Exploring the Role of a Journalist through the NSA's PRISM Leak

CNL News Lesson

Lesson Outline

June 13, 2013
nsa-leak-snowden-live-updates2222.siWhen the British newspaper The Guardian published an article about the existence of a top-secret court order allowing the United States National Security Agency to monitor millions of telephone logs, it made international headlines and attracted a Justice Department investigation. The paper followed with another article that exposed another N.S.A. program that gathered information from the nation’s largest Internet companies for nearly six years.

Both were primarily the work of Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer and blogger who has written for years about government surveillance. Although Greenwald describes himself as “an activist and an advocate,” he works for a 'mainstream' news organization and often conducts interviews and breaks news in his blog posts. And although his arrangement with the Guardian allows him unusual independence and freedom from being edited, he agreed that the paper should be able to edit the articles about the N.S.A. As a result of his articles, Greenwald now faces the prospect of being investigated – and possibly prosecuted – along with Edward Snowden, the government contractor who leaked the top-secret information to him.

This lesson focuses on the question of 'Who Is A Journalist?' We examine the distinctions between news, opinion, activism and advocacy, and between journalists, bloggers, activists and advocates, and explore how and why the various roles — and the rules — are different for each. We also look at the question of whether journalists should face prosecution for publishing leaked secret information.

News Literacy Connections

News Literacy Lesson 5:

    • News is determined by four factors: Universal News Drivers, Editorial Judgement, The Audience, and Profits and Competition


News Literacy Lesson 2:

    • The battle to control information is a universal one between what is deemed "need to know" by the public.
    • There is a universal need to receive and share information.


Suggested Lesson Guiding Questions:

    • Who if anyone should be prosecuted for this leak--the leaker, the journalists he leaked to, both? Who COULD be prosecuted under the law?
    • Who is Barton Gellman? Laura Poitras? Glenn Greenwald? Why should we care?
    • Are bloggers journalists? If so, are they somehow outside 'the mainstream?'
    • Why is Greenwald, as a blogger allowed to make a "basically unheard of?" arrangement with the editors of the Guardian?
    • Although Glenn Greenwald notes that he often conducts interviews and breaks news in his columns, he describes himself as an activist and an advocate. Do you agree? Isn't such activity journalistic?
    • The Times article describes him variously as a lawyer, a blogger, and a 'mainstream' journalist. Which is it? Or is it all of the above? What are the differences among these three roles?
    • Greenwald is quoted as saying he approaches "my journalism as a litigator." WHat do you think he means by that?
    • Greenwald’s experience as a journalist is unusual, says the Times, "not because of his clear opinions but because he has rarely had to report to an editor." Why? And why is that unusual?
    • Why do you think Greenwald agreed that for an article like the one about the N.S.A. letter, the paper should be able to edit his work? Is his blogging 'opinion' and his reporting 'news?'
    • What are the potential repercussions of having this information secret? What are the repercussions of it being public?


Lesson Media Attachments:

1. Interactive NYTimes Article: While reading the article, roll over the text to find pertinent parts highlighted. Then click the highlighted text for relevant probing questions connected to the highlighted text.
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Download the PDF Key of the questions and article for teachers -- and for users without Flash installed on their systems.


2. An article from the Washington Post that further explores Greenwald's role as a blogger/journalist.