Geneva Overholser Discusses Pulitzer Prizes, NSA surveillance reporting on PBS NewsHour

Geneva Overholser, former USC Annenberg Journalism School Director and now a senior fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, was featured on PBS NewsHour in an interview with anchor Gwen Ifill on the Pulitzer Prize awards for coverage of the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs broken by the release of classified documents by Edward Snowden.

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The Pulitzer board’s decision to award the Prize to the The Washington Post and The Guardian has fueled the debate over where journalists should draw the line when reporting on national security and government surveillance.

Overholser said in the interview that although the debate won’t be settled any time soon, “I do believe this is an extremely important affirmation of this important work.”

“Can reporters ever be considered accomplices in a case like this, and is it something that even factors into your thinking?” asked Gwen Ifill.

“…reporters are accomplices, in that they are the ones who reveal this information,” said Overholser. “They, of course, are not criminally liable the same way that Edward Snowden, who shared the information, is. And many people think that a grave injustice. This could not have happened without Snowden, and many see this as a vindication of him. We will have to see what happens on that regard.”

“But your point is interesting, particularly in terms of Glenn Greenwald […] who is, frankly, a journalist who writes from a point of view. And I think that’s another of the interesting things about this story, that that kind of reporting has received an affirmation.”

“It is an increasing presence in the journalism world now,” said Overholser. “We’re going to see more of it.”

Overholser pointed out that although The Guardian is based in the United Kingdom (which would normally make the news organization ineligible for a Pulitzer), the Prize was technically awarded to The Guardian U.S. to get around the rules. Overholser noted that “the collaboration helped it avoid censorship” in the U.K. “because the reach of this journalism has been so powerful.”

When asked about the blurred line between activism and journalism, Overholser answered, “Well, many people would say this was activism. […] I think that one reassurance here — I don’t know if there is a line, but in this case, what we saw was a collaboration, as I said, that included professional journalists operating at the highest standards.”

Read the complete transcript of the interview at PBS NewsHour.

Geneva Overholser was a member of the Pulitzer Prize board for nine years, serving as the chair in her final year before working as editor of The Des Moines Register, which won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. She is currently working as an independent journalist in New York.