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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
Not hard to imagine that Snowden has been a Chinese double agent and will soon defect.
— Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) June 9, 2013
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.