Bloomberg’s report suggests that “there was a lot of debate” about whether the Pulitzer Prize committee would reward the Guardian and the Washington Post for their coverage of Edward Snowden’s leaks. Was there a debate, though? There hasn’t been much of a debate from the editorial caste of the news media over the news value of the information, which uncovered the scope of domestic surveillance conducted by the NSA, although there has been plenty of passionate debate elsewhere over whether the Guardian and the Post stepped over the line:
The Hill covers the award itself, given out yesterday:
The Pulitzer Prize for public service was awarded Monday to The Washington Post and The Guardian, which broke the story of National Security Agency surveillance programs leaked by Edward Snowden.
In giving U.S. journalism’s top prize to the Guardian and the Post, the Pulitzer committee delivered support for Snowden and Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist most associated with the story, while offering a rebuke of the government.
The Pulitzer board called out the Post for its “authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security,” and the Guardian for “helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy.”
Publication of the NSA stories deeply embarrassed the Obama administration, and turned Snowden into perhaps the country’s most famous fugitive.
Critics say that the leaks have weakened U.S. national security and put Americans in danger. They also argue that Snowden’s files, including information not yet released to the public, is likely in the hands of the Russians and Chinese.
Politico’s Dylan Byers predicts that the award will be claimed as vindication by Snowden and his media partners:
Edward Snowden didn’t win a Pulitzer on Monday, but he might as well have.
In a move certain to be interpreted as a vindication of the former government contractor’s efforts, the Pulitzer Prize Board on Monday awarded The Guardian US and The Washington Post its coveted Public Service award for reporting on the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance practices.
Byers confirmed his own prediction:
Snowden immediately declared the decision “a vindication.”
“Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government,” he said in a statement to The Guardian. “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 recognizes was work of vital public importance.”
Martin Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, told POLITICO, “None of this would have been possible without Snowden’s release of classified information. I understand that’s a source of controversy, but without his disclosures there would be no discussion of the shift from the rights of the individual to state power, no debate about the balance between privacy and national security.”
Not everyone is happy with the decision. PJM’s Bridget Johnson captured Rep. Peter King’s reaction to the decision:
But today’s announcement of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes stoked an old debate about whether a former NSA contractor who leaked details about the surveillance programs — among other leaks — is a traitor or a whistleblower. Today, he was the muse of award winners.
“Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace,” tweeted Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.).
At least for one day, the award didn’t seem to make too many people change their minds about Snowden, or about the nature of the leaks he’s engineered over the past eleven months about US surveillance and intelligence efforts. That shows in large part how little a Pulitzer means outside of the editorial caste and to their recipients. It’s a bragging point within the industry, not a vindication, no matter how much one wants to see it as a blessing from on high. It’s simply a recognition within a peer group of perceived excellence, and few inside that peer group seemed anything but fully supportive of Snowden and his media partners from the first.
For me, Snowden and the reporting that followed from his massive theft of classified material are a mixed bag. It seems clear that abuses were occurring, and that officials like James Clapper lied about it to Congress. (Why Clapper remains as DNI is a mystery that even exceeds that of Sebelius’ longevity in the Obama administration.) Whistleblowers have channels within the US to call attention to real abuses; it’s still an open question as to whether Snowden actually tried to use those, and also a question as to whether those are safe and effective, too. Still, the scope and nature of Snowden’s actions tends to argue against him as just a mere whistleblower looking to stop abuses. The Snowden cache and exposure went far beyond that into areas that appeared deliberately designed to damage American intelligence capabilities abroad, and Snowden’s attempts at asylum in China and then Russia raise serious questions about his motivations — especially with a newly-aggressive Russia.