The Washington Post's editorial board is demanding the U.S. government offer a plea deal to Edward Snowden, who told the world about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs in the pages of The Washington Post. Now, most papers keep their editorial boards separate from their newsrooms, but they generally acknowledge being on the same team. Not so much in this case: Not only does the Post editorial board demand one its reporter's sources go to jail, the opinion section also thinks the news source is not a very good one, calling him a "naive hacker" and a "political martyr." And the Post insists that "the first U.S. priority" should be to stop further leaks. Which is weird, because Snowden has already leaked his stuff to The Guardian and the Post, and it's up to the editors to decide whether to publish it. The Post, for example, has had 41 slides of a NSA PowerPoint presentation on PRISM, publishing the first four at the beginning of June, and four more last weekend. How many more slides are coming? When will the Post stop leaking?
The hypocrisy was not lost on, well, the entire Internet. Gawker's Hamilton Nolan called the Post a "Jealous Little Newspaper," writing, "Take note, potential leakers and whistleblowers inside the U.S. government: the official stance of the Washington Post's editorial board is that you should shut up and go to jail." Perhaps they should leak elsewhere, he suggested. For The New Republic Michael Kinsley writes, "If the Post felt free to run this information, how damaging to the nation could it be?" If Snowden is guilty of a crime, isn't it's reporter, too? "The Washington Post editorial board wants the NSA leaks to stop, even though it doesn't know what horrors the Snowden trove may hold?" Reuters' Jake Shafer tweets. "Note to Washington Post editorial board: @BartonGellman's stories are coming from INSIDE YOUR BUILDING!"
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The editorial is right in saying Snowden is in a terrible position — trapped in a Russian airport. That prison time in the U.S. would be better is a tougher case to make. "It’s hard to believe that the results would leave the 30-year-old contractor worse off than living in permanent exile in an unfree country," the Post says. WikiLeaker Bradley Manning was held naked in solitary confinement for a long time, after all. Maybe it's not crazy to imagine Snowden could offer to stop the leaks in exchange for a reduced sentence (the Espionage Act carries the potential for the death penalty). But Snowden has reportedly already given his information to The Guardian and other reporters, like the Post. It is their decision to release that information or sit on it.
But the weird thing is that several writers for The Washington Post have taken a curiously strong stand against the leaks that give them something to write about. Columnist Richard Cohen said the NSA story didn't amount to much, and that Snowden will "go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood," which is a weird gay joke. David Ignatius wrote, "Snowden looks these days more like an intelligence defector, seeking haven in a country hostile to the United States, than a whistleblower." Of the Justice Department investigation into Fox News reporter James Rosen and his North Korea reporting, Walter Pincus wrote, "When will journalists take responsibility for what they do without circling the wagons and shouting that the First Amendment is under attack?" That's a great point. It's time for The Washington Post, it's time to take some responsibility.