Newspapers get Pulitzer Prize thanks to Snowden leaks

The prize this year shows that journalists often have to rely on sources with controversial reputations

Some consider Edward Snowden a traitor. Others consider him a hero. But one thing is certain: The former contractor for the National Security Agency (NSA) was sure a good source for reporters.

The Guardian and The Washington Post have won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their series of stories on NSA surveillance methods based on classified documents leaked by Snowden.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger said the newspaper shared “this honour, not only with our colleagues at the Washington Post, but also 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.”

In addition, Snowden said in his own statement the Pulitzer was “a vindication for everyone who believes the public has a role in government.”

“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,” Snowden added.

Snowden, who has been charged with espionage, is now thought to be living in Russia. Reporters relied heavily on his leaked documents for their stories that stunned much of the world.

"Each one of these awards just provides further vindication that what [Snowden] did in coming forward was absolutely the right thing to do and merits gratitude, and not indictments and decades in prison," Glenn Greenwald, a reporter for The Guardian, and who won both the Pulitzer and the Polk Award, said in a statement quoted by Mashable.

"None of us would be here … without the fact that someone decided to sacrifice their life to make this information available," Laura Poitras, who also shared in the awards, added. "And so this award is really for Edward Snowden."

As a result of the revelations, some changes were enacted by President Obama in U.S. surveillance methods – though critics want to see more done to ensure individual privacy rights. Even major tech companies in December released a statement saying that the U.S. government needs to more transparent as it gathers information, InsideCounsel reported.

Meanwhile, this week, The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson proclaimed that, “Awarding the Pulitzer for public service to the Guardian and the Washington Post should go down as about the easiest call the prize committee has ever had to make. It would have been a scandal, this year, if there had been no Pulitzer related to the documents that Edward Snowden… leaked to several reporters. This was a defining case of the press doing what it is supposed to do.”

Over at Fox News, Howard Kurtz confirmed that “some conservative critics are sure to denounce the awarding of the Pulitzers because Snowden broke the law to furnish the journalists with hundreds of thousands of pages of classified material on the NSA’s massive surveillance program. Many are no fans of Greenwald, viewing him as a left-wing activist on national security issues, although in this case he functioned as a reporter and the accuracy of his work was not seriously challenged.”

But a clear message was sent by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who said in a tweet, “Awarding the Pulitzer to Snowden enablers is a disgrace.”


Further reading:

Tech giants make appeal to reform government surveillance tactics

Contributing Author

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein is a veteran writer and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. A graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he has won several...

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