Edward Snowden, leaker extraordinaire of classified NSA documents, is said to be seeking an extension of his political asylum in Russia, where he has resided, beyond the reach of US jurisdiction and under legal protection granted by Vladimir Putin personally, for a little over one year. Snowden seems to be settling in for the long haul as a fugitive expatriate.
He is making a mistake. At some point Snowden must return to the US and face the criminal charges pending against him. By postponing this reckoning, he adds to skepticism about his motives. More important, he diminishes his legitimacy as a whistleblower who broke the law to expose government overreaching, change official policy, and vindicate principles of government transparency and individual privacy.
Snowden has portrayed his accessing, copying and distribution (to selected journalists) of NSA records as acts of conscience-and so they may have been. Civil disobedience is a time-honored form of protest, particularly in a democracy. But civil disobedience is not painless; it is not a get-out-of-jail free card.
Civil disobedience assumes-in fact, requires-submission to legal processes: to trial and possible punishment. This, the painful part of civil disobedience, is what distinguishes morally-just protest, on one hand, from mere law-breaking, on the other. Think of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Think also of James Risen, a New York Times reporter who faces sanctions, including jail, for his civil disobedience in defying a court order. Risen has been waging a legal battle to protect his confidential sources for a book revealing classified information on US intelligence operations in Iran. Having appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, to no avail, Risen has run out of legal options (although the Justice Department has hinted that it might back off of enforcing its subpoena demanding Risen’s testimony about confidential sources).
Snowden’s situation and Risen’s are very similar. Both Snowden and Risen are in trouble for disclosing classified information. Snowden has been indicted, while Risen is subject to a court order (that remains intact after multiple appeals). Snowden has fled the country, escaping (at least for now) any legal consequences for his actions. The morally equivalent choice for Risen would be to renege on his promise of confidentiality and to provide sworn testimony to government prosecutors.
The likelihood of Risen, a principled and professional journalist, betraying his source to avoid jail–is zero. For Snowden, too, the moral choice is clear. To legitimize his violations of federal law as acts of conscience, he needs to face the consequences, not run away from them.
If Snowden, instead of going public with his information, had decided to leak his NSA documents on a confidential basis to journalists at The Guardian and the Washington Post, those journalists would today be in the same boat as the New York Times’ Risen-under subpoena and facing prison or other serious sanctions for refusing to comply. Why, then, should the expectations be so different for Snowden?
Snowden no doubt fears going to prison. Who wouldn’t? But Snowden, if he returned to the US, would receive a trial that is not only fair, but a model of due process. Media interest would be off the charts. That would maximize transparency in all court proceedings–which, in turn, would pressure prosecutors to exercise restraint.
Snowden would have the very best criminal defense lawyers in the country (regardless of his ability to pay them). And those lawyers would make the most of the government’s dilemma: having to prove harm to national security, but without revealing sensitive information that could cause still more harm to national security.
Snowden’s lawyers will also insist that he cease all public comments. No more press conferences via Skype, no Twitter or email, no calls with reporters. Total silence, giving his lawyers control over his message and image. For Snowden, who clearly loves the sound of his own voice and delights in dealings with the media, such muzzling may be hard to abide. Still, it’s not a reason for staying on the lam.
Snowden’s unfinished business is in a US courtroom, not a Moscow suburb.
By: Peter Scheer, Executive Director, First Amendment Coalition, The Huffington Post Blog, July 16, 2014
American pundits have an unusual profession; it is one of the only careers in which repeated, catastrophic, and humiliating failures seem to do nothing to prevent one from continuing to find work. Just ask Dick Morris.
The media’s tendency to forgive blown predictions and provide airtime and column inches to guests with little to no remaining credibility has become particularly offensive since the Iraq situation rapidly devolved into crisis. Despite the fact that those who made the case for the war helped end thousands of lives and waste trillions of dollars, many of those who have been proven to understand nothing of the country have been welcomed back as “experts” on the disaster.
Here are five of the worst offenders:
On Friday, Fox News contributor Judith Miller took it upon herself to criticize the media’s coverage of the situation in Iraq.
“There have been a couple of reporters who have stayed in Iraq, who have been covering the growing power of ISIS…but the American media are so busy playing the blame game, ‘who’s responsible for this debacle,’ that they don’t even pay attention to a story that was there, and available for all to cover,” Miller complained.
“Did the media buy the line from the administration?” host Eric Shawn later asked Miller.
“It’s really a failure — another, yet another — failure of reporting,” Miller said.
This is, as The Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson deftly put it, “a turn of events that could signal the departure of all irony from the world.” After all, through her catastrophically flawed reporting in the buildup to the war, Miller arguably did more than anyone alive to advance the myth that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. It would be almost impossible to find someone less qualified to criticize journalists for their Iraq reporting.
Douglas Feith, who served as the undersecretary of defense for policy during the Bush administration, ripped President Obama’s approach to Iraq in comments to Politico on Thursday:
“This is the education of Barack Obama, but it’s coming at a very high cost to the Syrian people, to the Iraqi people [and] to the American national interest,” said Doug Feith, a top Pentagon official during the George W. Bush administration.
“They were pretty blasé,” Feith said of the Obama team. “The president didn’t take seriously the warnings of what would happen if we withdrew and he liked the political benefits of being able to say that we’re completely out.”
While credulously quoting Feith’s opinion on the situation in Iraq, Politico declined to note that Feith was in charge of postwar planning after President Bush declared the fiasco to be “Mission Accomplished.” It did not go well.
Rather than being presented as an expert on how the president should manage the crisis in Iraq, Feith may be better remembered as he was once described by retired general Tommy Franks: “The dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”
On Sunday, NBC’s Meet The Press invited former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz to argue, essentially, that we should have stayed in Iraq for decades.
“We stuck with the Kurds through 20 years. Northern Iraq, Kurdistan’s a success story. We stuck with South Korea for 60 years. South Korea is a miracle story. But if we had walked away from South Korea in 1953, that country was a basketcase,” he said.
Wolfowitz is another odd choice for an Iraq expert, considering that — like most of the neoconservatives in the Bush administration’s Pentagon — he has a remarkable record of being wrong about almost everything related to the war.
It’s not like Wolfowitz doesn’t know that it was a catastrophe; when MSNBC’s Chuck Todd introduced him as the “architect” of the 2003 invasion during yet another talking-head appearance on Tuesday, Wolfowitz immediately pushed back.
“If I had been the architect, things would have been run very differently,” he insisted. “So, that’s not a correct label.”
Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol has a long and well-earned reputation for being America’s least accurate pundit (non-Dick Morris division). But the nadir of his busted analysis centered around the Iraq War, for which he fully embraced the flawed case. Kristol claimed at various points that “American and alliance forces will be welcomed in Baghdad as liberators” and that “there’s almost no evidence” that the country’s Sunni and Shia populations might clash, among many, many other false assertions.
That still didn’t stop ABC’s This Week from inviting Kristol to analyze the current situation in Iraq. Unsurprisingly, he blamed President Obama:
“It’s a disaster made possible by our ridiculous and total withdrawal from Iraq in 2011,” he argued. Kristol added that President Obama was wrong when he declared the war was over.
“President Obama said two days before election day, in 2012, Iraq is on the path of defeat, the war in Iraq is over. That was enough to get him re-elected. Iraq is on the path of defeat. Neither is true. It’s a disaster for our country,” Kristol said.
Perhaps no supporter of the Iraq War has been more shameless in his criticism of President Obama than his opponent in the 2008 presidential campaign, Senator John McCain (R-AZ).
“Lindsey Graham and John McCain were right,” the Arizona senator boasted of himself and his South Carolina colleague on the Senate floor. “Our failure to leave forces on Iraq is why Sen. Graham and I predicted this would happen.”
“We had it won,” McCain later said during one of his many cable news appearances. “General Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge. If we had left a residual force behind, we would not be facing the crisis we are today. Those are fundamental facts … The fact is, we had the conflict won. We had a stable government … But the president wanted out, and now, we are paying a very heavy price. And I predicted it in 2011.”
As MSNBC’s All In with Chis Hayes recently illustrated, McCain doesn’t exactly have the best record on the topic. Much like Kristol, McCain was certain that Iraq had WMD, that Americans would be greeted as liberators, that the war would essentially pay for itself, and that sectarian violence in the country would never ignite: http://player.theplatform.com/p/2E2eJC/EmbeddedOffSite?guid=n_hayes_montage_140612
Don’t expect the Arizona Republican to evolve on the issue, by the way; he’s too busy knocking the president to bother attending Senate hearings on the crisis.
By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 18, 2014
Earth to Glenn Greenwald: if you write a book slamming The New York Times, it’s naïve to expect favorable treatment in the New York Times Book Review. Been there, done that. Twice as a matter of fact.
On the first go-around, the NYTBR reviewer — a Times alumnus— described mine as a “nasty” book for hinting that name-brand journalists don’t always deal off the top of the deck. No inaccuracies cited, only nastiness.
Next the newspaper located the most appropriate reviewer for Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President in its own Washington bureau — the original source of the great Whitewater hoax our book deconstructed. That worthy accused us of partisan hackery on the authority of one of the few wildly inaccurate Whitewater stories the Times had itself actually corrected.
If you think we got a correction, however, you’d be mistaken.
So when Greenwald complains that his book No Place to Hide, detailing his and Edward Snowden’s exciting adventures in Hong Kong before the Boy Hero flew off to Moscow, got savaged by NYTBR reviewer Michael Kinsley, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. It’s no fun getting trashed in the only book review that really matters.
Kinsley’s biting wit and withering cynicism can be hard to take. But for all that, the review wasn’t entirely negative. It never denied the importance of Greenwald and Snowden’s revelations about government snooping, nor did it question the author’s journalistic integrity. “The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop,” he wrote, “and we might never have known about the NSA’s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them.”
True, Kinsley’s tone is far from worshipful. “His story is full of journalistic derring-do, mostly set in exotic Hong Kong,” he writes. “It’s a great yarn, which might be more entertaining if Greenwald himself didn’t come across as so unpleasant. Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in No Place to Hide, Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss.”
Alas, anybody who’s experienced Greenwald’s dogged ad hominem argumentative style can identify. I’m rarely mistaken myself, but I do try not to impute evil motives to everybody who disagrees with me.
However, contrary to the army of syntactically-challenged Greenwald fans who turned his essay into an Internet cause célèbre, Kinsley never said the man should be jailed. He wrote that being invited to explain why not on Meet the Press hardly constitutes evidence of government oppression.
Indeed, also contrary to the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, Kinsley nowhere “expressed a belief that many journalists find appalling: that news organizations should simply defer to the government” in deciding what secrets to reveal. He wrote that “the process of decision making—whatever it turns out to be—should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.”
Call me old-fashioned, but I do think the newspaper’s public editor should be more capable of fair paraphrase—an important journalistic skill.
However, what Kinsley’s provocative essay did very effectively was to question how seriously the author (and Edward Snowden) had thought through the logic of their position that when it comes to government secrets, it’s every man his own director of National Security.
And the answer seems to be, not too seriously at all. But then my view is that the Greenwald-Snowden revelations about NSA “metadata” hoarding made for exciting headlines and a Pulitzer Prize but little or no practical difference to people’s actual lives.
So that when Greenwald writes that “by ordering illegal eavesdropping, the president had committed crimes and should be held accountable,” I’m inclined to ask if he knows the meaning of “eavesdropping.”
It doesn’t mean storing phone and Internet records in a giant database; it means listening in on conversations or searching people’s hard drives, and to date there’s no evidence of that being done without court-ordered search warrants. I’d add that if Americans feel politically intimidated, they’ve got awfully noisy ways of showing it — especially those jerks swaggering around with assault rifles daring the feds to make something of it.
George Packer makes a related point in Prospect: “A friend from Iran who was jailed and tortured for having the wrong political beliefs, and who is now an American citizen, observed drily, ‘I prefer to be spied on by NSA.’”
So which of the two million-odd documents Edward Snowden swiped from the National Security Agency should end up in the newspaper, and who gets to decide? On that score, Kinsley’s otherwise crystal clear argument gets foggy. His point is that in a fallen world the government has legitimate secrets to protect: classic example, the date and location of the D-Day landings.
“In a democracy,” he writes “(which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.”
Hence misunderstanding. Had he simply specified “Congress and the courts,” there would have been lot less hyperventilating.
Where’s an editor when you need one?
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, June 4, 2014
“Giving Killers Coverage, Not Platforms”: Perpetuating A Culture In Which Violence Is Rewarded With Notoriety
The stone-faced young man stood on the sidewalk last week near Union Square holding a large, hand-lettered sign on a hot-pink piece of poster board. It read: “I deserve hot blonde women.” I wondered if this could be an ironic piece of feminist political commentary or if it was intended to seem hostile.
In any case, it was clearly inspired by the shooting near the University of California at Santa Barbara about a week before. The killer, Elliot Rodger, set out to target beautiful young women, he said, because they had rejected him sexually.
But it’s a far more extreme kind of “inspiration” that worries Ari Schulman, who thinks and writes about the effect of media coverage of mass shootings. After The Times posted both the 141-page written manifesto and a video statement issued by the California gunman last week, Mr. Schulman wrote to me. He made the case that publishing those statements — which he sees as a form of propaganda — perpetuates a culture in which violence is rewarded with notoriety.
“There’s an unspoken agreement that if you are frustrated and angry, that all you have to do to get your feelings broadcast is to kill a lot of people,” Mr. Schulman, the executive editor of The New Atlantis, a quarterly journal devoted to technology and society, told me in a later interview. He spoke of a “conscious copycat effect” that can be seen in the string of mass killings, from Columbine to Virginia Tech to Newtown, Conn.
The media, he says, “have been nearly perfect participants” in the “ritualistic response” that incentivizes these horrific episodes. It’s past time, he believes, to rethink that and to change it.
He was not alone, among Times readers, in considering this question. I heard from a Hunter College professor, Steven M. Gorelick, who wrote that he wondered “what might have gone into the decision by The Times to post the chilling video made by Mr. Rodger before he went on his killing rampage.” He wondered whether this was “a simple case of the public’s right to know, or whether there was any substantive discussion about any kind of possible negative impact that posting the video might have had.”
For most journalists, the instinct to publish what they know — rather than to hold back — is a strong one. Yet nearly every article reflects judgments and decisions about what to use and what not to use.
Unlike many news outlets, The Times did not cast the video and written statements in a sensational light — but it did publish them.
Kelly McBride, who writes about journalism ethics, believes “there’s a democratic value to publishing and referencing Elliot Rodger’s manifesto. The 22-year-old mass murderer left us a 141-page window into his deranged thinking.” But, she recommended in a piece for Poynter.org, “don’t just publish it, add context. Perhaps the most valuable thing journalists can do would be to get psychiatrists and psychologists to annotate the document.”
Mr. Schulman sees a different middle ground, he says. The barrier to publication of these documents and videos should be higher, and the media attention paid to them far less — “maybe no more than a passing mention that it exists.”
And The Times wrote a story last December about people in Colorado who, based on similar thinking, want the media to stop publishing even the names of mass killers. Their idea — more extreme than Mr. Schulman’s proposal — has gained some traction.
I talked to The Times’s national editor, Alison Mitchell, about the issue. She told me that decisions about whether to use this kind of material are not made lightly.
“In every one of these cases, we think about it. It comes under a lot of discussion, and is not done reflexively,” she said. In this case, the video and manifesto were so integral to understanding the motivation for the crimes, she said, “we would have very consciously not have been telling a big part of the story.”
Times readers “want to see and judge for themselves,” Ms. Mitchell said. “It’s a disservice to try to shield them.”
As a lifelong journalist, my instincts, predictably enough, line up with Ms. Mitchell’s. In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public.
When I started writing this column, I had the notion of leaving out Mr. Rodger’s name. But it proved impossible, just as, however appealing it might be, it would be impossible for news organizations to leave out the names of other mass killers.
I find Mr. Schulman’s reasoning thought provoking, though. Many factors enter into these outbursts of violence: gun availability, mental illness, sometimes misogyny, and more. Media attention is undeniably one of them. And the idea of playing down a killer’s “manifesto” is, at the very least, worth consideration, on a case-by-case basis. We may have no choice but to name the killers, but we are not obligated to provide a platform for every one of their twisted views.
By: Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor, The New York Times, May 31, 2014
“Obamacare Crosses The Finish Line”: The People Who Are In Charge Of Our “Perception” Will Catch Up With Reality Someday
Brace yourself, friends, for the new hate-and-snicker-fest on the right about the Obamacare numbers. It started over the weekend—actually, it’s been more or less ongoing since last fall—but it’s going to crescendo now that the enrollment deadline has been reached. Six million, eh? Bah. A million below expectations, they’ll say, and in any case a fake number. That’s what Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said Sunday on Fox; the administration is “cooking the books.” He didn’t reveal how he knows this, but of course he wasn’t pressed on the point.
As of Sunday morning while Barrasso was speaking, the enrollment figure was edging close to 6.6 million, and by midnight tonight it might well hit 7 million. Conservatives will say it’s all a big con. Two criticisms have some merit. First, it’s certainly true that signing up isn’t the same thing as paying premiums on a month-to-basis. So we’ll have to see about that over time. Second, the percent of enrollees who are young and healthy is apparently a little lower than the most optimistic hopes (it’s around 27 percent).
Those are open questions that can’t be answered for a while. But they provide no basis on which to doubt the raw numbers. There was a similar late rush on Romneycare, when nearly 7,800 Bay Staters signed up in the last month before the deadline, around twice as many as during a typical earlier month. And they certainly don’t demonstrate fraudulence. Unless the photographers who snapped these photos that appear on the White House blog are working under the same orders from Pyongyang as the people who allegedly concocted Barack Obama’s birth certificate, there’s nothing fraudulent going on here, either: What you see here, instead, are long lines of people waiting to enroll at sign-up centers in cities across the country.
It’s still going to be a huge challenge to shift public opinion. Or is it? Maybe it’s shifting already. Consider these numbers from a Kaiser Foundation poll from last week. Percent who like the ACA’s extension of dependent coverage: 76. Percent supportive of the act’s closing of the Medicare drug “donut hole”: 73. Percent favoring “guaranteed issue” of coverage to people who are already sick: 69. Percent who back the Medicaid expansion: 62.
Oh, wait. Those are the Republican percentages. The overall percentages, respectively, are 80, 79, 70, and 74.
It’s the same old disconnect. Just as majorities of even rank-and-file Republicans support things like restricting the gun-show loophole (indeed a majority of NRA members support that), majorities of Republicans back these and other basic common-sense provisions of the ACA. And yet these same Republicans keep reelecting to Congress a horde of dishonest and ideologically driven harlots who’ve voted 50-whatever times to do away with all these positive changes.
And the mainstream media continue to insist that because of one congressional race in Florida in a district Republicans have held since Nixon was president, that this law is going to be the Democrats’ downfall this November. And why is that? Well, because they’ve decided. Obama and the Democrats are forcing this whole thing down people’s throats, and the Republicans’ repeal position represents the will of the besieged people.
Is that so? Here are two other numbers from the Kaiser poll. They gave people four options: keep the law as is, keep it and change it where needed, get rid of it and replace with a GOP alternative, and simply get rid of it and replace it with nothing. The first two and the second two can be reasonably grouped together as “basically support the law” and “basically oppose the law.” The numbers are 59 to 29. Not against—in support of the law.
My main point here is not to argue that Obamacare will be a plus for Democrats this fall. I think, as I’ve often written, that it can be—or that it at least can be a draw if Democrats pound away on the specifics and challenge Republicans to defend a world in which sick people can again be denied coverage and all the rest. That would be a nice little layer of icing, because it would prove the smug conventional wisdom as wrong as it usually is.
But the cake has to do with the way this entire conversation has been framed in the media. Imagine that the Democrats were standing implacably behind a position that had the backing of 29 percent of the people. (This number on repeal, by the way, is in line with most recent polls, which find the percentage favoring repeal to be in the low 30s, like this one; I should note that there was recently one poll, by AP, which put the repeal number much higher, at 41. I bet you can guess which of those polls has received more media coverage.) They’d be murdered in the press. Out of touch elitists.
But it’s one of the key rules of lazy political journalism that Republicans are the heartland and by definition can’t be out of touch with it (rules dreamed up, by the way, mostly by people from the Eastern seaboard who went to private universities and haven’t the slightest idea in the world about the actual heartland). Only Democrats can be. That’s how it can come to pass that liberals and Democrats can be defending a law whose major provisions enjoy broad support, and a law that most Americans have come around to accepting as a part of life that they’ll learn to live with, and be called out of touch. And it’s why John Barrasso can get away with making evidence-free allegations on Sunday morning television. But remember: Unwell people are getting health coverage for the first time in their lives by the millions. The people who are in charge of our “perception” will catch up with reality someday.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 31, 2014