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Monday, July 15, 2013

DC pundits reveal they are mere puppets who have no agency

by digby

Over the week-end Melissa Harris-Perry delivered one of the most fatuous commentaries yet about the NSA spying revelations. She snidely exhorted "Ed" Snowden to "come home" so that she can stop talking about him and move on to more important topics. Evidently, despite the fact that she commands four hours a week on her own show and many more as a frequent guest on various MSNBC panels, she has no agency and cannot choose what stories to discuss. As long as "Ed" refuses to face the music and submit himself to federal prison, probably for life, she will not be able to talk about the information he revealed:
We could be talking about whether accessing and monitoring citizen information and communications is constitutional, or whether we should continue to allow a secret court to authorize secret warrants using secret legal opinions.

But we’re not. We’re talking about you! And flight paths between Moscow and Venezuela, and how much of a jerk Glenn Greenwald is. We could at least be talking about whether the Obama administration is right that your leak jeopardized national security. But we’re not talking about that, Ed.

We’re talking about you. I can imagine you’d say, “Well, then stop! Just talk about something else.” But here’s the problem, even if your initial leak didn’t compromise national security, your new cloak-and-dagger game is having real and tangible geopolitical consequences. So, well, we have to talk about … you.

However, Harris-Perry has found many reasons to rationalize her hostility to this story --- and relentlessly focus on Snowden --- while failing to address he underlying issues she claims to think are more important. Her priorities are quite clear as this piece from last week by Jeff Cohen of FAIR about MSNBC's open hostility to the leaks (with the notable exception of Chris Hayes) points out:

I watched one MSNBC host function as an auxiliary prosecutor in Obama's Justice Department, going after Snowden -- while trying to link WikiLeaks and journalist Glenn Greenwald to criminal flight.

MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry has been condemning Snowden by contrasting him with civil disobedients who "love their country" and submit to arrest -- while Snowden just wants to "save his own skin." She proclaimed: "This is different. This is dangerous to our nation." Should we similarly dismiss Dan Ellsberg, who leaked the top secret Pentagon Papers to a dozen newspapers in 1971 by going on the lam from the FBI. Or Watergate's "Deep Throat," who saved his own skin by hiding his identity for 30 years after leaking secrets that helped crash the Nixon presidency?

In a bizarre monologue attacking Snowden (who's risked plenty, in my view), Harris-Perry hailed those who engage in civil disobedience for being willing "to risk your own freedom, your own body in order to bring attention to something that needs to be known. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested, attacked, smeared. Nelson Mandela went to prison for 27 years." (My emphasis.)

Nelson Mandela? He wasn't a civil disobedient who gave himself up. He was a fugitive, fleeing the apartheid police. He was on the lam domestically, like Snowden is now internationally. And some reports indicate that South African authorities were able to nab Mandela thanks to the U.S. CIA (one of the agencies now on the hunt for Snowden)
I watched that segment in real time and couldn't believe the Mandela reference either. I don't know if there were apartheid apologists who called Mandela a coward for trying to "save his own skin," but it's no longer hard for me to imagine it.

But it's unfair to pick on her. She is not alone. Take a look at this:

That's from an analysis by the Press Freedom Foundation about this absurd obsession with Snowden and what it really implies:
The above graph from the past 30 days shows that Google News searches for Snowden dwarf searches for information on the subjects that his disclosures have shed light on. While this is a graph of news searches and not news headlines, searches usually follow media coverage, not the other way around. It shows a media transfixed by Snowden’s story, while largely ignoring why he became a story in the first place.

Outside of the US, media coverage seems much more interested in the substance rather than the style. The German press, for example, has focused much its attention on the complicity of German intelligence with the NSA, while in India, the revelations have prompted a broad dialogue about that country’s own spying apparatus. The same goes for Brazil. In Egypt, press have looked at the NSA in the greater context of the police state. The press in these countries doesn’t seem to hinge holding the US government accountable for privacy abuses based on Snowden’s temporary location.

Many individuals in the US have called upon the media in earnest to refocus their attention to where it matters: The threats to civil liberties posed by the NSA’s mass surveillance programs. A few journalists have weighed in as well, urging fellow journalists to drop their fixation on Snowden’s motives. And yet, a puzzling phenomenon has also emerged: That of the journalist or commentator who gets up on his or her high horse to condemn Snowden for “stealing the story”—despite their own failure to do any substantive reporting on the NSA.
The fact is that the vast majority of national US journalists identify with the government on this issue. They obviously see themselves as part of the same power elite that thinks the average citizens are better off not knowing what their government is doing to "protect them." The idea that we might need protecting from them is not contemplated, despite the fact that one of the clear roles of the free press is to act as a watchdog to ensure the consent of the governed --- the basis for our entire democratic system.

I won't pretend that the Snowden saga isn't a story. It's right out of fiction, an international thriller. Of course they're going to cover it.  But they could be using that story as a way to report the rest of it, what they allegedly think is the important stuff, not using it as a way to keep covering it up. But by this time it's fairly obvious that their relentless focus on Snowden  (and Greenwald too) to the exclusion of the larger implications of the revelations is their way of  pretending to do their jobs without having to confront their own role in the system that has the government routinely lying to the country and the journalism profession helping them do it.

Not that any of this is new. It's Whitewater, the great Clinton panty raid, the "get over it" election, the rush to support the Iraq war and all the other examples of journalistic malpractice we've seen over the past couple of decades. It's a fundamental problem. And this episode shows that having an ostensibly "left-leaning" cable network doesn't solve it.

Thank God for Chris Hayes, that's all I can say:

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I just watched a half hour bloc of MSNBC and FOX News and the coverage of the NSA leaks this morning was almost exactly the same. I guess bipartisan comity is possible after all ...