What the Snowden Affair Reveals About US Journalism


It’s little wonder that despite his disclosure of an unprecedented KBG-like or Stasi-like spying program targeting all Americans, fully half of all Americans polled are saying that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden is a “spy” or “traitor” who should be brought to justice.

Why would this be, when a solid majority also say they oppose the spying program?

A major reason would be that the politicians and other Washington leaders like Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey are lying, claiming that Snowden has damaged US national security. Another would be that the corporate media are pushing the line that Snowden is not a civil-liberties motivated whistle-blowing patriot, but rather a traitor or a spy.

Take the Philadelphia Inquirer. A couple of days ago, this once-respected paper in one of America’s major cities ran a piece about Snowden, calling him a “spy” in the headline, though there was no mention of the word spy in the article itself. Without any sense of irony, the paper ran another article that day on the same page about the anger in Europe over the NSA’s spying on Europeans and their governments — supposedly America’s allies — and while that article was about spying by the US government, the headline eschewed using the word “spy.”

I called the paper’s city desk to complain and was told by a seemingly sympathetic editor on the desk that the head of the copy desk would call me, but of course, he never did. Nor did the paper deign to publish a letter I sent in criticizing the decision to use the word “spy” to describe Snowden.

Then today, the Inquirer did it again. This time it was an AP article on page two of the paper reporting on comments made by Gen. Dempsey on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. Again, the Inquirer’sheadline was “Dempsey: Spy has harmed relations.” But the piece, which refers to Snowden as a “leaker,” never does call Snowden a “spy.” Nor does Gen. Dempsey, at least as quoted in the article. The “spy” terminology is purely the work of the paper’s editors.

That’s not to say Gen. Dempsey isn’t also messing with the truth in this case. He stated on the CNN program that Snowden’s disclosure about global surveillance programs targeting allies in Europe and elsewhere had “undermined US relationships with other countries” and affected what he called “the importance of trust.” As Dempsey put it, “the US will have to work its way back. but it (the disclosure by Snowden) will set us back temporarily.”

Think about that a minute — something the writer of the article clearly didn’t bother to do, and which, sadly, most CNN viewers and newspaper readers probably won’t do either: Was it Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s spying on friendly countries and millions of their citizens that undermined trust in the US, or was it the spying itself?

The article goes on to quote a couple of congressional blowhards calling for tough sanctions against countries in Latin America that might offer asylum to Snowden (currently Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have offered to help him with sanctuary). House Intelligence (sic) Committee Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI), told the same CNN program that if Snowden is issued travel documents to allow him to fly to one of those countries (the US has revoked his passport, making it hard for him to get a flight out of Moscow), the US should “look at” trade agreements with the nations offering asylum “to send a very clear message that we won’t put up with this kind of behavior.” He was joined by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who said, “Clearly, such acceptance of Snowden to any country is going to put them directly against the United States, and they need to know that.”

Again, no context is offered. We’re not told that Venezuela only a few years ago experienced a failed coup against its late democratically elected leader Hugo Chavez (who was captured and taken hostage), which the Bush administration almost immediately endorsed and recognized (it failed when the army and people massively stood by Chavez). Nor are we told that the Obama administration refused to accept the last internationally monitored and certified election of Chavez successor Nicolas Maduro. No wonder Venezuela would want to offer asylum to Snowden, whom Maduro has said, correctly, of Snowden, “He is a young man who has told the truth, in the spirit of rebellion, about the United States spying on the whole world.”

As for Nicaragua, its president, Daniel Ortega Saavedra, was a leader of the Sandinista popular front which ousted hereditary dictator Anastasia Somosa Debayle, only to have to endure years of military assault by the US and the brutal “Contra” forces it illegally armed and organized from neighboring Honduras. Returned to the presidency by popular election, Ortega understandably is sympathetic to an American citizen on the run from the great imperialist aggressor to the north that so tormented his nation.

Finally, there’s Bolivia, whose popular elected president Evo Morales had his plane barred from flying home from a summit meeting in Russia by conniving US officials who convinced French, Portuguese and Spanish governments to deny him access to their air space, and who was then forced to suffer the indignity of an illegal search of his plane in Austria, where he was forced to land when fuel ran low on the plane.

This blatant violation of the long-recognized and legally accepted standard of absolute diplomatic immunity of national leaders, under US pressure, prompted a group of angry Latin American leaders to rush to La Paz to stand in solidarity with Morales when he finally made it home. Morales was quick to offer Snowden asylum “in retaliation” for the US aggression against his country–a stance that, if Americans were informed about it honestly, most would agree was totally understandable.

One searches in vain in the US media to find an explanation that under the Vienna Convention, and under the terms of a US law signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, heads of state have absolute immunity when they travel outside their country. One searches in vain too for an explanation that even if Morales had been transporting Snowden on his presidential jet back to Bolivia (he was not on the plane), he would have been entirely within his rights as a head of state to do so.

The failure of the US corporate media, and specifically of articles like those cited in the Philadelphia Inquirer or CNN’s “State of the Union,” to make all this clear, and to simply parrot the self-serving and misleading statements of US officials, is nothing short of journalistic malpractice.

It shows the national corporate media to be little more than unofficial propaganda arms of the US government.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).



Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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