Edward Snowden’s leaks cause editorial split at the Washington Post
US paper accused of facing both ways over NSA whistleblower
Edward Snowden’s whistle-blowing activities have not only split America’s journalistic community, it appears to have split the Washington Post’s staff too.
In a surprising editorial, “Plugging the leaks in the Edward Snowden case”, the paper argued that the first priority should be to prevent Snowden “from leaking information that harms efforts to fight terrorism and conduct legitimate intelligence operations.”
It pointed out that Snowden “is reported to have stolen many more documents, encrypted copies of which may have been given to allies such as the WikiLeaks organisation.” And then it said:
“Stopping potentially damaging revelations or the dissemination of intelligence to adversaries should take precedence over US prosecution of Mr Snowden — which could enhance his status as a political martyr in the eyes of many both in and outside the United States.”
And all this in the paper responsible for publishing Snowden’s leaks. No wonder the facing-both-ways leading article moved syndicated newspaper columnist David Sirota to comment on Salon.com:
“What sets this Washington Post editorial apart — what vaults it into the annals of history — is how it is essentially railing on the Washington Post’s own source and own journalism.”
He contends that the editorial “represents the paper’s higher-ups issuing a jeremiad against their own news-generating source and, by extension, the reporters who helped bring his leak into the public sphere.”
Citing the Post’s famed Watergate investigations, he sees it as “the equivalent of the paper issuing an editorial in 1972 not demanding more information from President Nixon, but instead insisting the Nixon administration’s first ‘priority should be to prevent Deep Throat from leaking information.”
Then comes his main, serious message:
“At one level, this is all downright hilarious. But at another level, it isn’t because it potentially intensifies a larger chilling effect on investigative journalism that is happening throughout the media.”
There is, of course, something of a British parallel over Snowden’s NSA leaks. The Guardian has been criticised by rival newspapers because of the revelations. Some papers have simply ignored them, as I wrote here.