The news organization that first introduced the world to Edward Snowden is taking some heat for an article in which a major U.S. civil rights leader likened the NSA leaker to Gandhi.

In an interview posted Thursday, the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, Paul Lewis, quoted Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., as saying that Snowden was defying unjust laws when he leaked information about massive electronic surveillance by the U.S. government. Lewis, the Guardian reports, said Snowden’s actions were in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian spiritual leader who protested British rule through non-violent means.

The Guardian website quotes Lewis responding to a question about whether Snowden was engaged in an act of civil disobedience:

“In keeping with the philosophy and the discipline of non-violence, in keeping with the teaching of Henry David Thoreau and people like Gandhi and others, if you believe something that is not right, something is unjust, and you are willing to defy customs, traditions, bad laws, then you have a conscience. You have a right to defy those laws and be willing to pay the price.”

Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders of the early 1960s and onetime lieutenant to Martin Luther King Jr., is one of the most prominent civil rights leaders in the country. So his seeming words of praise for a man who has been branded a traitor in some D.C. circles is of some significance.

The problem is, Lewis says he never praised Snowden. In a press release posted later Thursday, the 73-year-old congressman called interpretations of the Guardian’s quote misleading, saying instead that the leaking of classified information is an act that should be condemned.

“News reports about my interview with The Guardian are misleading, and they do not reflect my complete opinion. Let me be clear. I do not agree with what Mr. Snowden did. He has damaged American international relations and compromised our national security. He leaked classified information and may have jeopardized human lives. That must be condemned. I never praised Mr. Snowden or said his actions rise to those of Mohandas Gandhi or other civil rights leaders. In fact, The Guardian itself agreed to retract the word 'praise' from its headline."

The original tweet and sidebar headline used by the Guardian did use the word “praise,” but the article itself notes no corrections. In a Twitter conversation with Poytner's Andrew Beaujon, Gawker senior editor Matt Wells insisted that the quotes in the story "speak for themselves" and said the newspaper amended the headline as a "gesture of goodwill."

Lewis went on to say that the quote came from an interview about this month's 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Toward the end of the interview, he said he was asked about what he thought about Snowden’s actions.

Following the press release, Guardian’s Lewis defended the piece via Twitter, in response to tweet from Jay Rosen, the prominent New York University journalism professor and press critic. The writer insists he quoted Lewis verbatim and said the congressman’s office had no further complaint about the article.




Read Paul Lewis’ full article here.