The Snowden Effect: definition and examples

Jul.
5

It’s about what he set in motion by taking the action he did.

The Snowden effect, a definition:

Direct and indirect gains in public knowledge from the cascade of events and further reporting that followed Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified information about the surveillance state in the U.S.

Meaning: there’s what Snowden himself revealed by releasing secrets and talking to the press. But beyond this, there is what he set in motion by taking that action. Congress and other governments begin talking in public about things they had previously kept hidden. Edward_Snowden-2 Companies have to explain some of their dealings with the state. Journalists who were not a party to the transaction with Snowden start digging and adding background. Debates spring to life that had been necessary but missing before the leaks. The result is that we know much more about the surveillance state than we did before. Some of the opacity around it lifts. This is the Snowden effect.

It is good for public knowledge. And public knowledge is supposed to be what a free press and open debate are all about.

Examples: (updated several times after July 5)

1. As reported on July 4:

Days after President François Hollande sternly told the United States to stop spying on its allies, the newspaper Le Monde disclosed on Thursday that France has its own large program of data collection, which sweeps up nearly all the data transmissions, including telephone calls, e-mails and social media activity, that come in and out of France. (Le Monde.)

So the Snowden effect is international. Canada, for example. Or Brazil.

2. On July 3, Reuters reported on the “long history of close cooperation between technology companies and the intelligence community.”

Former U.S. officials and intelligence sources say the collaboration between the tech industry and spy agencies is both broader and deeper than most people realize, dating back to the formative years of Silicon Valley itself.

A similar story ran in the New York Times on June 19. It told of “the increasingly deep connections between Silicon Valley and the [NSA] and the degree to which they are now in the same business.”

3. In a superb story by four reporters on June 15, the Associated Press expanded the frame:

The revelation of Prism this month by the Washington Post and Guardian newspapers has touched off the latest round in a decade-long debate over what limits to impose on government eavesdropping, which the Obama administration says is essential to keep the nation safe.

But interviews with more than a dozen current and former government and technology officials and outside experts show that, while Prism has attracted the recent attention, the program actually is a relatively small part of a much more expansive and intrusive eavesdropping effort.

4. Expanding the frame in a different way, the McClatchy Washington bureau reported on the Obama Administration’s extremely aggressive crackdown on leaks: (June 20)

President Barack Obama’s unprecedented initiative, known as the Insider Threat Program, is sweeping in its reach. It has received scant public attention even though it extends beyond the U.S. national security bureaucracies to most federal departments and agencies nationwide.

“This has gotten scant public attention; let’s remedy that.” So goes the Snowden effect. McClatchy followed up on its original report with more scrutiny of the Insider Threat program on July 9.

5. On June 15 Bloomberg reported that “thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence.”

These programs, whose participants are known as trusted partners, extend far beyond what was revealed by Edward Snowden, a computer technician who did work for the National Security Agency.

6. Two days ago, a report in the New York Times explained how Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall are “trying to force intelligence officials to provide answers for the public record” about matters already familiar to them from secret briefings given to Congress. The key phrase is “answers for the public record.” That is the core of the Snowden effect. (More on this.)

7. On June 25, the National Security Agency had to take down two fact sheets it had posted online after Wyden and Udall complained that they contained misinformation. The documents were themselves an example of the Snowden effect, as Politico reported:

The documents, still available here, were published in the wake of revelations about the extent of the NSA’s surveillance programs. They sought to highlight the safeguards the NSA uses to make sure American communications aren’t caught up in its surveillance — or if they are, what the NSA does to remove identifying information about U.S. citizens.

In other words, the NSA – often called the most secretive agency in the government – felt it had to explain itself. This is good for public knowledge. Two U.S. Senators then fact checked the NSA, which is even better.

8. Jack Shafer of Reuters predicted the Snowden effect in his June 8 column. “This will now fuel new cycles of reporting, leaks and scoops — and another, and another — as new sources are cultivated and reportorial scraps gathering mold in journalists’ notebooks gain new relevance and help break stories.” He was right.

9. Did you know that the United States Postal Service “computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year?” I did not. The New York Times reported on it July 3rd. As Ethan Zuckerman notes, the Smoking Gun website had the story on June 7 but few saw it. The Snowden effect works like that. It widens the circle of people who know, even if the knowledge had been available before.

10. On the front page of the New York Times, Scott Shane reported on a kind a “parallel Supreme Court,” FISA, making new and consequential law in secret. This brought a discussion that had taken place on legal blogs to a much wider public. The Wall Street Journal followed up the next day with more details on a secret interpretation of the law. And on July 15, Adam Liptak of the Times added more with his Double Secret Surveillance.

A final note: The Snowden effect is far more important than the Snowden saga, meaning: the story of what happens to him as the United States pursues his capture and arrest, plus what comes out about his background and motivations. But I would not call his personal story a “distraction” from the real story. That’s not right. Who he is, what kind of access he had, why he did what he did, and even the arguments about whether he’s a disloyal creep or a profile in courage are inescapably part of the larger story and the public debate it has triggered. (Read Matt Cooper of National Journal on this issue.) You can’t wish for more public attention to the surveillance state and then scoff at one of the means by which people come to the larger story, which is his story. But I repeat what I said: the Snowden effect is ultimately more important than the Snowden saga.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

A timeline of all the major revelations from the Snowden files at the Al Jazeera America site.

On June 17, President Obama said he wanted a “national conversation” on the NSA’s secret collection of data. Slowly, haltingly, and with great difficulty he is getting just that– because of the Snowden effect.

First use of the term “Snowden effect” that I can find is by Esquire’s Charles Pierce here. Also see his follow-up.

Whether he likes it or not, this is the ‘national conversation’ that the president said he wanted. Edward Snowden, world traveler, international man of luggage, made it impossible to avoid.

July 9: The Snowden effect is well captured in the public hearings before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The hearings are one of Obama’s responses to the sense of public alarm created by Snowden’s original revelations. They are starting to produce:

A former federal judge who granted government surveillance requests has broken ranks to criticise the system of secret courts as unfit for purpose in the wake of recent revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

July 10: Scott Shane of the New York Times reports directly on the Snowden effect:

It is still unclear whether Mr. Snowden, the 30-year-old former N.S.A. contractor now holed up at a Moscow airport, will escape punishment. But he has succeeded in opening the government spying’s trade-offs between civil liberties and security to the broadest and best-informed public debate in many years, even as intelligence officials are horrified at the exposure of their methods and targets.

Underneath all this is a troubling question: can there even be an informed public and thus “consent of the governed” for the national security state? Or have we in effect done away with those concepts? This essay by Will Wilkinson in the Economist is the best thing I have read on that subject:

You see, democracy here at home must be balanced against the requirements of security, and it is simply too dangerous to leave the question of this balance to the democratic public. Open deliberation over the appropriate balance would require saying something concrete about threats to public safety, and also about the means by which those threats might be checked. But revealing such information would only empower America’s enemies and endanger American lives. Therefore, this is a discussion Americans can’t afford to have.

This post was chewed over by a panel of observers on MSNBC: Debating the Snowden Effect.

Reuters: Latin American nations fuming over NSA spying allegations.

Yahoo is fighting for the right to reveal its struggle with the NSA over demands that the company said it resisted. The court documents are currently secret.

In a rare legal move, Yahoo is asking a secretive U.S. surveillance court to let the public see its arguments in a 2008 case that played an important role in persuading tech companies to cooperate with a controversial government data-gathering effort.

“Let the public see its arguments.” That’s the Snowden effect. So is this: Microsoft asks the Attorney General for permission “to share publicly more complete information about how we handle national security requests for customer information.”

July 16: Update on Yahoo’s fight to force “public disclosure of the company’s attempts to distance itself from the NSA’s Prism program.”

July 17: The Snowden effect visits Congress and restores bipartisanship:

Top Obama administration officials, appearing before a House committee to defend controversial government surveillance programs, ran into tough questions Wednesday from lawmakers of both parties, who expressed deep skepticism about the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records and other communications.

The programs ignited a furor in the United States and abroad when they were publicly disclosed six weeks ago by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

July 18: A large and fascinatingly diverse coalition of internet companies, non-profits and journalism groups (including the American Society of News Editors) sends an open letter to Obama and Congressional leadership:

We the undersigned are writing to urge greater transparency around national security-related requests by the US government to Internet, telephone, and web-based service providers for information about their users and subscribers.

The list of signers is itself an instance of the Snowden effect. James Risen of the New York Times on the significance of the letter and the fact that the telephone companies did not join:

While prominent Internet companies are pushing for fuller disclosure, some of the nation’s largest telecommunications firms were not willing to sign on, according to several people involved in the coalition. Some of those businesses have previously received legal immunity from Congress for their involvement with the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, and have close and longstanding ties to the N.S.A.

But the Silicon Valley Internet firms that did sign did so because they are increasingly concerned that the N.S.A. controversy that erupted in the wake of Mr. Snowden’s disclosures could damage their credibility, particularly with customers overseas.

July 22: Dana Priest of the Washington Post reviews how the NSA got so huge. She also pinpoints the Snowden effect:

The NSA’s ability to capture, store and analyze an ever greater amount of people’s communications has never been accompanied by public explanations of new legal authorities, programs or privacy safeguards. Only the unauthorized disclosure of these secrets has forced officials to explain them in broad terms, reassure the public and complain about the damage from their public airing.

July 24: The latest NBC/WSJ poll includes favorability ratings on Snowden. It asks Americans if they view him positively or negatively, like a presidential candidate or Speaker of the House. This to me is an extreme example of personalizing the issue. Why does it matter if Americans have warm, cool or indifferent feelings about Snowden? If they don’t “like” or approve of him, does that mean they do approve of the NSA’s methods? Pollsters could get at that by asking about those methods directly– and they have. Snowden isn’t running for anything. He’s not asking for Americans to love him. I fail to see what purpose the question serves, and if it was thought through what the thinking was. To me it just seems like self-trivializing behavior by NBC and the Wall Street Journal.

July 25: Part of the Snowden effect is not only additional reporting but open debate and democratic decision-making where there had been none like that before. A direct example: On July 24 the House of Representatives debated — and voted on — an amendment to a defense spending bill that would have cut off funding for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of the telephone records, which was revealed in the first article The Guardian published based on Snowden’s leaks. The fact that the leadership let it go to a vote was startling. Even more startling: there were YES and NO votes in both parties and some suspense over the outcome: a narrow defeat for the amendment, 205 to 217. So here we have a pitifully rare instance of representative democracy actually working the way the school books describe — a real debate, a real vote of real consequence — and it sprang directly from what Snowden revealed. The interval from published story to House vote: seven weeks.

July 26: First the Snowden effect forced officials from the surveillance agencies to testify in the open before Congress. Now the concern that Congress has only heard from “one side” has led to an invitation for critics — including The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald — to testify before the House.

July 31: As an account in Forbes put it: “The ‘Snowden Effect’ was in full force on Wednesday… The Director of National Intelligence declassified documents about its bulk collection of phone and email metadata and an example of the court authorization to collect, store and query that data.” That’s a gain in public knowledge. See Adam Serwer for more on politics of that release.

August 1: If this isn’t the Snowden effect, I don’t what is. From the New Zealand press, the McClatchy Washington bureau gets wind of possible spying on its reporter, then sends a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for clarification, and receives a reply in two days: “Director Clapper has reviewed the letter and directed his staff to immediately look into the issues raised. He looks forward to providing a response.”

August 4: The New York Times reports on other agencies in the U.S. government  — including those fighting drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and  copyright infringement — attempting to get their hands on surveillance data collected by the National Security Agency.

The recent disclosures of agency activities by its former contractor Edward J. Snowden have led to widespread criticism that its surveillance operations go too far and have prompted lawmakers in Washington to talk of reining them in. But out of public view, the intelligence community has been agitated in recent years for the opposite reason: frustrated officials outside the security agency say the spy tools are not used widely enough.

August 10: The Economist publishes an editorial entitled, simply, The Snowden effect. It’s a response to President Obama’s spectacularly dubious claim in an August 9th press conference that he would have increased the transparency of the surveillance state and introduced reforms to the NSA anyway— without Edward Snowden’s leaks and the effects I have documented here.

Mr Obama laments that the debate over these issues did not follow “an orderly and lawful process”, but the administration often blocked such a course. For nearly five years it appeared comfortable with the secret judicial system that catered to executive demands. It prized the power to spy on Americans, and kept information from Congress. Mr Snowden exposed all of this. His actions may not have been orderly or lawful, but they were crucial to producing the reforms announced by Mr Obama.

For more on that spectacularly dubious claim of Obama’s see Timothy Lee of the Washington Post: The president is wrong: The NSA debate wouldn’t have happened without Snowden. Also good in adding documentation to the Snowden effect is Trevor Timm: Edward Snowden is a patriot.

The Snowden effect as an infographic.

You can find all my writings on Snowden, the surveillance state and the press here.

61 Comments

  1. gregorylent says:

    hero …. and the government is the enemy of the citizens

    • Reinaldo says:

      THE TOWERS HAVE NOT STOPPED FALLING. The Bin Laden Legacy

      On the 11th september 2001 I was one of the millions of witnesses that did not believe what I was seeing: the death of thousands of innocent persons in a few moments. It was a dramatic event in my life. Tons and tons of concrete falling down and carrying with it everithing and everyone in its way.

      On that black tuesday the terrorist Osama Bin Laden won a battle against the United States of America, the battle of national security. This at least is what has beeen the political discourse of the government up to now.

      The case of Snowden has made me stop to reflect and to try to understand what is happening: the towers have not stopped falling and continues to carry with it everything in its path crushing the civil freedoms and rights that have been the true towers of america society.

      I think that Ben Laden never thought that he would achieve the breaking down of the foundations of the nation. I hope that there are many of us that consider national security as a means to safeguard true american values and not to subtitute them.

      Cases like Snowden reveal the sad reality of the stifleing of fundamental rights and the freedoms. Does it made sense to cover the flame of freedoms with a cover made of glass? We all know whats is going to happen: becuase of a lack oxygen the flame will go out. The same happens when national security pretend to cover everything.

      A new type of fundamentalism arises, where the control of the state over its citizens becomes the norm and where to resist to be scanned coverts a person into a possible threat, disregarding their legitimate freedom and privacy. We can consider as a fact that private information has alredy become a property of the state and so a political matter.

      The invasion of privacy is the gate way to the invasion of family and professional life. Can we continue to speak of self determination when your privacy is conditioned o threatened?

      All this leads me to imagine that Bin Laden was dying aware that the towers have not stopped falling.

  2. observer says:

    The other Snowden effect: people who are already somewhat marginalized will be much easier to eject from social networks, as long as someone’s motivated to paint them as being “of interest.”

  3. Tom Klein says:

    I agree, although I’m not sure we need to label it. This is what happens after every major story breaks. It’s sound journalism. This stupid tendency to label everything is why we end slapping ‘gate’ on every minor scandal.

    I think the coverage of Snowden the person is valid. A problem arises, however, when that coverage threatens to overtake coverage of the issues raised by the leaks, which, as you point out, is far more important. I think that has been the case in broadcast journalism since Snowden left Hong Kong. Print has clearly been better at furthering our knowledge on the surveillance state.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I agree with you about the “gate” suffix and try never to use it. But… The Snowden effect is not a label, it’s a name. We do need to name things to grasp them and distinguish them from things related but not the same. That’s what I thought I was up to in this post.

    • Kurt Sperry says:

      “Print has clearly been better at furthering our knowledge on the surveillance state.”

      This is, I think, obviously a direct result of the exponentially higher entry barriers to broadcast media compared to “print” (quotations because much modern reportage never ends up as ink on paper). Those entry barriers act as a useful chokepoint on the number of participating entities, allowing easier control of content and gatekeeping. Thus broadcast journalism is easily herded and controlled by the status quo to protect itself from journalism that threatens its interests. And thus the palpable lack of any meaningful dissenting or alternative narratives or viewpoints being aired through the broadcast media.

    • Bill Michtom says:

      “This stupid tendency to label everything is why we end slapping ‘gate’ on every minor scandal”

      Not to mention that Watergate was NOT about water.

  4. Michael Cromer says:

    Strawman. You defined “Snowden effect” in such a way as to guarantee you’d win your own argument.

    In reality, the Snowden effect is about how how leaders, pols, and media have used and abused the story of Snowden (“hero or traitor?”) in order to avoid or distract from the real story, which is that if his claims are true we have already become an unconstitutional surveillance state. Snowden should be at best a sidebar, or a feature story down the road.

    One of the best media examples (this may surprise you) is TPM, whose coverage of the real story has been minimal and perfunctory, while devoting many – often snarky – column inches to Snowden’s history and his flight to avoid extradition. TPM’s anti-Snowden framing has been so striking that other media leaders have commented openly on it. Yet Josh continues to justify the imbalance by saying it merely reflects his own personal interest as editor and publisher. Bias, I would say. (Also, perhaps a bit of envy at Greenwald?)

    I say the Snowden effect is deliberate, and not just a matter of bowing to the public’s demand for true-crime stories. The media are in bed with the power players in this story and are fearful of jeopardizing their access. What’s more, they are afraid that if the privacy issue gets legs, it will call attention to privacy abuse in private sphere – i.e. by advertisers, another set of power-players the media would like to avoid pissing off.

    The media do not want Snowden’s claims to be true. But if true, the media do not want us to notice it.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      You lost me. What’s the straw man I am deploying to guarantee I will win which argument?

      • Michael Cromer says:

        Your definition at the top of the article pre-defines Snowden as a fundamental part of the story.

        He really isn’t. Interesting stuff, maybe, but only a sidebar to the real story. The real story is what the PowerPoints say. All we should care about Snowden is whether he faked them or they are real.

      • Jay Rosen says:

        I don’t think you understand what a straw man is. A straw man is an argument introduced by a writer solely for purposes of being knocked down, typically an argument that no one or almost no one is actually making.

        I also think you are overlooking a key part of my post, so important I said it twice. The Snowden effect (what is revealed about the surveillance state) is far more important than Snowdon’s personal saga, I said. You are saying the same thing.

        • Michael Cromer says:

          You got me there. In fact, I had originally written “Inverse strawman”, then deleted the word because I didn’t want to be coining a new, unproven phrase. I never got around to fixing the problem.

          But here’s where we may differ. To me, “Snowden Effect” embodies the whole notion of Snowden’s story distracting from the real story. So I guess I’m I’m disagreeing with what I see as your RE-defining “Snowden Effect”.

          Is IS true that this thing may be perversely turning a sort of corner, wherein the overwrought focus on Snowden personally may finally be provoking readers to take more interest in the “real story”, which is a bit abstract and might otherwise bore them.

          Maybe it deserves the moniker “Snowden Effect v2.0″

          It can’t come soon enough, IMO. I’m sure Mr. Snowden would agree.

          • Bill Johnson says:

            I think the term you were looking for is “red herring.” It’s often confused with strawman.

    • janet abbey says:

      There is every attempt to turn this into a Debord SPECTACLE so that the media is the Event, not the credibility of the documents leaked. By creating the “Snowden Effect” this is beginning the SPECTACLE and the real issues of surveillance, persecution, etc will start to go under the rug. Paula Deen’s troubles seem also to be Deterrence to distract us as the media run up and down of Kristen Stewart “cheating” on Rob Pattinson last summer was a Deterrence to the LIBOR scandal and crime that went unpunished. If you have read DeLillo’s Cosmopolis (not Cronenberg’s misreading in his film) then you will know that all this you have written about is part of the govt’s plan to include and embrace Snowden’s actions within the whole thereby defanging it, making it expose lite.

      • Michael Cromer says:

        Thanks, Janet. I have not read that book, or the Foucault essay. I will bookmark this and try to do so.

        Meantime, I think my disagreement with Jay boiled down to my perception (perhaps wrong) that he was trying to retro-justify all the media focus on Snowden. It may have been nothing more than a difference in how he and I define the term “Snowden effect”.

        I hope that someday an honest and self-aware media critic will write the book on all the media failings in this affair (and similar ones). Meantime, I have to close this so I can go back to watching the George Zimmerman trial. ;-)

  5. Michael Cromer says:

    Evidence of how biased the media have been: Many of them immediately gave Snowden the “detriment of the doubt”, misconstruing things Snowden said in order to cast doubt on the real story:

    1. Snowden said he had all the “authorities” needed to access someone’s conversations. Media assumed he meant “legal authority” and how could that be? Impossible. Snowsden was using an internal NSA term, meaning that he had whatever computer credentials needed.

    2. Media assumed Snowden was just some kind of an analyst – how could a mere analyst have aceess to all this Top Secret stuff? But Snowden never misrepresented himself. He was a computer administrator. Remember, the guy who fixes your computer has access to your hard drive!

    I could go on. But these were not mistakes the media should have been making. Especially online media who are tech-savvy (like Josh Marshall).

    What clearly happened is that the media were FED these talking points by their power-player, not-so-tech-savvy friends. Because of their own biases, the media did not think twice or try to fact-check. They just went with the preferred, more pleasing narrative and framing. Snowden must be a narcissistic crackpot and so you shouldn’t believe anything he says.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I repeat: what’s the straw man I am deploying to make sure I win which argument?

      Now you have shifted to another claim: that “the media” are biased against Snowden’s cause and making mistakes because of it. I don’t use a drastically generalized hulk term like “the media assumed…” I talk about specific news organizations and what they reported and I link to those reports.

      • Michael Cromer says:

        I’m sorry. Perhaps I misunderstood your point from the beginning. Who writes your tweets? I got to the article from a Tweet that said this:

        “I do not agree that Snowden’s personal saga is a “distraction” from the real story and I explain why in my new post.”

      • Jay Rosen says:

        Apology accepted. Perhaps reading the post before you comment might be a good idea.

        I write my own tweets, of course. I am also capable of having more than one thought about a subject. I do not think that Snowden’s personal saga is a “distraction” from the real story but I do think that what we are learning about the surveillance state is far more important.

        • janet abbey says:

          Jay you have fallen into the trap. Read DeLillo’s Cosmopolis. “There is no outside” as Vija Kinski says to Eric Packer. This is a direct quote from Michel Foucault. YOu are writing about the power/knowledge/capital/normality Foucauldian Grid and Michael Cromer is feeling his way into it. Discipline and Punish is the book of Foucault to read. And his work on the Panopticon which he thinks is the greatest danger we now face.

    • janet abbey says:

      The media has been colonized by tabloid thinking. We cannot expect any better from them so we must find the excellent ones. They always mess it up, turn the Discourse into the oppositional Dominating Discourse to dominate it. That’s why Foucault labeled it the Dominating Discourse because its intention is to dominate. Snowden is not falling for this in any way. He knows his Kafka.

  6. LeMoyne says:

    The McClatchy story on the Insider Threat program (nearly ubiquitous in USG) is another good example of an independent story gaining context from Snowden’s revelations while also getting somewhat lost behind the story of Snowden himself.

    It appears that there are distinct effects on: a) independent stories, b) related stories that were held back before and c) new/renewed leaks although all seem to gain from the effect that Snowden’s courage is contagious.

  7. Maroc says:

    I’m not sure I understand the argument you’re making about why the Snowden saga isn’t a pointless distraction from the important issues raised by his disclosures, and the further disclosures they have prompted — the Snowden effect, as you usefully call it.

    I understand and agree with the basic observation that a source’s personal motivations may be important to assessing the credibility of the information they’re presenting, and/or for providing the context in which that information should be interpreted. But that only matters to the extent that the information’s accuracy can’t be evaluated otherwise. Once it can be, the source’s credibility or personal beliefs or likeability are irrelevant as far as the confirmed information goes. So who Snowden is and what he intended may remain marginally relevant as to the credibility of any claims he makes or may make in the future that are seriously disputed, but they’re distractions from the serious policy and political issues raised by the information that he’s given us that is essentially undisputed. And yet, as others have pointed out already, the lurch toward celebrity-journalism-style coverage of the matter, with correspondingly short shrift given to the policy issues, is strikingly visible in the establishment press.

    It’s distressing to see serious (or perhaps, would-be serious) journalists defending it, because the issues raised are so important, and because it’s hard to come up with an explanation for that inclination to treat the story overall as a novel about the motivations and adventures of one man that isn’t profoundly depressing. It suggests either that the press overall is incapable of taking on policy issues and covering them as such — that our establishment journalists are now so thoroughly trained to do personality reporting that few of them know how to handle a story any other way — or that those journalists genuinely can’t see that issues of near-universal surveillance and how it’s overseen and authorized, of secrecy and secret law-making, of public participation and democratic oversight, are entirely independent of issues of whether a person who was instrumental in bringing those issues to our attention is a Good Man or a Bad Man. Or how old he is, whether he has a college degree, or how much his employer was paying him. The latter group of questions may make for a jolly good story, but it doesn’t matter, not the way the policy issues do. And you don’t need to know the answers to any of those Snowden: Villain or Hero? questions to address the policy issues — indeed, you don’t need to know that a man named Edward Snowden even exists.

    Am I missing something about why the Snowden Saga is valuable or important? If so, I’ll be happy to have it explained: it would be much less depressing to believe that the press isn’t doing a material disservice to the republic with its preference for saga-type coverage. And as you can no doubt tell, I’m baffled. There’s a little refrain in my head that goes, Why is this even hard?

  8. Michael Kenward says:

    Which is “the surveillance state”?

    Perhaps you mean “the state of surveillance”.

    Or “state surveillance”.

    Clarity in writing displays clarity in thinking. And vice versa.

    One of many signs in this “article” that subeditors are dearly missed animals in these days of whitter.

    I gave up after “what he set in motion by taking that action”.

    And this is some sort of media guru? God help his students.

    • janet abbey says:

      The surveillance state is described in detail by Michel Foucault in his essay on Bentham’s Panopticon. Foucault labeled it as our greatest danger now.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I’ll try to do better!

      I can answer your question, though. “And this is some sort of media guru?” No, this isn’t. I’m not anyone’s “media guru,” and certainly not yours. I figured you would be relieved to know.

      • No correction necessary.

        “Surveillance state” is an intuitive and very apt term. It denotes a state in terms of condition, of surveillance and a state (nation and its governance) of which a principle component and nature is surveillance.

        For a similar use of the term “state,” albeit in very different conditions, see the Second Amendment.

        Well said.

      • (“what he set in motion by taking that action”)

        (I’m not even going to pour over this for grammatical issues. The meaning is very clear. Me thinks Shakespere would be shunned by Mr. Kenward. Here, I’ll go back and put this entire comment in parentheses, due to its lack of consequence, regarding the consequence in question.”)

        • M Joseph says:

          “I’m not even going to pour over this for grammatical issues.”

          Umm, if you’re really worried about those sorts of things, the word is “pore.” ;-)

  9. tim libert says:

    I would also add another “effect” which is the exposure of the contours and mechanisms of the American empire. The “man hunt” for Snowden is more than a personal story/saga, it is a larger narrative of how much influence and control the US exerts around the world – and more importantly, who can and who cannot defy the empire.

    • Kai Sanburn says:

      I agree with you, Tim. The reaction of our government IS part of the story.
      From Feinstein calling Snowden a ‘traitor,’ to taking away his passport and bullying nations to refuse him exile, the rerouting of Morales plane, etc, our government is so unhinged it’s given up the pretense of being democratic and law abiding.

  10. Now we all know what some have known for a long time, that the government is very interested in maintaining power. One observer opined that ‘people who are already somewhat marginalized will be much easier to eject from social networks, as long as someone’s motivated to paint them as being “of interest.”’.

    How far are we from the world were ABC’s “Person of Interest” is real. Where the surveillance state computers start trying to figure out who is the next to go and then sets in motion the actions to try and top it… including a justification of summary execution before the crime is committed. The threads of it are already there, just not yet woven into the fabric of American Life.

  11. Tony Cohen says:

    He’ll unfortunately get killed or executed but he’s a true martyr and deserves some kind of adoration .

  12. Fine work, Mr. Rosen, albeit an opus that favors progressives, which is a great part of of this crisis. (Progressives draw society to collectivism, which is inherently authoritarian and corrupt in nature, since the process of the collectivist state coerces and robs.)

    I linked to it, here: http://gulagbound.com/39721/snowden-vs-national-security-its-the-domestic-totalitarian-technocracy-stupid/comment-page-1/#comment-441065

  13. Mayers says:

    The “Snowden Effect” will be short lived; it’s already fading in the American media. Same thing has happened before — but mainstream journalism quickly forgets (and forgives if it’s merely a Federal government offense).

    The 1970’s U.S. Senate Church Committee investigations of NSA/FBI revealed massive, longstanding criminality by these agencies. But nobody went to jail. And another worthless, but very dangerous Federal agency was added to “cure” the problem — the secret FISA court. NSA, FBI, and CIA are now vastly more powerful and secretive. How can secret courts even be tolerated in a free society ?

    As well as extensive NSA domestic spying, the Church Committee discovered the FBI’s domestic counter intelligence programs (COINTELPRO)… where the FBI targeted political groups and individuals it deemed subversive and dangerous – including civil rights activists (such as the NAACP and Martin Luther King), socialist and communist organizations, anti-war protesters, and various right-wing groups – and infiltrated them with agents who, among other things, attempted to manipulate members into agreeing to commit criminal acts so that the FBI could arrest and prosecute them. This program was exposed only because a left-wing group, the so-called “Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI”, broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, stole the files relating to the program, and sent them to various newspapers. That ‘Citizens Commission’ was a 1970’s version of Snowden.

    But the media cares little about such history or the consistent pattern of government crimes. The Snowden Effect gets dimmer by the hour.

    • Mike Teevee says:

      “The “Snowden Effect” will be short lived; it’s already fading in the American media”

      But in the 1970s, we didn’t have social media. In fact, keeping the “Snowden Effect” alive may be one of the most important uses of social media I can think of.

  14. NadePaulKuciGravMcKi says:

    contagious courage

  15. MedicalQuack says:

    Yes indeed, the data sharing and selling business here. I said three years ago in a post that data addiction and abuse is going to be the next 12 step program on the horizon and that was satire, but it’s true now:)

    We do need to license and tax the data sellers and maybe the NSA should purchase the first license. This has been a 2 year campaign of mine being a former programmer who sees how the money is moved and the models and algorithms that make this possible. It’s called modeling with segmentation, exactly what Snowden is talking about…

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/2013/04/modeling-for-inequality-with.html

    The big fear we all have and for good reason is that data will be used out of context against us. We have all seen that with health insurance or read the stories which are plentiful. On the other hand, see how SEC rules allow big conglomerates to remain under the radar, we don’t get that choice.

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/2013/07/health-insurance-business-under-radar.html

    It’s all math and modeling and nobody checks the models…good video that is a great introduction into how the math models work is the Quant documentary, the Alchemists of Wall Street. Paul Wilmott explains it in terms of 100 bottles of beer and then some, the layman can get this. This again, the Snowden syndrome.

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.hk/2012/09/quants-alchemists-of-wall-street-video.html

    If you like that video, 3 more in the footer that help educate on how this works. Snowden has exposed the methodologies not some big dark secret and keep in mind he’s a systems admin, not a James Bond type of character and this is his mentality and he believes in the truth and educating people as well. He’s doing the right thing and how this plays out I guess we will see, but the big thing here is education and reality.

  16. […] The Snowden Effect: definition and examples Jay Rosen (GP) […]

  17. […] Press Think: ‘The Snowden Effect: definition and examples’ […]

  18. […] as few people have greater authority than he to speak about courageous whistleblowing. Relatedly, NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen and Charles Pierce have both written about what they call "the Snowden effect": the tidal […]

  19. CabrilloBob says:

    My first visit to this site. I am amazed at how many areas the Snowden story touches. Commenters here have their own take on the matter. However it seems pointless to argue who has the more important take. The many dimensions make for great interest. Of course this will not be seen on main media. It has become so obvious it really is trite to mention. It would likely require a multi-part Frontline type of program to do the stories justice.

    Without demoting the importance of other issues I find the story of Snowden of great importance. As I watch him I am taken aback by his demeanor, clean cut looks and his articulate expression. Of course what he has exposed is of monumental importance. I take note that he emerges from an army of analysts; over a million I read. But more than that he emerges as a member of the middle class. This is the cowardly group that makes all the evil possible. It is the group blocking the way forward by doing the bidding of their masters. It is clear this group has all the education and means to do something about the awful circumstances. And yet they are busy seeking approval and building drones and donning the SWAT gear.

    I am likely talking about most of the readers here who expend their energies pointing fingers and whining their ideas are not on TV and won’t give up a moment of comfort for worthy sacrifice. Nothing will happen and will get worse unless that changes.

  20. […] NOW with Alex Wagner, Alex and the panel discussed “The Snowden Effect” — a term coined by NYU Journalism professor Jay […]

  21. […] as few people have greater authority than he to speak about courageous whistleblowing. Relatedly, NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen and Charles Pierce have both written about what they call “the Snowden effect”: the […]

  22. Dave Winship says:

    It’s also important to notice the Snowden effect on internet troll activity. Any media story that surfaces containing “Snowden” is now prowled by NSA, CIA, FBI and Pentagon trolls, doing their darndest to discredit a brave whistleblower by calling him other emotionally-charged names. The propaganda war is now in full swing, the behind-the-scenes “diplomatic” wrestling match is producing it’s own kind of blowback, and I just hope the homeless whistleblower can keep this story alive long enough for some serious change to occur.

  23. […] as few people have greater authority than he to speak about courageous whistleblowing. Relatedly, NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen and Charles Pierce have both written about what they call “the Snowden effect”: the […]

  24. […] There’s a fantastic article by the journalism professor at NYU, Jay Rosen, who has written a article entitled “The Snowden Effect.” And what he argues is that the revelations about the […]

  25. skipf says:

    Just for the fun of it I’d like to refine the definition:

    Direct and indirect Gains in public knowledge of central and tangential issues resulting from the cascade of events successive revelations and further additional reporting that followed instigated by Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified information about the surveillance state in the U.S.”

    I don’t think the distinction between direct and indirect is particularly important. Also, I took out the “cascade of events” because I think the “events” you are referring to are just the articles published by the various press organizations. I think those should be considered meta-events and not events. But this is only important when you want to get really precise and formulate the general case of how information is propagated among persons and the mechanisms of that propagation. In preparation for the general case, I would just avoid the term “event”.

    But in any case your definition is fine and doesn’t need changing.

  26. […] Jay Rosen has a good piece on this: […]

  27. 624LC says:

    The “Snowden” effect – what, to gin up outrage over something that if we truly cared about, would have resulted in one term of George Bush? To point out what the NSA *gasp* does? To applaud someone running around the world handing out intelligence to the highest bidder?

    Besides giving some pompous journalist another chance to make this shady individual into something more, what changes? The Patriot Act is still the law of the land and if disaffected fauxgressives are going to sit on their hands again in 2014, the Congressional makeup will make this a continuing presence. For all the groaning and bitching going on, I don’t see folks giving up their Facebook accounts, stop using online services, stop making phone calls, stop emailing each other pictures of cute puppies. If a “conversation” is the standard by which we are judging this, then all this has been is a zealous blogger with egg on his face, a silly kid throwing his life away, and no real changes. Despite it all, nothing illegal has been shown here. We do not like it and care enough about it, then voting is the only path we have. To have a bunch of people all of sudden caring about something that has been an issue for some time, smacks of ginned up outrage, vendetta style journalism, and self promotion.

    • simonsez says:

      You guys down at the NSA must be getting some really good overtime bonuses trolling these comment sections. One question, do you guys cut and paste everything or do you pull this garbage out of your a*s on your own ?

  28. Ben Franklin says:

    There’s a lot of window dressing here. I think the post can be broken down to it’s foundation.

    MOAR transparency. If no other good comes from this than a public discussion of what we stand for in the US, it’s all good

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  31. Dan says:

    It’s awesome that some few congressmen are actually making the effort to get this on the public record. You know what would be even better? If just one of those “public servants” actually had the testicular fortitude to pull an Edward Snowden with the insider information they actually get. Then we’d really see which side people are on.