Obama Team Doing Better With Media than Diplomacy in Snowden Battle

June 27, 2013

In my last post I wrote about how dumb it was for our Secretary of State to try and threaten other countries, especially those as big and independent as Russia and China, into rendering Edward Snowden. Apparently some of the geniuses in the White House and State Department have figured this out after the last couple of days of embarrassing failures.   From the New York Times:

Discussions between American and Russian officials continued on Wednesday, and the White House further softened its language in the hope of an outcome that does not further damage ties between the two countries.

“We agree with President Putin that we don’t want the situation to harm our relations,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, referring to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The Obama team has been doing better in the more important media efforts than they have in diplomacy, mainly because they have reliable allies in the media with a lot of power to manipulate public opinion.

Jeff Cohen sums it up eloquently in his analysis of the media coverage, and the title says it all: “Snowden Coverage If US Mass Media Were State-Controlled, Would They Look Any Different?”

Cohen notes among other things that young people (18-29) are not as susceptible to the media campaign against Snowden and tend to sympathize with him.  He also explains that certain journalists’ hatred of Glenn Greenwald has nothing to do with alleged “bias” and everything to do with Greenwald’s honesty.

Greenwald is a brilliant journalist who has been single-handedly clobbering his opponents – here is one of his best recent interviews — as he continues to expose the secrets that Snowden leaked.  He rose to prominence by writing best-selling books about the Bush presidency, and columns published on the internet. This is a path that allowed him to escape the mass media vetting process that generally weeds out people who don’t show the proper loyalty to certain institutions, especially institutions of empire. Cohen knows this process very well, having been eliminated along with the popular talk-show host Phil Donohue when their MSNBC show was deemed to be not sufficiently supportive of the Iraq war.

Because of these institutional realities, the Obama team has been much more successful in its PR efforts than its diplomacy, although they have sacrificed some things to get there. By charging Snowden with espionage – a crime that he obviously did not commit – the administration made it easier for any government or judicial system to decide that he was being persecuted and therefore less likely to render or extradite Snowden to the United States.  If they had limited their charges to the realm of plausibility, e.g. unauthorized disclosure of classified documents, they would have had a better case for extradition.  And if they wanted to put him away for life, which they apparently do in order to discourage other whistle-blowing, they could have waited until he was in custody to add the unfounded charges.

Why then did they go for the Espionage Act?  Besides the intimidation effect, I think their first priority, even more than catching Snowden, was to shift the media narrative away from whistleblowing and government abuses carried out in secret, to spying, disloyalty, and treason. And it has worked fairly well so far.

On ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, neocon pundit and former spokesperson for the Iraq occupation Dan Senor described the threat that had been defeated:

I think there was a real risk over the last couple weeks that there would be this left-right coalition that would backlash against the United States government, sort of libertarian uprising. 

Yes, the left-right coalition – this is generally a sign that a major abuse has taken place and the political parties have abandoned their constituents. But as Senor noted, “the center is holding right now in the U.S., and I think that’s — that’s a positive development.”

It’s not over yet.

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