April 16, 2021

Media Decoder: The Other Snowden Drama: Impugning the Messenger

As a pure story, it’s tough to beat the Snowden saga. Man of intrigue? Roger. Crusading reporter? Check. A powerful government in hot pursuit? Yessir. Unclear agendas by foreign countries? Most certainly.

And as Edward J. Snowden made his way across the globe with a disintegrating passport and newly emerged allies, Twitter was there, serving up a new kind of chase coverage, with breathless updates from hovering digital observers speculating about the fleeing leaker’s next move. All day Sunday, it was like watching a spy movie unfold in pixels, except it was all very real and no one knows how it ends.

Almost lost in the international drama was a journalistic one in which Glenn Greenwald, the columnist from The Guardian, found himself in the gunsights on a Sunday morning talk show. The episode was part of a continuing story about the role of the press in conveying secrets to the public.

If you add up the pulling of news organization phone records (The Associated Press), the tracking of individual reporters (Fox News), and the effort by the current administration to go after sources (seven instances and counting in which a government official has been criminally charged with leaking classified information to the news media), suggesting that there is a war on the press is less hyperbole than simple math.

For the time being, it is us (the press) versus them (federal officials), which is part of the reason David Gregory ended up taking a lot of incoming fire for suggesting on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Glenn Greenwald may have committed crimes, not journalism, when he published leaks by Mr. Snowden.

“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” he said in the interview.

Mr. Greenwald responded assertively.

“I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies,” Mr. Greenwald responded.

“The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence — the idea that I’ve ‘aided and abetted’ him in any way.”

Mr. Gregory may have thought he was just being provocative, but if you tease apart his inquiry, it suggests there might be something criminal in reporting out important information from a controversial source.

In using the term “aided and abetted,” Mr. Gregory adopted the nomenclature of Representative Peter T. King, a Republican of New York who has argued that Mr. Greenwald should be arrested, lately on Fox News.

Writing in The Washington Post, Erik Wemple expressed deep skepticism about Mr. Gregory’s assumptions.

“The entire question of Greenwald’s ‘aiding and abetting,’ furthermore, collapses when considering what it would entail,” he wrote. “Snowden was a contractor for the National Security Agency. Over his years of work in intelligence, he developed an exquisite understanding of the government’s eavesdropping activities. Plus, he had passcodes and access privileges that came with his position.”

Mr. Gregory’s position on the show was that as a journalist raising questions he was “not actually embracing any particular point of view.”

“There’s a question about his role in this,” he said, referring to Mr. Greenwald. “The Guardian’s role in all of this. It is actually part of the debate; rather than going after the questioner, he could take on the issues. And he had an opportunity to do that here on ‘Meet the Press.’ ”

The press is frequently accused of giving itself a pass, but the present moment would seem like a good time for a bit of solidarity. The current administration’s desire for control of information is not a new phenomenon, but at this juncture, there is a clear need for a countervailing force in favor of openness.

There will be, as Ben Smith pointed out on BuzzFeed, an attempt to depict the sources of information as rogues and traitors, a process that will accelerate now that WikiLeaks has begun assisting Mr. Snowden. “Snowden is what used to be known as a source,” Mr. Smith wrote. “And reporters don’t, and shouldn’t, spend too much time thinking about the moral status of their sources.”

Politicians would like to conflate the actions of reporters and their sources, but the law draws a very clear and bright line between the two in an effort to protect speech and enable transparency. Mr. Greenwald may have a point of view and his approach to journalism is through the prism of activism, but he functioned as a journalist and deserves the protections that go with the job.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/business/media/the-other-snowden-drama-impugning-the-messenger.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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