Journalists react to controversial questions David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald

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As NSA leaker Edward Snowden evades members of the press trying to figure out where he is and where he's heading, debate continues Monday over a question host David Gregory asked Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald Sunday on "Meet the Press."

"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" he asked.

Greenwald replied: "The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the emails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator with felony, in felonies, for working with sources," he said. He continued:

If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it's precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States.

A McClatchy story published last week may provide some valuable context on that last point: The administration's "Insider Threat Program" not only encourages federal agencies to crack down on leaks of classified information but "to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information," Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay reported.

Documents they saw "also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for 'high-risk persons or behaviors' among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage."

Anyway, back to Gregory's question. The obvious defense is that he was merely asking a question that evinced a viewpoint advanced by U.S. Rep. Peter King and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen -- that publishing secrets is law-breaking.


And indeed, Gregory wondered on-air why somebody who claims that he’s a journalist...would object to a journalist raising questions, which is not actually embracing any particular point of view."

The veiled shot at Greenwald's professional status aside, Gregory's question appeared to show he was not aware of "the legal intricacies into which he was wading." Erik Wemple explains:

In the seminal 2001 case Bartnicki v. Vopper, the Supreme Court considered a set of circumstances in which a media outlet had published a private conversation that had been illegally recorded. Since the news organization hadn’t participated in the illegal recording — it merely received it — and since the conversation was of great public consequence, the court ruled that its publication was protected by the First Amendment.

"I see nothing wrong with the question," NYU professor Jay Rosen writes. "But Gregory went beyond that." Greenwald, he notes, "is going to face more and more questions about his motives and methods as the Snowden story divides the country and the press. He might as well prepare for it, and try to accept these encounters with good humor when he can."

And speaking of humor...


  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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