Oliver Stone’s blockbuster film Snowden depicts the actions and motivations of political dissident and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed classified information regarding United States government surveillance programs. The film, which came out this weekend, yielded a modest, but respectable $8 million dollars and is sure to raise discussion on whistleblowers, the right to privacy, and the broader issue of civil disobedience.
In fact, some mainstream news outlets have already released opinions on the controversial whistleblower in light of the big box office weekend. Michael Godwin of the New York Post explicitly rejects the notion that Edward Snowden is a patriot or deserving of any kind of pardon. Pardoning Edward Snowden “would only encourage more treasonous behavior.” said Godwin. Godwin’s sentiment is undoubtedly shared by many, but it does seem that the tide of public opinion is starting to turn in favor of Edward Snowden. The Guardian, The New York Times and The Intercept – have all requested President Obama to allow for the return of the NSA whistleblower with no charges. This is no surprise since all three of these outlets at one point or another published documents and editorials of or including information released by Edward Snowden.
News organizations have a strong incentive, and perhaps an obligation, to protect their sources of information. Yet, as we have seen, not everyone is on board. Remarkably, The Washington Post is now outwardly and openly advocating for the prosecution of its own source. This is despite the fact that The Washington Post received Pulitzer Prize awards for their reporting of the NSA spying revelations.
How The Washington Post is able to justify accepting Pulitzer Prize awards using Snowden’s information while still advocating for his criminal prosecution is mind-boggling and suggestive of some larger cognitive dissonance on the issue of whistleblowers. On one hand, The Washington Post is more than willing to accept information from whistleblowers in order to report credibly on pressing issues and to further their brand of investigative and hard-hitting journalism.
They even reach out eagerly to organizations like the Pulitzer Prize board to attain awards for their journalism, happily accepting awards for work built on the information of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden. Yet, when it comes to Edward Snowden, the person, not the information that he put his life on the line to release, they are more than content to call for his criminal prosecution.
The Post readily admits that they owe recent reforms in surveillance to Edward Snowden, admonishing him for leaking details on important national security measures and on the PRISM program. The Post is suggesting that the public only had an interest in the initial set of information offered by Snowden. Mentioning the revelation of the PRISM program, a massive surveillance program that collects the private records of everyday users of Gmail, Facebook, and a whole host of other programs, the Washington Post suggests that the program was not only “entirely legal,” but also “clearly non-threatening” to privacy. How the Post makes the distinction between the initial information and the information released on the PRISM program is unclear. How they come to the conclusion that the PRISM program, which collects the phone records and emails of everyday citizens on everyday services like Gmail and Facebook without a warrant is even less clear.
More cringeworthy is the Post’s assertion that Snowden compromised national security with his release of “details of international intelligence operations.” Yet, upon closer examination, it looks as though The Post had no issue publishing this information into articles that would later win Pulitzer Prizes. Edward Snowden gave news organizations like The Washington Post this information, but it was up to the organizations themselves whether they wanted to publish it or not.
As we can see on the list of prize-winning work published by the Pulitzer Prize Board, almost all of the Post’s award winning articles for the NSA revelations included information that they now deride as detrimental to national security. Any organization who publishes information from a whistleblower is taking responsibility for publishing that information to the public. If Edward Snowden compromised national security in a way that is not in the interest of the public, then so did The Washington Post in publishing the information to begin with. If they are willing to denounce Edward Snowden, then they should be willing to denounce themselves. But they are not and they will not.
The documents released by Edward Snowden drastically altered the national dialogue on issues of government surveillance, raising questions about constitutional rights, individual rights, and the necessary balance between national security and personal liberty. To advocate for the criminal prosecution of Snowden following the release of documents and information so very clearly in the public interest is to violate every founding principle that has shaped this country since its original inception.
The willingness to put the security of your own life in harm’s way for the public interest of your country is not an act of treason, but of patriotism. The inability of The Washington Post to recognize this will not change what Snowden brought to the national dialogue of this country. Courage and patriotism should be awarded with medals and accolades, not a criminal prosecution and exile. For that reason, now is the time to bring Edward Snowden home.