The decision by Edward Snowden to reveal himself as the whistleblower was a public relations masterstroke. Long time readers of this blog will recall that I have documented case after case (Iranian Airbus, London subway ‘bomber’, KAL 007, Clinton’s bombing of a milk factory) of how governments, when they are faced with a situation that is potentially damaging to their image, will rush out an initial story that makes them look good. In doing so they will have no compunction about shamelessly lying and distorting the facts. This is because they have realized a major truth about manipulating people: It is the first impression in the public’s mind that is important because that is what sticks.
They know that in the initial aftermath of such an event, the media are hungry for news and will seize on any ‘official’ story that is put out, even if it comes from ‘anonymous high-level official sources’, the favored mode of government leaks. This is so that when the statements are later revealed to be lies, no one will be held accountable for the deception.
The goal of the government is to frame the initial public perception of the story in a way that is favorable to itself, and they know that the lazy and compliant establishment media, ever-willing to please their sources in government, will lap up the nonsense and broadcast it far and wide. When the truth is revealed, it will come in dribs and drabs, and be buried in the back pages of news reports because the media does not like to acknowledge the fact that they have been suckered by the government yet again. The later emerging truth will put hardly a dent in the public’s perception that had been shaped by the initial story. The only ones who would know what actually happened will be those interested enough to keep following the story closely.
In this case, if Snowden had not revealed himself, the government would have trolled through his past and seized on anything to imply any or all of the following: that he was unpatriotic, greedy, mentally unstable, a loser, disgruntled, a kook, and the like, just like they successfully did with Bradley Manning. If they did not find anything sufficiently damning, they would have made it up. This would have been released in leaks and then at some point they would have dramatically unmasked him at a press conference and the media would have run fascinating stories about the sleuthing efforts of the investigators and how they cleverly pieced together all the clues to identify the whistleblower. By the time Snowden got to tell his story, it would have been a major uphill battle to change the narrative that he was a villain with dubious motives for his actions
But in coming forward as he did, Snowden tore up that playbook. He comes across as a thoughtful, articulate, young person who was deeply troubled by what he saw as the government usurping powers that rightly should be decided by the people, and being willing to sacrifice his life and career to bring this information to the public. The choice of doing a video interview was especially good, since video has a much greater impact in shaping people’s opinions than printed words and will be played over and over again.
Given the work that he did, Snowden would have known that his identity would be discovered fairly quickly so deciding to go public was a brilliant move. Rather than being seen as a fugitive desperately trying to hide and being ferreted out like a cornered rat, he is now seen as defiant and bold and unbowed and unapologetic, challenging the government from a high moral ground. It is the government’s task now to try and change that perception.
The government will make every effort to discredit him, lying shamelessly if necessary. So I would advise everyone to treat with caution any statements that emerge from anonymous high-level government sources, or even identified ones, that are not backed up by credible evidence.
The propaganda war has commenced and the government and its compliant media have all the major weapons. All we have to counter them is a healthy skepticism.