Panel discusses journalism and whistleblowers

October 10, 2018

The Georgetown Free Speech Project and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University hosted a panel discussion regarding the role of whistleblowers in our political discourse on Sept. 26 in Gaston Hall.

The “Secrets and Leaks: Whistleblowers, Journalists, and National Security” event featured Martin Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, and was moderated by Sanford Ungar, the director of the Free Speech Project.

The conversation focused on the balance between journalists, their sources, and impacts on national security issues. Alberto Mora, who served as the General Chief Counsel for the US Navy under President Bush, was involved in the disclosure of torture at Guantanamo Bay.

Laura Portias, who worked closely with Edward Snowden and directed the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour, and Baron also offered insights from a journalistic perspective.

They discussed the the cautions journalists must take in regard to both protecting their sources and the process with which leaked information is examined and filtered before being released to the public.

“When you are in this field, you should assume as a baseline that you are going to be targeted, that the information you are receiving will be targeted, that you need to learn how to use digital security tools to be able to protect your source,” Portias said.

The rhetoric of President Trump regarding press institutions was a common topic of discussion. Many speakers expressed their concerns about the impact the President has had on future disclosures and the relationship between journalists and sources. “The White House is putting out there inevitably and quite deliberately chilling effects on would be leakers and probably journalists too,” said Jameel Jaffer, executive Knight First Amendment Institute.

Carrie Cordero, an adjunct law professor, offered a slight defense of the President. “Despite the intense rhetoric at the top, the actual policy of obtaining information and investigations from journalists has remained consistent [from previous administrations],” she said.

“What was interesting was that you got every kind of point of view, and we had the opportunity to listen in and pose questions,” said Lea Farhat (SFS ’22). “Especially on free speech and journalism –issues that are so prevalent in politics today.”

Alice Gao
Alice is a junior in the School of Foreign Service, studying Global Business with minors in Jewish Civilization and Spanish. In her free time, she enjoys excessive baking and having her heart broken by the Philadelphia Eagles.

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