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American Prospects

Follow the Leaker

June 11, 2013

I don't know about you, but I don't feel like I'll truly understand the citizen's relationship to government in an age of sweeping electronic surveillance until I read Edward Snowden's girlfriend's blog. And this morning, Fox & Friends answered the question everyone in America was surely asking: Does Lou Ferrigno think Snowden is a traitor? (For the record, Ferrigno's response was nuanced, but leaned toward "yes.") But let's say you're glad you found out what The Hulk thinks, but you're still asking yourself, "Has Rob Schneider weighed in on this yet?" Politico has you covered.

We all know that the news runs on personalities; a "story" without protagonists and antagonists isn't a story at all, it's just an "issue," and that's dullsville. But I'm sure the White House couldn't be happier that the NSA story is quickly becoming dominated by a discussion of Edward Snowden himself, which naturally crowds out discussion of the substance of his leak and whether we want to make adjustments to the policies and programs he revealed. So now we'll be treated to endless "investigations" of who Snowden was friends with in grade school, what kind of food he likes to eat, and any other details that can be known about him. I'm sure more than a few commentators will follow David Brooks' lead and use a couple of disconnected biographical snippets about Snowden to make grand socio-psychological pronouncements about his generation ("he appears to be a product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments"). I can't wait for Peggy Noonan to turn her halogen high beams of insight on this one.

I'm not saying that nobody should talk about Snowden, or debate whether someone leaking information like this was right to do so (though "Hero or traitor?" is an absurdly simplistic way to frame the question). But that's a secondary part of the story, and if it becomes the primary part of the story, then we'll rapidly lose the ability to make any changes to the policies. If we ever had it in the first place, that is; I'm not optimistic on that score, either.

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