The Washington Post and the Guardian on Monday won the Pulitzer Prize in public service for revealing the US government’s sweeping surveillance programs in a blockbuster series of stories based on secret documents supplied by former US National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.
The Pulitzer for breaking news was awarded to the Boston Globe for its “exhaustive and empathetic” coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and ensuing manhunt.
Two of the US’ biggest and most distinguished newspapers, the Post and the New York Times, won two Pulitzers each, while the other awards were scattered among a variety of large and small publications.
The stories about the NSA’s spy programs revealed that Washington has systematically collected information from millions of Americans’ telephone calls and e-mails in its effort to head off terrorist attacks. The resulting furor led US President Barack Obama to impose limits on the surveillance.
The reporting “helped stimulate the very important discussion about the balance between privacy and security, and that discussion is still going on,” Pulitzer Prizes administrator Sig Gissler said.
The NSA stories were written by Barton Gellman at the Washington Post and Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, whose work was published by the Guardian US, the British newspaper’s US operation in New York.
“I think this is amazing news,” Poitras said. “It’s a testament to Snowden’s courage, a vindication of his courage and his desire to let the public know what the government is doing.”
Snowden has been charged with espionage and other offenses in the US and could get 30 years in prison if convicted. He has received asylum in Russia.
In a statement issued by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Snowden saluted “the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop.”
Snowden’s supporters have likened his disclosures to the release of the Pentagon Papers, the secret Vietnam War history whose publication by the New York Times in 1971 won the newspaper a Pulitzer. His critics have branded him a criminal.
“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,” US Representative Peter King said. “Snowden has violated his oath. He has put American lives at risk.”
At the Boston Globe, staff members marked the announcement of the breaking-news award — coming just a day before the anniversary of the bombing — with a moment of silence for the victims.
“There’s nobody in this room who wanted to cover this story. Each and every one of us hopes that nothing like it ever happens again on our watch,” Globe editor Brian McGrory told the newsroom.
The bombing on April 15 last year that killed three people and wounded more than 260 also led to a Pulitzer in the feature photography category for Josh Haner of the New York Times, for his photo essay on a blast victim who lost his legs.
The Times also won in the breaking-news photography category, for Tyler Hicks’ coverage of the Westgate mall terrorist attack in Kenya.
The Post won a second Pulitzer in the explanatory reporting category, for Eli Saslow’s look at food stamps in the US.