Traitors, loners, and pornographers: These are just some of the ways Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald have been smeared by their critics over the past month. And now the NSA leaker and Guardian journalist have discovered a way to return fire. Call it the Great Snowden Hype Campaign.
In a pair of interviews over the weekend, the outlines of
this new media strategy emerged. Speaking with the Associated Press,
claimed that Snowden is in possession of "blueprints" for the NSA. "In
order to take documents with him that proved that what he was saying was true
he had to take ones that included very sensitive, detailed blueprints of how
the NSA does what they do," Greenwald said.
In another interview, this one
with the Argentine
paper La Nación, Greenwald described the harm Snowden
could do to the United States in apocalyptic terms. "Snowden has enough
information to cause harm to the U.S. government in a single minute than any
other person has ever had," he said.
And if anything should happen to Snowden, it will all be released. "The U.S.
government should be on its knees every day begging that nothing happen to
Snowden, because if something does happen to him, all the information will be
revealed and it could be its worst nightmare," he added.
The remarks have unleashed a flood of criticism accusing Snowden of blackmailing the
United States. "The Snowden 'worst damage' dead man's switch threat seems to
suggest that Snowden has plans to destroy America by some sort of hacker attack
or release of harmful information if he doesn't get his way," Elaine Radford wrote
at the Inquisitr. File that comment
away under "willful misreading" and "Snowden smear campaign," but the tenor of
the remark gives a sense of just how vitriolic the Snowden debate has become.
Reflecting on the outrage over his remarks, Greenwald explained
that his comment about the potential destructiveness of Snowden's documents was
actually meant to illustrate Snowden's good intentions. The fact that he hasn't released
these devastating documents, Greenwald argues, is proof positive that Snowden
is a man of good faith -- one out to correct overreach at the National Security Agency and not commit an act of treason, which is how Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the powerful California Democrat, has described his actions.
Over the course of the past month, two predominant strains
of Snowden coverage have emerged: the nitty-gritty reporting
on the NSA's activities and the far more salacious
coverage of Snowden and the
journalists to whom he has provided documents. The former has been held up
as a more pure form of journalism, the latter as a jaunt into tabloid coverage. (In the category of tabloid coverage, the New York Daily News' article on Greenwald's brush with the porn business stands out.)
But now Greenwald has muddled this
distinction. Prior to this weekend, Greenwald was miraculously handling his
dual role as pundit and journalist rather well. The facts that he marshaled about the NSA's spying activities spoke
for themselves and backed up an argument that he has been making for several
years -- that the government has amassed an enormous amount of power at the
expense of individual privacy.
Now, he's doing something else entirely -- by
teasing the explosiveness of documents to come and documents that will
presumably never see the light of day. While Greenwald has preemptively hyped Snowden before, his more recent comments go a step further. In late June, for example, he previewed an upcoming story and told a crowd at the Socialism Conference in Chicago that the NSA has the ability to "redirect into its own repositories one billion cell phone calls every single day." But now he is dangling a carrot that his audience will
never receive. After all, as Greenwald himself argues,
Snowden's motives are too pure to disclose these massively damaging -- and,
presumably, extraordinarily interesting -- documents.
On Tuesday, Greenwald went even further in his effort to burnish
Snowden's reputation, releasing
email correspondence between himself, Snowden, and Gordon Humphrey, a former
Republican senator from New Hampshire. "Provided you have not leaked
information that would put in harms way any intelligence agent, I believe you
have done the right thing in exposing
what I regard as massive violation of the United States Constitution," Humphrey
wrote, addressing Snowden.
Greenwald appears to have realized that because of Snowden's
decision to go public, the credibility of his reporting largely hinges on
Snowden's ability to maintain his own credibility. As a result, it should come
as no surprise that Greenwald does interview after interview to speak on behalf
of his source and the outrages that together they have exposed. Greenwald's
argument in favor of Snowden's credibility largely rests on the idea that his
revelations have done no material harm to the United States. As Greenwald
knows full well, that's an argument that he hasn't yet fully won in the court of
Greenwald has now escalated this argument by hyping the potential
destructiveness of some of the documents Snowden possesses, making sure to point out
that Snowden hasn't released them.
But that's a subtle argument -- one that's unlikely to trump an explosive headline: "Snowden
documents could be 'worst nightmare' for U.S."
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images