Commentary by Linda Lewis. At the conclusion of his Sunday (June 16) news show, Bob Schieffer attacked Edward Snowden, saying the NSA whistleblower is “no hero.” Referring to Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Schieffer said, “The people who led the civil rights movement were willing to break the law and suffer the consequences. That’s a little different than putting the nation’s security at risk and running away.”
That claim and variations on it have been promoted on news shows and the internet for more than a week. Six days ago, Ari Fleischer, President Bush’s press secretary, tweeted, “Real whistleblowers don’t flee the country.” One expects to hear this from political professionals with plenty of reasons to be defensive; it’s disconcerting to hear it from journalists like Schieffer, who should know better.
Those making the above claim seem unaware of the inherent hypocrisy–unlike Stephen Colbert who exposed on it on the June 4 episode of his show, The Colbert Report. The guest that night was film maker Alex Gibney, whose film, “We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks,” criticizes Julian Assange and itself has been criticized.
In the video above (transcribed in part below), Colbert and Gibney discuss the case of Bradley Manning, the Army whistleblower now being tried for giving classified material to Wikileaks.
Colbert: He [Bradley Manning] thought he was doing the right thing and even though it might be against the law to do it he had to do that thing because it was the right thing to do and he should pay a price for that
Gibney: Indeed, he said… he’s going to pay a price for it.
Colbert: If you think it’s the right thing to do but its against the law, you can still do it and then just pay the price afterward and say,”That’s the price I give for my country”–the same way the Bush administration knew it was the right thing to do to torture people and now they’ve all gone to jail.
Colbert: No, I think a lot of them went to jail, I’m pretty sure…
Gibney: I’m pretty sure that nobody went to jail for that.
Colbert: Well, maybe do a documentary about that one.
Any discussion of whistleblowers is incomplete if it does not include a discussion of the ways government protects wrongdoing and leaks done with its blessing. Government officials undermined public support for “accountability” when they pardoned wrongdoing done at the bidding of senior officials and pardoned those senior officials, as well. They’ve repeatedly blocked efforts to reform an internal disclosure process that is not only useless, but often is used to punish whistleblowers who use it. The “justice” to which government officials and supporters say Snowden should return is a legal system warped by government efforts to turn it into a rubber stamp for vicious vendettas. Those who supported those abuses have only themselves to blame for the results: plummeting public trust and whistleblowers driven to desperate measures.
Sadly, if a balanced documentary on the Snowden case were made, it’s unlikely that anyone associated with the government would be allowed to see it. The eagle, that proud symbol of the United States government, has been effectively replaced by an ostrich with its head firmly buried in the sand. Actions do have consequences, for government as well as for whistleblowers.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the commenter.