Dana Perino is the quite often levelheaded co-host on Fox News’s “The Five,” which figures among the favorite cable-news programs of the Erik Wemple Blog. She served as press secretary in the George W. Bush White House and recently wrote a book, “And the Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side,” about her upbringing and her career in politics and media. In keeping with its title, the book treats the Bush administration and her boss, the president, in only the most flattering terms. It’s a tell-nothing volume.
Readers of “And the Good News Is” wouldn’t be surprised at what slithered out of Perino’s Twitter feed today:
That “valuable space” is an op-ed in which Edward Snowden takes something of a victory lap. The former contractor for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency, Snowden is the famous figure who leaked documents used by journalists such as Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Bart Gellman starting in June 2013 to expose the wide-ranging U.S. surveillance state. One of the stories to emerge from Snowden’s leaks was a NSA program that collected bulk records of phone calls made in the United States.
As Snowden writes, immediate reaction to the leaks wasn’t entirely welcoming. “Politicians raced to condemn our efforts as un-American, even treasonous,” writes Snowden, who’s now a director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. Among those politicians is New York Rep. Peter King, who said, “I don’t know what’s happening to our country when people are making this traitor and defector into some kind of hero.”
History has treated King and Perino & Co. with hammer blows. As Snowden himself notes in his piece, a New York federal appeals court declared the NSA phone-records program illegal. And Congress just this week sent legislation to the president that cuts off the vacuum hose between the NSA and the phone companies. “After a White House-appointed oversight board investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack, even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure has now ordered it terminated,” writes Snowden, who fled the country and now resides in Russia. The U.S. government charged him with violations of the 1917 Espionage Act.
Given the events of recent weeks, John Cassidy argued in the New Yorker, “Rather than seeking to incarcerate Snowden for decades, which was the fate that met Chelsea Manning, the WikiLeaks whistle-blower, the U.S. government ought to be seeking some sort of deal with his lawyers that would allow him to return home and carry on with his life.”
In just a line or two, Cassidy knocks the stuffing out of the “traitor” charge: “Rather than transmitting information to foreign powers, Snowden handed over his electronic stash of documents to reporters from the Guardian and the Washington Post, with the stipulation that they treat its contents sensitively and carefully. ”
Perino’s riff fails as a matter of fact and logic. Yet maybe more importantly, it defies the principles of journalism. News organizations exist to give people of all stations a voice, especially someone as controversial as Snowden. In fact, this imperative is one that Perino’s own news organization has acknowledged. As Snowden champion Glenn Greenwald tweeted today:
Ben Wizner, an ACLU lawyer who advises Snowden, tells the Erik Wemple Blog that his client has indeed received “several requests from various Fox programs,” which he declines to identify because he doesn’t “think they’re responsible for what Dana Perino says on Twitter”
And how recently has Fox News offered to give this “traitor” valuable air time? “[T]he most recent request was in the last week,” replies Wizner.