This article has been republished with the permission of its author – the consummate actor, filmmaker and talented writer John Cusack. John is a board member of the journalism advocacy group Freedom of the Press Foundation.
At the heart of Edward Snowden’s decision to expose the NSA’s massive phone and Internet spying programs was a fundamental belief in the people’s right-to-know. “My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” he said in an interview with the Guardian.
From the State’s point of view, he’s committed a crime. From his point of view, and the view of many others, he has sacrificed for the greater good because he knows people have the right to know what the government is doing in their name. And legal, or not, he saw what the government was doing as a crime against the people and our rights.
For the sake of argument, this should be called The Snowden Principle.
When The Snowden Principle is invoked and revelations of this magnitude are revealed; it is always met with predictable establishment blowback from the red and blue elites of state power. Those in charge are prone to hysteria and engage in character assassination, as are many in the establishment press that have been co-opted by government access . When The Snowden Principle is evoked the fix is always in and instead of looking at the wrongdoing exposed, they parrot the government position no matter what the facts
The Snowden Principle just cannot be tolerated…
Even mental illness is pondered as a possible reason that these pariahs would insist on the public’s right to know at the highest personal costs to their lives and the destruction of their good names. The public’s right to know—This is the treason. The utter corruption, the crime.
But as law professor Jonathan Turley reminds us, a lie told by everyone is not the truth. “The Republican and Democratic parties have achieved a bipartisan purpose in uniting against the public’s need to know about massive surveillance programs and the need to redefine privacy in a more surveillance friendly image,” he wrote recently.
We can watch as The Snowden Principle is predictably followed in the reaction from many of the fourth estate – who serve at the pleasure of the king.
Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC suggests that Glenn Greenwald’s coverage was “misleading” and said he was too “close to the story.” Snowden was no whistleblower, and Glenn was no journalist she suggests.
Jeffrey Toobin, at the New Yorker, calls Snowden “a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”
Another journalist, Willard Foxton, asserted that Glenn Greenwald amounted to the leader of a “creepy cult.”
David Brooks of the New York Times accuses Snowden- not the Gov–of betraying everything from the Constitution to all American privacy …
Michael Grunwald of TIME seems to suggest that that if you are against the NSA spying program you want to make America less safe.
Then there’s Richard Cohen at the Washington Post, who as Gawker points out, almost seems to be arguing that a journalist’s job is to keep government secrets not actually report on them.
The Snowden Principle makes for some tortured logic.
The government’s reaction has been even worse. Senators have called Snowden a “traitor,” the authorities claim they’re going to treat his case as espionage. Rep. Peter King outrageously called for the prosecution of Glenn Greenwald for exercising his basic First Amendment rights. Attacks like this are precisely the reason I joined the Freedom of the Press Foundation board (where Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras also serve as board members)
As Chris Hedges rightly pointed out, this cuts to the heart of one of the most important questions in a democracy: will we have an independent free press that reports on government crimes and serves the public’s right to know?
It cannot be criminal to report a crime or an abuse of power. Freedom of the Press Foundation co-founder Daniel Ellsberg argues that Snowden’s leaks could be a tipping point in America. This week he wrote “there has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden’s release of NSA material,” including his own leak of the Pentagon Papers.
The Snowden Principle, and that fire that inspired him to take unimaginable risks, is fundamentally about fostering an informed and engaged public. The Constitution embraces that idea. Mr. Snowden says his motivation was to expose crimes -spark a debate, and let the public know of secret policies he could not in good conscience ignore – whether you agree with his tactics or not, that debate has begun. Now, we are faced with a choice, we can embrace the debate or we can try to shut the debate down and maintain the status quo.
If these policies are just, then debate them in sunlight. If we believe the debate for transparency is worth having we need to demand it. Snowden said it well, “You can’t wait around for someone else to act.”
Within hours of the NSA’s leaks, a massive coalition of groups came together to plan an international campaign to oppose and fix the NSA spying regime. You can join them here – I already did. The groups span across the political spectrum, from Dick Armey’s FreedomWorks to the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and longtime civil rights groups like ACLU, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Free Press.
As more people find out about these abuses, the outrage mounts and the debate expands. Many in the mainstream media have shown that the public can’t count on them to stand up to internal pressure when The Snowden Principle is evoked to serve the national interest, and protect our core fundamental rights.
The questions The Snowden Principle raises when evoked will not go away….How long do they expect rational people to accept using the word “terror” to justify and excuse ever expanding executive and state power ? Why are so many in our government and press and intellectual class so afraid of an informed public? Why are they so afraid of a Free Press and the people’s right to know?
It’s the government’s obligation to keep us safe while protecting our constitution . To suggest it’s one or the other is simply wrong.
Professor Turley issues us a dire warning:
“In his press conference, Obama repeated the siren call of all authoritarian figures throughout history: while these powers are great, our motives are benign. So there you have it. The government is promising to better protect you if you just surrender this last measure of privacy. Perhaps it is time. After all, it was Benjamin Franklin who warned that “those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
See what’s happened already in the short time only because the PRISM program was made public, here.
Written by John Cusack.
[This essay was originally published at the Huffington Post.]