It's Not Just the Talking Heads Calling Edward Snowden a Traitor Anymore

Every week, Meet the Press is the most important platform for expressing the conventional wisdom in Washington. On Sunday, the clear consensus is that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a terrible traitor. And the reporters have now joined the pundits.

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It was surprising when David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald this week on Meet the Press, "To the extent that you have aided and abetted [Edward] Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" But it's appalling when you read Gregory's stirring defense of free speech only two weeks earlier on Meet the Press. Gregory opened his show with a stirring defense of freedom of the press. The top story was the Justice Department's investigation of national security leaks to the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen. "Did [Attorney General Eric Holder] level with Congress about whether he sought to criminalize the work of journalists?" Pointing out that President Obama said he was "troubled" by leak investigations, Gregory asked of the Obama administration, "do they think they overreached and maybe alienated people they thought are normally with them — and that's the news media?" Well, much of the news media is back with the administration now. Every week, Meet the Press is the most important platform for expressing the conventional wisdom in Washington. On Sunday, the clear consensus is that National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden is a terrible traitor.

Gregory was not alone. "How 'bout the great irony here," foreign correspondent Martha Raddatz said on ABC's This Week, "that he's complaining about the United States and all these things the United States is doing wrong, and he might end up in Venezuela? Good luck, pal." She zinged him! Raddatz's view was balanced by her fellow panelists: the Council on Foreign Relations' Richard Haass, a former Bush State Department official, and Dan Senor, the most famous hack of the Iraq war. They were not fans of Snowden, either. ABC's chyron read, "Finding America's #1 Fugitive."

What's notable is it's not just the administration talking heads making the case against Snowden on these shows, and it's not just op-ed writers. It's the straight reporters, too. The direction of the conventional wisdom has been clear for more than a week. They are following the arguments of Obama administration officials and a wave of op-ed columnists: Fox News' Ralph Peters said Snowden "wants to be the national security Kim Kardashian." The Washington Post's Richard Cohen said Snowden, "go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood," which is just a dumb gay joke. The New York Times' David Brooks said Snowden was making cynicism and individualism "worse." On Meet the Press on June 14, NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell said Snowden "had a lot of very provocative, sarcastic, sardonic comments about the Patriot Act, hard to tell when you're reading message boards.  But you could tell that this was a very, a really edgy guy." If making jokes about the Patriot Act is really edgy, then Jay Leno is really edgy. On Sunday, NBC News reporter Chuck Todd said, "Glenn Greenwald, you know, how much was he involved in the plot? It’s one thing as a source, but what-- what was his role -- did he have a role beyond simply being a receiver of this information?"

It was a swift change in position for Raddatz, who, on May 26, hosted This Week and had The New York Times' Mark Mazzetti explain why high-profile hunts for leakers are bad for democracy. "What's the chilling effect there?" she asked Mazzetti. He said that even if reporters weren't named as co-conspirators, the publicity was bad: "the chilling fact, of course, with all of these leak investigations, whether they're successful or not, or whether the cases blow up is that people who might be — have been previously inclined to talk to reporters are less so now." Raddatz made it clear she agreed. "And I guess we should say we're not just talking about — we're not talking specifically about classified material. People may not want to talk to you about something like Abu Ghraib."

You know what might be chilling? The knowledge that the reporters you might leak to will bravely defend their right to report whatever you say anonymously, but if your name becomes public, they're joining the mob. Here is the lesson: national security leaks are good when reporters get the glory. They are bad when the leaker gets famous — whether he wanted to or not.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.