As the National Security Agency domestic-spying controversy unfolds nationally, community members from across Missouri have rallied in support of whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
Manning is accused of leaking classified documents that showed American soldiers killing Iraqi civilians. Snowden is the former NSA contract worker who exposed details about the US government’s ability to conduct surveillance on US citizens by monitoring phone records and internet activity.
At a rally in downtown Columbia yesterday, protesters marched in support Manning and Snowden.
Steve Weinberg spoke at the rally. Weinberg is a professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism and an investigative reporter who has written about whistle blowers and public perception. He has authored books on whistle-blowers, and was the head of the MU-based Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc., a professional association for investigative journalists.
Weinberg, along with some of the protestors at the rally, said many people consider Manning and Snowden heroes, and expressed dismay with some media and elected officials who have called them traitors.
The charge against the media particularly resonates in a city that is home to the nation’s oldest journalism program and where the debate about the relationship between whistle-blowers and journalists is mirroring the national conversation.
“Be a truth seeker,” said long-time Columbia activist Jeff Stack, “that’s the side that should be the side of journalists.”
Weinberg said whistle-blowers turn to journalism as a court of last resort after official channels fail.
“In an ideal world whistleblowers wouldn’t need journalists very often because they could go to the chairs of Congressional committees or heads of government agencies or other people in power who can really affect change directly,” Weinberg said.
Marx Aviano of Kansas City spoke bluntly about some press coverage of Manning and Snowden.
“The mainstream media is not doing its job. They’re the PR agents for the government,” Aviano said.
Weinberg said many people are missing the point of whistle-blowers' actions, including journalists for whom he had choice words.
“A lot of them have views about whistle-blowers that might not exactly square with finding as much truth as possible. So sometimes, preconceptions get in the way of journalists, just like they get in the way of nonjournalists,” Weinberg said.
Dave Sautner of Columbia attended the march and held aloft the black flag of the hackivist collective known as Anonymous. He said people need to remember that Manning and Snowden served the public.
“They’re being treated like they’re traitors. Like they’re committing treason, and that is way off base. They ought to be treated, hailed as heroes by the 99%,” Sautner said.
Stack said some media have been painting the two with an unpatriotic coat of paint. The result for the public is a mixed message from the press about whether whistle-blowers, as lawbreakers, are criminals or heroes.
Mark Haim of Columbia referenced noteworthy lawbreakers from the past as a model by which to judge whistle-blowers.
“The civil rights movement proved, as Ghandi proved, as so many other people proved over the years, breaking the law sometimes is obedience to a much higher law and what is just isn’t necessarily what is legal and vice versa,” Haim said.
Stack said whistle-blowers are not being recognized for the vital role they play in a democracy.
Sautner waxed philosophical about the two who have incurred the wrath of the government. Speaking of Snowden’s whistle-blowing, Sautner said, “We owe a lot to him because that allows us to proceed further with our experiment in freedom.”