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Whatever You Think of the Trump-Russia Investigation, Whistleblower Reality Winner Deserves Your Support

Winner is caught between two camps — a whistleblower without a constituency.

Reality Winner exits the Augusta Courthouse on June 8, 2017, in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Reality Winner, the former NSA contractor accused of releasing national security information to the media, will have been in jail for more than a full year without being convicted of a crime. Her trial, originally scheduled for October 2017, has been pushed back multiple times and is now on the docket for October 2018. It’s anyone’s guess whether the case will drag on even longer.

Something curious has happened along the way: Winner’s case fell out of the public consciousness. National media pays scant attention to her plight, and many advocates from the left to the center of the political spectrum — all of whom should have ample reason to loudly protest the many injustices in her case — have been largely silent.

Winner, unfortunately, is caught between two camps — a whistleblower without a constituency — even as her alleged transgression proved a pivotal moment in the hot-burning media story of the investigation into potential attempts by Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

Winner’s arrest — for leaking a document that media reports have said was the subject of a June 5, 2017, story at The Intercept — was the opening salvo of the Trump administration’s promised crackdown on leaks. (The Intercept has stated it has no knowledge of the source’s identity; its parent company, First Look Media, has contributed to her legal defense through its Press Freedom Defense Fund.) Winner received wide coverage at the time of her arrest in June 2017. Since then, however, the coverage has fallen off sharply, even though media organizations should have an incentive to extensively cover, and even protest, such leak prosecutions as an affront to press freedom.

Some local media in Georgia — not least the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the leading large paper near the site of the trial — have been regularly covering the case. But, aside from a profile in New York Magazine, there has been virtually no substantial national coverage of Winner’s case. At most, Winner might garner mentions in occasional brief write-ups when the judge rules against her defense team, which has happened with virtually every major motion Winner’s lawyers have put forward.


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Meanwhile, the story of Russian interference in the election has dominated front-page headlines for a year. Despite being consistently the most covered news story of the Trump presidency — with a seemingly avid readership — a whistleblower accused of releasing a top-secret National Security Agency document that gave the public an unprecedented window into how U.S. intelligence agencies think Russia tried to interfere has been all but forgotten.

The unfortunate silence on Winner’s case runs through political circles as well. Winner’s cause has been largely neglected by many political advocates — both on the left, which usually shows strong support for whistleblowers targeted by the U.S. government, and on the moderate and liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which has trumpeted the Russian interference scandal as the crime of the century.

The lack of attention from the media and the political establishment has dampened activism. The Stand With Reality campaign has struggled to garner donations to support her legal and public defense, and group has barely 2,000 Twitter followers. (I helped start the Stand With Reality campaign, but am not involved in day-to-day operations.) This is in contrast to whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s advocacy campaign, which was able to raise over half a million dollars for her legal defense, or the effort to pardon Edward Snowden, which was the topic of many of the country’s leading newspaper editorial boards.

Read the full article at The Intercept.

Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and legal analyst who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and has also contributed to The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Harvard Law and Policy Review, PBS MediaShift, and Politico. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorTimm

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