From Greenwald to Assange: Prosecuting Our Watchdogs of Democracy

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."

 

Article Tabs

Occupy Central, Joshua Wong, Hong Kong democracy protests, Umbrella Movement, freedom of association, freedom to assemble, Hong Kong Federation of Students, Scholarism, Leung Chun-ying

"Today is a political prosecution," said Joshua Wong after his arrest last week. "My involvement in the Civic Square action is the best thing I have accomplished in the four years I've been involved in social student movements."

Freddie Gray, Baltimore protests, police brutality, police violence, Fortress Investment Group, Imperial Capital, The Abell Foundation, purchasing debt, foreclosures

Wall Street hedge fund Fortress Investment Group and L.A.-based Imperial Capital bought up hundreds of small debts — from unpaid water bills to delinquent property taxes — and could take property worth tens of millions of dollars if families can’t pay.

Act Out! [27] - Activist Autumn begins, sign the petition & Good Will Hunting rhymes

This week we've got a veritable shit ton happening on the Front Lines, so ready your calendars for the activist onslaught.

Issues of police brutality – like the July killing of Paul Castaway near Denver – are opening the public's eyes to the continuing struggles of Native Americans and other groups unfairly targeted by law enforcement.

Privatization advocates contend that Katrina brought essential reforms to Louisiana’s education system – but the facts tell a different story, as black residents report they live in a city that has yet to recover.

The lawsuit filed by the Center for Food Safety accuses the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of withholding information about GMOs for more than 13 years.

Posted 6 days 22 hours ago
rising homelessness, chronic homelessness, Los Angeles homeless, Poverty Matters, Section 8 federal housing

The number of people who are chronically homeless has overwhelmed the dwindling supply of affordable housing in southern California's sprawling metropolitan area.

Posted 6 days 22 hours ago
household debt, student debt, credit card debt, debt illegitimacy, International Citizen debt Audit Network, odious debt, debt resistance, positive money, negative-interest currency

No street protests are necessary, no confrontations with riot police, to stop payment on a credit card or student loan – the financial system is vulnerable to a few million mouse clicks.

Posted 5 days 12 hours ago
money in politics, Super PACs, Federal Election Commission, Citizens United, Campaign Legal Center, campaign finance laws, campaign finance reform

Spending more than twice as much as the last three White House races combined, the unregulated fundraising juggernauts backed by unlimited contributions from wealthy donors threaten to completely shape – and control – the 2016 race.

Posted 6 days 22 hours ago
Guatemala protests, Otto Pérez Molina, #RenunciaYa, anti-corruption protests, CICIG, Guatemala massacres

Pressure to impeach President Otto Pérez Molina for his involvement in a major corruption scandal that has thrown the country into political crisis is mounting.

Posted 5 days 12 hours ago
350.org, The Academy of Sciences, fossil fuel divestment

The Natural History Museum and 350.org launched a collaborative campaign calling on the country’s top science and natural history museums to dump all stocks in oil, coal and gas.

Privatization advocates contend that Katrina brought essential reforms to Louisiana’s education system – but the facts tell a different story, as black residents report they live in a city that has yet to recover.

Beirut protests, You Stink! movement

Demonstrators have gathered for weeks in downtown Beirut calling for the resignation of officials responsible for the current waste crisis and demanding new elections.

Moira Drury died just over a fortnight ago after the U.K.'s Department of Work and Pensions claimed she was ineligible for disability benefits – even though she suffered from paralysis, epilepsy, diabetes, a failing bladder and depression.

money in politics, Super PACs, Federal Election Commission, Citizens United, Campaign Legal Center, campaign finance laws, campaign finance reform

Spending more than twice as much as the last three White House races combined, the unregulated fundraising juggernauts backed by unlimited contributions from wealthy donors threaten to completely shape – and control – the 2016 race.

Sign Up