documents when other applicants may have dedicated a significant amount of time and resources to old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting on, say, a local government issue. In several instances throughout its history, the Board has honored reporting based to a significant degree on the amount of effort and diligence shown by the reporters.
“The one wild card is the degree of difficulty question,” Rieder said. “Not to minimize the role of the reporters — it’s not just stenography. You have to sift through the information, present it clearly, explain why it matters, put it in context, etc. The real challenge would be if you had entries where reporters had to go to extraordinary lengths to pry out information of vital interest to the public, as opposed to having it turned over to them. If you had examples of great magnitude, that would make it complicated. That said, this was clearly the story of last year.”
“There’s a real question about whether this is reporting,” Kaiser said. “It might be a public service award, but it’s not a great reporting coup when a source comes to you and hands you this stuff.”
Both Greenwald and Gellman have adamantly dismissed the suggestion that they were merely stenographers for Snowden. Greenwald in particular traveled to Hong Kong and spent hours working with Snowden and earning his trust. Greenwald also continues to pore over the files in his possession, and says he has published just a small fraction of what Snowden gave him.
While the Board refuses to discuss next month’s awards, there are precedents that shed light on how that committee may decide to handle the NSA-related submissions.
In 1972, after what The Associated Press then described as “unprecedented debate,” the Pulitzer committee gave The New York Times the Public Service award for Neil Sheehan’s reporting on the Pentagon Papers, which he had received from former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg. At the time the award was given, Ellsberg was awaiting trial on charges of theft, which were later dropped.
Michael Gartner, the former NBC News president and Iowa newspaperman who spent 10 years on the Pulitzer Board, said he saw no substantive difference between the journalism that resulted from Ellsberg and Snowden’s stolen documents.
“I’m sure that there will be great debates over Snowden’s stuff, but really wasn’t that precedent set with the Pentagon Papers? The nature of the theft might be different, but isn’t the journalism the same — great stories produced from documents that were leaked by an employee of a private contractor?” Gartner wrote in an email. “I can make a distinction between Ellsberg and Snowden, if I have to, based on the nature of what they stole, but how can the board make a distinction between what was published then and what was published now? Reporting is reporting. If I were arguing for the Snowden stuff — and I would — that is the argument I would make.”
In 2006, the Pulitzer committee honored James Risen and Eric Lichtblau of The New York Times for their reporting on the George W. Bush administration’s secret wiretapping program. That decision, too, was a subject of intense internal debate. President Bush had personally asked the Times not to publish the article, and the committee’s decision to honor Risen and Lichtblau’s report was seen as a public rebuke of Bush administration policies.
Last month, in a move that set the stage for April’s Pulitzer debate, Long Island University gave both the Greenwald and Gellman teams the George Polk Award for National Security Reporting.
John Darnton, the curator of the Polk Awards, said he received emails from critics who, seemingly unaware of the precedent set by the Pentagon Papers, blasted the group’s decision to honor reporting based on stolen government documents. One of those emails came from Accuracy In Media, the conservative watchdog.
In a lengthy email to POLITICO, Cliff Kincaid, director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, criticized Snowden and Greenwald for threatening national security.
“Political figures in both political parties agree that Snowden is a traitor. So what does that make his enablers in the media? They are certainly not journalists who deserve journalism prizes,” Kincaid wrote. “Journalism awards should not be given to recipients of stolen national security documents whose work has made America more vulnerable to terrorist attacks and its military personnel more likely to die at the hands of terrorists or enemy regimes.”
To date, no substantial evidence has emerged publicly that any of Greenwald or Gellman’s reporting has compromised America’s national security or military personnel, although intelligence officials have said they’ve detected changes in how groups like Al Qaeda communicate as a result of the broad controversy.
In the end, Darnton said the 10-member Polk panel hardly thought twice about the decision to bestow awards on Greenwald and Gellman.
“In the case of the NSA coverage, we began with a predisposition to seriously consider it because the repercussions were immense,” he explained. “There was a bit of discussion, but not much. The story itself is just so significant — there was no great dissent.”