â€œInstead of being adversaries to government power â€¦ [the media of Washington, D.C., are] â€¦ servants to it and mouthpieces for it.â€
So said the Guardianâ€™s Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story of Edward Snowdenâ€™s disclosure of NSA spying on the American people, after Greenwaldâ€™s confrontation with Meet the Pressâ€™s David Gregory. Greenwald neednâ€™t have limited his observation to the D.C. media. Plenty of reporters and cable-news talking heads are playing the same role in the NSA drama.
Indeed, if they spent half the time investigating Obamaâ€™s Big Brother operations that they spend sneering at Snowden and Greenwald, Americans might demand that the government stop spying on them.
But to much of the mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) media, Snowden and Greenwald â€" not the NSA, the Obama administration, and the supine Congress â€" are the story â€" a story of villainy.
The examples are endless. The day after Snowden revealed himself as the whistleblower, Joe Scarborough, the former Republican congressman and host of MSNBCâ€™s Morning Joe, ordered his director to take the image of â€œthat weaselâ€ off the screen. The other day, his sidekick, Mika Brzezinski, asked, â€œIs there anything we can do to track him down?â€ (Emphasis added.) She meant the government.
Brzezinski went on to accuse Snowden of taking the job with NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton â€œto screw over our government.â€ Thatâ€™s how one who speaks power to truth spins it. Snowdenâ€™s service to the American people is hardly undercut by his having taken the job intending to expose government violations of the Fourth Amendment.
MSNBCâ€™s self-identification as a progressive network is hard to square with its unrelenting assaults on Snowden and Greenwald, and its de-emphasis of NSA surveillance. Andrea Mitchell, who functions as the networkâ€™s chief diplomatic stenographer, wondered why the NSA was hiring contractors when it could be recruiting people with the â€œright value systemâ€ from the military. (Sheâ€™s forgotten that whistleblower Bradley Manning is in the military.) Chris Matthews of Hardball says that any foreign government that wonâ€™t turn Snowden over to the U.S. government is â€œno buddy of ours.â€
MSNBC personnel routinely describe Greenwald as â€œdefensive,â€ which apparently is their code word for people who push back at stupid questions. For example, when Gregory asked Greenwald if he could be indicted for â€œaiding and abettingâ€ Snowden, and Greenwald asked in return how a journalist could equate reporting with criminal activity, he was treated with disdain. Gregory even questioned Greenwaldâ€™s journalistic credentials, as did Paul Farhi of theWashington Post.
Iâ€™ve focused on MSNBC because it has so egregiously and persistently circled the wagons around the government. Itâ€™s an old story: TV hosts and reporters need access to government officials, but access is jeopardized if they antagonize those officials. Better to play it safe and sneer at Snowden and Greenwald.
You donâ€™t have to work for MSNBC to suck up to power. Op-ed writers from conservative David Brooks to progressive Richard Cohen have tried to portray Snowden as an alienated oddball, as though no one could have a legitimate purpose in unmasking government surveillance. (Brooks thought it relevant to write that Snowden â€œhas not been a regular presence around his motherâ€™s house for years.â€ Really!) Pundits repeatedly refer to Snowdenâ€™s having dropped out of high school, which apparently signals some serious moral or mental defect in the young man. More likely he was bored with the dull and regimented curriculum so typical of government high schools.
Others have tried to read much into Snowdenâ€™s stops in Hong Kong and Moscow. He might be a spy, they suggest. But wouldnâ€™t a spy have kept his identity secret while selling his information to â€œthe enemyâ€? It doesnâ€™t occur to the pundits that Snowdenâ€™s priority right now is to stay out of the clutches of the U.S. government. Snowden has no moral obligation to be a martyr. Letâ€™s not forget how Bradley Manning has been treated for his disclosures of government wrongdoing. He faces life imprisonment.
Snowden and Greenwald have not â€œaided the enemyâ€ â€" unless the American people are the governmentâ€™s enemy. What they have done is embarrass the Obama administration by exposing criminal activity.
This column originally appeared at The Future of Freedom Foundation.