Yesterday the Pulitzer prizes for 2013, considered the apex of establishment US journalistic achievement, were announced. Of those the public service prize is the most coveted and the committee stunned the world by giving it to Edward Snowden, adding to the Polk award that he received earlier in the year.
Actually Snowden didn’t actually get either of the awards because he is not a journalist. But he might as well be considered a recipient because the Polk awards went to four journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post for articles based on his leaks and the Pulitzer prize went to the Guardian and the Washington Post for publishing those stories.
It is clear that both the Polk and Pulitzer organizations are not buying the US government’s claims that what Snowden did was an act of treason for which he should be punished and that all those who disseminated that information are accomplices. As Roy Greenslade writes, the fact that these solidly establishment journalistic organizations were indirectly honoring Snowden was a vindication of what he did and this was pretty much recognized by the media worldwide with front page stories.
Note this also – The Guardian’s surveillance revelations last year were attacked by right-wing papers as some kind of treachery. Snowden was regarded not as a whistleblower but as a traitor. Indeed, an article in The Times last month by Edward Lucas was headlined “Edward Snowden isn’t a hero. He’s a traitor.”
And, finally, note this – Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, after hearing of the award, said: “We are particularly grateful for our colleagues across the world who supported The Guardian in circumstances which threatened to stifle our reporting.
“And we share this honour, 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.”
Even Fox News, which spared no opportunity to denounce Snowden, recognized that this marked a turning point, with a piece entitled “Snowden’s revenge: Journalists win Pulitzers for his NSA leaks” in which the author Howard Kurtz says:
Ed Snowden, the fugitive from justice now hiding out in Moscow, didn’t win a Pulitzer Prize today. But his handiwork was rewarded in dramatic fashion.
The chief beneficiary of Snowden’s NSA leaks, liberal columnist Glenn Greenwald, shared the most prestigious of the prizes, the public service award, although it was issued in the name of the Guardian (which published his work along with that of colleagues Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill). Bart Gellman of the Washington Post, who also dealt extensively with Snowden, was given a Pulitzer for public service as well.
There had been some pregame chatter that the judges, operating under the auspices of Columbia University, might bypass the Guardian and the Post out of distaste for Snowden and his role in the leaks. But that was never a likely scenario.
But if the Pulitzer standard is breaking the most important and newsworthy stories of 2013, there is little question that those leaks utterly transformed the global debate over surveillance, and prompted President Obama to propose new restrictions on the way the NSA operates in pursuit of terrorists.
Snowden himself issued a statement that is worth reading in its entirety.
I am grateful to the committee for their recognition of the efforts of those involved in the last year’s reporting, and join others around the world in congratulating Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Barton Gellman, Ewen MacAskill, and all of the others at the Guardian and Washington Post on winning the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. 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.
This decision reminds us that what no individual conscience can change, a free press can. My efforts would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers, and they have my gratitude and respect for their extraordinary service to our society. Their work has given us a better future and a more accountable democracy.
Well done, Edward Snowden and all those journalists who published, and continue to publish stories based on his documents. You deserved this.