When whistleblowers expose government wrongdoing and abuses, the procedure is always the same: the regime’s defenders focus on the whistleblower’s alleged personality defects and smear him within an inch of his life. They did it with Dan Ellsberg, they did it with Julian Assange, they did it with Bradley Manning, and that all too familiar modus operandi is unfolding pretty quickly in the case of Edward Snowden, the heroic libertarian who exposed Washington’s massive and unconstitutional spying operation against American citizens. The pundits who take seriously their job as the power elite’s Praetorian Guard are going after Snowden hammer and tongs, and in these dark times their polemics provide a rich source of humor.
The funniest one – although this is admittedly a hard choice to make – has got to be this piece by one William Foxton, a rather pathetic Tory “moderate” who claims to care about “civil liberties, Internet freedom, that sort of thing.” So you see he’s one of us – but he’s “never liked Glenn Greenwald,” the journalist who broke the story. Well, why not? Greenwald, after all, has been one of the staunchest advocates of those very causes, almost single-handedly responsible for calling foul on the foulest attack on civil liberties since the era of J. Edgar Hoover.
Foxton is coy on this point: he says maybe it’s because Greenwald’s pieces are “enormous,” not to mention “turgid” – although this doesn’t appear to deter Glenn’s numerous readers. Oh, but you see, they’re a “cult” – although he doesn’t let us in on the secret ceremonies, complete with Satanic altars and Druidic incantations, that no doubt figure prominently in the activities of the Greenwaldian sect. So then how do Greenwald’s many admirers – myself among them – qualify as cult members? Well, you see:
“The last time I criticized him I got a barrage of online abuse – including memorably a 24-slide PowerPoint presentation explaining how the American security services had ‘got’ to me, and how Greenwald was their number-one target. Maybe, as his adoring public have suggested, I’m either a homophobe or in the pay of the CIA. Perhaps both.”
The poor baby: his feelings were hurt! But really he should be flattered that anyone is reading him at all, never mind taking the trouble to create an entire Power Point presentation proving him wrong. Of course, being a homophobe is a crime in Britain: you can be jailed for calling somebody a faggot and so discretion is mandatory. It’s enough to simply mention somebody’s sexuality in a seemingly casual aside. The dogs can hear the whistle: he’s a poofter. Wink, wink.
Or “maybe I’m jealous of the success he’s had, of the stories he’s broken,” an admission that makes Foxton seem like a jolly good bloke, really an honest and essentially nice guy – an impression easily dispelled in the next sentence, where he takes the opportunity to repeat the haughty disdain of the New York Times profile of Greenwald describing him as a “blogger” for “a British web site.”
So, you see, Greenwald is just a gay blogger, not really a journalist – that’s the core of the message we’re supposed to be getting. He’s just a blogger – oh, and did I mention’s he’s gay – he’s not legitimate, he’s a deviant. No, it’s not jealousy, says Foxton, not really:
“What I think is more likely is I dislike him because he has built a huge platform with opinion writing, and now he’s blurring the line between opinion pieces and straight reporting. That huge platform he’s built means sources come forward to him from his vast base of followers, with real hard news stories, and then he insists on reporting them.”
The link Foxton thinks somehow proves his point takes us to a tweet in which Greenwald admits to having opinions. What’s difficult for Foxton and his fellow Praetorians to finesse, however, is that the bare facts reported by Greenwald and ably articulated by Snowden condemn the regime in and of themselves. That the whole spying operation was done in secret, and on such a grand scale – with DNI James Clapper all the while denying it to Sen. Ron Wyden’s face – is all we need to know. Whatever opinions Greenwald has on the matter don’t enter into it.
The only way to get over this enormous disadvantage is to focus on the messengers – Greenwald and Snowden – in hopes everyone will forget about the revelations and their import. So we are told Glenn Greenwald is gay, he’s just a blogger for crissakes, and – worse! – he has opinions, and so can’t really qualify as a bona fide journalist in Foxton’s league. He’s a gay blogger with opinions who insists on reporting “real hard news stories.” Imagine! Well well, my good friend,
“That could be a serious problem in my opinion, because his own self-described status as an ‘activist’ and an ‘advocate’could cast doubt on the accuracy of that reporting.”
Why, the bloke doesn’t know fact from opinion: “He’s an unabashed polemicist.” Which is why, Foxton says,
“I often feel when reading a Greenwald article there are valid explanations for some of the things he’s reporting on, but that’s often hidden behind his apparent loathing of the West in general, and the US in particular. For him, no state surveillance can ever be justified – and almost anything he gets hold of can be turned to make America look like a vicious Police state.”
A gay blogger with opinions who loathes the West, and especially the US, is clearly someone not to be trusted: there’s got to be something he’s not telling us. He isn’t reporting all the perfectly good reasons why the US government should have access to the details of every phone call ever made, and the contents of my email, all of it done in the dark without public knowledge or debate. Clearly Greenwald loathes the West and its traditions of the rule of law, democratic discourse, and individual rights: why else would he be so opinionated about the efforts of Senor Foxton and his co-thinkers in the US government to traduce them?
You can’t really blame Foxton – who has apparently been assigned to run interference with Greenwald – for the paucity of his “arguments.” Our wise rulers have been caught with their pants down, this time, on both sides of the Atlantic. Character assassination is their only option: anything to change the subject.
The psychoanalytical school of character assassination is well represented in the barrage unleashed against the Snowden revelations: e.g. such amateurs as columnist Megan McArdle, who implies that Certain Well-Placed Friends in Washington assure her Snowden is toast:
“Last night I saw a few tweets from people I respect noting that in coming days, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden may not look as noble as we now think him.”
Yes, comrade, my friends in the KGB assure me this Snowden is a wife-beater, a child-molester, a fink and a fool – it’ll all come out in Pravda, you’ll see.
Like Foxton, McArdle confesses she finds Snowden “unlikable.” The title of her piece is “Whistleblowers Are Weird,” and the word weird is strewn throughout, like spice in an otherwise unpalatable stew. How can she say this about a person she has presumably never met? Well, because whistleblowers are weird by definition: we’re all “hard-wired for loyalty,” because “trust” is the glue that holds our society together. After all, what’s to prevent that guy down the hall from coming in to work and hacking poor Megan to death? Well, it’s “fear of the consequences,” but also due to a basic human tribal solidarity that is part of our psycho-biological makeup. “That’s why psychopaths are so dangerous,” she avers – and you can see where this is going. Snowden is clearly a psychopath, or, at the very least, a borderline case, according to Doctor McArdle. It goes downhill from there.
In Megan’s World, only a mentally deranged person would defy groupthink and do the right thing, or, at least, what they consider to be the right thing – with the clear implication that such people are not only unlikable, they are downright dangerous and belong in prison.
Enough with the amateurs – surely a word that defines McArdle’s oeuvre – and on to the professional smearers, of which New York Times columnist David Brooks is an exemplar. His theme is not unlike McArdle’s: Snowden’s sin is to have departed from the Hive, and fatally separated himself from the Hive Mind:
“From what we know so far, Edward Snowden appears to be the ultimate unmediated man. Though obviously terrifically bright, he could not successfully work his way through the institution of high school. Then he failed to navigate his way through community college.
“According to The Washington Post, he has not been a regular presence around his mother’s house for years. When a neighbor in Hawaii tried to introduce himself, Snowden cut him off and made it clear he wanted no neighborly relationships. He went to work for Booz Allen Hamilton and the C.I.A., but he has separated himself from them, too.”
Before I go any further, I have to say that this “high school dropout” meme has been the leitmotif of much of the coverage of Snowden: forget what he revealed, forget the high-paying career he forged, the man’s a high school dropout. And he went to one of those chintzy vocational community colleges, and couldn’t even get through that. Why, the guy’s a loser, a loner, a half-crazy “product of one of the more unfortunate trends of the age: the atomization of society, the loosening of social bonds, the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket – he’s one of those nutty computer nerds who’s basically still a child, not a real adult like Brooks. He’s “unmediated,” unmodified, and downright unnatural because his “life is not embedded in a series of gently gradated authoritative structures: family, neighborhood, religious group, state, nation and world.” Brooks might have added Snowden’s refusal to be embedded in the embrace of the Surveillance State, but that would have violated the whole point of his column, which only vaguely refers to what Snowden has actually revealed.
Social deviants of Snowden’s ilk, in the Brooksian view, tend to see the world a little differently. For them, the Hive Mind doesn’t exist: “Instead, it’s just the solitary naked individual and the gigantic and menacing state.” From there Brooks segues neatly into an attack on libertarianism – or, rather,
“The distinct strands of libertarianism that are blossoming in this fragmenting age: the deep suspicion of authority, the strong belief that hierarchies and organizations are suspect, the fervent devotion to transparency, the assumption that individual preference should be supreme. You’re more likely to donate to the Ron Paul for president campaign, as Snowden did.”
The Ron Paul factor is sure to loom large in this contretemps, and I imagine the Homeland Security folks will be getting out that “study” they did on “right-wing extremism” and the allegedly growing danger it represents to the Obama regime: you know, the one that advised local police departments to be on the lookout for Ron Paul bumper stickers on cars and any individuals who might belong to the Libertarian or Constitution parties. Of course, Brooks and his fellow neocons hate the Pauls, Rand as well as Ron, and think they can use this incident to discredit the movement – which just shows how out of touch they are, and how right they are to be as frightened as they seem to be. Because Ron has embraced Snowden, Rand is introducing legislation that would effectively abolish their sinister Panopticon, and the White House petition to pardon Snowden has well over half the 100,000 signatures needed to merit a White House response – after one day! The Hive Mind isn’t acting like a hive – so what’s going on here?
Brooks, for sure, doesn’t have a clue. He rambles on nonsensically, for the most part, for seven or eight paragraphs about how no young person will ever be entrusted in such a position again (really?) – and the word “betrayal” rings out, like a theme song. Not a word about the betrayal of the Constitution, of the rule of law, of the trust of the citizenry in their officials. “For society to function well,” he writes, “there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret N.S.A. documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.”
This is an exact inversion of what has actually happened, a Bizarro World account of the Snowden affair. Translated from the Bizarro-ese, those sentences read like this:
“For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally set up a vast spying apparatus that collects our phone calls, emails, and other online content, and files it away in a vast Universal Dossier – in secret – the US government has betrayed all of those things.”
Brooks takes special delight in inverting the truth: he even writes that Snowden “betrayed the Constitution”! How so?
“The founders did not create the United States so that some solitary 29-year-old could make unilateral decisions about what should be exposed. Snowden self-indulgently short-circuited the democratic structures of accountability, putting his own preferences above everything else.”
No, the Founders created the United States so that the government could know everything about us, and have the capacity to read every jot and tittle of every communication we’ve ever made: indeed, according to the Brooksian version of the Founding, they wrote the Constitution so that their work could be systematically destroyed in secret by ambitious politicians and war-maddened ideologues.
Truth is the neocon Kryptonite, and Brooks has succeeded in writing an entire column in which this substance is completely absent. And yet, by the end of it, he accomplishes what he set out to do – because I’m not writing about the actual revelations, now am I?
Now that’s a real professional for you.
As we’ve been warning in this space for some time, the past decade or so has witnessed a silent slow-motion coup in the US, in the course of which the apparatus of a police state has been quietly assembled on the rather good chance our wise rulers will soon be needing it. With the Snowden revelations, the veil is lifted on their already well-advanced plans. As the above demonstrates, they’re doing their best to change the subject, or, when that doesn’t work, resorting to hedging by arguing: heck no, we aren’t listening in on your phone conversations, we’re just storing them in a safe place – for later reference. And as far as scooping up your emails, and other internet content, it’s only foreigners we’re collecting dossiers on – anything we collect on Americans is just an “accident.”
They are lying. As Snowden put it:
“Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector. Anywhere. I, sitting at my desk, had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”
They lied us into a series of wars in the Middle East: now they are trying to lie us into accepting a police state. Will they get away with it, as they have in the past? While the Smear Brigade and their employers are pretty complacent, and even smug in the face of these revelations, there is an undertone of fear, and even panic, in their voices. As if they know the jig is up, and it’s time to start making plans for a getaway.
Slow to anger, but dangerous once aroused, the American people are stirring. After the long night of the “war on terrorism,” and years of being cowed by an unreasonable fear, they are finally beginning to show signs that they’ve had enough. Brooks, Foxton, and McArdle (sounds like a law firm specializing in bankruptcy proceedings) are the Regime’s last attempt to save face and recover some shred of credibility. We’ve only just seen the beginning of the smear campaign about to be unleashed on Snowden – but I have news for these character assassins: it isn’t going to work.
It isn’t going to work because Snowden isn’t a Washington insider, he’s never held an official position – and, yes, like millions of uncredentialed non-insiders, he never took to college and his high school education was a rocky road, to say the least. Up against the Ivy Leaguers of the Washington-Georgetown cocktail party set, and the denizens of Washington’s royal court where loyalty to the State is assumed, Snowden is “weird,” as McArdle put it. Who else but a weirdo would give up a lucrative career, a gorgeous girlfriend, a wonderful life in paradisaical Hawaii, for the cause of liberty? Why, he’s got to be crazy – a nut, an extremist, a “solitary naked individual” up against “the gigantic and menacing state.”
Which is precisely why Americans – that is, all those Americans who remember what it is to be an American – will rally and are rallying to his cause. As the groundswell demanding his pardon – and also demanding some accountability from our previously unaccountable rulers – continues to rise, it’s going to be fun watching the David Brookses of this world go into panic mode. So sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show – because it’s going to a long and very enjoyable one.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).