How Cute: Thomas L. Friedman Thinks the American People, Not Their Angry, Powerful Government, Would Be in Charge of Punishing Edward Snowden

The one on the right. |||New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman just isn't sure whether Edward Snowden is a "whistle-blower" or a "traitor," because Snowden apparently "dumped his data and fled to countries that are hostile to us and to the very principles he espoused." (Note to future whistleblowers: Dripping out leaks to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras over several months is the new "data dumping.")

But don't worry—Friedman has a solution to this apparent conundrum, one that underlines just how ignorant this perennial bestselling author can be:

To make a second impression, Snowden would need to come home, make his case and face his accusers. It would mean risking a lengthy jail term, but also trusting the fair-mindedness of the American people, who, I believe, will not allow an authentic whistle-blower to be unfairly punished.

Actually, if he was tried as the “traitor” Friedman thinks he might be, Snowden would face the death penalty. But as it stands, the whistleblower—and there is no "authentic" definition of "whistleblower" I'm aware of that doesn't apply to what Snowden did, no matter how much one hates Russia (and I'll stack my Russophobia against Friedman's any day)—is charged by his government of violating The Espionage Act twice, plus a third count that could drive his maximum sentence to 30 years. And—spoiler alert!—people charged with espionage are not tried in the court of American public opinion, they are prosecuted by a government with a shameful track record of using the Espionage Act as a club to punish whistleblowers.

Did the American people "allow" former FBI linguist Shamai Leibowitz to be sentenced to 20 months in prison for leaking to a blogger classified documents that he maintained showed his own government violating the law? Was there public hue and cry when former CIA analyst John Kirakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison this January for giving the name of a CIA torturer to a reporter (who didn't publish it), as part of him being the first U.S. government employee to confirm the practice of waterboarding prisoners? Read the names of the prosecuted leakers in this May 2013 Reason post and ask yourself how many of their cases were impacted the tiniest little bit by the court of public opinion. How many of them are even known?

It is stunning, the amount of potential punishment Snowden's critics demand he subject himself to as the price for jump-starting a long-overdue civil liberties conversation that nobody in power ever wanted to have. Yes, Russia is "hostile to us," but the point is that Putingrad is not nearly as hostile to Snowden as us. What the White House and its apologists don't seem to either realize or care about is that modern-day American whistleblowers are being incentivized to either A) skip off to regimes that enjoy thumbing America in the eye, or B) keep the whistles out of their mouths in the first place. Both are bad outcomes for the functioning of government, for national security, for free speech, and for basic democratic legitimacy.

Bonus Friedmanalia for connoisseurs: The column contains not one but four paragraphs of imaginary speechcraft for President Obama, and literally ends with this paragraph: "You can Google it." 

Reason on Snowden here, on Thomas L. Friedman here.

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  • fish||

    I don't know who sanitized the Reason magazine cover with Brooks and Friedman but I have it on good authority that when it went to press the working title was, "Hey look at These Two Douchebags!"

  • Lady Bertrum||

    I love the cover. Have two more falsely self important douchebags ever existed?

    They remind me of they guy from the movie Amadeus. Not Mozart, but the envious fucker that so resented him. What was his name? Right, we can't remember because he didn't produce anything worth remembering - like the two douchebags on the cover.

  • Floridian||

    F Murray Abraham. Fantastic in that film. Salieri (sp?)

  • BakedPenguin||

    I think you spelled it right. Back when I used to listen to a lot of classical music, I had a CD of his music. Not bad, but nothing you'd really notice.

    Of course, the play / movie was made out of whole cloth - but it was still amazing.

  • Floridian||

    Agreed. I don't care if it was historically accurate. It was an entertaining movie.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    See also Oliver Stone's JFK.

  • Tagore Smith||

    It was a fun movie, and being ahistorical probably made it better. But we ought to give Salieri his due- he was a tremendously gifted composer. He had a great deal of respect for Mozart, and Mozart had a great deal of respect for him.

    Salieri was the second-best composer of his time. That's impressive when your competition is Mozart.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    Now I'm going to have images of a young Elizabeth Berridge stuck in my head all day. Not even recalling Salieri as the rotting guy from the Star Trek TNG movie will allow me to regain my focus.

  • DJF||

    Since the only American people that Freedman knows is government apparatchiks then his confusion is understandable.

  • sarcasmic||

    It would mean risking a lengthy jail term, but also trusting the fair-mindedness of the American people, who, I believe, will not allow an authentic whistle-blower to be unfairly punished.

    Another example of how leftists do not understand the distinction between society and government.

  • Andrew S.||

    Excellent point.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Obama is the embodiment of the General Will, is he not? Then he can pardon Snowden to prevent any unfair punishment.

    (a 1 cent fine would be unfair punishment at this point, given that he's already suffered exile and separation from that stipper-girlfriend of his)

  • Gbob||

    There's still a part of me that remains enough of an optimist to think that I'll see the headline "President Paul Pardons Snowden" someday. One would think reality would have cured me of this "hope and dream" nonsense.

    God damn it. There was a time when this country celebrated people who stood up against the government. Chasing off the feds with a shotgun was as American as anything. One would think that after a century of wars and genocide in Europe we would have learned our lesson and stopped trying to be like the old country.

    Friedman is a boot licking dog who should be tarred and feathered.

  • DJF||

    Several years ago at one of the international do gooder meetings, Gates and Buffet were the star attractions. As they both entered the meeting hall together, somehow Freeman got in front of them. The entrance was lined with photographers and Freedman realized that he was in middle of the great ones photo-op. He bends over and tries to escape but he can’t because of all the photographers, so he scuttles back and forth in a frenzy. Freedman looked like some court jester from the Middle Ages who was leading the Kings into the castle great room. He was just there for the amusement of the kings and the crowd

    Everytime I think of Freedman I remember that scene and realize he is just a fool.

  • DJF||

    oops Friedman, not freeman

  • Smilin' Joe Fission||

    Yeah but now we have the right TOP.MEN. in charge so it's all good!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...Snowden would need to come home, make his case and face his accusers.

    Well, which is it? Because he comes home and faces his accusers, he's not making his case to anyone but the walls of the cell they hide him away in. HE KNOWS TOO MUCH.

    Dipshits.

  • Almanian!||

    Fuck Friedman.

  • ||

    That's one of my favorite reason covers.

  • Swiss Servator - past LTC(ret)||

    Pair o' the Punchable

  • Raston Bot||

    that one's worth framing and hanging in the foyer as a warning.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    Just hanging.

  • Jon Lester||

    I don't think wariness of our past actions and present policies necessarily makes China or Russia "hostile," though I'm sure they don't like being lied to by our government any more than we do.

    More importantly, who's responsible for taking down the Thomas Friedman Op-Ed Generator?

  • John||

    Hey remember when the media made fun of Romney for calling Russia hostile? Now we all know Russia is a hostile power.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Yeah, as I seem to recall Friedman was one of the lead douchenozzles pushing that putdown.

  • John||

    I think most people are fair minded and the government wouldn't get a espionage conviction against Snowden. But so what? If Snowden returned he would immediately be thrown in jail and spend a couple of years in jail before he even got to trial. Then even a fair jury would probably convict him of leaking classified information, which is basically a strict liability crime. And that conviction alone would get him years more in prison. In non capital federal cases the judge determines your sentence and does so by a fairly strict set of guidelines that he can only deviate from with very good reason. So the fairness of the American people won't do Snowden much good. Friedman of course being a moron who has no idea how the criminal justice system actually works doesn't realize this.

  • ChrisO||

    I'm not so confident that Snowden would be acquitted on the espionage charges. The government would attempt to try the case very narrowly and keep out the nature of what Snowden revealed. And I'm guessing they'd find a sympathetic judge.

  • John||

    He would have a jury trial. And to prove espionage, you have to prove that he did it with the specific intent of benefiting a particular country or harming the US. That would be impossible to prove in this case. Leaking thinking you are a whistle blower is not espionage. That charge didn't stick in the Manning case and it wouldn't stick here.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    ...you have to prove that he did it with the specific intent of benefiting a particular country or harming the US.

    Actually, I seem to recall reading not too long ago that that burden was done away with in the Manning trial.

  • John||

    No it wasn't. Manning was acquitted of that charge.

  • DWC||

    You don't have to prove anything. If those in power want you put away or executed you will be. Anybody who thinks we really under the rule of law or that justice is of any particular concern lives in a dream world.

  • John||

    So that explains why Manning is on death row? Oh yeah he is not and in fact was acquitted on the most serious charges.

  • ||

    So that explains why the Awlaki's are dead?

    Just because our capricious and arbitrary system of political persecution misses occasionally doesn't mean it's any better for the times when it doesn't.

  • CE||

    If I'm ever accused (falsely or unfairly or not), I will definitely bolt. Jail sucks.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    "a fairly strict set of guidelines that he can only deviate from with very good reason"

    Gosh, I thought the Supreme Court found that the federal sentencing guidelines unconstitutionally took factfinding functions away from juries? What ever happened to that opinion? Oh yeah, they winked and nudged and kept the guidelines in place for all practical purposes.

  • John||

    They still follow them, they just don't have to. But they are still free to take the hint from the government. And that opinion only related to the finding of enhancements, not to the use of the guidelines in general.

  • ChrisO||

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't Friedman gushing all over the ChiCom way of doing things a couple years ago? But apparently now they're "hostile to us and to the very principles [Snowden] espoused." Uh-huh.

    I'm going to guess that if Snowden had been indicted by the evil BOOOSSSHHH!!! administration (and he would have been), Friedman would be singing a different song. What a tool.

  • John||

    The perils of being a hack. Yes, a few years ago he wanted the US to be China for a few days.

  • Marc F Cheney||

    dumped his data and fled to countries that are hostile to us and to the very principles he espoused

    How hard is this to understand? He fled to countries that are hostile to us and to the very principles that he espoused not because those countries are hostile to us and to the very principles that he espoused, but because those are the countries that are least likely to send him back for trial in the US. I have zero doubt that if New Zealand had a no-extradition policy with the US, that's where he'd be. But instead he's repeatedly smeared as BEIN IN RUSSIA HATIN OUR FREEDOMS.

  • CE||

    No, but the American people will be in charge of punishing the government lackeys when this all comes crashing down.

  • MJGreen||

    "We" will decide Snowden's fate.

    "We" are having a "national conversation."

    "We" are demanding more information about food.

    "We" are asking for this, that and the other.

    I'm really, really fed up with this bullshit about what "we" want and having "national conversations" and "debates." I need to scream at someone.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    For the life of me, I really can't understand how it is that Thomas Friedman gets this reputation as an insightful thinker. The guy's thinking is superficial, inconsistent, and platitude-ridden. I kind of get the impression that he's one of those guys who is taken seriously by people because everyone thinks that everyone else takes him seriously. Sort of the Paris Hilton of public intellectuals.

  • paranoid android||

    It's really just baffling...Friedman's the one who keeps coming up with all those empty buzzword phrases that keep popping up in speeches by the President and such. He's the one who coined, "Nation building at home", right? I hear the President use that phrase, and I can't help but think about the fact that we live in a nation where Thomas Friedman, this consumately proposterous, airheaded buffoon, has very real influence in the thinking of our most powerful people.

    And at that point I start diving for the whiskey bottle.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    "And at that point I start diving for the whiskey bottle."

    Maybe you've found the answer. It won't make things better, but at least it will dull the pain from the stupid.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    I should also add, data dump??? Does this guy even bother to pay attention to stories he talks about? If there's one thing that struck me as particularly noteworthy about the Snowden affair is that he was particularly scrupulous about culling potentially sensitive information.

  • ||

    That's one reason I'm not as enthusiastic a supporter of Manning, because what he did really was more akin to a data dump. Snowden... not so much.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    Yeah, I've noted this myself.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Another example of how leftists do not understand the distinction between society and government.

    Bullseye.

  • Cyrano||

    I don't know if the Russian government is spying on all my communications or not, but I know for a fact that the US government is, thanks to Snowden. At this point, I'm at least as opposed to my own government as I am to Russia's.

  • ||

    Get the door. That'll be a nice re-education officer from a nice 3 letter agency, here to help you.

  • Bill Dalasio||

    This brought to mind an update of an earlier joke.

    Barack Obama cancelled a summit with President of Russia. This is unfortunate. It would have shown the world a remarkable contrast. On one hand you would have the leader of a regime that spies on its citizens, attempts to intimidate and control journalists, and uses the power of the state to suppress political dissidents. On the other had, you would have Vladimir Putin.

  • caseym54||

    I think it will be pretty funny when Snowden gets the Peace Prize in a couple months. While some might question his qualifications, he's head an shoulders above the guy who got it in 2009.

  • ||

    They had to give him the prize so they could see what he would do to deserve it.

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