Imagine if the Sunday morning talk shows had existed in 1776.
Surely, they would have welcomed the most widely read and provocative journalist of that historic year.
Perhaps the hosts would have asked Tom Paine if he felt that by penning articles calling out the hypocrisy of colonial officials—and incendiary pamphlets such as Common Sense—he was “aiding and abetting” the revolutionaries that King George III imagined to be “traitors.”
An intimidating question, to be sure.
Too intimidating, determined the founders of the American experiment.
After Paine’s compatriots prevailed in their revolutionary endeavor, they wrote into the Bill of Rights a protection of the ability of a free press to speak truth to power, to call out and challenge the machinations of those in government.
Unfortunately, this history is sometimes lost on contemporary Washington.
So it was that when Glenn Greenwald appeared Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss his reporting on leaks detailing National Security Agency programs that monitor phone calls and digital communications, he was asked whether he was the bad guy.
NBC’s David Gregory initially asked Greenwald to discuss the whereabouts of Edward Snowden, a source of the leaks. Greenwald recounted the reported details of Snowden’s transit from Hong Kong and spoke at length about his own reporting on the NSA and violations of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. He returned, repeatedly, to the fundamental issues that are at stake, arguing that Snowden “learned of wrongdoing and exposed it so we could have a democratic debate about the spying system, do we really want to put people like that in prison for life when all they’re doing is telling us as citizens what our political officials are doing in the dark?”
Then Gregory asked: “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?”
Greenwald countered with a suggestion that Gregory had embraced a theory—advanced by the Department of Justice in its investigation of Fox correspondent James Rosen—that journalists who report on leaks might be considered co-conspirators with those who reveal classified information.