Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HEINTZ: Edward Snowden earns elite media’s fury

By ANDY HEINTZ, For What It's Worth | 6/26/2013

The massive leaks that spilled the details of the National Security Agency’s classified surveillance programs have done more than just inform Americans about our government’s widespread spying apparatus.

Those leaks also have provided a window into the mindset of the mainstream media. While establishment journalists profess to be — and might genuinely believe they are — fiercely independent, it’s troubling to see how quickly so many of them ally themselves with the powerful when the scruples of mainstream institutions (Pentagon, intelligence agencies, NSA, the presidency) have been called into question.

The massive leaks that spilled the details of the National Security Agency’s classified surveillance programs have done more than just inform Americans about our government’s widespread spying apparatus.

Those leaks also have provided a window into the mindset of the mainstream media. While establishment journalists profess to be — and might genuinely believe they are — fiercely independent, it’s troubling to see how quickly so many of them ally themselves with the powerful when the scruples of mainstream institutions (Pentagon, intelligence agencies, NSA, the presidency) have been called into question.

The Edward Snowden saga is a case in point. Snowden (the leaker who disclosed the details of the size and scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs while working as a government contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii) certainly deserves scrutiny for his decision to break the law — even though he did so for what he seems to think were noble reasons. That Snowden freely admitted he took the job at Booz Allen to get access to classified documents that proved widespread surveillance does somewhat undermine Snowden’s image as an honest whistleblower.

Snowden’s questionable tactics notwithstanding, his leaks have provided the impetus for a much-needed debate about what limits should be placed on government surveillance. I, for one, think the public should have been privy to the fact that the NSA had compiled the logs of nearly all telephone calls in the United States. Not only should the people have known about the program, they also should have had a say about whether our government’s ubiquitous surveillance should be further restricted or reformed in a way that intrudes less on people’s privacy.

What has been so disappointing about the Snowden affair is the arrogant and less-than-serious way he’s been treated by the mandarins of the news business. After news of the NSA leaks broke, it didn’t take long for the protectors of the status quo to mock the 30-year-old computer whiz in a manner that carried with it more than a hint of snobbery. Washington Post columnist Roger Cohen called Snowden a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood,” while the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin wrote that “Snowden is a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.” In addition, Politico’s Roger Simon snidely referred to Snowden as “the slacker who came in from the cold” with “all the qualifications to become a grocery bagger.”

The outrage of the mainstream media is influenced by a thinly concealed belief that certain government policies — no matter how much those policies affect us or intrude on our privacy — should be left to the political cognoscenti who are allowed to act with little accountability. The idea that a regular citizen — and a high school dropout, no less — would question the wisdom of our political elites seems to greatly irritate them.

The problem with this mindset is that it allows political issues to be shaped by the views of the powerful — high-ranking military officials, the Pentagon, the CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. — because the arguments of the less powerful (victims of drone attacks, government whistleblowers, peace advocates, civil libertarians) are dismissed as naïve or unserious. While the powerful deserve the same opportunity to express their viewpoints as the rest of us, when their views are left unchallenged by the omission of alternative opinions, the public is left with a version of reality that’s been shaped in a way that benefits the most elite and powerful forces in our society. This is great for the elites, but it might not be great for the country as a whole.

Andy Heintz is a political commentator. He previously was a Herald staff writer, now a sports reporter at the Ottumwa Courier, Ottumwa, Iowa. Read his blog at http://www.orble.com/just-one-mans-vision/ and follow @heintz23 on Twitter.

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