The Internet and the old-guard media disagree on the cult of Edward Snowden
THANK Zod for the Internet, especially Twitter, because without them you’d be hard-pressed to know anybody here in America is rooting for poor Edward Snowden these days.
There’s a disturbing divide in the national opinion—you can find exceptions in either case, but for the most part it looks like the Twitterati overwhelmingly supports Snowden while the mainstream media can’t stand him. At least not mainstream editorial boards; the Washington Post’s went so far as to call for Snowden to surrender and quit leaking information (some of which the Post’s own news team had already published).
To be fair, though, the Post did later run an op-ed piece by alumnus Daniel Ellsberg, exposer of the Pentagon Papers, in which Ellsberg argued that “NSA leaker Snowden made the right call” when he fled the country.
Still, the bulk of America’s professional pundit class considers Snowden a spy, a traitor, or worse.
What’s weird about this is that American journalists—especially old-guard types who’ve been in the news biz long enough to work their way up to the highest ranks of the pundit class—love to wax poetic about the importance of the First Amendment and the Fourth Estate, and every newsroom in America has at least one editor who keeps Thomas Jefferson’s quote tacked above his desk: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
So I don’t know when the hell all these patriotic American journalists decided the purpose of the Fourth Estate is to make the other three look good, nor who the hell told them “Government’s cock will not suck itself; that’s what a free and independent media is for.”
Still, even though I’m grateful for the online support granted Snowden and other whistleblowers, the ugly fact remains: some of that support takes on the trappings of a personality cult. Brendan O’Neill presumably had this in mind when he pleaded in Spiked Online, “Let’s call a halt to the worship of whistleblowers.”
“In 24 hours, Edward Snowden has gone from being a former contract worker at America’s National Security Agency to a godlike figure who has apparently ‘saved us’ from ‘the United Stasi of America’. It’s the religious terminology that is most striking. For leaking info about how the NSA keeps tabs on the communications of both American and foreign citizens, Snowden has been referred to not only as a saviour but also as a ‘martyr’ [….] St Snowden, the latest in a line of brave revealers of liberal gospel, who, according to one Guardian columnist, has carried out ‘extraordinary human acts’ and showed ‘an endless willing to self-sacrifice’ – just like You Know Who. The creepy Jesus allusions are even more apparent in the Twittersphere, where Snowden is referred to as saviour, martyr, even ‘libertarian messiah’.”
Turning anyone into a demigod is indeed a bad idea, yet I take a more charitable view of the whistleblower-worshipers because I know a drowning man will grab anything to keep from sinking. Maybe it looks strange from outside the US, but seriously: this a scary time to be an American, especially one who likes the idea of living in a free country and worries maybe we don’t anymore. We’re no longer allowed to fly or travel within our own national borders unless we first submit to a sexually explicit and legally mandated groping at the hands of TSA agents. Snowden revealed that we can’t even say with certainty, “I know my government isn’t monitoring my communications, since I’ve done nothing wrong.” That’s supposed to be the whole point of living in a free country, according to the civics teachers of my school days: “Unless they know you’ve done something wrong, the government leaves you alone.” Only that’s not true anymore.
Nonetheless, there’s no shortage of people eager to ignore Snowden’s or Manning’s revelations in favor of assuring everybody that neither man is without flaws, presumably because looking for flaws in the messenger is easier than digesting the implications of the message. It reminds me of the crypto-racists who love to sneer, “Oh, you admire Martin Luther King, Jr.? You mean the plagiarist and serial adulterer who was, by many accounts, pretty much a complete jerk to his extramarital girlfriends?”
No, I mean Martin Luther King, Jr., the man whose promotion of nonviolent protest helped America transition away from Jim Crow segregation without the Civil Rights Movement turning into a Civil War-style bloodbath. He did something great for humanity—at least the portion of humanity living in the US—and frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn whether he made good husband material.
Nor do I care if Edward Snowden has personality flaws, or some of his admirers get a little hyperbolic when discussing his sterling qualities. (Besides, they’re more than offset by detractors calling Snowden the greatest American traitor since Benedict Arnold.) So thank Zod for the Internet, for letting me remind myself I’m not the only American horrified by what my country is becoming.
Photo 1: Demonstrators burn a coffin and a replica of Uncle Sam outside the U.S. embassy in La Paz, Bolivia, Monday, July 8, 2013. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has accused the United States of pressuring European governments to deny his plane permission to enter their airspace amid suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden might have been onboard. Venezuela and Bolivia both made asylum offers to Snowden over the weekend, and Nicaragua has said it is also considering his request. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)
Photo 2: Transit passengers eat at a cafe with a TV screen with a news program showing a report on Edward Snowden, in the background, at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Russias President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has remained in Sheremetyevos transit zone, but media that descended on the airport in the search for him couldnt locate him there. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)