There were other worthy contenders for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, but no reporting was more deserving than the revelations about the National Security Agency’s widespread secret surveillance program at home and abroad.
The Pulitzer committee awarded journalism’s highest honor to The Washington Post and the American office of The Guardian, a British newspaper, for publishing NSA documents and explaining its activities to a public that found its extensive snooping on the communications of ordinary Americans hard to fathom.
When Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked thousands of classified documents last year detailing the spy agency’s mass surveillance, he was denounced as a traitor by many elected officials. The Obama administration said it would arrest him at the first opportunity and charged him under the Espionage Act. Snowden, however, was given asylum in Russia.
The Post and The Guardian US deserved their Pulitzer for the difficult decisions they made on how to handle the sensitive material, balancing the government’s demand for secrecy and the public’s right to know. The Guardian even faced threats of a shutdown by British authorities, who claimed that its revelations endangered national security.
By showing their readers the extent of NSA surveillance and sparking a debate over national security and personal privacy, the news agencies epitomized the best practices of modern journalism. Americans are far more informed as a result.