The Old Gray Lady, The New York Times, appears to be miffed that it was not the recipient of the leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden, now on the run in Hong Kong and promising to fight extradition. Snowden, unlike Daniel Ellsberg with his Pentagon Papers, chose to deliver his disclosures to the Guardian of London and the Washington Post.
In last Sundays Times, Margaret Sullivan, the papers public editor, expounded on why her paper is no longer what it used to be, no longer the first choice for whistleblowers. When news sources want to go public with a major revelation, they dont need The Times, she lamented. Look no further than Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed widespread government surveillance of phone records and Internet activity.
One of the things that might have discouraged Snowden from taking his story to the Times was what he knew of their past slowness when dealing with such information. And Sullivan traces this hesitancy back to 2005 when the Times sat on a story by two of its investigative reporters. The Times held this story about government eavesdropping, she said, at the urging of the Bush administration, which claimed it would hurt national security. In 2006, when the Times finally published the story it earned the reporters the Pulitzer Prize.
Snowdens story may not win a top prize, but Daniel Ellsberg rates it among the best ever. There has been no more significant disclosure in the history of our country, he told AP. And Ill include the Pentagon Papers in that.
Rather than risking the foot-dragging at the Old Gray Lady, Snowden chose to blow the whistle with Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Guardians U.S.-based website and with the Washington Post, leaving the Times to scramble to catch up with the earthshaking news.
If whistleblowing is defined as exposing secret government actions so as to inform the public about what they should know, to prompt debate, Greenwald wrote in a recent blog, then Snowdens actions are the classic case.
Some Republicans are calling Snowdens actions treasonous, which of course they arent since his disclosures did not come at a time of war and the information was not shared with an enemy. Its also interesting to know that very little of what he disclosed really qualify as top clearance information, and are not even as troubling to national security as the material Bradley Manning delivered to WikiLeaks.
Moreover, what Snowden disclosed are things that are known by nearly a million other people, which makes the disclosures even less likely to be highly classified documents.
Despite the attacks and attempts to mark Snowden as unpatriotic and equal to a terrorist, a Time magazine poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe he did a good thing. Only 30 percent disagreed with his actions, and that approval rating is higher than President Obamas and Congress.
But lets get back to the sclerotic Times and Sullivans admonitions as she quotes counterterrorism expert Richard A. Clarke. The argument that this sweeping search must be kept secret from the terrorists is laughable, he wrote in a recent article in the New York Daily News. Terrorists already assume this sort of thing is being done. Only law-abiding American citizens were blissfully ignorant of what their government was doing.
Snowden and other whistleblowers seem to be basically interested in letting the American public know whats going on in the name of national security that might in the long run violate some of our cherished freedoms. When it was reported that the Obama administration was targeting American citizens with drones, there was a massive outpouring of concern about the lack of transparency and congressional oversight.
Whatever the outcome of Snowdens actionsand he could face up to ten years for each count brought against him in courtthere remains a crying need for Americans to be aware of what the government is doing that could endanger not only our civil liberties but our general welfare.
Of course, waiting for the Old Gray Lady to move promptly on these matters may be wishful thinking. She just aint what she used to be.