Originally published in Tikkun Daily
Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald have both won the prestigious George Polk Award for their investigative work in revealing the NSA's mass surveillance, both at home and abroad. However, both Poitras and Greenwald, U.S. citizens who respectively live in Germany and Brazil, are afraid to accept their awards in person, fearing prosecution from the U.S. government for exposing documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Let's unpack this for a moment: two prominent American journalists, winners of one of the most prestigious journalism awards in the U.S., are hesitant to set foot upon U.S. soil for fear of being prosecuted. This fear is in line with Reporters Without Borders dropping the U.S. to 46th place in its World Press Freedom Index for 2014, behind Botswana and Romania, for its prosecution of investigative journalists and whistleblowers. This drop in America's press freedom ranking isn't arbitrary, nor an international dig. It's due to the U.S., in 2013, being a prominent example of a country willing to erode its press freedoms for the sake of national security, surveillance and secrecy.
Intercept, the new journalistic outlet where Greenwald and Poitras are now editors, notes that the two American journalists' fears are legitimate:
Whether Greenwald and Poitras will return to the U.S. to collect their prize remains to be seen, however, as senior government officials have repeatedly employed rhetoric equating the journalism the Polk Award is recognizing to criminal activity.Two of America's most accomplished journalists are viewed by the Director of National Intelligence as "accomplices," while congressional leaders denigrate them as thieves.
House intelligence committee chair Rep. Mike Rogers – who once jokingly offered to help former NSA Director Michael Hayden add Snowden to a U.S. kill list – called Greenwald “a thief selling stolen material” earlier this month. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has repeatedly referred to journalists reporting on the Snowden documents as “accomplices.”
Such is the state of investigative journalism today in America, where those who circumvent power for the public good are cast as traitors, and not national heroes. And not just by political pundits. But by government officials charged to protect those freedoms which give investigative journalists license to, well ... investigate.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Here is Poitras' statement about returning to accept the award:“I would love to accept the Polk award in person with Glenn and Ewen, but I’m not sure I feel safe to travel to the U.S.,” Poitras said in an email. “Listening to senior members of the government describe reporters working on the NSA story as ‘accomplices’ concerns me. On the other hand, receiving this award for the NSA reporting might be the perfect moment to confront this kind of intimidation.”