“There are no secrets,” podcasting pioneer Adam Curry once said. “Only information you do not yet have.”
Opinions vary widely regarding the case of Edward Snowden, the former contractor with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) who has leaked information about U.S. intelligence practices and operations. This has surfaced interesting commentary about the nature of journalism and media today, especially in a world where leaks and other high-profile events move quickly and have far greater impact than just a few years ago.
Here are five of the many topics that the Snowden case has brought to the fore.
1. Journalist or Advocate?
Snowden was shrewd in trusting The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald (and, later, others) with his story. Greenwald has along history of covering civil liberties issues. This has forcedsome to question the boundary between “advocacy” and “journalism.”
Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi wonders if there’s any boundary at all:
But to pretend there’s such a thing as journalism without advocacy is just silly; nobody in this business really takes that concept seriously. “Objectivity” is a fairy tale invented purely for the consumption of the credulous public, sort of like the Santa Claus myth. Obviously, journalists can strive to be balanced and objective, but that’s all it is, striving.
2. Do Journalists “Aid and Abet” Leakers?
A journalist’s job, generically speaking, is to find compelling (and, hopefully, previously undisclosed) facts that are in the public interest, give them context and deliver them to an interested public. Many times, that public interest involves information deemed secret. The famous Pentagon Papers case comes to mind when discussing the Snowden case, as that scandal’s central figure will waste no time in reminding you.
In an interview on Meet the Press, host David Gregory even asked Glenn Greenwald if he felt he should be charged with a crime for his stories based on Snowden’s leaks. CNBC’s Aaron Ross Sorkin expressed a similar sentiment, for which he later apologized. Gregory did not.
3. How Can I Keep This From Happening To Me?
In a world where a 64GB memory card can fit atop your pinky nail, companies are very interested in making sure data doesn’t “walk.” In an article discussing ways to help prevent a Snowden-style leak, Slashdot’s Business Intelligence channel says, more or less, that data retention requirements are at least part of the issue:
But is insider risk really such a hopeless case?
The problem is that organizations are suffering from data overload. With organizations forced to store and manage untold amounts of raw data on a daily basis, it’s easier than ever for malicious insiders to take their sweet time planning and implementing an attack, and cover their tracks afterwards.
4. A Free Press Sometimes Means the Right to Miss the Point
So far are things going the way you thought they would regarding a public debate? – tikkamasala
Initially I was very encouraged. Unfortunately, the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless [sic] surveillance in human history.
5. We’re Still Debating “Blogger versus Journalist”
For as long as I’ve been looking at the intersection between social media and journalism (which is a whilenow), people have twisted themselves into rhetorical knots as to whether “blogging” is “journalism.”
“That depends,” I say. “Is journalism being practiced?”
In discussing the David Gregory interview of Glenn Greenwald mentioned above, PaidContent’s Mathew Ingram asks:
Would Gregory have made those comments if someone from the New York Times was on the show talking about a major investigative report? Unlikely. Greenwald is seen as fair game in part because he isn’t a traditional journalist, but rather someone who started as a blogger, and also because he has an obvious point of view. Political blogger Andrew Sullivan — who recently left a traditional media outlet to run his own standalone site — said in a post about the interview that underlying Gregory’s questions was the mainstream media’s “fear and loathing and envy of the blogger journalist.”
This debate has very wide implications, not the least of which are the applicability of “shield laws,” or laws that give journalists the right to withhold the identity of sources.
What are your thoughts on the case?
Image credit: jonathon mcintosh