04/14/2014 03:38 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2014

The Pulitzer Prizes Just Demolished The Idea That Edward Snowden Is A Traitor

Barton Gellman via Getty Images

The journalists who won the Pulitzer for their momentous reporting on Edward Snowden's national security revelations celebrated their victory on Monday, and stressed that their awards sent an important message about the nature of Snowden's actions.

The staffs of the Washington Post and the American wing of the Guardian won the prestigious Public Service award for their work, which exposed the astonishingly far-reaching scope of the NSA's surveillance activities and sparked a huge public debate about the extent of the government's spying.

The Pulitzer judges wrote that the Post had won "for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, marked by authoritative and insightful reports that helped the public understand how the disclosures fit into the larger framework of national security."

They wrote that the Guardian had won "for its revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy."

The editors and reporters from both outlets were jubilant.

“This has been a hard, consequential story, which could have gone wrong in all kinds of ways," the Post's Barton Gellman told the paper. "I’m thrilled at the recognition for The Post and honestly I’m relieved that we didn’t screw it up.”

Janine Gibson, the editor who helped lead the Guardian's staff through its Snowden reporting, tweeted this message:

The Guardian's chief editor, Alan Rusbridger, wrote that the award sent a "powerful message" about Snowden's own act of public service. Snowden has been branded a traitor to his country in many circles, but an award from a pillar of the establishment such as the Pulitzers acts as a loud rejoinder to that view.

In a message to his newsroom, Rusbridger added that ""The public service in this award is significant because Snowden performed a public service."

Washington Post editor Martin Baron echoed this theme in his comments to his newspaper:

Baron added that without Snowden’s disclosures, “we never would have known how far this country had shifted away from the rights of the individual in favor of state power. There would have been no public debate about the proper balance between privacy and national security. As even the president has acknowledged, this is a conversation we need to have.”