In an unsigned editorial today, “Edward Snowden, Whistle Blower”, the New York Times is needlessly weak:
… Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community. …
Well, there you have it. The iron-clad resolve of the nation’s most respected newspaper, taking a firm and uncompromising stand in support of a source who, at great personal risk, revealed a massive and ongoing abuse of government power. Yes, the New York Times is definitely who I want next to me in a trench.
Not. Come on, New York Times. The yellow-bellied, lily-livered, sop-to-power sycophancy of this position is… unseemly. Are you really saying “a pig like that, you don’t eat all at once” about Edward Snowden?
The worst thing in the editorial is also the subtlest:
The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.
Note the lacuna in the transition from the first sentence to the second. What I expected the second sentence to say was something like “Terrorists already assume their communications are being monitored and behave accordingly; Snowden’s leaks are a revelation only to law-abiding citizens who expected their government to play by its own rules.”
But instead the second sentence is an apparent non sequitur — it talks about how reducing the scale of data collection and increasing oversight would not harm the effectiveness of the programs. The implication is that the if Snowden’s leaks were to harm national security, they would do so by causing public outrage sufficient to force the programs to be reduced and brought under real oversight; and the Times is saying that we shouldn’t worry: because such reduction and oversight would not harm national security, therefore Snowden should not be punished to the full extent of the law.
There are two infuriating things about this. One is that they left out the obvious point that the real reason the leaks do not harm national security is that they do not cause terrorists to behave any differently than they are already behaving. Two is the implication that if changing the programs in response to public outrage did result in harm to national security, this would somehow be Edward Snowden’s fault, rather than being the responsible decision of the citizenry who demanded the reforms in the first place. Whistle-blowing is about pointing out when laws (not to mention Constitutions) are being broken in important ways — as was certainly happening here. It means giving the public a chance to decide how they will be governed. It does not mean the whistle-blower is personally responsible for whatever ultimate decision the citizenry makes.
Snowden himself has said this over and over: that his purpose was to inform the public, and that if we conclude, with full knowledge of what’s going on, that we want these programs to continue unchanged, then that’s fine. The point is to be making that decision in knowledge, not in ignorance.
They muffed the last paragraph of the editorial too:
When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.
Are they citing Rick Ledgett to endorse what he’s saying? And if not, why are they citing him? “Please, Mr. Snowden, let’s not have too much of a good thing now…”
(Luckily he can’t stop the leaks; he gave the trove of secrets to journalists and didn’t keep any copies himself, as he has repeatedly said.)
Here’s how the editorial should have ended:
When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. President Obama should immediately grant a full pardon to Edward Snowden and let him come home to the hero’s welcome he deserves.
If the NYT thinks that’s unrealistic, then they’re right — but that’s no reason not to ask for it. As President Obama himself has learned time and time again, there’s no reason to start negotiating from any position other than the one you actually want. If something less than a full pardon is really what the NYT advocates, then I don’t understand why, and can find no explanation in this editorial.