The curious reactions to Edward Snowden’s personality

I have commented before on the harsh personal terms in which Edward Snowden has been characterized by some in the media, being described as arrogant, conceited, grating, grandiose narcissistic, a clown, and so on. This has usually come from people who strongly disagree with what he did, but not exclusively so.

Take for example Kevin Drum. Originally he trivialized the release of the documents and expressed bewilderment that the NSA revelations were considered to be so newsworthy. He has since changed his view on that but he begins a recent post with the following:

Ruth Marcus thinks Edward Snowden is “insufferable,” and I guess that’s fine. I’ll concede that Snowden’s personal demeanor has set me on edge once or twice, so I can understand why he might aggravate people of a certain temperament.

Marcus disapproves of Snowden’s actions and that may be the source of her criticisms of his personality. But what makes Snowden put Drum, a supporter, ‘on edge’? Whenever I have seen videos of Snowden, he comes across as a serious person who talks in an even voice, refrains from bombast, and expresses his point of view in a pretty straightforward way, with rare moments of light humor. So I am baffled as to what it is about his personal demeanor that some find irritating.

What I do find unusual is that he seems to possess a maturity and gravitas that is unexpected from someone so young. Glenn Greenwald says that based on their initial exchanges by email, he expected someone much older and was stunned when Snowden showed up at the first meeting in Hong Kong. The fact that he has so little formal education and yet speaks and writes so well may be jarring to those with much more education who have not done anything so significant in their lives.

Could those be the reasons that some find him off-putting? Is it because I greatly admire what Snowden did that I am somehow overlooking his personality flaws?


  1. funknjunk says

    I do not get this either. I have seen all of the Snowden videos, and I find him measured and well-spoken. Perhaps these folks are intimidated by his intelligence? I have no clue, other than that they are establishment tools. It began with the claim (in so many words) “I, at my desk, could access anyone’s email, even the President’s, if I had an email address….”, which caused much sniggering. Grandiose. Hyperbolic. Uh-huh….. Maybe people are actually irritated that he is, in fact, so unswervingly honest and up front. He’s clearly not the narcissistic fame seeker they claimed from the first either … he has had so many opportunities to be on the TeeVee that he’s turned down, according to Glenn Greenwald.

  2. Daniel Schealler says

    Take someone young, intelligent, capable, outspoken, forthright and passionate.

    Put them in the same room as someone who is insecure about their own cleverness.

    The insecure person will immediately find themselves on edge. They will then project responsibility for that feeling onto the first person, assigning blame to someone else rather than face up to their own insecurities.

    I’ve been on both sides on this. They both kind of suck.

  3. lanir says

    Some people seem to get the urge to project issues and their own narrative onto anyone who appears competent or talented in some way and is also rather quiet. It’s that last part that’s key. Paradoxically if Mr. Snowden were loud and obnoxious, none of these same people would be calling him arrogant. It’s precisely because he’s not that they feel confident they can hijack his story for their own narrative.

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