How to Get the Government to Ease Up: Involve Scott Shane

This is fairly extraordinary. BuzzFeed reports that in an effort to alleviate some of the pressure from the UK it is bringing in the NYT — but just one reporter from the NYT — to report on the Snowden stories.

“In a climate of intense pressure from the UK government, The Guardian decided to bring in a US partner to work on the GCHQ documents provided by Edward Snowden,” Guardian spokeswoman Jennifer Lindenauer said in an email. “We are continuing to work in partnership with the NYT and others to report these stories.”

That reporter is not James Risen — who of course broke the original NSA story with Eric Lichtblau. It is not Charlie Savage — who had an important story based on the Snowden leaks already.

It is Scott Shane.

The Times’s Charlie Savage and other reporters have chased the NSA story aggressively, despite Snowden’s choice to go to fillmmaker Laura Poitras, theGuardian’s Glenn Greenwald, and Barton Gellman, who has written about the documents for the Washington Post. Snowden said he did not go to the Timesbecause the paper bowed to Bush Administration demands to delay a story on warrantless wiretapping in the interest of national security; he was afraid, he said, the paper would do the same with his revelations.

Now, Times reporter Scott Shane is at work on a series of stories expected to be published next month jointly with the Guardian, a source familiar with the plans said. The source said the internal arrangement has also been the cause of some tension in the newsroom, as other national security reporters working on the NSA story — Savage and James Risen, among others — are not centrally involved in stories based on the Guardian’s documents.

Scott Shane has an increasingly consistent ability to tell grand tales that serve the interests of The Powers that Be. And somehow his stories about extremely sensitive subjects like drones don’t get chased for leaks.

Was the alleviation of pressure tied to Scott Shane in particular, a journalist who hasn’t followed this story as closely as some of his colleagues?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. greengiant says:

    While the Guardian plays footsie with both the UK and the US, Glen says ” I’m not aware of, nor subject to, any agreement that imposes any limitations of any kind on the reporting that I am doing on these documents”

    Both the UK and the US playing frame Snowden, spin control and deep cover up with the Independent’s report of classified information. I really really doubt Miranda had anything on him, but next guess is that the Independent will lie and repeat a lie that this scoop came from the Miranda 9 hour interrogation and data seizure. Be interesting how much stuff comes back to Miranda, if it were the US it would never come back.

  2. grayslady says:

    I thought the Buzzfeed article was somewhat sensationalistic–a bit gossipy. Risen has enough on his plate, and it may be that the Times wants Savage to continue his pursuit with accompanying articles so that coverage by the Times appears broader than it is. Equally, the Times may be playing a double game by giving Shane the bylines, if he is generally considered acceptable to the D.C. crowd, even though I suspect editorial approval will ultimately reside at the top of the house.

  3. harpie says:

    Marcy, if you had linked to something in this paragraph:

    Scott Shane has an increasingly consistent ability to tell grand tales that serve the interests of The Powers that Be. And somehow his stories about extremely sensitive subjects like drones don’t get chased for leaks.

    …would it have been this or maybe this?

  4. Michael Murry says:


    From the moment the British government robbed David Miranda of his personal property, they took ownership of it and he ceased to have any responsibility for what the British government did with it. No one can now ever know what programs or data, if any, formerly resided on Mr Mirand’s personal property now that the British government can erase or plant whatever of either that they want on the stolen property they now exclusively own. They broke it. They bought it.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    This is weird. It is the Times, after all, that allows the USG prior review and veto power over if and when to publish, powers that US law still prohibit the government from asserting.

    Clearly, this is not about the Guardian getting a “second pair of eyes” to look at voluminous, controversial material. This is to get a government friendly pair of eyes, indeed, the whole Times organization (which means the US and, hence, the UK governments), inside the scoops (more of which are to come) developed by the Guardian.

    That gives both governments – and the Guardian’s chief competitor – a heads up they didn’t have before. Not pretty. Especially as UK law permits explicit prior restraint that is still officially illegal in the US.

    It would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall in the Guardian’s deliberations about what was at stake, and at risk, such that this appointment is regarded as a compromise solution for them. Improbable, but perhaps it was simpler to give the data to the Times – and, ultimately, the USG and UK governments – than to fight constant “terrorism” arrests at Heathrow and Gatwick. This is not good news.

    The Guardian’s own spin on this:

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Given how USG-friendly the Times is, and how insistently the US collects downstream data, I don’t see this move significantly protects the trove of data the Guardian has obtained from its sources. While perhaps protecting some of the data from legal and illegal demands by the UKG, it makes it more vulnerable to similar demands from the USG.

    Moreover, it’s like playing poker with your cards face-up on the table: the Times, and the UK and US governments, will be more able to spin any revelation concurrent with its publication by a more critical news source.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @earlofhuntingdon: Right. That’s what I read it as too. 1) A journo who will be a two-way channel to USG and 2) a journo who will let the I Cons spin what he writes, and whose articles will be A1, drowning out what Guardian does.

  8. joanneleon says:

    I don’t know this first hand but I’ve seen a number of things on Twitter indicating that the British press has been largely silent on the Snowden affair. Getting the Guardian to agree not to publish any GCHQ documents in the British press might be good enough for Cameron to take some pressure off the Guardian.

    That Independent article might have been a shot across the bow, showing the Guardian how they could get another British news org to publish something and say it came from Snowden, with the hint that future ones might be much more damaging to Snowden and the Guardian.

    But what earlofhuntington and Marcy say here makes a hell of a lot of sense: “1) A journo who will be a two-way channel to USG and 2) a journo who will let the I Cons spin what he writes, and whose articles will be A1, drowning out what Guardian does.”

    With the Guardian and just a few hands (and a bit from WaPo) having full control over this and getting all the attention from the media is driving them batty, I would guess. Because it’s so closely held, the US news shows keep bringing Greenwald on for TV interviews and such. Our govt would much prefer some NYTers doing those interviews and NYT sucking the oxygen out of the room with much more predictable material that the Obama admin can prepare ahead of time for and stop this trainwreck where they say something and the Guardian publishes something that refutes it shortly afterward. Obama even hinted at that in his press conference — about the “drip drip drip”. I guess the NYT will give them plenty of lead time and they’ll have had the articles in their hands for days before it gets published, so they can prepare their spin, get their quotes in the article, etc. They are control freaks.

    But still, supposedly the NYT only got the GCHQ documents. That only gives the Obama admin a bit of a heads up and doesn’t cover the USG docs and stories. How much can the NYT suck the oxygen out of the room if they are only reporting on British intelligence documents?

  9. klynn says:

    So are we to conclude Shane’s career is an intel cover? If yes, may I suggest we give him the nickname Pravda.

  10. andy says:

    Marcy, I just read your twitter exchange with Savage. I think he was covertly admitting that your theory about Scott Shane is correct since JFK probably was shot from the grassy knoll!

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