Like boxing, writing is a skill that has little to do with how angry (or emotionally honest) you may or may not be.
What is The Editor’s Prerogative? It’s when you take a piece of journalism and make it huge in scale and elaborate in delivery so that it is more in line with how important an editor thinks the story is than how new audiences actually want to consume it.
An administration that has carried out more criminal leak investigations than all other administrations combined is giving itself a pass on sharing secrets. When it suits its political goals, this White House leaks like a sieve.
Publishing leaked secrets constitutes a moral judgment: the judgment that the public’s right to know what its government is doing is more important than the government’s right to deprive the public of information in order to protect the government’s own interest. This judgment happens to be true. But it is a judgment nonetheless. Governments will never stoop trying to protect their own interests. There is nothing wrong with the media using the power it has to actively fight against that tendency. Yes, it is political. Such is life.
The U.S. media hates to be seen as taking a political stand, and it also hates to be seen as working as some sort of unified front, rather than as a collection of fiercely independent competitors. But sometimes you have to give in to reality. When the government is throwing sources in jail for 35 years for leaking information, the media should be compelled to stand up and say, “No, that is not okay. No, that is not justice. No, that is not a fair use of government power. No, that is not an acceptable precedent in a free society. And yes, we will use the vast and powerful resources at our disposal to try to remedy this situation to the best of our abilities, because to do otherwise would be craven and cowardly. We are in this together.”
If journalists and publishers and media executives were facing 35 years in prison for publishing secrets, you can bet that their dormant sense of social justice would be activated lickety-split.
A little over two months ago I was contacted by a very senior government official claiming to represent the views of the prime minister. There followed two meetings in which he demanded the return or destruction of all the material we were working on. The tone was steely, if cordial, but there was an implicit threat that others within government and Whitehall favoured a far more draconian approach.
The mood toughened just over a month ago, when I received a phone call from the centre of government telling me: “You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back.” There followed further meetings with shadowy Whitehall figures. The demand was the same: hand the Snowden material back or destroy it. I explained that we could not research and report on this subject if we complied with this request. The man from Whitehall looked mystified. “You’ve had your debate. There’s no need to write any more.”
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