On Meet the Press yesterday, shortly after host host David Gregory stunned many by suggesting that The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald should face prosecution, a roundtable of pundits discussed the unfolding Edward Snowden story. Mike Murphy, one of the Meet the Press pundits, mocked Snowden’s attempt to seek asylum, calling him a “so-called whistleblower,” and charging that “it’s never been easier in human history to be a whistleblower” through official means.
There are problems here with both the messenger and the message.
First, the message. In fact, the Obama administration has one of the worst records of any president’s in terms of prosecuting leaks and whistleblowers. Moreover, Snowden had virtually no legal protections as a member of an intelligence agency contractor (Booz Allen Hamilton). In These Times reported that “as part of last year’s Whistleblower’s Protection Enhancement Act, rights for whistleblowers were enhanced for many categories of federal employees, but intelligence employees were excluded from coverage under the act. Likewise, intelligence workers—both federal and contract employees—were excluded from whistle blower protections offered to military contract employees under the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).”
But Murphy himself has a stake in this debate that arguably ought to have been disclosed. Though Murphy was introduced only as a “Republican strategist,” he is also the founding partner of Navigators Global, a lobbying firm that represents one of the NSA’s largest contractors. Disclosures show that Navigators Global represents Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC) on issues before Congress. For at least a decade, CSC has won major contracts from the National Security Agency (NSA). Murphy’s firm has lobbied on behalf of CSC for bills that would expand the NSA’s reach, including the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act or CISPA, which passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. As the Center for Democracy and Technology noted, the “legislation is being billed as an expansion of a collaboration between the National Security Agency (NSA) and major ISPs dubbed the Defense Industrial Base Pilot.”
As Americans continue to debate the revelations raised by Snowden, few lawmakers have raised the potential for abuse when powerful spy technology is outsourced to private contractors. Rather than focusing on the issue of the sprawling surveillance state or its legions of private contractors, many in the media seem intent on only discussing the personality or motives of Edward Snowden. While Murphy’s misleading assertion about whistleblower protections was challenged briefly by NBC’s Chuck Todd, his claim obscures the facts of the story.
Though Meet the Press has a strong reputation for confronting politicians with tough questions, often the show has trouble with disclosure, particularly in terms of revealing the private sector ties of their guests. For instance, Harold Ford, a regular Meet the Press pundit and a frequent voice for corporate-friendly policies, has served in various roles in the finance industry, with Bank of America and now with Morgan Stanley. He has used his perch on the show to criticize the Occupy movement and, more recently, to warn the Obama campaign against attacking Mitt Romney’s private equity record. Yet transcripts show that Ford is almost always introduced not as a Wall Street executive but as a “former Congressman.” Similarly, Murphy is almost always introduced as a “Republican strategist” without mention of his lobbying firm or its clients.