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An Open Letter to Melissa Harris-Perry

Brain Death, Live on MSNBC

by GARY LEUPP

Dear Melissa Harris-Perry,

I watched your twelve-minute segment this morning concerning Edward Snowden. You were smiling throughout, confident, flippant, warmly communicative as always, as though you assumed your audience shared all your premises.

It’s likely most in the crowd did, actually—given two weeks of constant media spinning of the Snowden revelations story, and  the media-wide abandonment, as if by fiat, of all examination of the revelations’ content. Do you not see that that content is way beyond merely troubling?

If you do not see that this is all alarming, your mind is atrophying. (But don’t worry; it’s not abnormal in totalitarian societies for the brain-dead to steadily move along in their tasks. And you are very well paid, after all, in these troubled times.)

Does it not bother you that thousands of managers of tens or hundreds of thousands of “data analysts” can (without court approval, not that secret court approval makes any difference) sift through your personal data and compose a portrait of your life? Are you upset with Snowden because he showed us that this is so?  Do you find him a problem because he made this clear?

Is your desire to shelter Obama so strong, or your inclination to protect your Comcast employers so deep, that you’ve elected to jump aboard the bandwagon of Snowden-bashers?

In that segment this morning, you spoke as if your words could just hang beautifully in the air, unchallenged, like your trademark plaits.

Until that moment I thought you were a pretty decent, progressive person. You are articulate. You think well on your feet. Your peerless looks contribute to your efficacy as a purveyor of mainstream acceptable thought.

(I confess that in talking with my Hollywood son—also half-white and sometimes cast as “exotic”—I’ve suggested that you might be appropriately cast as Nefertiti in a film. Because—for whatever random reasons of DNA—you happen to be stunningly beautiful. Please do not accuse me of sexism for making this empirical observation, which I’m sure your employers have made time and time again in this era in which journalism degrees don’t account for much and you never see normal homely people announce the infotainment news. It also helps that you have a distinctive lilt in your voice, rather like Barbara Walters. It’s undeniably charming.)

I’m certainly not hostile to you (the way that I am to the most egregious dispensers of disinformation of events in Iran, Syria, and virtually everywhere that thrive in the post-9/11 propagandistic state-ass-licking corporate mass media culture). But I do find your commentaries sometimes shallow, and note that they’re always politically safe. That is, they’re contained within the narrow spectrum of political views that Comcast, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time-Warner and CBS allow. (As you know, these six corporations own 90% of the news coverage in this free capitalist country.) You’re not rocking the boat. You can’t call for real change in society, just tweaks here and there.

You have a political science doctorate, and you understand how the needs and preferences of capital shape political discourse.  You know how Comcast, the owner of your employer MSNBC, is not a neutral observer of the Snowden Affair. It’s a corporation caught with its pants down as Snowden has exposed it a complicit partner in illicit spying.

You know that on June 5 Snowden via Glen Greenwald (nothing if not an honorable man, a lawyer and journalist, a man of integrity) bared to the world the fact that the U.S. invades the lives of people, here and elsewhere, with frightening impunity. You may know that the  government of Germany, a very very close ally, is freaking out at the realization that the U.S. has raped its telecommunications for reasons that have nothing to do with “countering terrorism.”

But you seem entirely un-interested in such things. By default (as a smiling non-inquiring journalist) you’re an adherent of the camp that says, “Why should it matter?”

Let’s look at what you said, today, June 29, on NSMBC.

You start:  “The latest news on NSA leaker Edward Snowden that he’s holed up in an airport in Moscow, with the United States eager to bring him home to face charges.”

Ok, not so bad so far, and I have to imagine this is scripted by your employer.  Of course the people of the United States have not been asked whether or not they are “eager” to bring Snowden “home” or whether they think the charges (espionage!) against him have any credibility. But you (are you not?)  doing your part to instill in them the notion that Snowden should face charges.

This is certainly not the global consensus, but you are doing your part to make it the U.S. consensus. You’re helping transform the Gallop poll results that showed a plurality of people in the country as of mid-June supporting Snowden’s decision to results that show him isolated and despised.

Are you proud of that, Melissa? Do you like being such a reliable soldier of the state as it slides towards fascism? Can you justify it in your own troubled mind, because, after all, it’s happening under your hero Obama?

You continue: “Snowden’s flight has strained relationships with China and Russia, which both have so far refused to send him back.”

The assumption here is that the normal, reasonable thing would be to “send him back.” And that the “refusal” is an attack of some sort, part of a pattern of nastiness.

But (excuse my language) WTF are talking about, Melissa? Do you really believe that any government in this world, however bad, is obliged by international law or some transcendent moral standard to turn over a whistle-blower from the U.S, , who has shown the world how the U.S. government has obtained a fascistic merger of state and corporate power to spy on its populace, to send the guy back?

Back to what sort of justice?

Have you no concern about what’s happened to hundreds of doomed innocents in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib? Are you ignorant of what’s happened to Bradley Manning? Or are you fine with it?

Would it not be more appropriate, and journalistically responsible, to state that Snowden’s flights to Hong Kong and then to Moscow were at his own initiative and through no known prior arrangement with airport authorities at those venues? And that and the polite refusal of local authorities (seeing no crime in Snowden’s behavior, as normal people might evaluate that behavior) to turn him over the government he’s exposed does not proceed from any willful intention to “strain relationships” but from a concern with normal procedure? Would you prefer they just fork him over when Washington barks?

Do you really think, Melissa, that Putin should turn over Snowden to U.S. imprisonment as a matter of course? How do you suppose Obama would treat a Russian whistle-blower turning over to the New York Times records of massive surveillance of Russian citizens’ phone and internet communications? Would you apply your capacity for moral indignation to support his immediate extradition?

In your program you proceeded to trash Ecuador, where Snowden seeks asylum, and two countries he’s visited on his odyssey so far, as countries lacking in human rights (according to the State Department of…..what country? With what record of human rights? With what incarceration statistics?)

PLEASE, Melissa. It is not necessary for you to so debase yourself as to stand up for “American” justice vis-à-vis the Ecuadoran.

And you trash China, in the very independent Hong Kong territory of which Snowden sought sanctuary for a time. And Russia, where he is now, for their brutal record in dealing with journalists. What’s your point, Melissa?

This is a man trying to get to Iceland, for gods sakes, a country with the longest parliamentary tradition in the world, trying to do it through Hong Kong which is not a mirror of Beijing. Why are you buying into this scripted narrative whereby Snowden like some creature in a Cold War movie works with the evil Chinese, and then the evil Soviets? Can’t you see a rationale in his flight plans that is not politically/ideologically motivated but driven by the need to insure personal safety after a whistle-blowing feat that Daniel Ellsberg (whom maybe? you respect) has called the most significant since his airing of the Pentagon Papers? Don’t you realize how the Obama administration has dealt with whistle-blowers?

“That’s not something I call heroic,” you conclude, after your unfounded, tendentious references to Snowden turning over material to China and Russia (and your facile assumption that these are enemies.)

Personally, Melissa, I am much more concerned with the fact that we are being intimately monitored by the state—this state headed by Obama, no different than the state headed by G. W. Bush—than I am with any information on U.S. spying that might fall into Chinese or Russian hands. How does it harm me if—and it’s still a big if—Moscow (which is not a U.S. enemy, merely another capitalist power analogous to Germany or France but not corralled into a political camp) acquires metadata harvested by U.S. data analysts? Should I be more concerned that Putin knows my internet habits than Obama?

You said, “Snowden is giving any country he hides in more leverage in their dealings with the U.S.” Why do you think that’s negative?

Given what the U.S. government  does—including to us (the real “us,” the people of this country)—why would you suppose that giving “leverage” to others in relation to the government of this class-divided, conflicted country is a bad thing?

You mention the model of civil disobedience represented by Martin Luther King (and Henry David Thoreau, and Gandhi, in an interesting historical continuum). You suggest that if Snowden were really observing proprieties he’d have blown his whistle here and submitted to U.S. justice. Have you forgotten how King was wiretapped by the FBI? Wasn’t that surveillance legal at the time? Why should we care and grovel at the legalities of a power structure doing wrong?

Why do you feel obliged to wed your career to such wrong? Surely you can do better. I will not say you owe Snowden an apology (although you do) but just suggest you use your fine brain a little more before you read the corporate media script and preside over a panel discussion. The one this morning included three nodding heads, no dissent, no depth, no content other than a peculiarly bizarre form of propaganda.

You averred that people exposing the fact that we are all being illegally monitored was treason. You flipped right and wrong on the head. You should be ashamed.

There are categories of pornography in which the fucked person (male or female) doesn’t appear to really enjoy the experience but is obliged throughout to say the he/she enjoys it. The Obama administration is fucking with us big time, and asking us to say, in reply: I like it.

In dissing Snowden, you are in effect saying: I like it. Go ahead and fuck me, you’re the government, protecting me from terrorism. If some decent person sees what’s happening and cries rape, or tries to intervene to protect you, you smack him down because he’s….

….I don’t know. How would you end the sentence, Melissa? Because he’s protecting me? (From other rapists, perhaps?)

And how can sleep at night realizing the damage you’ve done to a young man shocked by the expansion of secret government powers, giving up everything to protect what you grew up thinking were your “rights”?

Best wishes on your promising career, in abject service to the power structure.

Sincerely,

Gary P. Leupp

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu