Search This Blog

Monday, April 7, 2014

Reporting on the Snowden Leaks: The Tension Between Hype and Integrity

DW has published an interview with the journalist, Holger Stark, a correspondent for Der Spiegel. I was struck by one particular question and answer in that interview:

You have already published six feature pieces on the NSA scandal. Now you have written the book "The NSA Complex" with your colleague Marcel Rosenbach. Are we slowly starting to get the full picture of organized mass surveillance? 
The NSA systematically taps fiber optic cables - the main arteries of Internet traffic conveying the largest streams of data. It engages some American companies as collaborators and cooperates with partner intelligence agencies abroad, including Germany's Federal Intelligence Service [also known by its German acronym, BND]. This system enables control of nearly the whole stream of relevant data and then processing it with sophisticated intelligence analysis programs to see what is important. 
I think we have grasped this principle, but the material is so extensive that we will still be seeing interesting and partly surprising and shocking reports about it over many months.
One of the more persistent lines of criticism that I have seen of Edward Snowden's release of NSA documents and the press's treatment of this information is that the information is presented to the public in an overly dramatic and potentially misleading fashion. While Snowden has released numerous documents to the media, news outlets have discretion when it comes to deciding what to publish.

While this discretion may be helpful to ensure that complicated details are released in a coherent and interesting manner, there is a point where selective or overly dramatic release of information overshadows the full extent of the story. Stark's foreshadowing of "surprising and shocking" future reports seems to step into overly dramatic territory.

I have not adopted a strong, personal opinion on NSA surveillance, but I imagine that I would be aggravated by Stark's answer no matter what side I took. If I were a supporter of government surveillance practices, I would urge timely release of the information (assuming it will inevitably be released at some point) so that I could defend or explain the government's tactics. If I were a critic, I'd want to know about what the government is doing now, rather than later -- since some of my activities might fall under the scope of surveillance programs that have yet to be disclosed.

Admittedly, it takes time to sort through information and decide what stories are worth presenting. But Stark's answer is unsettling because it sounds less like a claim that he needs time to work on his stories and more like a teaser.

No comments:

Post a Comment