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In China's papers, space launch tops NSA leaks

HONG KONG — On its homepage on Wednesday, amid articles about Chinese astronauts, holiday celebrations, and Chinese territorial disputes, the website of the nationalistic Chinese newspaper Global Times featured a screenshot from the White House's We The People petition portal. The image shows a petition calling on President Barack Obama to pardon Edward Snowden, the NSA leaker, because he is a "national hero." The tabloid's accompanying article summarizes the story but neglects to mention that Snowden hid out in Hong Kong for weeks (he may still be here).

The Global Times' coverage mirrors how the NSA story is playing in the Chinese press. Yes, it's front-page news, but the revelations about America's surveillance programs are not receiving the same amount of digital ink as, say, China's space launch on Tuesday. And yes, the NSA coverage is critical and even a bit satirical. Back in May, the We the People website received a lot press after the launch of a petition seeking justice for a long-unsolved Chinese poisoning case. "If you can't trust your own government ... how about appealing to the White House?" read the opening of a Bloomberg Businessweek story about the campaign. Snowden's leaks, which expose how the U.S. government has been spying on the American people, does hurt that narrative (a fact the Global Times was likely aware of in covering the NSA story).

But like many other Chinese articles written about the surveillance revelations, the Global Times article borrows heavily from U.S. sources. The popular portal NetEase featured an article titled, "Britain's The Guardian Newspaper: More Programs About American NSA Control Will Be Revealed," while the news portal Sohu picked up the news that Snowden's alleged girlfriend Lindsay Mills felt "lost and alone."

This is, of course, in part because the Western press has done virtually all the reporting on the story. But Chinese newspapers also tend to quote directly from foreign media when a Chinese angle is deemed too sensitive. Indeed, what angle could the papers take that wouldn't make China look bad?  The country has a far more extensive security apparatus than the United States does (most Chinese papers are ignoring the angle of Snowden spending time in Hong Kong -- a much freer place than the mainland). Homing in on that very theme on Tuesday, dissident artist Ai Weiwei argued in the Guardian that the "United States is behaving like China" -- a country he says almost entirely lacks privacy. "That is why China is far behind the world in important respects: even though it has become so rich, it trails behind in terms of passion, imagination and creativity," he adds.

As Bloomberg columnist Adam Minter wrote on Tuesday, "Why hype a story that serves to remind Chinese Internet users that the surveillance to which they've become accustomed is so much worse than what Americans experience?"

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Let the smearing of Edward Snowden begin

Edward Snowden's decision to publicly reveal his identity has placed him at the center of growing controversy about the U.S. government's intelligence-gathering activities.

But by stepping forward, Snowden, the source behind reports in the Washington Post and the Guardian about highly classified U.S. intelligence programs, has also come under fire in the media. "I don't want public attention because I don't want the story to be about me," Snowden told the Guardian. "I want it to be about what the U.S. government is doing." Snowden hasn't exactly gotten his wish.

While hailed as a hero in some quarters, Snowden has also been described as a coward and a traitor. Here is a thematic guide to the Snowden smear campaign.

Traitor

None other than John Boehner, the speaker of the House, took to ABC's Good Morning America to brand Snowden a traitor -- a sentiment echoed by former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.

 

Coward

Disdain for Snowden isn't limited to one side of the aisle. Here's Democratic Congresswoman and Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz calling Snowden a coward for his actions:

Narcissist

While liberals are largely lining up behind Snowden, there are notable exceptions. Here's Jeffrey Toobin, a typically stalwart liberal, describing Snowden as a "grandiose narcissist":

Edward Snowden, a twenty-nine-year-old former C.I.A. employee and current government contractor, has leaked news of National Security Agency programs that collect vast amounts of information about the telephone calls made by millions of Americans, as well as e-mails and other files of foreign targets and their American connections. For this, some, including my colleague John Cassidy, are hailing him as a hero and a whistle-blower. He is neither. He is, rather, a grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.

Defector

Snowden's decision to flee to Hong Kong has elicited skepticism -- but also paranoia that he's in fact a Chinese agent. Unnamed government sources have intimated that the FBI is now investigating "to determine whether he was communicating with a foreign power," and those same sources are dropping less-than-subtle hints about Hong Kong's close ties to China. It's a theory that seems pretty ridiculous on its face -- why would a defector go public with his documents like this? -- but these are questions that don't bother political observers like Matt Mackowiack:

 

 

Loner

In what may go down as the greatest parody of a David Brooks column in history, David Brooks himself opined in the pages of the New York Times on Tuesday that Snowden's decision to leak NSA documents is proof positive of the breakdown of the American social fabric, declaring that "from what we know so far, Edward Snowden appears to be the ultimate unmediated man." Brooks's evidence for this? Snowden was curt to his neighbor and hasn't been a regular presence at his mother's house for many years.

Thus, Brooks concludes, "though thoughtful, morally engaged and deeply committed to his beliefs, 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."

Snowden, Brooks argues, "betrayed his friends," "betrayed honesty and integrity," "betrayed his employers," "betrayed the cause of open government," and "betrayed the Constitution." The point? This guy isn't one of us.

Cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood

In one of the more perplexing comments about Snowden, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen decided to contend that Snowden will go down in history as a "cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood." Read the full passage and see if you can make any sense of it:

In a remarkably overwrought interview conducted by the vainglorious Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian, Snowden cited not one example of the programs being abused. Greenwald wrote that Snowden "lines the door of his hotel room with pillows to prevent eavesdropping" and that "he puts a large red hood over his head and laptop when entering his passwords to prevent any hidden cameras from detecting them." Greenwald said that "Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers." I think he'll go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.

Snowden may have expected to be called names when he stepped forward as the NSA leaker, but odds are he didn't anticipate that one.

GUARDIAN/GLENN GREENWALD/LAURA POITRAS