Two news organizations’ stories about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden have been awarded the highest prize in American journalism: the Pulitzer Prize for public service. The Guardian US and The Washington Post were awarded the Pulitzer Prize on Monday for their coverage of National Security Agency global electronic surveillance practices.
The decision to award the prize to newspapers that published secret documents leaked by whistleblowers reaffirms the necessary and crucial role of whistleblowers in journalism. The Pulitzer board has overwhelmingly validated the role of whistleblowers in the press-government relationship by granting the award to both newspapers for such stories.
The Snowden revelations, which both newspapers fashioned into continued coverage pieces, have sparked national and international outrage and debate about finding the necessary balance between privacy and civil rights on one hand, and security on the other.
The revelations remind us of the tradeoff between liberty and security. In the post-9/11 climate, America opted for heightened security at the expense of liberty. This climate has allowed the US intelligence community to take morally questionable surveillance measures in order to ensure American national security. They have reinforced and solidified an American security pathology that is hard to criticize and continues with unabated momentum.
The American public has also been reminded of the US intelligence community’s intense and questionable secrecy. The revelations have reminded the American public that private citizens, in an increasingly egalitarian media landscape, have the ability to individually affect policy, political culture, and international affairs. A waning faith in the free press’ ability to check, counter, and expose the activities of an increasingly complex and shadowy world of international affairs and intelligence has been restored.
“We are particularly grateful for our colleagues across the world who supported the Guardian in circumstances which threatened to stifle our reporting,” commented Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. “And we share this honor not only with our colleagues at the Washington Post, but also with Edward Snowden, who risked so much in the cause of the public service which has today been acknowledged by the award of this prestigious prize.”
“Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government,” said Snowden in a statement. “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.”
Following the revelations and various disclosures made in continued coverage by both newspapers, President Obama ordered a White House review of data surveillance. In addition, a number of congressional reform bills have been introduced, and protections are being put in place to safeguard privacy for foreign leaders and to increase scrutiny over the NSA’s mass data collection.