Rise of The Press
TIME CODE : 00:00_05:00
The New York Times is considered America’s most powerful newspaper; its offices near Manhattan’s Times Square projects that power for a media institution that often sets the political agenda and tells us what’s important.
And yet, today, there is also fear and loathing inside New York Times newsrooms, where journalists increasingly feel threatened, even intimated, by an administration that has prosecuted more whistleblowers—8 in all-- than any other in American history.
In March 2014, The Times Conference Center hosted a forum to address the state of press freedom. Packed, it was like a media summit of major players there to resist the growing power of the Surveillance State.
Distributed at the event was this 2014 report on Attacks On The Press. The Committee To Protect Journalists charges that (See Headline) “The NSA Puts Journalists Under a Cloud of Suspicion.”
We’re at the New York Times Center in Manhattan for a conference on “Sources and Secrets” -- some of the top journalists in America are here to debate and discuss the growth of the “Surveillance State” in America.
Journalists feel threatened. Uh, politicians now feel threatened. This seems to be an issue that’s gone from the back pages to the front page.
Ralph Engelman works with the Polk Awards sponsoring a respected awards ceremony in an industry that is far more competitive than collaborative:
Ralph Engelman :
...confidentiality of sources is central to uh, the work of a journalist, investigative journalist in particular. And, in addition to the use of the Espionage Act what we’ve learned from the Snowden revelations about the NSA, a how can you guarantee confidentiality?
Engelman sees this event not just as a get together for reporters, but one with an important political mission:
I think there “is” something that has not been said directly that needs to be said, and that is that the sort of political context for this whole crisis in terms of journalism and surveillance and the use of the Espionage Act of 1917. If you go back to the original Act of 1917, (Graphic to come on Espionage Act) it was passed in large measure to suppress anti-war sentiment--sentiment against US entry into the war, First World War...It’s not simply a question of journalistic practice, but it’s also a question of American foreign policy, the ability of journalists and the public to follow what’s going on.
At issue today is the case of James Risen, a Times Reporter who exposed warrantless wiretapping.
After we had reported on the story and nailed it down, we went to the government for comment, in fact, I went to Michael Hayden who was then the Director of the NSA and got him on the phone and told him what we were writing. And before he realized what he was doing, he had given me an on the record comment, and then very quickly after that he and the Bush Administration started putting pressure on my editors demanding that we not run the story.”
Former veteran CIA Analyst Ray McGovern says, that, at first, there was an effort to suppress Risen’s story:
James Risen had this story in the summer of 2004--it was, that Dick Cheney and George Bush told General Hayden to collect everything and forget about this 1st Amendment at NSA about not collecting on Americans by the--just everything, okay!? Now, that was discovered in the summer of 2004, but the New York Times superiors of James Risen went to the White House and said "ewww, ewww, ewww...and the election is coming up." And so, George Bush said "Don't. That's national security, national security, terrorism, terrorism, national security...do not publish that story."
The Times initially sat on the report, but then Risen told his boss--publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, that his story will be told in his new book. The Times publisher then told the White House the newspaper would be going ahead.
And so, Schulzberger, who calls the White House and says "sorry, we're going to have to publish that now." Bush, orders him into the oval offices to tell him, "no, you can't do that."
TIME CODE : 05:00_09:55
He orders the publisher of the New York Times into the White House?
Ray McGovern :
Right. And the publisher of the New York Times and the Washington Bureau Chief show up there, and Bush says "you can't do that!" Now this is the 5th of December, 2005--"you can't do that, okay?" And they say "well, you know, we held off for 15 months for god's sake...you gotta understand."
So, what happened here is that the New York Times caved and Michael Hayden was asked to explain all this in January of 2006. So, one month after Risen's revelations he gets up before the National Press Club and he's asked by Jonathan Landy (laughs)--it's right on YouTube--"General Hayden, why is that you sort of played fast and loose with the 4th amendment?"
Michael Hayden at National Press Club on 4th amendment
“The 4th amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure, that’s what it says.”
Reporter, Jonathan Landy:
But, the measure is “Probable Cause” I believe.
“The amendment says unreasonable search and seizure.”
Reporter, Jonathan Landy:
“But does it not say probable…”
But—the NSA Director was wrong. Probable cause is in the 4th Amendment, but Risen is still being ordered by the Courts to reveal his source—and he is resisting, leading to an ongoing clash and a possible jail term.
“They’re trying to kind of create a path for accepted reporting and that if you as a reporter go outside those parameters, that you’ll be punished and that the sources that you are trying to deal with will be prosecuted.”
Media old-timers like retired Times Editor Seymour Topping see a larger context too:
we’re living in a period ah, of terrorism, of danger, of questions affecting national security, and therefore the whole question of the role of the press becomes… and it’s relationship with the government becomes more and more important...it’s important that the public become more and more aware of the problems confronting the press.
The journalists in the building like Bill Kovach, another former Times Bureau Chief, were also very conscious of what happened to another building in New York, The World Trade Center--creating the pretext for the rise of massive government spying.
when the Trade Center went down, all bets were off. Who was going to challenge the government? Nobody was -- we didn’t do it, the press didn’t do it. The government had the opportunity and George W. Bush opened all the doors.
Fast-forward to the present day, we have situations where newspapers, like the one you worked for here, are actually willing to work with whistleblowers and bring out information that maybe in the past they wouldn’t have done as quickly -- although, we do have the Pentagon Papers as…
Bill Kovach - and I helped work on the Pentagon papers, so, we we’re ready to do it. The Times is ready to do it at anytime if they could confirm the information. We got the Pentagon papers dumped, but we rented 2 floors of a hotel over here for a month! and vetted that data for ourselves -- so we did our own reporting.
“Mr. Ehrlichman are you telling me that the break-in to Dr.Fielding’s office was to satisfy the President of The United States?
“The President wanted very much to make sure that a thing like this could not happen again. How one learned, whether Ellsberg acted alone as a disgruntled employee of a Think Tank, whether he acted a member of an international spy ring delivering secrets to a foreign embassy, or just what his role was--where he fed, had to be determined in the opinion of the investigators by every available means.”
Do you have a sense of “mission”? You know, which is kind of unusual in journalism, a sense of you’re actually uncovering something of value and importance to the American people.
Bill Kovach :
It’s the only reason to be a journalist. I mean, democracy, you know as well as I do -- democracy only survives on a population that has the kind of information that allows ‘em to make a decision to help make a democracy work -- and if the press doesn’t do it, who will?
This is not just an American problem. Journalists in other countries are being spied on too by the NSA and their own intelligence agencies, says Tim McNulty:
TIME CODE : 09:55 _15:00
If you look at journalist in other countries they risk a great deal more than we risk. We may, we may be, you know be prosecuted, or we may end up with adverse publicity or things like that, but we rarely feel that our lives are threatened, that our livelihoods are threatened, that our families. The journalists in many other countries are not only more aggressive. They are more courageous.
This Sources and Secrets Conference included exchanges with representatives of the Intelligence community who argued that whistleblowers like Edward Snowden should be in prison.
“it is my personal opinion--Jim Risen called me out on this--that people who leak classified information, commit crimes, and if we can catch them--which is not always easy--we ought a prosecute them and they ought a go to jail.”
Here’s Robert Litt who is General Counsel for the Director of National Intelligence:
“There are many many things that the government believes need to be kept secret in the national interest, and there’s a full recognition of the fact that the press is almost invariably going to balance that interest different than the government does. And so there’s going to be necessarily an adversarial relationship, and the question is: What kind of processes can we set up to insure that that adversarial relationship is a productive one, rather than a destructive one.”
The panels also included journalists who have been disseminating and publishing secrets leaked by Snowden---like The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and independents like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras:
“Edward Snowden is a rockstar to some, to others of course he is a traitor. And here today, via Skype, we have the 3 journalists who were intrusted by Snowden--chosen by Snowden to be the recipients of top NSA archives.”
Host Roger Cohen:
“Do you feel it’s essential, do you systematically run by the government asked for government response on these stories you’ve done on the Snowden revelations or the stories about the NSA?”
“We’ve had the legal framework since I don’t know, the Alien and Sedition Act, and the Espionage Act of 97 years ago--with which a government could prosecute a journalist for talking about secrets. And it has been a legal culture, a political culture, that’s created the barriers to that.”
Greenwald and Poitras have worked directly with leading newspapers to report secrets buried in these documents.
“He did not think he should be in the position to decide which documents ought a be published, and which ones ought a be suppressed. He came to well established and well regarded newspapers and asked the journalists in those institutions from which he was working to make those judgments about what is in the public interest to publish and what is not. And specifically, at least to me said, a lot of what I’m giving you is for background, for context, for understanding but I don’t think all of this should be published--if I just wanted all this published, I wouldn’t need you guys, I could have just uploaded it to internet myself.”
“The thing that has I think has been positive in terms of Snowden’s disclosures is that it’s reawakened an adversarial press, and that people have been shocked, and that these decisions about surveillance have been made completely in secret--completely without public debate, and that there does seem to be some kind of an awakening...but I wouldn’t call it a shift of the pendulum.”
And now, an initially skeptical American media has showered them with top prizes:
Greenwald, Poitras and Gellman won the admired Polk Awards
The next question: would the media honor Edward Snowden’s contribution as a whistleblower? In the end they didn’t, but newspapers that carried his leaks did win the even more prestigious Pulitzer Prize.
These reports were not always picked up or praised because establishment journalism does not trust crusaders like Greenwald and Poitras, says Rory O’Connor of Stony Brook University:
Rory O’Connor :
Because they’re too independent, and because even as you heard, the editors of the top publications here, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and so on, all of them said on the panels today in fact that they not have been aggressive enough, that they have collaborated perhaps too much with the government in the past. These are the people who run the major media organizations being self-critical and saying “No, we don’t need to have more humility”, which is what was suggested by Mr. Litt, the representative of the NSA and the CIA, he said that the press needed more humility. I was pleased at least that the leaders of the mainstream organizations struck back against that and said “No, we don’t need more humility, we need more aggressive reporting”. And I agree with that.”
TIME CODE : 15:00 _20:00
Before the big prize was given, publications like the magazine Politico framed the challenge facing the powers who run Establishment journalism.
Wrote media critic Dylan Byers: “Honoring the NSA reporting...would inevitably be perceived as a political act, with the Pulitzer committee invoking its prestige on behalf of one side in a bitter national argument….
…Yet to pass on the NSA story would be to risk giving the appearance of timidity. The major media resolved the debate this way: They recognized the Snowden disclosures without recognizing him or the people closest to him.”
Snowden was magnanimous saying: “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.”
Ben Wizner, Snowden’s lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, also praised the press:
I do think that the last year in particular has been an extraordinary year for journalists, particularly American journalists, that they have been courageous in standing up in the face of government claims of national security, that they have not ignored those government claims. They have redacted stories where appropriate but in general, you know, they understood that the balance had tipped far too much towards deference.
As the big media now recognize the value of whistleblowers in the press, other media outlets say they have to be more aggressive in their own reporting and not just rely on documents they are leaked. Jonathan Landay is an investigative reporter for the Washington Bureau of McClatchy newspapers:
Jonathan Landay :
“I don’t email sources. We just broke the story on the big fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence committee. Most of the groundbreaking work on that was done by a 22 year old freelance--paid freelancer who did nothing but doorstep committees on The Hill, going to people’s homes, got me doing that again, going out at night to visit people. And that’s how we were able to do that without sort of like sitting there in the office and taking phone calls.”
The Issues at this conference on the rights of the press also deal with another right: The right of the public to be informed about what governments do in their name. That’s the focus of Amy Goodman’s concern.
Goodman is an anchor of a popular independent daily newscast called: Democracy Now:
Amy Goodman :
Information is the oxygen of a democracy, it’s not just about participating in democratic processes, it’s about being informed--that’s what makes democracy meaningful. And when we don’t have that information--when a very powerful entity--the government has the information and the people don’t, that is not a very healthy sign, it does not bode well for democracy.
Goodman is a strong believer in the Freedom of Information Act that guarantees access to government information—when the act is respected. She cites one current example of the government insisting on keeping secret something that happened 60 years ago.
The issue is the US role, if any, in the arrest of South Africa’s late leader Nelson Mandela in 1962.
Ryan Shapiro, A, MIT graduate student is now suing for the information after the government turned down his request:
Amy Goodman :
Ryan Shapiro, the graduate student at MIT, has sued for more information under the Freedom of Information Act than anyone in US history. And one of the issues he cares deeply about is, what happened to Nelson Mandela? How was it that he was picked up in the early 60s? Was it just the South African government? or was Nelson Mandela targeted by the CIA and intelligence given over to the South African apartheid regime? And why is it that something that took place more than half a century ago--we can’t learn about today? That is a very serious question--that doesn’t have to do with national security, that has to do with embarrassment...and that is not acceptable.
In the end, this is a fight to keep the public informed.
You don’t just achieve democracy, people have to fight for it every single day--have to be ever vigilant. So, now that the information is out there, and we don’t even have all the information, people have to do decide what they want to do...how much power they want to inview in the government.
So what will come from calls to action like Amy Goodmans’ and mainstream media conferences decrying the problem?
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:09
Rory O’Connor :
I think nothing will come out of events like this. Honestly, to answer your question, you know the final panel was entitled “where do we go from here”, but actually there was very little of anyone addressing where we go from here. We’re to stay here in the United States, right now, where the press is under attack by the Obama administration, a greater attack than any previous administration, in fact than all previous administrations rolled together. And so, what, the question is “Where does the media go from here”, faced with this attack, faced with the threat of further imprisonment on a part of, Times reporters like James Risen. You know the mainstream media themselves are under attack, and I think that, one thing I’m hoping you’re going to see is a greater unity among the media.
NSA Whistleblowers like Russ Tice say that the NSA at first labeled him paranoid to discredit him with the press:
Russ Tice :
Paranoid is right. They use paranoid. And they did that on purpose I think, because they realized that if I ever did go to the press, that’s exactly what they would say to the press. Because remember, back then, there aren’t any… I'm the original NSA whistleblower when this, with this sort of thing. This is 2004 / 2005 right? So, you know, when I finally did come out that’s exactly what they did. They said “you’re talking to the crazy guy!” “You want your source to be the crazy guy?”
So, in other words, even though you had information and speculation that was informed, they basically attempted to discredit you!
Russ Tice :
But now Whistleblowers are fighting back by working together, and getting the society and the media to recognize their contributions. Another recent award named after Ron Ridenhour, a soldier who exposed the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam in which US soldiers slaughtered villagers and children, saluted Ed Snowden and the reporters bringing his documents to the public.
“I’m very happy to be here, very honored to be here to make this introduction to two extraordinary people: Laura Poitras and Edward Snowden.”
Author James Bamford. The first to expose NSA activities introduced the winners:
A live message by Edward Snowden, now living in exile in Russia, was heard:
Do you think it's right that the NSA is collecting more information about Americans in America than it is about Russians in Russia? Because that's what our systems do. We watch our own people more closely than we watch any other population in the world. Despite the protections, they are policy based, the technical systems ingest and collect everyone in this room's communication. When you pick up the phone and when you make a call, when you make a purchase, when you buy a book, all of that is collected. And I could see it at my desk crossing my screen.”
Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says that journalists are not the only ones who fear the power of the NSA
Ray McGovern :
Danny, you ask about journalists, you’re asking about, well, everybody is afraid. It’s not just the journalists, it’s people like Barack Obama, it’s people like Dianne Feinstein--think about what the NSA has on Dianne Feinstein and her husband, who has made billions from Defense, and post office, and all kinds of nice cozy contracts, okay?
Are you saying--what a minute, let me just understand this. You’re saying President Obama, in your opinion--informed opinion, has reasons to fear the power of the NSA, has to be careful in terms of the dance he’s done about “yes, he’ll reform it, but not too much.”
Ray McGovern :
Well, Danny when you’re collecting everything on everybody--who among us is as pure as Caesar's wife? Everybody has got something to hide...that’s the idiocy of these people who say “I’ve got nothing to hide!” (laughs) Well, you know...everyone has things they want to hide...
Coming up next in our surveillance series: The interface between the spy agencies and the technology companies. Can their cooperation be considered complicity in spying? Do they violate the trust of customers? Next.