Sunday, September 18, 2016

The greatest traitors in American history

Who is the biggest traitor in U.S. history?  The usual suspects are John Walker Jr., the Rosenbergs, and of course the venerable favorite whose name has become almost synonymous with treachery, Benedict Arnold.  But today the bar has been raised.  I would like to nominate a new candidate for this ignominious title, the editorial board of the Washington Post, for publishing this editorial advocating against a presidential pardon for Edward Snowden.

The arguments for and against pardoning Snowden are complicated, and reasonable people can disagree.  The reason I am calling out the Post editorial board specifically is that their position completely ignores one crucial fact: Ed Snowden never disclosed any of the information he took from the NSA to the public.  He specifically wanted someone else to make the decision about what, if anything, should be disclosed.  In particular, he specifically wanted journalists to make those decisions.  Among the journalists who made those decisions were the ones on the staff of the Washington Post.  And they won a Pulitzer prize for their work.

For the Post to now turn around and say that Ed Snowden should rot in prison for public disclosures that they themselves decided to make is the worst treachery, cowardice and hypocrisy that I have ever witnessed.  It is a catastrophic error in judgement.  That it comes from the same newspaper that set the standard for public disclosure through its reporting of the Watergate scandal makes it all the more egregious.

There is a deeply disturbing trend in the world of ever increased deference to power.  The free press is one of the institutions that was supposed to keep this sort of thing in check, and one of the principal mechanisms by which the free press is supposed to do that job is through the unique relationship between journalists and their sources.  Journalists are supposed to protect their sources, mainly by keeping their identities secret.  Ed Snowden, to his everlasting credit, voluntarily outed himself, but not the documents that he took.  The Post (and the Guardian) did that.  If the Post really thinks that Ed Snowden should go to prison, then they need to turn themselves in to be prosecuted as his willing accomplices, because there can be no question that this is what they are.

But of course they will not do this, because they are cowards and traitors and hypocrites.  And they have probably done permanent damage to the cause of freedom and democracy by bulldozing the covenant between journalists and their sources, that they were in this together, that they had a shared interest in public disclosure of truths that powerful people might not want to be known.

No more.  From this day forward sources will always have to consider the possibility that a journalist will throw them under the bus, that they might go to prison while the reporters are polishing their Pulitzers.  And from this day forward We the People will have to wonder: what have we not been told that we really ought to know because the editorial board of the Washington Post made this fateful decision back in September of 2016?