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Whatever happened to “citizen journalism”?

July 29, 2013

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I’ve been wracking the lump of meat I jokingly call a “brain,” trying to figure out when, exactly, we turned the corner, as a country, with regards to whistleblowers.

I’ve been wondering this for a while. It crops up in weird places: earlier this year, a hacker revealed that the police were ignoring blatant evidence that a rape had been committed. He’s facing ten years in jail, while the now-convicted rapists only got two years each. Was exposing the rape a worse crime than committing it?

At what point did we start to think it was more important to keep secrets hidden, instead of dealing with the crimes being covered up by those secrets?

Edward Snowden is currently hiding in a Moscow airport, living on vending machine borcht and energy drinks (I assume); he’s under fire for disclosing the fact that the American government is spying on American citizens. And everybody else on the planet. His guilt is just accepted, at this point: the focus of the argument against him seems to be “well, he ran to another country! And he’s a traitor!”

But what’s being ignored here? Maybe the nature of his crime? Maybe the fact that… well, let me just quote from some people who were much smarter than me.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Does anybody remember what the phrase “probable cause” means? I’m pretty sure that a global, sweeping review of every phone call in America isn’t covered by “describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Yeah, but fuck that Fourth Amendment, right? The Second Amendment is the only important one!

I think the best response came from the Rude Pundit:

The reaction that most infuriates the Rude Pundit is that Snowden didn’t do the nation any favors because, well, fuck, we all knew that our phone calls and other information was being monitored… Yeah, but there’s a huge difference between strongly suspecting that your husband is fucking around and being shown pictures of him balling the babysitter. There’s vast gulf between “knowing” and knowledge. The intelligence services have been forced to say, “Okay, yeah, you caught us.” The twist is that they’re adding, “And, oh, by the way, we’re gonna keep boning the babysitter. Just try to stop us from fucking her.”

But if we’re honest with ourselves, Snowden isn’t the problem. His story is just a symptom of a larger problem.

In Maryland, the closing arguments in the Bradley Manning trial have been made, and as I write this, we await the judge’s decision. Was Manning guilty of espionage?

Let’s remember what he’s guilty of, shall we? He leaked documents that showed that, despite our noble words and fine sentiments, America was still torturing and killing innocent people. He didn’t damage our war effort, or put any spies in danger. He just told us that the American government was lying to us. He showed us what our tax dollars are paying for. He didn’t commit espionage – he committed journalism.

Julian Assange, who’s “guilty” of the same “crimes,” held a press conference by telephone last week, where reporters also got to hear from Daniel Ellsberg – Ellsberg, you may or may not remember, was “guilty” of a similar “crime.” He leaked the Pentagon Papers, embarrassing the US government; he never went to jail for telling the truth. Why should Manning? Why should Snowden?

Why should it be a criminal act to tell the truth? Published in The Swash Zone.

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