Last fall, I co-taught an ethics course at Yale Law School with Professor Denny Curtis. It’s a seminar in which we explore the obligations of lawyers, journalists, and the courts to provide the public with information. The idea is to think through the responsibilities of lawyers to their clients, journalists to their subjects, and both to the public.
We spent one class talking about the Obama administration’s leak investigations. The basic questions up for discussion: When should the government investigate journalists? What tactics should the Department of Justice employ? We invited Glenn Greenwald, whose new book I wrote about today, to Skype in for the discussion. Greenwald, of course, is one of the journalists who broke the news about massive National Security Agency surveillance in the documents leaked by Edward Snowden. He’s also a lawyer. And he loves to argue. “I was struck by how much Glenn starts pugilistically, in a litigation pose,” one student remembers about the class, “but then relaxes into a freer conversation as he goes. I noticed this trend both over the course of the entire conversation and over each individual answer.”
He was open and free-ranging with the students. They asked about the central lessons of the government’s response to Snowden’s disclosures. And they wanted to know Greenwald’s response to the argument that Snowden had no business deciding on his own to leak. Greenwald, not surprisingly, completely disagreed. If I remember correctly, he talked about Snowden's leak as an honorable and necessary form of civil disobedience. He certainly made an impression on my students: Says one, “Other Yale Law students seemed more impressed when I told them Glenn Greenwald Skyped into our class than they would have been by visits from probably half the current justices on the Supreme Court.”