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If you need to catch up on recent stories about the NSA’s surveillance programs, ProPublica published a great explainer by Jonathan Stray Thursday. Alas, it landed before yet another Guardian scoop, about how the NSA collected Americans’ emails for years, and a Washington Post scoop about allegedly sloppy background checks by the government contractor who gave Edward Snowden top-secret-clearance.
But that’s hardly a surprise. No issue complicated enough to require a ProPublica explainer can exist without a steady stream of new reporting and a continuous flow of debate and dispute.
Here’s the latest:
• Fortune’s Dan Mitchell says most of the debate over NSA programs has been “shallow, often bordering on stupid.” Mitchell thinks David Simon has written the best argument about those programs, and finds other journalists’ rebuttals to Simon’s provocatively titled essay lacking. Part of the problem is Twitter, which Mitchell calls “great for linking to stuff and for issuing pithy one-liners” but “absolutely useless for conversation” — but he also says too many people are “talking past each other.”
It’s more challenging to refrain from taking a “side” on the issue before doing the hard work of reading, talking, and thinking about it dispassionately, and confronting all the arguments head-on with intellectual honesty and rigor.
• The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone noted Thursday afternoon that government officials hiding behind anonymity are pushing back against Snowden’s leaks and the journalists who publish them. “Intelligence officials” and “national security sources” have told reporters that “the NSA leaks had prompted members of terrorist groups to change the way they communicate,” he observed.
But they offered no evidence, Calderone notes: “A situation in which officials will anonymously say something is happening but cannot, or will not, provide evidence forces journalists to violate an unofficial rule: show, don’t tell.”
• The Obama administration is in fact at war with journalism, David Sirota writes in Salon. He cites the fact that President Obama personally intervened to keep Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye in prison (a matter on which The Huffington Post has also reported). Then there’s the government’s investigation of AP reporters and Fox News reporter James Rosen. Surveying all this, Sirota quotes David Carr that to call the state of affairs a war is “less hyperbole than simple math.”
Among Obama’s allies are “a cadre of high-profile Benedict Arnolds within the media itself,” Sirota writes, citing David Gregory, Chuck Todd and Andrew Ross Sorkin (who, to be fair, has apologized for saying he’d “almost arrest” Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, an apology Greenwald has accepted.)