SecureDrop: A New Infrastructure for Strong, Secure Investigative Journalism

This post was co-authored by actor and filmmaker John Cusack and originally posted at the Huffington Post.

In February Chelsea Manning delivered a lengthy statement to the military court that would eventually sentence her to 35 years in prison for leaking classified military secrets to Wikileaks. In her statement she revealed that before approaching Wikileaks she tried to deliver her cache of documents to the Washington Post and the New York Times.

According to her statement, she spoke to someone at the Post, but was dissuaded by the reception she received. At the New York Times she first called the public editor and then tried a few other numbers, eventually leaving her Skype name in hopes someone would call back. No one did.

Whistleblowing has long played a critical role in government accountability but in an age of expanding government secrecy leaks are increasingly part of how journalism is done. New York Times journalist Declan Walsh has gone so far as so argue that leaks are “the unfiltered lifeblood of investigative journalism.” As such, it shouldn’t be this hard for a potential source to reach journalists.

Today, the Freedom of the Press Foundation is launching a major new initiative to ensure that any newsroom can create a simple and secure way for whistleblowers and sources to anonymously contact journalists. The project is called SecureDrop and it is built on the open source whistleblower submission system originally designed by the late Aaron Swartz. Continue reading

Syria, War and the Democratic Demands of Journalism

Obama’s decision to seek Congressional approval for a military strike on Syria is a critical moment for our nation, and our nation’s media. It is a realignment of executive power, which has for years been expanding, especially in terms of international affairs, surveillance and national security. And it is a reassertion of the role of citizens in a self-governing democracy.

The president made clear that his decision was not just a matter of involving lawmakers, but also involving the nation in this decision. “I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress,” he said on Saturday. In calling on Congress to take up this debate he is also calling on the American people to make their voices heard.

While he asserted his right to move forward without a Congressional vote, he argued, “The country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective. We should have this debate, because the issues are too big for business as usual.”

In a moment of such profound consequence, what is the role and responsibility of journalists? If we are to have a meaningful debate about our next steps in Syria, what do we need from our media to facilitate that? Continue reading

The Fallacy of the First 100 Days

Is anyone else really sick of hearing about Obama’s first 100 days? Cable and network news pundits repeat the phrase like a mantra, meant to justify their incessant jabber. News websites and politics blogs have big banners across their site pointing people to their “First 100 Days” section. Conversations around the water cooler count out the days, and discuss what has been accomplished, or not.

As best as I can tell the whole 100 days phenomenon is little more than a constructed timeline, designed and implemented in large part by the media to keep people coming back for more. After record ratings, web hits, and sales during the news-heavy election season, the media needs something to lure people back. In this way, the rhetoric of the first 100 days has simply and slickly replaced the rhetoric of horserace politics that was featured there before.

Instead of routing you to their “Election Center,” websites point you to their “100 Days Page.” Instead of counting down to November 4th, they are counting down to April 30th. But wait, do weekends count? If not then then we are counting down until June 2nd. But wait, are we counting holidays?

And that’s the thing – 100 days is absolutely arbitrary. Continue reading

Politics, Pragmatism, and Rhetoric – Part Two

Part two in a two part series about the intersection of pragmatism and rhetoric in Barack Obama’s politics. If you have not read part one, you can find it here.

I left the first part of this discussion with this passage from Barack Obama’s inaugural address:

“For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.  We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.  We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

In this passage we get a glimpse of one more vital overlap between Obama and pragmatism – the emphasis on language. Since the 2004 Democratic National Convention Obama has been deeply  identified with his skill as an orator. Indeed, on the campaign his skill in this area was one of the first things to be used against him by his opponents. He was described as being all words, and no action – all rhetoric and no experience (which was ironic at least in part because so much of his rhetoric was about the power and importance of his life experiences).

By now it is clear that Obama understood, much better than his opponents and his critics, the connection between language and action. As he stood with his hand on the bible being sworn in as the 44th president, he understood that we don’t just speak a language, but are shaped by it as well. Richard Rorty is a modern pragmatist who has written extensively about our ability “to actualize hitherto undreamt-of possibilities by putting new linguistic and other practices into play, and erecting new social constructs.” Which is a fancy way of saying we can change the world by changing the way we speak (and think) about that world. Continue reading

Politics, Pragmatism, and Rhetoric – Part One

Part one, in a two part series exploring the intersection of rhetoric and pragmatism in the politics of Barack Obama. Part two is here.

A lot of people watched the Obama inauguration speech waiting for what I found myself calling “the Kennedy moment.” They listened intently for that one line, that marvelous sound bite, that piece of undeniable wisdom, that defining sentence that helps us define ourselves just a little bit better in this troubled time. Obama’s best speeches have done this to great effect.

In the weeks since the inauguration there has not been much agreement on which, if any, one phrase settled in the minds of the nation as the sum of the entire speech. It’s likely that those who did find what they were looking for in his speech, found it in different places, identifying with various pieces of what was a complex and wide-ranging address.

For me, the line that stood out in Obama’s speech was not aspirational or inspirational. It was not  a call to serve or a call to act. At best, it was a clarification – but an important one. One our nation has needed to hear and one that, for me, indicated volumes about how Obama will approach his work as president. Continue reading

YouTube, Obama, and the Revival of Rhetoric

In recent weeks, much has been made about Obama releasing his first weekly address on YouTube. While I was glad to see Obama continuing to push traditional aspects of governing into new media realms, I was not that surprised to see him using YouTube. YouTube had been a key platform throughout his campaign, through both videos he released and an uncountable library of videos created by his supporters. It seemed obvious that he would continue to have a presence in the online video space after the election.

Obama, after all, was made for YouTube. He is a brilliant public speaker who comes off as composed and thoughtful in front of the camera and has the rare ability to translate the passion and energy that he presents live on stage into the more intimate setting of online video. Continue reading

Reconsidering Moral Leadership

In early 2007 I was asked to write a series of blog posts for a youth conservation organization examining the intersection of service, civil rights, and the environment for Martin Luther King Day. In one of those posts I mused about MLK’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech from the 1963 March on Washington. Actually, I mused on the way that MLK was introduced to the crowd gathered there on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The person who introduced King called him the moral leader of our nation.

When I was writing in early 2007 I commented on how striking this phrase was, because I couldn’t imagine any one person today being called the moral leader of our country. Moral leadership, at least on the national political stage, was all but absent. However, that same week a Senator from Chicago stood on the steps of Illinois’ Old State Capital (where Abraham Lincoln had stood before him) and announced he was running for president of the United States. At the time I didn’t know much about Barack Obama, but now, twenty months later we have all learned volumes about who he is and what he stands for, and I am beginning to hope that moral leadership may be on the rise again. Continue reading

Change Begins With Us

After the initial euphoria of Barack Obama’s big win began to die down, after all the polls were discussed and the results were analyzed, the pundits all seemed to speak with one unified voice for a moment. Their message was simply “Now the hard work of governing begins,” as if equating the last 20 months of campaigning to nothing more than a beauty contest that had nothing to do with the work of governing. Perhaps this was the media’s response because the media had spent so much time covering the election as if it were a beauty pageant, not a vital national dialogue.

Regardless, as the media spotlight shifted away from horse-race politics and campaign gossip and began exploring what an Obama administration means for the future of America, a new narrative emerged. In the two weeks since the election the media – both mainstream and bloggers – have been captivated by Obama’s every move. News photographers follow him like paparazzi as he drops his daughters off at school, correspondents trace politicians’ flights in and out of Chicago and speculate on their possible roles in his administration, pundits analyze his every word and choice as if by tracking every move he makes we will begin to understand what our future looks like. Continue reading