Shooting the messenger: Snowden, PRISM and our post-September 11 future

America’s newspapers are supposed to fight for freedom of speech and transparency in government, both at home and abroad. But when it comes to whistleblower Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA’s massive surveillance program, they are rolling over and retreating.

The editorial pages of both the Washington Post and the New York Times seem more concerned with national security than civil liberties. It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that even on the pages of such esteemed beneficiaries of the First Amendment, one finds so many voices championing such a significant expansion of state power, while only paying lip service to the shrinking space in the public debate devoted to our rights as citizens.

Take, for example, Thomas Friedman’s knee jerk ‘remember 9-11’ reaction to the leak. Friedman is one of America’s most respected journalists, a man who made his career covering the Arab-Israeli conflict. Looking back, his  book  “From Beirut to Jerusalem” is probably one of the reasons why I’m pursuing journalism today. But Friedman, who supported the Iraq War, has been something of a hawk since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“…I do wonder if some of those who unequivocally defend this disclosure are behaving as if 9/11 never happened – that the only thing we have to fear is government intrusion in our lives, not the intrusion of those who gather in secret cells in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan…,” Friedman wrote in his June 11 New York Times opinion piece.

Who can pretend that 9-11 didn’t happen? We have collectively chosen to let the event define our future. The Western and Muslim words have been watching tragedy unfold day after day for the past decade, from suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices to torture, rendition and drone strikes. And this NSA program is only latest evidence that the “long war” may be both boundless and endless. Mr. Friedman wonders if those of us who support the disclosure and oppose PRISM remember 9-11. Yes, we all remember 9-11. Some of us are just trying very hard not to forget the Constitution as a consequence.

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US journalists trade independence for access

(By Deutsche Welle) In the US, journalists are sacrificing editorial independence in exchange for access to top politicians. The practice has a long history in Germany, where interviews often must be authorized before publication.

In democratic societies, the media has long struggled with the political class to define what information is fit to print. While journalists seek access to high-level officials for a scoop, officialdom often does its best to control the flow of information to journalists in order to mold public opinion in its interests.

But in the United States, the balance of power between the journalist and the politician has increasingly shifted in favor of the latter. According to a July 15 report by Jeremy W. Peters of the New York Times, political journalists in Washington are increasingly trading their editorial independence for high-level access to members of the Obama administration.

Quotes gleaned from administration officials by a reporter are not just reviewed by the publication’s editor, they are often sent to the very same officials for approval – and even redaction – before going to print.

According to Stephen Ward, there is a growing and unhealthy “pressure on journalists and … on news organizations to get the story, to be first, to be the first tweet.”

“The officials who know this are quite aware that in this era of 24 hours news, access is king,” Ward, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told DW. “This is just a game of access – it’s as old as journalism.”

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