Sean Wilentz Tries to Change the Subject

How much does it really matter what Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and Julian Assange believe about politics?
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Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Eminent Princeton historian Sean Wilentz has published a piece titled, "Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange If You Knew What They Really Thought?" Wilentz promises to examine "important caches of evidence" which have been overlooked and reveal the unholy troika's "true motives" which are at odd with the liberal portrayal of them as "truth-telling comrades intent on protecting the state."

I think it's worth knowing the politics that animate "the leakers," as Wilentz dubs them, and engaging them. But hasn't this engagement been going on for some years now? Glenn Greenwald's politics have long been a subject of debate among liberals. Haven't Julian Assange's politics also been up for debate, particularly among feminists? I guess Edward Snowden's politics haven't been as closely examined, but that only leads to deeper critique—Edward Snowden is significant because of what he told us about the NSA, not because he's Paul Wellstone reincarnated. 

In short, I think we know quite well what "the leakers" are thinking, but we're much more interested in what the NSA is doing. I know Wilentz is a prominent and celebrated historian, this piece just reads like elongated ad hominem. If Edward Snowden was a white supremacist, I would still be concerned about NSA officers spying on their exes, and James Clapper lying to the Senate

See Henry Farrell's thorough response for more. 

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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