Jack Shafer: Snowden vs the Dragons
But even the press in aggregate is not a friend to whistle-blowers, as its recent treatment of Snowden attests, what with the deep dives into his teen years (including photos), his education and employment history, his reputation as a loner and a “brainiac,” his pants-down hijinks, his online scribblings, his dancer girlfriend, his predilection for (in his own words) “post-coital Krispy Kremes.” Squeezing every possible query at every known commercial database, journalists worldwide have aped the National Security Agency’s snooping skills to track down Snowden’s friends, associates, neighbors, schoolmates, relatives and colleagues to instapaint his portrait.
No matter how generously you read the team portrait, Snowden comes off as a bit of a cocky know-it-all. And how could he not? He did a bodacious, criminal thing; threatens to commit additional acts of criminal bodaciousness; and maintains the cool-customer persona in his video and print interviews. And he comes off as a little squirrelly and ego-swollen.
But what mortal wouldn’t come off a little squirrelly and ego-swollen after nonstop scrutiny by the press, even if they hadn’t leaked NSA secrets? I guarantee you that if the press ever gets around to vacuuming your every posting, scrapbooking your most dishy teen pix, and interviewing all the people in your past, it will depict a creep of some variety. Not because you’re a creep but because the language and methodology of journalism are ill-equipped to capture normalcy—even when its subjects project normalcy. Journalism is about finding flaws and magnifying them, and surely someone who would spill massive loads of state secrets must contain a few broken parts, right?
Whether Snowden is more psychologically integrated than your average 29-year-old makes for stimulating conversation and fun clicks, but it’s not really germane to the secrecy “debate” that even President Barack Obama claimed to “welcome” last week. Once we (the press and readers) exhaust ourselves on the Snowden, Up Close and Personal, angle, the debate will likely be interrupted, just as the debate about the Pentagon Papers was interrupted by the White House back in 1971, when Daniel Ellsberg dumped them to the press.
About two weeks after the New York Times began publishing the papers in June 1971, President Richard Nixon told National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and Attorney General John Mitchell that he didn’t want Ellsberg to get a fair trial for leaking. “Let’s get the son-of-a-bitch in jail,” Nixon said. “Don’t worry about his trial. Just get everything out. Try him in the press. Try him in the press. Everything, John, that there is on the investigation, get it out. Leak it out. We want to destroy him in the press. Is that clear?”
Comparing Obama to Nixon may be Shafer’s ‘Jumping the Shark’ moment, but we’ll have to see how this plays out, won’t we? Remember when Nixon imposed Wage and Price controls? By today’s GOP/wingnut standards, that’s souchialushum!