April 17, 2014
Snowden, Christmas, CFKSaturday, December 28, 2013
The militant source
If the Western world’s mainstream press consensus picked Pope Francis as the undisputed man of the year, runner-up Edward Snowden was less of a debate-free candidate and won some points this week to continue to climb up to stardom status in 2014.
The former IT engineer at the US National Security Agency (NSA) who exposed mass Internet surveillance decided to up his public profile away from the obscurity of his life in political asylum in Russia. He produced a lengthy myth-building interview with The Washington Post on Christmas Eve and broadcast an “alternative” Christmas message for the British audiences to rally advocacy for his cause of privacy and government transparency.
Like the Argentine pope, who was appointed in March, Snowden has had the world’s cameras and microphones at his disposal anytime he wanted since he decided to release NSA documents on the Web watch programmes. But unlike the pope, he has barely used them, still concerned about his future as a US outcast with virtually nowhere to go. Instead, he has decided to use a handful of journalists — in the old style — as the vehicle to reach the large global audiences.
This week he said that his mission had been “accomplished” by the public debate he helped to trigger. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”
The “Christmas message” on the British Channel 4 sought to put his struggle in a historical context. Said Snowden, after quoting George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia, “A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves, an unrecorded, un-analyzed thought. And that’s a problem because privacy matters; privacy is what allows us to determine who we are and who we want to be.”
Take the Christmas choice of Snowden’s latest PR move as pure coincidence, but it might not be so. While the pope was preaching in Saint Peter’s square that each war under way in the world should end immediately on Christmas Day, Snowden was reminding the public that there are other immediate problems for Westerners to watch: their own governments.
“The conversation occurring today will determine the amount of trust we can place both in the technology that surrounds us and the government that regulates it. Together we can find a better balance, end mass surveillance and remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying,” said Snowden, looking straight into the camera (http://vimeo.com/82666985 ).
Snowden falls into a category of source different from the ones the world has seen before, starting from Mark “Deep Throat” Felt of the Watergate case onwards. He is not just the channel for key information to make it to the public but also the star of the story. Unlike the shady Felt, whose identity was only revealed decades later, the source of the 21st century is a person with a mission who hands out the story to a journalist who also has a mission - in this case The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald. In doing so, Snowden is not only opening the doors for journalists to pursue a story à la Woodward and Bernstein but also committing in mind and body to the success of the story he has helped to create.
The relationship between source and journalist gets revisited. Greenwald believes in the Snowden cause as much as the source himself does, and he says it openly. He believes his source is doing “something heroic,” not only for the benefit of the United States for that of the entire world. He is a militant journalist, as they would say here in Argentina these days. And yet we believes that the quality of his journalism lies in being accurate in the reporting that promotes his agenda. This week Greenwald engaged in a heated on-the-air discussion with an MSNBC anchor on objective journalism, “I do defend (Snowden) just like people on MSNBC defend President Obama and his officials and Democratic Party leaders 24 hours a day.” This is the kind of journalism that is getting the millions: Greenwald has just got the first 50 million US dollars from Pierre Omidyar, the eBay founder who has pledged to cough up to 250 million for a new media venture.
This privileged source-journalist relationship, however, only makes sense when a higher — much higher — public interest is at stake. Domestically this week, a cable from the State-run Télam news agency quoted one line from President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner dismissing comments from a ruling party congressman about her possibly running for office in 2015. The cable had no byline and no background information as to when or where the head of State made those comments (http://www.telam.com.ar/notas/201312/46052-cristina-desestimo-cualquier-tipo-de-candidatura-para-las-elecciones-de-2015.html ). The source killed the journalist: it is also known as Press Release.