from the say-that-again dept

It's been quite incredible to see defenders of the surveillance state attack not just Edward Snowden for leaking information about the NSA's surveillance efforts, but also go after the reporters who broke the various stories concerning what he leaked. While many of the attacks have been focused on Glenn Greenwald, the other journalist who has access to Snowden is the Washington Post's Bart Gellman, and apparently it's his turn to be attacked for doing a good job in reporting. The attacker, in this case, is Stewart Baker, the former Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security and former General Counsel for the NSA. He wrote an incredible attack on Gellman, arguing that he has somehow crossed the despicable line from "journalist" to "advocate" in his reporting on Snowden's leaks.

Baker and Gellman had a conversation via email concerning why Gellman chose to publish which information when, and as part of his response, Gellman pointed out -- quite rightly -- that in one of the recent leaks, concerning how the NSA goes about "minimizing" the likelihood that Americans are profiled, it needs to be acknowledged that the NSA is collecting tons of data on Americans and that can have a real impact -- an impact that the NSA refuses to acknowledge. Gellman writes convincingly on this topic, and Baker's response is to ignore the entire substance of Gellman's argument, to condescendingly claim that this is no longer journalism:
Maybe it's just me, but I don't think anyone can read that without wondering whether Bart Gellman has slipped from journalist to advocate. And from there it's a short step to wondering whether he suppressed the guidelines in his earlier story because they didn't fit his preferred narrative. Somehow they were not worth disclosing when they might have blunted privacy concerns but they had to be disclosed once "they seem[ed] to demonstrate that the president's words are untrue." Put another way, it seemed better to hold the truth back until it could be used to sandbag the adversary.
Gellman shot back, via Twitter a key point that is all too often ignored:
What @stewartbaker overlooks is that my advocacy is for open debate of secret powers. That's what journalists do
Journalists have always been advocates. They're supposed to be advocates for openness and transparency, explaining to the public what others are up to which they should know about. To argue that Gellman's reporting is somehow less than worthy because he's advocating for open debate on secret programs of government surveillance is really quite pitiful on Baker's part. Once again, it suggests that the defenders of this kind of surveillance cannot and will not debate the merits of the program in public, instead resorting to what appears to be petty name calling, rather than substantive discussion about this program they love so much.