The Pulitzer Prize Board will meet next month to decide on the recipient of the prestigious journalistic award; this is going to be difficult decision involving sensitive topics. Will they stand by those who reported the story that defines not only the year, but perhaps the decade? It could mean aligning behind a traitor and representing the stolen government documents that had a damaging impact on U.S. national security. The debate unravels as the Pulitzer Board remains quiet; but others like Bill Gates are speaking out. Some are standing behind his actions, but Gates rejects that Snowden could be considered a hero.
Many would argue in favor of Edward Snowden’s decision to “reveal” the spying by the National Security Administration (NSA); however Bill Gates was recently very clear about his disagreement. When asked if Snowden deserved to be described as either hero or traitor, Gates said that breaking the law disqualified him from being characterized as a hero. He continued saying that Snowden had been too carefree about the information he had released. Gates also said that had Snowden not left the country, it would have demonstrated a clearer motive of wanting improvement.
He admitted that there “has to be a debate” over surveillance conducted by the government, but Gates does believe there are some things the people should not know. Microsoft allegedly has cooperated with the NSA, a choice that has not been well received by the public. Last July, it was reported that Microsoft had shared user data with the NSA and the FBI, which apparently covered Skype conversations and video and audio information from Microsoft’s video chat program. The NSA also conducted spying via fake error messages posing as Windows.
This debate appears to have already occurred within his own company. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO during the time, was vehement in his disapproval of the NSA and said, “the Constitution itself is suffering” as a result of the spying. Further through 2013, the company discussed better encrypting user data and made a pledge that they would fight against U.S. requests for data of foreign customers. Bill Gates was unclear what debate he wanted over government snooping, but after such an open rejection of Snowden’s actions, it is tempting to look ahead at what the Pulitzer Board may decide.
The fact that the decision is surrounded by the passionate disagreement of people like Gates might provide a clue into which way they may lean. The Board will not discuss their current choice; however 1972 was a similar year for such a charged debate which could then be label as “unprecedented.” In the end, the Pulitzer committee gave The New York Times the Public Service award for Neil Sheehan’s coverage of the Pentagon Papers. Former military analyst Daniel Ellsberg had given them to Sheehan and when the award was given, Ellsberg was facing charges of theft and awaiting trial.
After serving on the Pulitzer Board for 10 years, Michael Gartner, former NBC News president and Iowa newspaperman, said he considered the journalism behind both cases to have no real differences. Essentially, he saw the stolen documents of Snowden to be much the same as Ellsberg’s.
Though Snowden may not hero material to Bill Gates, Gates cannot reject that Snowden’s actions made an impact in an almost unprecedented way, and the Pulitzer Board will have to look at both sides of the debate. Gartner added that he was confident there would still be debate, “but really wasn’t that precedent set with the Pentagon Papers? The nature of the theft might be different, but isn’t the journalism the same — great stories produced from documents that were leaked by an employee of a private contractor?” He summarized with his own endorsement behind Snowden. “Reporting is reporting. If I were arguing for the Snowden stuff — and I would — that is the argument I would make.”
By Whitney Hudson