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21 Sep, 2016 16:00

Edward Snowden: The hypocrisy is in the (Washington) Post

Edward Snowden: The hypocrisy is in the (Washington) Post

Consider the following: A newspaper receives documents about mass state surveillance from a whistleblower. It publishes a selection of the material. It is awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting of the leaks.

Then, a couple of years later, having made money from the whistleblower and gained a prestigious award - it publishes an editorial arguing that the whistleblower- who had to leave his country, his family and loved ones and claim political asylum in another - does not deserve an official pardon.

Whatever your views are on whistleblowers, I’m sure you’ll agree that the newspaper has behaved pretty reprehensibly. We can talk about hypocrisy, betrayal, double standards, treachery - and also think of quite a few unprintable words to describe what the paper has done.

But really, the behavior of the Washington Post - the newspaper in question - should not surprise us.

The first paper in history to call for the prosecution of its own source - after accepting a Pulitzer (to quote the excellent Glenn Greenwald) - has, for a long time been an elite-friendly, pro-war organ masquerading as a progressive publication promoting the 'public interest'. And their treatment of Edward Snowden, the whistleblower in question, is par for the course.

This is a paper, after all, that enthusiastically pushed the case for the illegal Iraq war in 2003 - running no fewer than 27 editorials in favor of President George W. Bush’s criminal enterprise- which has left around 1m Iraqis dead. More recently, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) noted that the Post ran 16 negative stories about Bernie Sanders between 6-7th March this year - a crucial time in the campaign for the Democratic Party nomination.

The Post has also been at the forefront of the anti-Russian propaganda war currently being waged in the US. Uber neocon hawk and Iraq war supporter Anne Applebaum writes a bi-weekly foreign affairs column for the paper, which she uses to attack Russia and issue dire warnings about the Russian ‘threat’.

Her column of 8th September was entitled: "How Russia could spark a US electoral disaster" and took anti-Russian paranoia to new levels. "They (the Russians) might try to get Trump elected. Alternatively — and this would, of course, be even more devastating — they might try to rig the election for Clinton," Applebaum claimed. In 2014, in a piece entitled "War in Europe is not a hysterical idea", she asked whether Europeans should "drop everything, mobilize, prepare for total war [with Russia] while it was still possible".

Can we really expect a newspaper that publishes Applebaum’s anti-Russia tirades to support a pardon for Edward Snowden in its editorials?
Which begs the question: why did Snowden decide to work with the Washington Post in the first place? To answer that we have to put ourselves in his shoes.

The dilemma that whistleblowers face is how to get the documents they are leaking out to as wide an audience as possible. That inevitably means using, at least in part, mainstream print media.
Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, was asked about this at an international media conference I attended earlier this summer in Moscow. 

Why, Assange was asked, via a video link from London, did Wikileaks deal with publications which could be expected to be ‘Establishment friendly’? Assange answered that Wikileaks wanted to make as big an impact as it possibly could, and that meant it had to work with some of the West’s biggest newspapers.

It’s easy to understand this, but, as we’ve seen, difficulties arise as the agenda of the whistleblowers rarely coincide with the newspapers they work with. The relationship between Julian Assange and the British Guardian newspaper was constructive at first, but later broke down with disagreements over the redaction of material.

In February, the Guardian published an editorial arguing that the Assange, who has been holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012, was no victim of "arbitrary detention" as a UN panel had just ruled.

Guardian columnists have been very critical of Assange too, though the newspaper has published articles in defense of him as well.

The New York Times - another newspaper which published early Wikileaks material - also fell out with Assange. In an article entitled "Wikileaks, a Postcript", the paper's former editor Bill Keller described Assange as a 'rock-star leaker' and blasted the Wikileaks founder for signing up to a TV series with the "Kremlin’s English-language propaganda arm" RT.

So, as we see, Western newspapers falling out with whistleblowers who have provided them with documents is nothing new. It’s worth noting though that, unlike the Washington Post, neither the NY Times, or the Guardian, who also received leaked NSA documents, have opposed a pardon for Edward Snowden.

By taking such a hard line on the man whose leaks it was only too happy to publish, the Post has shot itself in the foot. It’s editorial decision has been widely criticized - not just by Glenn Greenwald in the Intercept.

"The Washington Post has stunned many people in the United States, including a large section of the country’s journalistic community, by coming out against a pardon for whistleblower Edward Snowden," reports the Guardian.

And today, a sign that perhaps the Post has realized that it went too far. In a new piece, entitled "As a source- and a patriot Edward Snowden deserves a Presidential pardon", the paper’s media columnist, Margaret Sullivan, takes a very different line from the now notorious 17th September editorial: "Snowden did an important — and brave — service for the American public and, in fact, the world, when he made it possible for news organizations to reveal widespread government surveillance of citizens. Some of that surveillance broke the law; some, although within the law, was nevertheless outrageous and unacceptable".

Sullivan is right. Snowden performed a service for the American public and the world. And so too, for that matter, has Julian Assange, who, lest we forget, has not been formally charged with any offense. Both men deserve their freedom: it’s the endless war lobby - and not those who expose what governments get up to in our name - who need to be held to account. Only don’t expect too much help from the Washington Post with that one.

Follow Neil Clark on Twitter @NeilClark66

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.