Both the Guardian and the New York Times have editorially called for clemency for Edward Snowden. The NYT did not, unlike the Guardian, call for the full pardon that Snowden deserves. That was a bridge too far for a solidly establishment US newspaper. But the NYT call is particularly significant because it has an unsavory reputation of being overly solicitous of US government interests.
A couple of months ago, I attended a regular public affairs discussion at my university that is attended by many members of the community, quite a few of them retired. They would consider themselves to be liberal and are dutiful readers of the NYT, thinking of it as a liberal newspaper that can be trusted. During the discussion about Snowden, one woman, reflecting mush of establishment opinion t that time, spoke disdainfully of Snowden for having left the country, rather than stay here like their liberal hero Daniel Ellsberg.
Of course, she was unaware until I informed her that Ellsberg has been one of the most outspoken supporters of Snowden’s actions and says that he did the right thing in leaving since the climate for whistleblowers now is much harsher than in his time. For the people in that room, however, president Nixon is the arch villain and it is unthinkable that Obama might be worse than him.
This is why the NYT’s editorial, and its referring to him as a ‘whistleblower’, is significant. It signals that elite opinion may be shifting from viewing Snowden as a vainglorious, narcissistic criminal and possible spy who should be punished harshly, to someone who acted in the public interest and, as the paper observes, “has done his country a great service.”
I do not expect president Obama, who has shown himself to be exceptionally cruel and vindictive towards whistleblowers, to follow this advice. But it should warn him that on this issue he is in danger of losing the approval of the elite classes that he depends upon and craves.