Edward Snowden, Racism, And The Politics Of Credibility

Elaine Radford

COMMENTARY -- As I write, Edward Snowden is on the run with the help of Wikileaks as he seeks asylum in a currently-unknown country from espionage charges filed in the United States on June 14. He is charged with two violations of the 1917 Espionage Act when he leaked classified information about the NSA -- an accusation that he hasn't seriously contested.

But a disturbing poll from the Pew Research Center and USA Today suggested that large numbers of Americans hail Snowden as a patriot and a hero. According to a Christian Science Monitor analysis of the results, 60 percent of Americans age 18 to 29 think Snowden "performed a public service in leaking information about NSA programs."

People of all ages somewhat distant from the political center also approve of Snowden, with up to 56 percent of self-identified Tea Partyers and up to 57 percent of liberals saying the same thing. Ouch.

Well, I like to think I'm as liberal as the next gal, but c'mon.

Over the days since Edward Snowden first leaked the information about NSA programs, it has become obvious that he isn't quite who he told The Guardian he was. The genius 29-year-old defense contractor earning $200,000 a year has now turned into a guy who held the job (paying quite a bit less) for mere weeks before fleeing the country ahead of the FBI.

The internet has just spent two days pretending it cares about racism by piling on celebrity chef Paula Deen saying she used the n-word maybe 20 years ago. Apparently, that's a crime worthy of taking away someone's job.

You know what, internet? You need to take a hard look at your own damn racism when it comes to something truly important.

I honestly believe that a lot of people have been bluffed by the fact that Snowden is young, white, and good-looking. Many people have reacted about on the level of the idiot chick crushing on Boston Bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev because he's cute.

Close your eyes. A high school dropout somehow inveigles a six figure defense contractor's job, steals classified documents, and flees to Hong Kong days ahead of an FBI arrest.

Now imagine he's Chinese.

Is he still a hero?

You'd be asking a lot of hard questions. Who got Snowden those jobs in the first place with his lack of qualifications?

Who's really behind the plot to get you all exercised about the fact that the NSA monitors communications, which is after all their entire job?

I don't have the answers either. But Snowden's claims mostly don't make sense. I like Gene Lyons' summary:

"The good news is that the most dramatic 'revelations' in the Snowden-Greenwald stories turn out upon further review to be somewhere between greatly exaggerated and entirely false. Yes, NSA vacuums up telephone metadata and sifts it for suspicious patterns. USA Today revealed that in 2006. There was a big political fight about it, which the libertarian side lost. But no, they aren't listening to your calls, and when the histrionic Mr. Snowden says he could have eavesdropped on anybody in the USA, he leaves out that doing so would have landed him in Federal prison, where he probably belongs."

To me, a lot of the controversy surrounding Edward Snowden comes down to the fact that he's a white guy with a pretty face.

I don't believe anyone would call an Asian man who committed these leaks a hero.

And that, to me, is a little more important than a chef dropping an N-word twenty years ago when describing an armed robbery. While we're nitpicking about stuff that doesn't matter, we're letting our own gut-level assumptions based on people's looks and race go unchallenged.

Comments are open, and I'm happy to hear from all sides. If I'm wrong about Edward Snowden, how am I wrong?