Read

Search form

From Greenwald to Assange: Prosecuting Our Watchdogs of Democracy

From Greenwald to Assange: Prosecuting Our Watchdogs of Democracy
Mon, 6/17/2013 - by J. Andrés Araiza

Revealing American secrets appears to be the ultimate betrayal for the Obama Administration and members of Congress. But as the mainstream media has a field day eviscerating Obama’s secret NSA spying program, a separate clandestine debate is beginning to trickle into public discourse: how to prosecute journalists who publish big leaks.

Journalists in the business may publicly scoff at the idea. But just look at Big Media's cowering, near-silent response to the U.S. government's attack on Julian Assange and Wikileaks — which has concurrently sprung back into the news with the trial that's now underway in Fort Meade against whistleblower Bradley Manning — and you get an eerie sense where things might be headed.

At least one U.S. representative last week called for Glenn Greenwald’s prosecution. Greenwald is the columnist from The Guardian who revealed information leaked by Edward Snowden, a former government contractor working with Booz Allen Hamilton, showing the extent of the U.S. government's massive dragnet that is scooping up communications histories of millions of Americans. Revelations about the National Security Agency PRISM program are continuing to unfold.

But instead of defending Americans' civil liberties, U.S. Representative Peter King (R-NY) on FOX News called for Greenwald’s prosecution:

“Not only did he disclose this information, he said that he has names of CIA agents and assets around the world, and he’s threatening to disclose that …. That to me is a direct attack against Americans … putting American lives at risk.”

While appearing on MSNBC, Greenwald denied having covert CIA names and threatening to reveal them. In fact, he shot back that it was more than offensive when a sitting member of Congress should target a “watchdog of democracy”:

“I think that most Americans find it instinctively repulsive the idea that journalists should be arrested and prosecuted for doing what journalists are suppose to do which is reporting on what the United States government does in the dark.”

But is the official response to Greenwald's revelations so different from the government's witch-bating of Assange, whose Wikileaks exposed war crimes and unlawful military activity in the Iraq war? Not very, and therein lies the problem.

Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in Britain since June 19, 2012, to avoid extradition to Sweden where he is facing sexual assault allegations. He fears that if he is extradited to Sweden, he will be turned over to the U.S. to face trial for publishing hundreds of thousands of leaked American diplomatic cables. The leaker himself, Bradley Manning, could face life in prison for exposing, among other things, a video that showed U.S. attack helicopters slaughtering civilians in Baghdad.

Leaders from both political parties called Assange a “high-tech terrorist.” Chief among them, California Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote an opinion piece — eerily similar to Rep. King’s claims — for the Wall Street Journal on December 7, 2010 demanding the WikiLeaks founder be prosecuted under the Espionage Act.

“Mr. Assange claims to be a journalist and would no doubt rely on the First Amendment to defend his actions," she wrote. "But he is no journalist: He is an agitator intent on damaging our government, whose policies he happens to disagree with, regardless of who gets hurt.

The fundamental difference between Greenwald and Assange rests on the philosophical question: What qualifies someone as a journalist? This is a philosophical debate — now more than ever, in the era of Internet and citizen-journalism — because there are no concrete and universal requirements to be sanctified in the media profession.

Traditionally, a journalist was recognized as someone who compiled information to be presented as news through a chosen medium. The transmission vessel could be a newspaper, a television or a radio.

But let’s look at that definition through a contemporary lens. Anyone (you, myself and even my 83-year-old grandmother) today can gather information and share it through a chosen medium. See something cool happening? Write 140 characters and tweet it. Snap a picture of an interesting protest? Put a fancy filter on it and share it through Instagram.

Mainstream journalists (I used to be one) like to believe they are special. After all, many of them graduated from prestigious journalism schools, where “journalism ethics” have been hammered into their brains. But a lot of journalists actually don’t hold journalism degrees. Some don’t possess college degrees at all. Yet we're all part of this ever-changing landscape of that profession formerly known as the Fourth Estate.

Now, new media altered the idea altogether of who can be a journalist. I like to believe everyone can be and should be journalists. When we see something important, we should write about it, photograph it, or record audio and share it with as many people as possible.

That’s what both Greenwald and Assange did. They held important information that showed ways the U.S. government was lying to the public, and revealed it. Assange showed the slaughter of civilians. Greenwald revealed spying on Americans.

Both men took courageous leaps. As the mainstream media runs to the side of Greenwald and other traditionally recognized “watchdogs of democracy,” they should remember what happened to Assange. The next time reporters expose government lies, they too might be labeled "high-tech terrorist."

 

Add new comment

Sign Up

Article Tabs

anti-fracking protests, Keep It In the Ground, protester arrests, undercover agents

Emails obtained through an open records act request show that the Lakewood Police Department in Colorado collected details about a BLM oil and gas lease protest from undercover officers as the event was being planned.

Greek privatizations, transit privatization, Panhellenic Railway Association, TrainOSE, water privatization, Thessaloniki Water Supply & Sewage, Greek austerity policies

Late last month, the Panhellenic Railway Association took to the streets to protest a slew of public transport privatizations scheduled to take place later this year. "The government defiantly and shamelessly gives away the national wealth," it said.

#WebOfDenial, climate denial, fossil fuel industry, Exxon climate lies

In the U.S. Senate, champions for climate action and accountability are loudly putting the blame on think tanks and denier-for-hire front groups that have created doubt about climate science.

Universal Credit, Citizen’s Advice Scotland, U.K. austerity policies, welfare benefits reform, Citizen Advice, New Policy Institute, welfare payment delays

Claimants are facing hefty delays in receiving benefits and unfair sanctions.

ISTANBUL, Turkey

Soldiers versus police versus a mob in the newsroom of Turkey’s most-watched news channel — and dozens of reporters to document it all.

This week we prepare activists for what they might encounter as they take to the streets for justice and equality.

Posted 3 days 16 hours ago
Sherry Hernandez, Senka Huskic, housing crisis, foreclosures crisis, mortgage-lending crisis, Countrywide, PennyMac, CitiMortgage, Trustee Corps, foreclosures fraud, banking crimes, TARP, HAMP

"If we had known from the beginning how corrupt the system was, we probably never would have started."

Posted 4 days 16 hours ago
Pakistan climate impacts, climate change in Pakistan, extreme flooding, glacial melt

Glaciers are melting, extreme floods are becoming commonplace, and the country's infrastructure is struggling to keep up as climactic changes wreak havoc, threatening people's daily existence across Pakistan.

Posted 5 days 16 hours ago
#23ways, 23 ways, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, We Are Here Campaign

Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson, Pink, Bono, and others explain why it's time to take action to heal the long history of systemic racism in America.

Posted 4 days 16 hours ago
Greek privatizations, transit privatization, Panhellenic Railway Association, TrainOSE, water privatization, Thessaloniki Water Supply & Sewage, Greek austerity policies

Late last month, the Panhellenic Railway Association took to the streets to protest a slew of public transport privatizations scheduled to take place later this year. "The government defiantly and shamelessly gives away the national wealth," it said.

Posted 1 day 17 hours ago
#WebOfDenial, climate denial, fossil fuel industry, Exxon climate lies

In the U.S. Senate, champions for climate action and accountability are loudly putting the blame on think tanks and denier-for-hire front groups that have created doubt about climate science.

Activists at the political conventions should prepare themselves and their cellphones.

Sherry Hernandez, Senka Huskic, housing crisis, foreclosures crisis, mortgage-lending crisis, Countrywide, PennyMac, CitiMortgage, Trustee Corps, foreclosures fraud, banking crimes, TARP, HAMP

"If we had known from the beginning how corrupt the system was, we probably never would have started."

#23ways, 23 ways, Black Lives Matter, police brutality, We Are Here Campaign

Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, Jennifer Hudson, Pink, Bono, and others explain why it's time to take action to heal the long history of systemic racism in America.

Rooftop Revolutionaries

A street-art, activist inspired lyric video off of Rooftop Revolutionaries' WHITE EP, Sick, Tired & Wasted.