Snowden Lays an Egg, a Statue Grows in Brooklyn and Manning Wins a Round

Seems like Snowden and his colleagues have been upstaging Chelsea Manning since the very first day he arrived on the scene.

In June, 2013, Manning’s court martial had only just begun when boom, the first Snowden stories were published the same week, followed by Ed’s debut in the Guardian, complete with a video interview from his Hong Kong hideout.

When a military court handed Manning a 35-year sentence on August 21 of the same year, Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda were in their third day of wailing and chest-beating over Miranda’s 11-hour “psychological torture” at the hands of British officials on the previous Sunday. That same week, the Guardian disclosed that, on government orders, it had destroyed computers containing Snowden documents, a story it had sat on for months.

The following February, the Oxford Union gave Manning the Sam Adams Award for Integrity and Intelligence. Since Manning was sequestered in Leavenworth, Snowden acted in her place, via a video in which he scrupulously avoided any details of what she had leaked, or what impact she had had. Instead he made Manning a pretext for discussing “over-classification” of government documents and another iteration of his familiar lecture on the necessity to democracy of informed consent and a free press. At the end, he offered Manning the Oxford Union’s, and his, “moral sanction.”

Exactly two months after the Oxford Union award, an Army general upheld Manning’s 35-year sentence, the longest ever given by a U.S. court for leaking secrets to the media. The same day, The Washington Post and The Guardian won a Pulitzer Prize for their Snowden stories.

As I have laboriously documented, throughout all of this scene-stealing, Snowden and his colleagues relentlessly recapitulated mainstream media smears against Manning while insisting on Snowden’s vastly superior methods with sometimes laughable hyperbole. A central feature of this mythology is the notion that he read and analyzed every document in his trove before he handed it over to his most beloved journalists. Almost none of this fit the ever-changing facts at all — Snowden and co were as mendacious about Snowden as they were about Manning — and no one cared, not even Snowden’s ostensible detractors.

So now Manning has come on Twitter, to more media fanfare than her trial ever got, and oops, there’s Snowden again — of course — this time stealing the show with a blockbuster interview on HBO’s, Last Week with John Oliver.  Poor Chelsea.

But, alas, there was some justice, if only a little. John Oliver asked a question that, as far as I know, no one had ever put to Snowden in a public setting before:

Oliver: How many of those documents have you actually read?

Snowden: I’ve evaluated all the documents that are in the archive.

Oliver: You’ve read every single one?

Snowden: I do understand what I turned over.

Oliver: There’s a difference between understanding what’s in the documents and reading what’s in the documents.

Snowden: I understand the concern…

Oliver: (heatedly) When you’re handing over thousands of NSA documents the last thing you want to do is read them.

Oliver’s questioning, like the rest of the segment, was horribly reactionary, and a million miles from faulting Snowden for his dishonest aspersions against Manning.

However, it was Snowden and Greenwald that set the bar for proper whistleblowing at un-Manningly “reading everything”, so it was extremely satisfying to see him at last put on the spot about this and failing miserably to talk his way out of it. The Guardian encapsulated his evasions this way:

Edward Snowden tells John Oliver he did not read all leaked NSA material

Of course, this will likely elicit a cacophony of Snowden cult mutant dipshits complaining that that’s not what Snowden did, but it is, Blanche, it is.

Not to worry, though. A 100-pound statue of Snowden appeared miraculously in Brooklyn today, a sign that God is still on his side. It was the second such miracle to grace our grateful metropolis. Beat that, Manning!

h/t @lstwheel and @rebrandingtime for helpful info and ideas


Chelsea Manning is *not* on Twitter

Good Whistleblower, Bad Whistleblower

Another Snowden News Story, Another Lesson in Proper Whistleblowing

Edward Snowden’s Bizarre Conception of Human Rights

Edward Snowden’s Incredible Mutating Document Trove

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36 Responses to Snowden Lays an Egg, a Statue Grows in Brooklyn and Manning Wins a Round

  1. dmantis says:

    Oliver: “So, what is the NSA you want look like? Because you applied for a job at the NSA. So you clearly see an inherent value……in that shadowy organization.”

    This was simultaneously the funniest and saddest thing about this interview. He’s the tool by which any larger critique of the NSA or empire is wiped away leaving simply a “dialogue” to ratify domestic systems and tactics already in place. Fuck however we deal with foreign surveillance or how this is used in destruction and domination abroad.

    Then the interview turns to consequences of the leak? Jesus fucking Christ, can there be any more blatant pandering to power as to question an already marginalized and highly subserviant mouthpiece of empire on supposed “consequences” of a leak that has about as much impact as the latest viral youtube video?!?!

    • Tarzie says:

      Well put. Agree on all points.

    • Tom Allen says:

      I suppose it would be more blatant pandering to invite Keith Alexander on to help him sell his book, then ask him questions like: “Do you think that the NSA is suffering from a perception problem with the American people, bearing in mind that the answer is yes.” “How much data do you need to keep Americans safe?” “Why should the American people trust the NSA?” “What would you like Snowden to know now, other than significantly less?” (Links to Oliver’s show’s premiere interview with Alexander.)

      Like Jon Stewart, Oliver asks a few mildly confrontational questions, then defuses them with punchlines. Powerful people go on these comedians’ shows, suffer a ritual humiliation, and everyone laughs — because after all, this is merely politics, nothing serious.

      Looking to Oliver to fundamentally challenge the establishment is hopeless. Of course he’s reactionary! He’s married to a US Army medic and member of conservative group Vets for Freedom. And here’s what he told the Boston Globe last year about his love for the US military:

      She is, he says, “very American with a capital A,” and that “once you’ve bled for America, you definitely get to say you’re an American in a slightly louder tone of voice.” Being with her has changed him, he says, to the point where, the day after his last “Daily Show,” he did a USO tour of Afghanistan to entertain the troops. “She grounds me in the fact that what I do doesn’t really matter at all, and also I’m a little more defensive of how America is perceived overseas. America takes a lot of [expletive], much of it well earned, from the rest of the world. And yet when something terrible goes down, people are waiting for Americans to fall out of the sky and help them.”

      He gestures out the window, where the sun beats down on a mass of buildings and stores. “If you don’t have anyone in your family who’s serving,” he says, “you can very easily think that we’re not at war now. But we are. This is a country at war. There’s a massive disconnect between America and its military, and being married to a veteran removes that disconnect in a very substantial way.”

      • Tarzie says:

        Wow. That’s interesting. I knew nothing about Oliver apart from the Daily Show and his own show, and I kinda shocked by how reactionary he is. Way worse than anything on The Daily Show that I can recall. Now I see there was no reason to be surprised.

      • dmantis says:

        Yeah…I had heard bits and pieces of his story somewhere before. It boils down to the same exceptionalism with the premise of “served in the military = real American” schtick that is so currently popular. He gets by on his funny and ironic Englishman-as-outsider while getting to play the military card when conservative criticism gets too hot. Its the perfect synergy.

        I do like the fact that as much as GG and ES make such a fucking spectacle of the whole charade and continually lecture everyone about the massive dump they took on journalism is ever so important, it took all of about 30 seconds for Oliver to show that average Americans couldn’t care less. The whole idea of journalism as filter is such utter contemptible drivel that I find it refreshing that a comedian explained their super important work as it relates to dick pics.

        Nevertheless, I think this interview could be an example of how this show being even worst than the original. The one thing the Daily Show has been consistently good at is highlighting the complicity of the media like in the run-up to the Iraq War and the housing bubble. For example, Stewart pulled few punches with his Cramer interview and continually highlighted the fact that no one went to jail. Yet, Oliver continually made backhanded comments referring to Snowden stealing the info and then being responsible for how it is used by the media. I mean, fuck that! These are systems that are spying illegally on not just us as the American people but some of our foreign allies for christ sakes.

  2. OSS says:

    So is this Greenwald and Co. just hogging the spotlight, or the government trying to stuff Manning down the memory hole? Both?

    • Tarzie says:

      Hard to tell. I just provide the facts. From a logistical standpoint, it’s highly doubtful that all of this scene-stealing is calculated. But I think the absolute most charitable read is that Snowden and Greenwald realize that badmouthing and erasing Manning improves their standing. The most charitable read for Greenwald’s muscling in on her trial — apparently threatening to quit if the Guardian didn’t run his stories that week — was that he thought it would be a nice tie-in and also a hook for setting Snowden apart as the good leaker.

      Something far more calculatedly nefarious could be at work and I don’t rule it out, certainly. But my feeling is that the way our media system works, this is more or less a Psy Op, whether intended or not, and part of that Op is to have people regard Manning as a bad, somewhat pathetic, example that they would be wise not to emulate. Snowden, on the other hand, is a role model of obedience.

  3. OSS says:

    And now we have Holo-Snowden

  4. wendyedavis says:

    Thank you for such a brilliant series on free speech absolutism, Tarzie, and I hope I get time to finish it and look at the links.

    But meanwhile, a recently disappeared commenter at my home website sent me this fun link; enjoy any chuckles:

  5. Excellent piece. Spot on about the media distortion of the Snowden phenomenon *as well* as the reactionary bent of Oliver. What’s laughable in my view is that: scratch a little beneath the surface and *all* of these comics, Jon Stewart included, are basically reactionary in temperament and ultimately in politics. I recall one ‘Daily Show’ episode where Jon Stewart lamented the errors of the ‘political class’ – faulting not the fact that there was some select cultural group in power with the corresponding loss of self-governance in the public at large, but rather that the political class, for making bad decisions, was getting the people upset. In other words, his assumption that there should be a political class removed from the people at large was unquestionable in his mind.

    Oliver, for his part, I believe, was trying to imitate the confrontational questioning style of UK news presenters when they do their interviews. But it is interesting that instead of misrepresenting his interview subject’s words/deeds like the Daily Show format always does – in an absurd and cartoonish style – Oliver’s final message was the people are stupid (elitism) and ‘how dare you’ expose secrets when the political class (technocrats) alone know how to handle such information.

  6. bill wolfe says:

    I had exactly the same reaction to that Oliver interview – and there was a whole bunch of other bullshit in there too. Cheap shot at Assange too.

    Oliver was afraid of his shadow and sounded like the typical network hack.

    Snowden finally got caught on that faux leak benchmark – and he blushed when watching the video interview of people confusing him with Wikileaks.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I mentioned the cheap shot at Assange here. He also took Cold War-style shots at the KGB. Oliver was very much the network hack, especially when he got on his little high horse with the shit about reading all the documents and “you have to own that.”

  7. lastwheel says:

    Fitz has jumped the shark.

    • thombrogan says:

      Definitely more upbeat than the playlists of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal. If you went by them, you’d think Spotify only had the B-side of P. J. Harvey’s “Rid of Me” album.

  8. Hieroglyph says:

    The ‘reading everything’ criticism was always lost on me. I recall a Fox nobody looking like he thought he’d scored a point when he asked if Snowden had actually read everything. This was a critique from the right which – surprise – is eerily similar to a critique from the putative left. Whistleblower X hasn’t read everything and is therefore not a responsible person, runs this critique. This is entirely stupid. You’d be as well saying that the POTUS shouldn’t be allowed to decide on foreign policy untill he\she has read every briefing, and every history, from Borges library of Babel.

    This is the myth of the perfect whistleblower. A moralist who has come to the sorry conclusion that the nation needs to know the secrets he holds, and is willing to spend his life in jail to ensure that it does. Ever more bullshit. Chelsea should be set free today, right now, and not spend an extra second in jail. Also given a lot of cash coz torture. And anyone who gives a fuck whether she read everything is a sorry case indeed. The perfect whistleblower cannot exist, and if they did they’d certainly be in jail or dead.

    I personally have never found John Oliver especially funny, though I did like The Daily Show. But really, he is just a comedian, so the dick pic line is expected. Would be see a ‘serious’ newsface ask about the violation involved in a secretive security apparatus seeing naked pictures of all their citizens? People go to jail for taking secret pictures, after all, because it’s a horrible violation of privacy. What the NSA has done is little different from a sex-criminal having a hidden web-cam in the ladies showers. I’d love Rachel Maddow to say this live on air. But she won’t.

    • Bitman says:

      “Whistleblower X hasn’t read everything and is therefore not a responsible person, runs this critique. This is entirely stupid. ”

      It is stupid. And it is decidedly NOT the critique made against Snowden or his mouthpieces from the left. His “responsibility” is not associated with anything he did or didn’t read in documents that, strictly speaking, shouldn’t fucking exist in the first place. He was criticized on the left for attempting to cast himself AS responsible (through his mouthpieces) by contrasting his allegedly scrupulously careful activities with the allegedly uncareful ones of CM. This was a faulty comparison, and a pernicious one.

  9. shelley says:

    If an ugly, mean little nerd like John Oliver succeeds you have to ask how did Dennis Miller fail with his own turn to the Right.

    I remember after 9/11 seeing Dennis Miller’s talk show on cable, a red meat Republican reformed from spineless liberalism. I didn’t know who he was at the time but then learned he had been a liberal firebrand on SNL in the 1980s with his own Weekend Update anchor.
    Far sexier. Far more credibly sarcastic than this pip squeak fake Englishman playing a true American.

    The reactionary position John Oliver takes against Snowden flows from the same place as Snowden’s reactionary position towards Chelsea Manning or any other whistle blowers. If one sets a goal to reform a national spying organization, that means one can only envision a world where such a spying organization is a necessary organ of government. That is to say, there are good spy agencies that we need around, to spy on people, in ways we don’t know about and have no power to keep honest and decent, provided they operate according to a fantasy code of ethics where spying on your nude selfies is wrong but spying on brown ethnic groups, environmental activists, foreign activists (to share the info with their rulers), just in case, is right. A pox on them all.

    • davidly says:

      Miller was never quite a liberal firebrand. He just happened to have the chair during Reagan-Bush, and one of his writers was A Whitney Brown, who sometimes came off as relatively radical.

      I hasten to point out that SNL has never consistently criticized an American president for his policies, and the extent to which they have has only ever been by poking fun of the same through the lens of widely perceived personality traits. And the show has a long tradition of providing a platform on which pols and candidates “humanize” themselves.

      Anyway, back to Miller: on his earlier, short-lived talk show on FOX, his lineup of guests, their expressed attitudes, and his reception thereof may have lent to the notion that he harbored liberal, or even left-ish sensibilities, and while he has stated that “nine-eleven changed” him, a closer and more accurate reading would be that it forced his hand, which was always there to begin with.

      In short: Miller’s failure, the extent to which you could call it that, was in the perceived betrayal of his liberal allies, whose ideologies are tribal anyway.

      • Tarzie says:

        Miller’s a know-nothing dweeb who thinks he’s cool.

        Agree about SNL. Mostly conformist ‘satire’ and often very unfunny and tedious. Among the most overpraised shows of USian television. If you watch the videos of its alleged Golden Age, you find it’s been true from the beginning. Often one joke gags that go on forever. It’s obvious cocaine flowed freely in the studio. Cocaine produces feelings of grandiosity which are inimical to great art.

      • davidly says:

        Yeah. It’s a shame, too. Actual talent has been literally wasted over there. Just last week, Kate McKinnon did what would be a promising take on Kills, except you just know it’ll only ever gonna go so far, which of course will eventually include an appearance of the candidate to inane cheers.

      • RUKidding says:

        Miller played his role well on SNL, as did another SNL Alum, Victoria Jackson. When they each left SNL and decided to go full rightwing nutbar promoting their own schtick, they both turned into abysmal failures and revealed how untalented & unfunny they are without the backing of the mostly solidly good to excellent comedy writers for SNL.

        I don’t know about Oliver’s talents were he to be not backed up by a solid comedy writing team. He might end up looking a lot like Miller or Jackson. Most of those on SNL who do look good on that show appear that way bc of the writing talent, imo.

      • RUKidding says:

        PS that’s not to say that SNL isn’t conformist. Like any of the comedy shows going now, SNL mainly has played the role of Court Jester if/when doing anything political. That said, I don’t believe SNL ever promoted the notion – maybe I’m wrong or misremembering? – that SNL was some sort of edgy political show. I am old, so I go back to the days of John Belushi, etc. When my friends and I watched SNL back then, we mostly just viewed it as comedy that was different from mom & dad’s comedy and enjoyed it just for that. Back in those days it was much more of a stoner sort of comedy (to my reckoning). But I do recall SNL into the 90s seeming to reflect more of that coke-head vibe. IMO not as funny, but old stoners are always gonna be old stoners. What can I say?

        I haven’t watched SNL in years and years, but that’s because the bits are written for a much younger audience, which is to be expected. The few times I watch it, it seems dull and dreary to me, but I always figured I was just an old fart who didn’t get the jokes.

  10. Dirty says:

    I was struck by the LMAOO Americans are stupid nonsense and then the blatant racist dog-whistle of a dick pic theme ending with a black man admitting on camera that he sent a dick pic out earlier that same day. LCD stuff, as well as Snowden’s contrition when bandied by Oliver about “responsibility in leaking” regarding the NYT’s fuck up. It was journalistic porn, i.e. lcd pablum, no pleasure. The way it was hyped and framed, taking shot at the “Soviets” too…It exceeded the bottomless obeisance to US hegemony(especially MILITARY HEROES) Colbert and Stewart have always exhibited on their shows. Also the statue thing, my goodness! Just what the “promotion, ahem, I meant to say ‘Responsible Revolution’, needs, Kitsch Idolatry!”

    Excellent essay and some great comments above.

    • Tarzie says:

      Oliver really left no stone unturned. It was truly vile. The one surprise for me was Snowden’s reaction to the interrogation. Seemed somewhat uncomfortable. Surprised he didn’t just lie.

  11. john says:

    hey Tarzie, i was here in the audience this morning and got a kick out of Alexa’s ‘dishonorable’ mention of you (at about the 16:05 mark). well, no such thing as bad publicity, right? i thought about you during the q & a session at the end…no doubt you could have spiced up the discussion!

    • davidly says:

      O’Brien’s comment along with the following tweet reads to me like a criticism of a narrative employed by Glenn Greenwald.

      Alexa O’Brien @carwinb
      “Dump” narrative has no business in any serious discussion about @xychelsea case.

      • Tarzie says:

        O’Brien’s comment along with the following tweet reads to me like a criticism of a narrative employed by Glenn Greenwald.

        I know that it is. She and I have chatted about it. She agrees with me. I’m flattered by the mention.

  12. RUKidding says:

    Don’t own tv, so thankfully miss most of this bs. I saw Oliver once whilst staying in a hotel. Had same response as what I read here from Tarzie and others. Well I never saw Colbert or Stewart as anything more than Court Jesters, which is a ROLE that is usually played. It provides an outlet for certain pent up feelings and permits the serfs to feel some sort of vindication or something something. Anyway isn’t Stewart some sort of scion of some rich American aristocracy family or something (like Anderson Cooper)??

    Both Stewart & Colbert could be even wildly amusing at points, but I never saw either as playing anything more than a Court Jester role. I had, somewhere, read the “deal” about Oliver’s ex-military wife and Oliver’s sycophantic suck up to the US military porn/ US exceptionalism bs. That’s ALL I needed to know about him. Oliver is clearly less “edgy” than even Colbert or Stewart, and duly noted that both Colbert and Stewart are now no longer Court Jesters. So I figured – before I knew as much I as do now – that Oliver would almost certainly have been vetted by the PTB to be ever more rightwing than his predecessors. Well, it’s all about shifting the Overton window isn’t it? Boiling frogs and so forth?? The rubes don’t *think* really. They just show up and feel like they’re doing something “edgy,” or it’s just so hilarious blah de blah.

    As for Oliver’s “interview” of Snowden? Well it’s good see it for what it is.

    Here’s my thoughts on Snowden as of today: Snowden has become quite the media darling, hasn’t he? While I’m pretty picky about what I’ll tolerate listening to on NPR (Nat’l propaganda radio) I note that Snowden seems to be quoted pretty frequently by NPR, aka FoxLite. As in, it seems to me (maybe I’m over-thinking this, but I don’t think so) that Snowden is being presented as a type of “expert,” whose views are “informative.” Plus then he’s on a variety of webinars for Silicon Valley techie things, and now this “interview” on Oliver. All very mainstream-y, isn’t it?

    Some postulate that Snowden is/was a CIA asset and is still being run as one from afar…. which might tie into the “anti-Soviet” jibe.. after all Snowden is allegedly being “protected” by Putin (who must surely despise the twerp). Of course, I’ve been resoundingly drubbed for suggesting that Snowden is any other than, uh, pure as the driven snow… but there you go.

    As for Manning? Well poor Chelsea is confined to her prison cell, and I’m afraid that there she’ll rot unless somehow somewhere along the line the USA actually comes to its collective senses and does something about that travesty. But don’t hold your breath.

    I agree that Greenwald/Snowden most definitely *appeared* to be stealing the thunder from Chelsea, which, again sort of ties into: who, exactly, is snowden and who, exactly, does he work for?

    Thanks for interesting post, as always.

  13. Pingback: John Oliver isn’t Mad Max, he’s part of the problem | Full Spectrum Cromulence

    • Tarzie says:

      I just remarked to someone about the weird role Germany plays in surveillance theatre. Like it’s this haven or some shit. I loved Berlin until I learned all the Snowden/Tor riff raff are there.

  14. Pingback: “Kill your idols”: Chelsea Manning and the reactionary “left” – Leftist Critic

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