On the second anniversary of the Snowden leaks, the Los Angeles Times has published an extraordinary editorial trying to have it both ways: acknowledging that it was thanks to Edward Snowden that there have been any reforms at all in the way that the government has been sweeping up the private information of people all over the world, and then objecting to him being given a pardon and calling for him to return to the US and ‘accept the consequences’.
One is that, in a society of laws, someone who engages in civil disobedience in a higher cause should be prepared to accept the consequences. A stronger objection, in our view, is that Snowden didn’t limit his disclosures to information about violations of Americans’ privacy. He divulged other sensitive information about traditional foreign intelligence activities, including a document showing that the NSA had intercepted the communications of then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev during a Group of 20 summit in London in 2009. A government contractor who discloses details of U.S. spying on another country is not most Americans’ idea of a whistleblower.
A pardon for Snowden now would be premature. But if he were to return to this country to face the charges against him, the fact that he revealed the existence of a program that has now been repudiated by all three branches of government would constitute a strong argument for leniency. Snowden should come home and make that case.
Glenn Greenwald tears this editorial apart for its dishonesty and disingenuousness. The idea that Snowden would get a fair trial in the US is preposterous and they know it. The idea that only the privacy rights of Americans are worth protecting is yet another example of how the media sees itself as servants of US foreign policy. As Greenwald says:
While generously conceding that Snowden has “a strong argument for leniency,” they nonetheless insist that “in a society of laws, someone who engages in civil disobedience in a higher cause should be prepared to accept the consequences.”
I see this argument often and it’s hard to overstate how foul it is. To begin with, if someone really believes that, they should be demanding the imprisonment of every person who ever leaks information deemed “classified,” since it’s an argument that demands the prosecution of anyone who breaks the law, or at least “consequences” for them. That would mean dragging virtually all of Washington, which leaks constantly and daily, into a criminal court – to say nothing of their other crimes such as torture. But of course such high-minded media lectures about the “rule of law” are applied only to those who are averse to Washington’s halls of power, not to those who run them.
Fourth, and most revealingly, the LA Times itself constantly publishes illegal leaks, though the ones it publishes usually come from top government officials. Indeed, for years it employed a national security report, Ken Dilanian, whose specializes in stenographically disseminating the pro-government claims which government officials want him to convey (and, totally unsurprisingly, Dilanian himself became one of the leading journalistic opponents of the Snowden disclosures, and, now with AP, this week was bemoaning that Snowden made Americans aware of so much about what their government has been doing to the internet).
Do you think the LA Times editors would ever demand the imprisonment of high-level DC leakers by sanctimoniously arguing that “in a society of laws, someone who engages in civil disobedience in a higher cause should be prepared to accept the consequences”? Have the LA Times editors called for the criminal prosecution of Leon Panetta, and John Brennan, and the endless number of senior officials who leak not (as Snowden did) to inform the public but in order to propagandize them?
Of course not, and therein lies the key media lesson from all of this. These journalists are literally agents of political power. Just as countless journalists demanded Snowden’s imprisonment while never uttering the same about James Clapper or David Petraeus, the LA Times editors want Snowden imprisoned but not the leakers whose leaks make the U.S. Government look good, much of which gets laundered in that particular paper. Manifestly, the LAT editors don’t believe in the rule of law or the need to punish leaks or any other pretty, high-minded concepts; they believe in the need to punish those whose leaks embarrass or are adverse to political power: the very function journalists love to claim they themselves perform.
I have to hand it to the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, though. At a time when the early and vociferous critics of Snowden are either lying low or are slowly trying to walk back their positions as the value of his actions become increasingly apparent, they continue their proud tradition of obsequiousness to power.