By Jay Kirell
Journalists live to break news, to uncover secrets. That’s their job, and it’s an absolute, fundamental part of the foundation of America. I don’t need to rehash why a free press is so important, the founding fathers did that and they were a hell of a lot smarter than I am.
We need reporters who are well-trained in the art of balancing what the public has a right to know and what the government has a right to keep secret. Obtaining information and dispensing it, without weighing the consequences by balancing the story off of a few trusted people, as well as perhaps the government itself – is not journalism. That is not “the press” that the founding fathers inscribed freedom to in the 1st Amendment.
That is activism and in some cases it is also espionage. I’m not saying the recent events of government leaking – Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden – are espionage. But they were serious breeches of national security that the Obama Administration says threatened lives, compromised active missions, and allowed America’s enemies to gain a better understanding of our capabilities.
They were also great for the blogging-as-journalism movement.
The fact that Glen Greenwald broke the story is an interesting wrinkle, but for as blustery as he is, Greenwald isn’t central to the Snowden case at all. He was essentially the right-place-right-time guy that came from a blogging background and an interest in surveillance and how the government covers it up.
Nothing wrong with that. For that reason he was the perfect guy for Snowden to go to.
But that also means Greenwald was the absolute worst journalist for him to go to. He was (and I’m assuming here) probably so enthusiastic about what he had, and so unapologetic about how important it was that the American people and people everywhere around the world had this information, that he never sought out the opinions of those who might have convinced him he might have been wrong.
I don’t know that for a fact, but like I said, I’m assuming that based on his background and what his interests appeared to be.
But again, this is about Edward Snowden and not Glen Greenwald. I had to mention him because this discussion involves journalists, even though I consider him way low down on the totem pole of what can legally be called a journalist. But that’s my bias and I welcome criticism of it.
The other day I got into a drive-by twitter discussion with Jake Tapper of CNN. He was trying to get information from the White House about what individuals the administration said would be harmed by the Manning-dump, were actually killed.
I replied that any administration would be ridiculed and rightfully so, for releasing classified information that it was in the process of using as a basis of 20 charges against a US soldier.
He said they could show it to him without him publishing it. I said they probably didn’t trust him enough to do that. I didn’t mean it in a personal way, just that right now the Obama administration probably doesn’t trust any members of the press to keep secrets, since they obviously can’t trust people who’ve signed confidentiality agreements.
Not to mention if the administration felt so strongly that this leak was so disruptive, why on Earth would they confirm or deny any information relating to what was leaked? That’s pouring gas on a fire if they’re telling the truth.
Don’t think the Republicans weren’t waiting for that slip up.
To me, the question of what the public has a right to know with absolute certainty comes down to whether you believe the government has a right to keep some certain information absolutely secret.
Jake Tapper thinks he has a right to be the decider on what information should be classified and what information shouldn’t. And while Jake Tapper is an honest and skilled journalist by any measure, an honest and skilled journalist still takes a backseat to the President of the United States on determining what is in the best interest of the American people.
Because we elect presidents, not journalists. Any president, of either party, is entrusted with making private, security-related decisions.
Journalists are paid to break through that security and find out what those in power don’t want known. And they’re constitutionally protected for doing so. It’s why prosecuting Greenwald or any reporter who is given classified information is wrong.
But government employees, and soldiers (especially soldiers) have no such protection from prosecution for releasing information that compromises national security. And rightfully so, because if there were protections, anyone would be free to release anything and you might as well just let a newspaper hire a group of really skilled hackers to break into secret government files and save time.
Thankfully, we have a system in place which recognizes the need for a balance between security and press freedom.
The press gets to freely release information – even leaked classified information – without fear of punishment, yet the leaker faces the consequences of their actions. Consequences, by the way, that are the fully spelled out your entire time in the government.
And any government that allows those with security clearances to freely disperse information simply because that information upsets them, imperils its own national security.
Now, that line of thinking might upset some journalists and people like Glen Greenwald who seem to think the public has the right to know everything, but it is needed for any nation to have a competitive edge in the information and technology age.