Pulitzer right for awarding Snowden coverage

Last week, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners. The Guardian and The Washington Post won the Public Service Award for their respective pieces on the National Security Agency (NSA)’s massive surveillance programs on ordinary citizens.

The NSA scandal — especially Edward Snowden, the main informant in that scandal — is a topic of hot debate in the public forum right now. The Tartan commends the Pulitzer Prize Committee on its commitment to rewarding the augumentation of public knowledge, even when that expansion of understanding is politically inconvenient.

While very few people are comfortable with the scope of the NSA’s investigations, many decry Snowden as a traitor. In fact, Snowden was forced to flee the country or stand trial for leaking highly classified information.

According to ABC News, Peter King, (R–N.Y.) said, “To be rewarding illegal conduct, to be enabling a traitor like Snowden, to me is not something that should be rewarded with a Pulitzer Prize.” In contrast, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes and professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Sig Gissler said that the articles “helped stimulate the very important discussion about the balance between privacy and security, and that discussion is still going on.”

While Snowden’s actions were undeniably illegal, they may have been in the public’s best interest. By commending The Guardian and The Washington Post for acting on the information Snowden disseminated, the Pulitzer Prize committee acknowledges that an act that began as a crime was a public service.

The relationship between criminality and morality is often a complex one. The Pulitzer Prize committee refused to shy away from that tension and should be commended for that choice.