By Contributor on December 02, 2013

By Marcy Wheeler

There's an absurd debate going on about whether, by hiring Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras (who are the only journalists who have a full set of the documents Edward Snowden leaked), Pierre Omidyar has obtained a "monopoly" over NSA's secrets. As to the substance of the debate: if Omidyar did set out to monopolize the NSA's secrets, he's a failure of a billionaire monopolist, given that since he and Greenwald first joined forces, a slew of other outlets have been publishing Omidyar's monopoly with no apparent compensation to him.

Bad billionaire monopolist!

That said, I'm rather stunned that Bob Woodward -- both his history as the previously quintessential "journalist" and his comments about the Snowden leaks specifically -- has only received passing mention in this debate. Greenwald mentioned him to deflect claims that his practice with Snowden was any different from what Woodward has done across his career.

Or let's take the revered-in-DC Bob Woodward, who has become America's richest journalist by writing book after book over the last decade that has spilled many of America's most sensitive secrets fed to him by top US government officials. In fact, his books are so filled withvital and sensitive secrets that Osama bin Laden personally recommended that they be read. Shall we accuse Woodward of selling US secrets to his publisher and profiteering off of them, and suggest he be prosecuted?

But what Woodward does is different, and he explicitly stated it would have been different if he were sitting on Snowden's stash.

I would have said to [Snowden], let's not reveal who you are. Let's make you a protected source, and give me time with this data and let's sort it out and present it in a coherent way. I think people are confused about whether it's illegal, whether it's bad, whether it's bad policy.

That is, it's not just that (as Dave Weinberger observes) there are many options besides Greenwald and Poitras these days.

Before the Web, the charge that Greenwald is monopolizing the information wouldn't even have made sense because there wasn't an alternative. Yes, he might have turned the entire cache over to The Guardian or the New York Times, but then would those newspapers look like monopolists? No, they'd look like journalists, like stewards. Now there are options. Snowden could have posted the cache openly on a Web site. He could have created a torrent so that they circulate forever. He could have given them to Wikileaks curate. He could have sent them to 100 newspapers simultaneously. He could have posted them in encrypted form and have given the key to the Dalai Lama or Jon Stewart. There are no end of options.

But Snowden didn't. Snowden wanted the information curated, and redacted when appropriate. He trusted his hand-picked journalists more than any newspaper to figure out what "appropriate" means.

It's that the notion of stewardship has changed -- which, if Woodward is the model, previously meant a former intelligence operative would sit on the information for years, hiding both the information and the source, long enough for him to expose selected details through the actions of Important People, told in an omniscient voice.

Curiously, both Weinberger and Woodward talk of confusion not having this omniscient narrator causes.

That the charge that Glenn Greenwald is monopolizing or privatizing the Snowden information is even comprehensible to us is evidence of just how thoroughly the Web is changing our defaults and our concepts. Many of our core models are broken. We are confused.

Woodward believes he should have had the opportunity to tell us what to think about the dragnet. Greenwald's critics suspect Omidyar plans to tell us what to think about it (or keep it secret).

But the sheer confusion suggests any monopoly has already been thwarted.

Get more emptywheel:

Big Game Rivalry Weekend Trash Talk

'Journalists' Still Parroting DiFi's Fear-Mongering

The James Clapper Plan to 'Change' NSA by Keeping John Inglis in Charge

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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