Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

A Best Defense competition: The worst op-ed column on the whole NSA mess?

I am struck by how many bad op-ed columns have been written on Edward Snowden and the NSA mess. We are seeing a lot of columnists who wouldn’t know Big Data if it hit them over the head struggling to explain what exactly happened. In total, they remind me that we are seeing the last ...

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Wikimedia

I am struck by how many bad op-ed columns have been written on Edward Snowden and the NSA mess. We are seeing a lot of columnists who wouldn't know Big Data if it hit them over the head struggling to explain what exactly happened. In total, they remind me that we are seeing the last generation of pundits who can remember the world before the Internet. They know something is happening but they don't know exactly what it is, do they?

There are lots of bad analogies flying around. (Is Big Data surveillance like reading addresses on envelopes? Or, pops, is the Internet just like a telegram but faster and more colorful?) 

There has been lots of unearned intellectual snobbery. How could a high school dropout have such a job? (I dunno, how could a college dropout be allowed to run Microsoft?)

I am struck by how many bad op-ed columns have been written on Edward Snowden and the NSA mess. We are seeing a lot of columnists who wouldn’t know Big Data if it hit them over the head struggling to explain what exactly happened. In total, they remind me that we are seeing the last generation of pundits who can remember the world before the Internet. They know something is happening but they don’t know exactly what it is, do they?

There are lots of bad analogies flying around. (Is Big Data surveillance like reading addresses on envelopes? Or, pops, is the Internet just like a telegram but faster and more colorful?) 

There has been lots of unearned intellectual snobbery. How could a high school dropout have such a job? (I dunno, how could a college dropout be allowed to run Microsoft?)

There have been some mighty casual dismissals of our constitutional rights by people who don’t understand just how invasive the new surveillance regime can be.

As Jack Shafer, opinionator for Reuters, noted, there has been a whole lot of cheap psychologizing: "Leakers like Snowden, Manning and Ellsberg don’t merely risk being called narcissists, traitors or mental cases for having liberated state secrets for public scrutiny. They absolutely guarantee it. In the last two days, the New York Times’David Brooks, Politico‘s Roger Simon, the Washington Post‘s Richard Cohen, and others have vilified Snowden for revealing the government’s aggressive spying on its own citizens, calling him self-indulgent, a loser and a narcissist."

As a former dead-tree journalist, I am embarrassed to see it. No wonder no one under 30 reads newspapers.

So, I am announcing a contest: Nominate the worst column you’ve read about all this. If there are enough comments, I will at some point compile the results.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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