Guardian editor Rusbridger 'bats away' MPs' NSA questions
Questions about patriotism 'the very definition of McCarthyism', but editor's response was 'impressive'
HE WAS asked if he loved his country and whether he would have told the Nazis that British intelligence agents had cracked the Enigma code. But the editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, "batted away MPs' bluster without raising a sweat," writes the paper's media blogger Roy Greenslade.
Rusbridger's appearance before the home affairs select committee to discuss his paper's coverage of classified documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, was controversial even before it began. As Greenslade puts it: "With the British press having obtained the right to its freedom from political control in the 17th century, here was parliament calling a newspaper to account for exercising that freedom."
The most aggressive questioning came from Michael Ellis, the Tory member for Northampton North who asked Rusbridger if he would have handed the Enigma codebreaking secret to the Nazis.
The Committee's chair, Keith Vaz, questioned Rusbridger's patriotism saying: "You and I were both born outside this country, but I love this country. Do you love this country?"
Rusbridger replied that he was "slightly surprised" to be asked the question. He said he and his fellow journalists were patriotic and "one of the things we are patriotic about is the nature of democracy, the nature of a free press and the fact that one can, in this country, discuss and report these things [the NSA documents]".
Several papers, including The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, focused on the question of whether journalists from the Guardian may face criminal charges over the paper's reporting of the NSA story. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick told the select committee that she is investigating whether the newspaper breached terrorism laws in its handling of tens of thousands of highly classified documents stolen by Snowden.
Her comments came as Rusbridger "appeared to accept" he had allowed the documents to leave Britain – an offence under the 2000 Terrorism Act punishable with a jail term of up to ten years, the Mail says.
ITV News' political editor Tom Bradby concurs with Greenslade that Rusbridger gave an "impressive" performance in the face of some "inept" questions.
"You can argue that Mr Rusbridger was right to publish the Snowden leaks, or that he was wrong, but some of the name calling [by MPs] strikes me as rather childish," writes Bradby. "He [Rusbridger] was asked in all seriousness if he loved his country or whether, in the Second World War, he would have considered tipping off the Nazis that we had broken the Enigma codes. I mean, come on."
Daily Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges agrees that some of the MPs overstepped the mark. Hodges believes The Guardian "acted irresponsibly" in the way it handled the Snowden leaks, but takes issue with Vaz's questions about Rusbridger's patriotism.
"When politicians are summoning newspaper editors before them to question their patriotism then we've got a problem," writes Hodges. "It's fashionable to complain of 'McCarthyism' whenever someone is challenged on just about anything these days. But what has just happened is the very definition of McCarthyism." ·