BY JEFF MACKLER
President Obama and the National Security Agency (NSA) suffered an important blow to their credibility when on April 21 the nation’s most prestigious journalism award, the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, was given to The Guardian newspaper based in England and The Washington Post. The award recognized the work of reporters Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Ewan MacAskill, and Bart Gellman for their reports based on the unprecedented revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whose exposure of the massive and illegal U.S. government cell phone, internet, and other high-tech surveillance of tens of millions of Americans, as well as governments and heads of state around the world, is still unfolding.
Snowden, who 10 months ago fled the U.S. to China, was subsequently granted asylum in Moscow. He has been charged by U.S. government officials with violation of the 1917 Espionage Act. To date, Russia has refused American requests for his extradition.
Snowden released a brief statement to The Guardian applauding the award to his collaborators. He said: “Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. 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.”
The four journalists had earlier received the prestigious George Polk Award, administered for the past 65 years by Long Island University, for national security reporting. This was yet another indication that the exposure of the government’s massive surveillance network is widely seen as consistent with the protection of civil and democratic rights as opposed to the government’s assertion that telling the truth about its blatant spy operations is a threat to the “national security” of the U.S. and akin to an act of treason.
Indeed, Greenwald, today living in Brazil, has expressed serious concerns regarding possible U.S. government persecution should he return to the United States. During his visit to receive the awards, Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King, who called the award a “disgrace,” called for Greenwald’s arrest. Apparently more savvy government officials decided to side step such a move—likely since they were fearful that the price to be paid in taking on the nation’s journalist community far outweighed exacting vengeance for Greenwald and his associates’ stinging reporting.
Greenwald responded that he considered King’s threat, “an enormous badge of honor.” He likened Snowden’s revelations to The New York Times 1971 publication of the “Pentagon Papers” leaked by whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.
The government’s infamous “Pentagon Papers” exposed U.S. lies and atrocities during the Vietnam War. Ellsberg, who defeated in court government charges that could have imprisoned him for over 100 years, has said, “The Snowden documents are the most important leak in the history of the country.”
Responding to Congressman’s King’s threat, Greenwald observed, “That’s just part of … what journalism is. If you want to be adversarial to those who wield power, you have to expect that those who wield power aren’t gonna like what you’re doing very much.” Greenwald added, “And not only doesn’t that bother me, I see that as a vindication that what I’m doing is the right thing.”
Greenwald saw the Pulitzer and Polk awards as providing “further vindication that what [Snowden] did in coming forward was absolutely the right thing to do and merits gratitude, and not indictments and decades in prison.” Laura Poitras added: “None of us would be here … without the fact that someone decided to sacrifice their life to make this information available. And so this award is really for Edward Snowden.”
The Pulitzer, overseen by Columbia University’s School of Journalism, is widely considered the greatest honor in journalism, with the public-service award regarded as its grand prize.
Photo: Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian newspaper talks to Democracy Now!