The Washington Post (Finally) Corrects Its Error-Riddled Snowden Column

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Even Walter Pincus, the author of a controversial column posted to the Washington Post on Monday, acknowledged that there was at least one factual error in his attempt to connect Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald to Wikileaks as collaborating schemers in the series of leaks on NSA data collection from Edward Snowden. But even after that acknowledgement, which was limited to a clarification on where an article of Greenwald's was originally posted, it took hours for the Post to get the correction up on their piece. On Wednesday night, that correction finally appeared: 

CORRECTION: This Fine Print column (also published in the July 9 A-section print edition of The Washington Post) incorrectly said that an article by journalist Glenn Greenwald was written for the WikiLeaks Press blog. The article, about filmmaker Laura Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. officials, was written for the online publication Salon and first appeared April 8, 2012. Its appearance on the WikiLeaks Press blog two days later was a reposting.

The Fine Print column also asserted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, during a May 29 interview with Democracy Now, “previewed” the story that Greenwald wrote for the Guardian newspaper about the Obama administration’s involvement in the collection of Americans’ phone records. There is no evidence that Assange had advance knowledge of the story; the assertion was based on a previously published interview in which Assange discussed an earlier surveillance project involving the collection of phone records.

The column also did not mention Snowden’s past work in the intelligence community. The lack of this context may have created the impression that Snowden’s work for Booz Allen Hamilton gave him his first access to classified surveillance programs.

Pincus's column drew a lengthly response from Greenwald, who asserted that Pincus's article amounted to a "frenzied and inane conspiracy theory." Pincus's argument asserts that Wikileaks, with Greenwald and Laura Poitras in collusion, basically prompted Snowden to take the Booz Allen job that got him the documents in the first place. It's a dangerous argument to let stand, because it implies that the journalists who reported the story could be prosecuted for their actions. With that in mind, and from the thoroughness of the correction, you can probably see why Greenwald spent time trying to correct that particular record. 

The column even drew questions from the Washington Post itself, after Erik Wemple dug into Pincus's argument. Acknowledging that it's good practice to ask questions, and that the Snowden saga certainly raises quite a few, Wemple wrote that "at some point, however, facts and findings about Greenwald & Co. are going to have to catch up with these various curiosities." That distinction seems to get at the heart of the divisive discussion surrounding the role of journalism, and the journalists involved in the NSA story in particular, in transmitting classified information to the public. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.