The Toobin principle

Aug.
6

Repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step. But it’s not just Jeffrey Toobin. Congress did it too.

Last week on his CNN program Piers Morgan had just about finished a little speech on how you can’t have any bloke with a security clearance spewing classified information “on a whim” when James Risen, national security reporter for the New York Times, interrupted him: which document that’s come out don’t you want to talk about? Meaning: which of the things we’ve learned from Edward Snowden would you, as a journalist, prefer not to know? Which part of the surveillance story that’s come to light should have remained in darkness?

It was a good question. Piers Morgan did not have much of a reply.

When, on the same program, Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker said that public discussion about previously classified materials was “a good thing” but he still thought Edward Snowden was a criminal and shouldn’t have done what he did, Risen interrupted: “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it wasn’t for him,” he said. “That’s the thing I don’t understand about the climate in Washington these days, is that people want to have debates on television and elsewhere, but then you want to throw the people who start the debates in jail.”

It was a sharp observation. Jeffery Toobin didn’t have much of a reply.

The exchange begins at 7:30 on the clip below:

Ever since The Guardian began to publish its revelations from the files of Edward Snowden, I have been trying to frame the unanswered question that drives my own interest in the subject.

Disclosure: I am not pro-Snowden or anti-Snowden, because to put it that way unnecessarily personalizes the issue. I am not “for” the National Security Agency or against it. As a U.S. citizen I am implicated in what the NSA does, and I want it to succeed in discovering those who would harm us. My concern, as a writer and journalism professor, is with another fight: the one for public knowledge, for sunlight, for the facts to come out so we know what’s going on. I am primarily interested in the journalism that Edward Snowden has set in motion, and the gains in public knowledge that have resulted from his actions, which I have called the Snowden effect.

The question that bothers me most can be put this way:

Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver?

I call it unanswered but it’s more than that. It’s like we can’t face it, so we choose not to frame it that way. The question is less unaddressed than it is repressed by a political system that can’t handle the weight of what it’s done. But now that system is being forced to face what happened while it wasn’t looking— at itself. I will show you the problem by quoting four writers who have touched on it. Apologies for the long quotes. But if you can follow me through them, there will be a payoff (in pressthink) at the end.

1. Everything from everybody

Fred Kaplan is on the war and peace beat for Slate. (He also has a PhD in political science.) Here he explains “how the NSA traveled down a slippery slope.”

“At first, they focused on tracking traffic patterns. Some phone number in the United States was calling suspicious people or places in, say, Pakistan. It might be useful to find out whose phone number it was. It might then be useful to find out what other people that person has been calling or emailing, and then it might be useful to track their phone calls and email patterns. Before you know it, they’re storing data on millions of people, including a lot of Americans. Then maybe one day, they track someone—a phone number or email address they’d never come across before—engaged in some very suspicious activity. They wish that they’d been tracking this person for some time, so they could go back and see if a pattern exists without having to wait for one to emerge. Then they learn that they can do this; new technology makes it possible. So they scoop up and store everything from everybody. They even convince themselves that they’re not ‘collecting’ data from American citizens (as that would be illegal); no, they’re just storing it; the collecting doesn’t happen until they actually go retrieve it from the files.”

Somewhere on the slope it slid down, the NSA realizes it has to get legal authority to collect it all. Kaplan explains:

So they ask the FISA court—created by Congress in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—to rule on whether this is permissible, and the court complies. Specifically, it rules that they can do this, as long as the material they’re storing is “relevant” to an investigation of terrorism, and the court buys the logic that the agency might need to go fetch data retroactively in such a probe. Therefore, everything is “relevant.”

The catch, as we now know, is that all of this—the ever-expanding surveillance in time and space, the reasoning behind it, and the FISA court ruling that approves it—has evolved at such high levels of secrecy that only a handful of people in Congress (very few people anywhere outside the NSA, and probably not all that many inside) know anything about it. This, it turns out, is what [Ron] Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, meant when he cryptically said, way back in October 2011, that “there are two Patriot Acts in America”—the one that anybody can read and a “secret interpretation that the executive branch uses” but that nobody on the outside knows about at all. The public Patriot Act allows “bulk” collection of data; the secret interpretation defines “bulk” far more bulkily than anyone could have imagined.

And here’s the problem. The program was supposed to have checks and balances, but really it doesn’t, not anymore.

“They scoop up and store everything from everybody.” The American public didn’t know about that. The American people never voted for that. It’s doubtful that, sufficiently informed, public opinion would consent to that. Even so, it’s possible to argue that “consent of the governed ” was maintained because key committees in Congress were informed. Congress also created the FISA court and gave it these powers.

But that’s not enough. “Blind” consent can easily be abused. The only possible check on that is public knowledge and open debate. Not for everything, of course (there have to be secrets) but for really big things like “scoop up and store everything from everybody.” Not consent at some point in the process but informed consent for big decisions throughout the process: that is the check. It’s impossible when everything is done in secret, which is why Kaplan says: “The program was supposed to have checks and balances, but really it doesn’t.”

2.  A discussion the public cannot afford to have. 

Will Wilkinson in The Economist picks up the story from there. He’s more alarmed than Kaplan.

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. Therefore, the power to determine that this is a discussion the public cannot afford to have cannot reside in the democratic public. That power must reside elsewhere, with the best and brightest, with those who have surveyed the perils of the world and know what it takes to meet them. Those deep within the security apparatus, within the charmed circle, must therefore make the decision, on America’s behalf, about how much democracy—about how much discussion about the limits of democracy, even—it is safe for Americans to have.

A “discussion the public cannot afford to have” repeals the principle of an informed citizenry. But the decision to let things evolve in that way was hidden from public view. Those who wanted to show it to us were prevented from doing so– or prosecuted in the case of some whistle blowers. Wilkinson:

It is crucial, then, that any attempt by those on the inside to reveal the real, secret rules governing American life be met with overwhelming, intimidating retaliation. In order to maintain a legitimizing democratic imprimatur, it is of course important that a handful of elected officials be brought into the anteroom of the inner council, but it’s important that they know barely more than that there is a significant risk that we will all perish if they, or the rest of us, know too much, and they must be made to feel that they dare not publicly speak what little they have been allowed to know. Even senators. Even senators must fear to describe America’s laws to America’s citizens.

An informed public is not really possible under those conditions. And yet those conditions were approved by elected representatives. But they never shared with the voters what they were doing. Some in Congress realized the problem but they were helpless to do anything about it.

3. Free to mislead us.

Here’s Timothy Edgar, a lawyer who was on the inside (he worked for the Director of National Intelligence) writing in the Wall Street Journal.

The FISA court may have reviewed the programs, but the public never got its day in court. The ACLU has challenged the constitutionality of NSA surveillance programs for years, but that case never got to the issue of constitutional rights. The intelligence community argued, and the Supreme Court agreed, that the civil-liberties groups couldn’t maintain their lawsuit. Civil-liberties advocates represented a variety of people with entirely reasonable fears of monitoring. Whether they were actually under surveillance was a secret (and properly so). The government argued vigorously that this secrecy meant the case could not go forward, and the court agreed.

Aye: “The public never got its day in court.” As with the legal system, so with the Congress. Open debate never got its chance. Edgar :

Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall encountered a similar Catch-22 in 2011 when trying to raise questions about the NSA call-records program, when the Patriot Act was up for review. Although they were briefed on the program behind closed doors, they made no headway in arguing for greater transparency with the public. The resulting debate was highly skewed. Administration officials were free to make misleading arguments that the Patriot Act was just like an ordinary subpoena. Any member of Congress willing to spend a few hours in a small room in the Capitol knew that secret court opinions had approved collection that reached far wider than any subpoena. Those who did know about the opinions could not express any concerns in open debate. Secrecy prevented the Congress, like the Supreme Court, from having a real argument over surveillance powers.

No real argument = zero possibility for informed consent. Administration officials who are free to mislead are liberated from the check that a free press and an inquisitive Congress are supposed to provide. A democracy that is not permitted to know the “secret rules” adopted by the state cannot operate properly. Will Wilkinson thinks the whole system is illegitimate, a sham. Timothy Edgar thinks the public would approve if it knew more about the safeguards in place. Fred Kaplan is somewhere in the middle; he thinks the NSA is in trouble, and recommends reforms. But they all agree that the necessary checks and balances had disappeared.

These include an informed public. That principle had been repealed for scrutiny of the surveillance state. But no one ever put it that way. And they still don’t. It was too big to face, so bit-by-bit a decision was made not to face it. Repressed is the right word for that.

4. A choice not to be informed.

Edward Snowden is the return of the repressed. By going AWOL and leaking documents that show what the NSA is up to, he forced Congress to ask itself: did we really consent to that? With his disclosures the principle of an informed public roared back to life. Writing at MSNBC.com about documents de-classified by the Director of National Intelligence in advance of his testimony before the Senate, Adam Serwer puts it all together:

The reports affirm that the current backlash in Congress is a product of public knowledge of the programs. Some legislators, like Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Mark Udall of Colorado, had been making public statements for years that hinted at information members of Congress were being told in private. Legislators who say they were ignorant about how the authorities were being used prior to the revelations effectively made a choice not to be informed. They then voted to reauthorize these laws without knowing what they actually did. Those legislators who were exercising their oversight responsibilities and were concerned about surveillance couldn’t inform the public in detail about what was happening. Far from affirming the Obama administration’s insistence that congressional oversight serves as a key check on executive branch authority, it mostly raises the question of whether effective oversight can be conducted in secret.

Some in Congress “made a choice not to be informed.” Those who tried to exercise oversight were prevented from informing the rest of us. (But Bruce Ackerman says they could have busted through that.) Then Snowden came along and blew everything up. Adam Serwer comments:

Absent former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks to The Guardian and the Washington Post that sparked the controversy, the current debate over surveillance powers wouldn’t even be happening. As long as the information was secret, legislators could renew these authorities without having to worry about a public backlash. It was only the leaks that spurred Congress into doing its job. That leaves legislators pushing to curtail government surveillance powers in the awkward position of owing their political momentum to a man the Obama administration wants extradited and prosecuted for espionage.

Right. It’s the same contradiction Jeffrey Toobin of CNN is caught in. He doesn’t think Snowden should have done what he did. But Toobin does think the debate that Snowden started “is a good thing.” When James Risen pointed this out (“We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it wasn’t for him”) Toobin — mindlessly — agreed. “That’s true,” he said. (It’s at 8:15 on the clip.) At this point Toobin has no idea what he’s saying. The only coherent position available to him is to argue for the repeal of an informed public: “Piers, this debate we’re having right now, it’s a bad thing!”

But he doesn’t have the courage or self-awareness required to say that on television. At some point he internalized the idea of a “discussion the public cannot afford to have,” then repressed any memory of having done that. That’s why he welcomes a debate that he would also welcome the prevention of. But Congress did the same thing. So did President Obama. The Toobin principle: repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step because it’s too much to face.

Let me go back to my unanswered question:

Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver?

People who make a career in journalism cannot pretend to neutrality on a matter like that. If a free society needs them — and I think it does — it needs them to stand strongly against the eclipse of informed consent.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links

Over at the Atlantic site, Conor Friedersdorf builds upon this post by going back to look at how the debate over, and news coverage of the re-authorization of the Patriot Act in 2011 was disabled by secrecy. This made informed decision-making and genuine public opinion impossible.

Even those elected representatives informed about the full extent of government surveillance were deprived of normal legislative practices, like floor debate, letters and phone calls from constituents, input from experts outside government, and public opinion polls, that properly factor into their typical deliberation and voting decisions.

That’s it, exactly, Conor.

Security and privacy expert Bruce Schneier writes on the virtually the same subject I addressed here:

Both government agencies and corporations have cloaked themselves in so much secrecy that it’s impossible to verify anything they say; revelation after revelation demonstrates that they’ve been lying to us regularly and tell the truth only when there’s no alternative.

There’s much more to come. Right now, the press has published only a tiny percentage of the documents Snowden took with him. And Snowden’s files are only a tiny percentage of the number of secrets our government is keeping, awaiting the next whistle-blower.

Ronald Reagan once said “trust but verify.” That works only if we can verify. In a world where everyone lies to us all the time, we have no choice but to trust blindly, and we have no reason to believe that anyone is worthy of blind trust. It’s no wonder that most people are ignoring the story; it’s just too much cognitive dissonance to try to cope with it.

That’s why I used the word “repressed.”

Ars Technica asked Schneier (“one of the world’s foremost cryptographers”) what he would do to fix the problems with trust and verification:

The way Schneier sees it, in an attempt to keep the operational details of the targets secret, the NSA (and presumably other intelligence agencies, too) has also claimed that it also needs to keep secret the legal justification for what it’s doing. “That’s bullshit,” Schneier says.

The famed computer scientist wants to apply traditionally open and public scrutiny to how the NSA operates.

“How much does this stuff cost and does it do any good?” he said. “And if they can’t tell us that, they don’t get approved. Let’s say the NSA costs $100 million annually and that an FBI agent is $100,000 a year. Is this worth 1,000 FBI agents? Or half and half? Nowhere will you find that analysis.”

When the CEO and editor-at-large of Foreign Policy magazine is saying: it took me a while, but now I see why Snowden was necessary… it means the elites in Washington are waking up to something big.

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post did D.C. residents a big favor earlier this week when he courageously acknowledged the service Edward Snowden did for the United States… and for the global debate on rights and privacy in the big data era. I have myself been too slow to recognize that the benefits we have derived from Snowden’s revelations substantially outweigh the costs associated with the breach. It is time we move from the kind of Patriot Act thinking that overstates security threats to such a degree that we subordinate our basic freedoms to something more consistent with our historical systems of checks and balances.

Law professor and former Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith on a theme similar to the one I explore here:

Presumptively in our democracy, important national policies are vetted in public, subject to criticism and analysis in the press and by elected representatives and civil society and courts, and ultimately approved, or not, by the People in elections. The accountability system forces public officials to justify their actions, to address criticisms, to confront new and critical information and arguments, to consider new approaches, and to correct mistakes. This messy process does not always produce optimal policies. But it produces pretty good policies on the whole, allows for pretty robust policy change in light of new information, and in any event is a more legitimate system for executing public policy than one that takes place in secret.

Few of the traditional elements of democratic scrutiny and deliberation apply to the NSA. Even after the Snowden affair, NSA and its oversight bodies remain extraordinarily secretive.

In a guest post at TechDirt, Jennifer Hoelzer, a former staffer for Senator Ron Wyden, provides enormous detail on how for years he was prevented from informing the public about where the surveillance state had gotten to in the U.S. It is quite a tale.

Matt Welch of Reason magazine on the Obama Administration observance of the Toobin principle:

We are totally ready to have this conversation we have been actively trying to suppress, we are being transparent in our non-transparency, and in the name of openness and deliberation we must smother this attempt at open deliberation.

At ThinkProgress, Zack Beauchamp responds to this post, usefully: A Guide To Thinking About NSA Surveillance And Democracy.

Josh Stearns adds further background and fleshes out the argument in this post. Stearns reminded me of this: “My sole motive,” Edward Snowden told the Guardian in his first public interview, “is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

“A grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.” Jeffery Toobin on Snowden in June:

The American government, and its democracy, are flawed institutions. But our system offers legal options to disgruntled government employees and contractors. They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this. Instead, in an act that speaks more to his ego than his conscience, he threw the secrets he knew up in the air—and trusted, somehow, that good would come of it. We all now have to hope that he’s right.

169 Comments

  1. This is great. Let me ask one more question. In a unipolar world, where the U.S. writ is obeyed everywhere, is it possible to reveal anything the government doesn’t want revealed? And if that’s true, doesn’t the U.S. government have the kind of absolute power that corrupts absolutely?

    Obama may be a great and good man. But what if he’s succeeded by another Cheney, and these precedents he’s set haven’t been challenged? If so, all the fears of the cyber-libertarians, starting with George Orwell, will have been realized.

    • proximity1 says:

      RE: “Obama may be a great and good man.”

      Actually, no. No ‘if’s’, ‘and’s’ or ‘but’s’ about it. He is neither a “great” nor even a “good” man–in the sense that I understand you to mean.

      That train has left the station and he wasn’t on it. Obama, properly described in general terms, is a disgrace. Period.

      • edde says:

        Took the words right from my keyboard.

        He is shockingly without principles.

      • Pelu Maad says:

        Gee…..one wonders how you came to that conclusion….and when…????

        • Anomalous says:

          When he pardoned those that participated in torture, when he prevented torturers from being extradited multiple times, when he executes without any judicial process, when he kills thousands of civilians in countries in which war has not been declared, when he continues the destruction of investigative journalism, when he prosecutes whistleblowers such as Thomas Drake who went through the “legitimate channels” before going to the media with his concerns, when he oversees DEA raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, when he forces journalists like James Risen to testify against their sources. . .

          Do I need to keep going? That’s just what I could think of off the top of my head. Concluding that Obama is a lawless criminal is way overdue.

    • Tom Carberry says:

      “Obama may be a great and good man”

      Or as the facts show, he may make Ted Bundy and John Gacy look like Little Sisters of the Poor when it comes to mass murdering psychopathy.

      The whole world has Obama’s paranoid delusions and psychopathy on daily display, and only recently have people started to see that the emperor has no clothes in which to hide his evil.

      • mikeinportc says:

        +1

      • Pelu Maad says:

        My guess is the world is mostly glad we didn’t elect Mitt.

      • art guerrilla says:

        now, now, that’s simply not true: *anyone* who gets to the heights of Saint Obama has to have made their deal with the devil already…

        non-psychopaths need not apply…

        if you ain’t gonna kill for Empire, what good are you ? ? ?

        our grand experiment has been perverted, 1984-style… simply astounding to observe, and impossible to comprehend…

        i shake my head in shame and frustration…

        one of my favorite quotes comes to mind:
        The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance

        only i didn’t realize it was The They being eternally, omnisciently vigilant of us sheeple, and the price would be *our* freedoms…

        art guerrilla
        aka ann archy
        eof

  2. Jay Rosen says:

    Andrew Tyndall of the The Tyndall Report emails:

    The Ecuadorian Library, the Bruce Sterling article you linked to from your Twitter feed, makes the observation that we cannot separate the phenomenon of the national security state from other, commercial, manifestations of Big Data: the Googles, the Facebooks, the Amazons, the Internet itself.

    For sure, the powers of the state and the powers of the corporation are not one and the same. Yet I find it persuasive to spend more time considering their similarities than their differences.

    The phenomenon of Big Data is unreservedly a good thing: it enables us to live our lives in a more targeted, more autonomous, more differentiated way. It improves the quality of the journalism we engage with, the goods we consume, the culture that enriches us.

    You are right to argue that our informed consent is indispensible to our enjoyment of the benefits of Big Data. In other words, Big Data should be under our control since without us, as a society, it could not exist in the first place. It is nothing more than the sum total of our collective activities.

    There is a second requirement too: that the operation of Big Data be transparent, since opacity prevents control.

    So it is at the intersection of these two principles — control and transparency — that the questions for the national security state reside. The more it wants to keep secrets, the less massive its data collection must be. The more it wants Big Data, the less secretive it must be.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with either. The current crisis arises from the national security state’s desire to have both.

    • Chuck Erickson says:

      Well stated.

    • Josh Stearns says:

      That is a useful addition to the conversation from Andrew Tyndall and reminds me of a connect I hadn’t originally made when I first ready your piece Jay. While your piece, and my response earlier, focus on the role of journalism, there is a clear need for more digital (and data) literacy efforts to help people understand all kinds of Big Data and therefor want to demand more information about how their data is used and collected. I write about what such a campaign could look like over .

  3. Steiner says:

    “Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance”

    Yes, certainly. It’s not difficult at all.

    The public merely needs the truth about the overall surveillance in general Who/What/Why terms; no need for the highly technical (‘secret’) details on exactly How it’s done.

    It’s hardly a public newsflash that the NSA has been collecting foreign government electronic/communications data around the world in large amounts, for half a century… with sophisticated, ever improving technology. We knew who the NSA was, what they were doing {generally}, and why they were doing it.

    And certainly foreign governments & potential U.S. enemies were also well aware of what the NSA was all about.

    What is “new” publicly (thanks to Snowden) is that NSA now targets Everyone/Everywhere (including Americans) via a surprisingly vast, covert telecommunications/internet electronic collection system– feeding a massive database/analysis system.

    There’s no reason this new NSA activity could not have been made public and debated in Congress/media — except that it’s blatantly non-Constitutional, illegal, and represents massive criminality. Hence the strong efforts by NSA and many other Federal agencies/persons — to keep it totally secret from the public.

    The NSA’s long criminal history was first publicly uncovered by the U.S. Senate Church Committee in the 1970’s. No one was punished; instead Congress invented the unconstitutional “FISA” secret court to rubber-stamp future NSA wrongdoing. It should be obvious to all that “secret courts” can not exist in a free society.

    There’s nothing unique about an “informed public and consent-of-the-governed” regarding electronic surveillance — it’s as easy as many other similar issues in U.S. Defense policy and Justice operations.

    But Power Corrupts; there’s no reason whatsoever for the citizenry to trust the NSA at all.

    • edde says:

      Perfectly stated.

      • gezzerx says:

        “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

        Joseph Goebbels quote

        If you don’t know who Joseph Goebbels was,Google him,you may be surprised who he was & what he did. Are we becoming what we once despised ? ? ?

        REMEMBER: POLITICIANS AND DIAPERS SHOULD BE CHANGED OFTEN AND FOR THE SAME REASON.

        • Pelu Maad says:

          Nah…it’s just getting harder to pretend to be what we NEVER were in the first place.

  4. Paul Baer says:

    Excellent analysis. The point that “Obama welcomes a debate that he also would have welcomed the prevention of” bears some contemplation. His role as President requires him to prosecute someone whom, as a private individual, he would surely have admired.

    We have entered some rather uncharted territory… Interesting times, indeed!

  5. Chris Dixon says:

    It is perfectly consistent to believe all of the following:
    1) The debate Snowden started is good for democracy and the US
    2) Snowden probably broke the law
    3) People who break the law should be held accountable.

    • Jack Mitchell says:

      Just don’t forget

      4) If convicted he should be pardoned and given a medal.

    • to Chris Dixon: true, but 1,2,3 also consistent with

      A) The debate Snowden started is good for democracy and the US

      B) _forbidding_ such a debate is also good for democracy and the US, because it gives the NSA the latitude to keep us safe

      C) We can prefer B over A because no risk to us of a federal prosecution

      • Frankie says:

        The hiding of information is *NOT* good for US democracy. It might be good for a small portion of individual US citizens, who would be at increased risk of terrorist attack. But the nation as a whole would survive. TERRORISTS CAN NEVER DEFEAT US, EXCEPT IN THE WAYS WE SUBVERT OURSELVES. That’s why they’re just terrorists rather than an invading army.

        If protecting individual citizens were of paramount importance, we could mandate security cameras and microphones, everywhere at all times. We could mandate national photo ID cards, and keep a permanent record of the actions of every person in the country. We could mandate GPS tracking of every vehicle and communications device.

        The surveillance state is BAD for democracy.

        • Marty says:

          It’s funny that someone would spout “war on terrorism” propaganda here.

          1) You see, the issue at hand is this – Terrorism accounts for less than 1 % of all deaths in the US, yearly. The biggest killers are americans themselves.
          2) You wouldn’t have to worry about terrorism at all, if it wasn’t for the history of war and genocide, and over-throwing foreign governments that U.S. has

          • Pelu Maad says:

            So who is the bigger threat to the average American….Al Qaeda….or the Tea Party?

          • Hooker Jay says:

            So who is the bigger threat to the average American….Al Qaeda….or the Tea Party?

            America’s greatest economic and national security threat was, is, always had been, and always will be incumbency and the centrist-extremists (i.e. Toobin, Noonan) whose inverted fascism only serves to enable, reward, shield, defend, and immunize them from the “democracy” the great unwashed rabble might impose on them. Especially an informed unwashed rabble …

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Jeffrey Toobin went beyond 1-3. He also said Snowden should not have done what he did. That was he “against” all that.

      • David says:

        His passion on this issue also revealed where his sympathies lie. He railed against Snowden as a “grandiose narcissist.”

        If Toobin genuinely felt the weight of both sides, he wouldn’t lean so strongly against Snowden’s actions. He would instead speak of the whole matter as a sort of tragedy.

        • Pelu Maad says:

          Weiner and A-Rod have raised the narcissist bar so high it takes serious effort to qualify…

    • David Kaib says:

      “3) People who break the law should be held accountable.”

      If that is true, and the people who break the law are government officials, and they are engaged in a cover up (including lying about it), and no one actually thinks that *everyone* who breaks the law should be held accountable, it doesn’t make sense to apply this principle to the person who reveals official wrongdoing but not the official wrongdoers. How about when the lawbreakers and the one’s making the prosectutorial decisions all work for the same boss?

    • willibro says:

      Get back to me on (3) when Jamie Dimon and Hank Greenberg are both in jail.

    • joe says:

      1, 2, 3 are consistent in a legalistic frame, in that they are consistent with a few possible worlds.

      In a scientific frame, they are inconsistent in that you will in the real world fail to see that sequence with any regularity. We’re in the process of seeing right now whether it will even happen sufficiently on the multidecade timescale.

      We’ve had this process ongoing for at least a decade (who knows how much longer). We’ve only seen one effective whistleblower, and a few others who’ve been ignored and had their careers destroyed, because in practice, those three beliefs are in most cases inconsistent in conjunction with the known pattern of human behavior.

      We’re not in a court of law. We’re not in a platonic mathematical universal, where the only questions are necessary, sufficient or inconsistent.

      We’re in a world of substance where the question of the probability of a stable social reality is the most important question, whether something happens in fact and how often.

      To make it simple, it is physically possible for objects to tunnel through other objects. It is “consistent” with reality that a car sits in a garage with all doors closed, and a second later it sits outside the garage, without any door opening in the intervening period.

      However, anyone who would make that claim of consistency, if they weren’t just making a thought experiment in quantum physics, would be either insane or a liar, because in fact the probability is infinitesimal.

      You can argue coherently that democracy is only practical for a subset of problems. But you can’t argue coherently that your “three possibilities” are sociologically consistent.

      It seems like the pushback to this is almost theological, rather than an actual discussion. It’s meta-meta-meta, about what we can and can’t talk about, not about the real facts of the matter. It’s like a waking dream.

      And that dreaming position is taken by those who ultimately claim to be pragmatic and non-ideological. Amazing.

  6. Jack Mitchell says:

    “Disclosure: I am not pro-Snowden or anti-Snowden, because to put it that way unnecessarily personalizes the issue. I am not “for” the National Security Agency or against it. As a U.S. citizen I am implicated in what the NSA does, and I want it to succeed in discovering those who would harm us. My concern, as a writer and journalism professor, is with another fight: the one for public knowledge, for sunlight, for the facts to come out so we know what’s going on.”

    This is disingenuous, not to mention professorial. The debate about the role of the secret police in a democratic society is not like other policy questions. If you are in favour of sunlight and an informed public, you HAVE to be against a central role for the secret police in the control of knowledge.

    • Jay Schiavone says:

      Just so. While Glenn Greenwald can be effusive in his praise of Mr. Rosen, I find the professor’s continual qualification and equivocating tends to undermine his arguments. Two years ago Mr. Rosen heaped praise on the dreadful NPR simply because they announced that they would discontinue the useless practice of “he said, she said” journalism. He hasn’t followed up to discuss whether or not NPR honored the pledge. Perhaps he has made the choice not to be informed. But more likely he refuses to choose at all. Part of Mr. Rosen’s appeal as a critic or analyst of “the media” is his evident commitment to avoid acknowledgement of all but the most flagrantly apparent controversies. He seemed to probe and write with some candor when he famously identified the “church of the savvy.” But as I look back, he did not so much expose a shameful secret as label a trend. Labeling trends is the meat of modern journalism, like listicles. His recent flogging of “The Snowden Effect” is rather weak tea. We can’t avoid the issue, and what else might one call it? Not whistle-blowing. Not treason. Mr. Rosen would never stick his neck out and make that kind of commitment. He would lose favor with half of his readers if he picked a label like that. Better to use “Snowden Effect,” and provide as little meaning as possible.

      So we end up with his tweaking of Jeffrey Toobin. Mr. Rosen can’t let him have it. Even in the pursuit of “sunlight.” Sunlight is no match for “he said she said.”

      • Jay Schiavone says:

        “It was 27 years ago I did a dissertation on the concept of “the public.” So today’s post at PressThink is personal.” –Jay Rosen

  7. David says:

    Really excellent analysis.

    One thing that goes unmentioned is class. Jeffrey Toobin benefits from the status quo as an elite commentator — a sort of nobleman of our day. Snowden’s actions threaten that status quo. Trust in government and trust in mainstream media go hand in hand, since so much of what is reported comes from government officials.

    The point being: perhaps Toobin can’t speak to the issue not because he’s caught in a contradiction but because speaking honestly to the issue undermines his status and that of the Establishment that grants him that status.

  8. efreilly says:

    The premise for this article seems a little flawed. It presumes that because the ensuing debate has been positive, Snowden’s actions are necessarily legal or justifiable. That isn’t so. We have rules all over the place in courts of law regarding the admissibility of evidence, even if catching bad guys is ultimately a positive thing. The case to justify Snowden’s abuse of his own power to disclose these documents to which he was privy is ironic considering the subject matter.

    The court of public opinion has never been the place where we try criminal proceedings and it shouldn’t be in this case either.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Where did I say Snowden’s actions are legal? I don’t believe I made any statement about that one way or another.

      • A good and timely article, Mr. Rosen. I especially noted with interest the first part of your title: “Repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step.” It put me immediately in mind of George Orwell’s definition of doublethink, or double-bind doctrinaire schizophrenia: namely, “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” Jeffrey Toobin’s performance in this instance surely rates some sort of Orwellian award for doublethink personified.

        As Orwell noted, a Corporate Party functionary like Jeffrey Toobin must psychologically repress the obvious import of what he proposes — criminalizing investigative journalism — in order to come across as sincere in his outrageous proposal without suffering the cognitive dissonance that would normally accompany such an equally obvious betrayal of journalistic truth. As Orwell put it:

        “The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt.”

        Mr Toobin cannot with a straight face just come out and shout the Party slogan “Ignorance is Strength,” even though he obviously believes that the Corporate Party with two right-wings (thank you, Gore Vidal) must keep Americans ignorant and under constant surveillance in the interests of the Party’s perpetuation of itself in power. So he must, on the one hand, pay lip service — on a general level — to the need of a democratic society for truthful information.

        Yet on the other hand, he must denigrate and vilify and condemn every practical avenue that the American people have for assuring themselves of this necessary information. This he does by taking refuge in the lazy semantic abstraction, “breaking the law,” which sounds defensible unless one distinguishes between misdemeanor whistleblowing versus felony murders. Both constitute “breaking the law,” but common sense and context can easily distinguish the vast difference between them. Jeffrey Toobin obviously cannot (or chooses not to) make the necessary distinctions, so he confuses and conflates wildly different levels of abstraction, ultimately looking the complete fool.

        Pathetic, really. But it seems to pay well. So, good work if you can get it.

    • David Kaib says:

      Courts and the public sphere are very different things. The rules in courts rarely apply in any other setting.

    • Chris Harries says:

      “We have rules all over the place in courts of law regarding the admissibility of evidence, even if catching bad guys is ultimately a positive thing.”

      It appears, thanks to Snowden’s revelations, that those very rules are being breached, on an industrial scale, by several agencies, including police departments, the IRS and immigration services.

      The recording of masses of personal data, and its availability to prosecutors, might very well explain the curious trend away from criminal trials in favour of plea bargaining in which all the power lies on the side of the state.

  9. Controlling the surveillance state’s agenda is the Anglo Dutch financial oligarchy. It is run out of the City of London not Wall St.(they are merely junior partners.) Why is GCHQ (Britain’s NSA)gobbling up much more trans-Atlantic data than the NSA for instance? What is our special “intelligence gathering” relationship with Canada, NZ, Australia and Britain and when was it approved by treaty by Congress? Why was HSBC (Hong Kong Shanghai Bank Corp.) not charged criminally for laundering Billions of drug money for Mexican cartels? Why has the Saudi royal family’s (see the al Yamamah BAE UK scandal) funding of the 911 hijackers been covered up by this ever loving surveillance state? By making it seem that this is a case of only some wayward US technocrats gone astray misses the forest for the trees. Sure, this all violates our Constitution’s protection of due process, but the financial oligarchy is in the drivers seat here.

  10. Clive Hulett says:

    I fear the debate continuously falls into the trap of examining the minutiae of the issues at hand, so the substance of what is a terribly dire situation is lost in the fog of murkiness.

    The debate is not about silly almost abstract premises – ‘the debate is good for US democracy, but the guy who made the debate possible should be prosecuted’.

    The debate is being deliberately melted away by dross and subterfuge.

    Ultimately this debate, this “elephant in the room” is about power; of this there can be no doubt. Power = Wealth = Power. In the hands of the few at the expense of the many. Those who have it, that tiny “upper” echelon are grimly holding on to it, using all the resources and deviousness at their disposal.

    Whilst Greenwald, Chomsky Hedges Scahill Assange Manning Snowden and many others are now finding an ever increasing audience through the ubiquitous internet. Maybe we are getting to a tipping point. If I had a belief in the supernatural I would pray for it to be so.

    I certainly hope it is.

    • Lance says:

      Let us pray and hope together.

    • D Davies says:

      May I add an appreciation for Tim Berners-Lee here? He dreamed up the non-hierarchical www and gave it to us for free. It’s changed (or developed) everyone’s thinking in essential ways. He’s a big part of the discussion here, acknowledged or not.

  11. When the U.S. government decided to close embassies in the Middle East and northern Africa this past weekend, it had no problems citing its intelligence gathering as a source for what it feels is a credible threat. I’m unable to understand why the government feels it can talk about its surveillance of a specific terrorist threat when it sees Snowden’s much more general revelations as a huge risk.

      • D Davies says:

        Oh for pity’s sake, who thinks the ‘terror alert’ is anything other than a pathetic ploy to get the public to accept NSA bulk spying?

        If the NSA had actually intercepted the electronic communication in question both ends of the convo would have been taken out in short order with oh-so-accurate drones. But, of course, ‘terrorists’ don’t phone or email each other anymore because the Manning/Snowden revelations alerted them to the fact that they are being listened to.

        There are so many layers of official deceit that it is almost impossible to discuss anything anymore.

        • Yes. The whole thing reeks of ham-handed media management. After all, as President Kennedy used to say: “The ship of state leaks from the top.”

          Here in southern Taiwan, the late-night talk show hosts (whom my wife calls “the political animals”) pretty much dismissed the whole embassy closure thing as a transparent political attempt by the Obama administration to divert attention away from the gigantic black eye that its own surveillance policies have given it. I told my wife that back in the Clinton administration, this sort of thing went by the name of “wagging the dog.”

  12. gorilla cookies says:

    First off, I agree it’s disingenuous for the Prof to say he’s not for Snowden, when he obviously is.

    Second, there isn’t really much of a contradiction in what Toobin said, even if Rosen fails to see it. It is possible to think that it’s good to have more openness about our national security apparatus, without approving of what Snowden did. There have been many articles over the years on what the NSA has been doing. Not all of them were sensationalized like the Guardian’s coverage was, which is why the Snowden revelations have received more attention. But those articles do prove it is possible to have a debate on this topic without someone having to commit a felony.

    Moreover, we can’t just talk about Snowden as a “whistleblower” in the abstract. He is a real human being who committed a series of specific actions.

    If we trust Glenn Greenwald – and I know, that’s not the most reliable source – Snowden stole documents that could endanger the security of our country which he is keeping for “insurance.” He stole documents and gave them to Greenwald that were so sensitive even Greenwald (still) doesn’t want to print him. We still don’t know how much he has told the Russians and the Chinese. We still don’t know whether some foreign governments have gotten ahold of the documents he stole. (If you think these governments are helping him out out of the goodness of their heart, you are crazy.) We still don’t know how much he has damaged the security of the U.S. These are all open questions, and until they are answered, it’s silly to say, “Snowden’s awesome, because he sparked a debate.”

    If Snowden had just stolen one document – the Verizon court order on phone metadata – we would still have had the debate we are having, and he wouldn’t be in as much trouble he is currently in. Then he could make a fair case that all he was doing was whistle-blowing. The fact that he went farther than that, and stole dangerous documents simply for “insurance,” and that it’s possible those documents have fallen into the hands of some of the most amoral actors on the world stage, is what troubles so many people about his case and his behavior.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      “It is possible to think that it’s good to have more openness about our national security apparatus, without approving of what Snowden did.”

      Maybe so. But it is not tenable, if you’re a journalist, to think it’s great to have the debate that Snowden’s actions are directly responsible for, and think that Snowden should not have taken those actions. This is the mindless position Jeffry Toobin worked himself into.

      • gorilla cookies says:

        >>Maybe so. But it is not tenable, if you’re a journalist, to think it’s great to have the debate that Snowden’s actions are directly responsible for, and think that Snowden should not have taken those actions. This is the mindless position Jeffry Toobin worked himself into.>>

        Maybe so? Definitely so! You call people who disagree with you “mindless,” but you don’t seem to have thought this through.

        This is a gruesome analogy, but the events in Newtown sparked a debate on gun control. The debate was a good thing to have. The actions that led to them were not.

        You are saying that journalists have to approve of what Snowden did because his actions “stirred a debate.” Many things stir a debate. The Iraq war stirred a debate. Right-wing ranting on immigration stirs a debate. That doesn’t mean it’s good.

        Here are two questions:

        – Could this discussion have come about without Snowden committing a felony?

        – Is it possible to disagree with Snowden’s actions because he did things that went above and beyond simply informing the public?

        The answer to the first question is obviously yes, since this subject has been in the press before.

        The answer to the second question is yes as well. If all you are after is whistle-blowing, you don’t steal documents that could endanger the security of this country as “insurance.”

        Again, if Snowden had taken different actions – just stolen one or two documents, instead of the large number of apparently sensitive things he stole – he might be in better shape, and we would still be having the same discussions.

        These aren’t complicated things, they are issues that go to the heart of the charges against Snowden.

        • Mutex7 says:

          Your bias is obvious so let me start by laying out mine. I believe that the US government, by which I mean all three branches, the military and the included bureaucracies have, either knowingly or unknowingly, committed treason (by which I mean violated their oath to defend and protect Constitution) in their pursuit of safety and stability. You might try to argue that this so-called treason is necessary and justifiable…as some have done by simplistically quoting ‘the Constitution is not a suicide pact’.

          The reason I say “simplistically” is because, in this age when language is used to support an agenda rather than truthfully communicate (and everything depends on discovering what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is) we need to more fully examine the purposes for which we require said level of “safety and stability”. Once we dismiss the transparently ridiculous ‘we are good and they are evil’ paradigm and examine the details of the ‘war on terror’ it becomes obvious that it is nothing more than the unwinnable (albeit long and drawn out) struggle of a dying empire to maintain its hold on power. A power supported (until recently) in large part by the pretense of our desire to spread ‘freedom and democracy’. A pretense which has now been betrayed by the reality of US support for corrupt, illegitimate regimes which historically have done its dirty work for it.

          This was Osama bin Laden’s primary contribution…that the source of the oppression and injustice, from which billions of people cry out for relief, is not so much the puppet dictators but rather the puppet master…and by extension the corporate elite it serves. The reason so many well meaning people have difficulty making a coherent argument against this police state is that they refuse to acknowledge the length and breadth this lie known as the ‘war on terror’ represents. History repeatedly shows us that the most powerful tools of government are fear and hatred. These tools are most commonly exploited by our innate fear of the ‘other’. It doesn’t matter whether it is communism, socialism, fascism, terrorism or some other as yet unnamed ‘ism’ it is all just the same recycled propaganda the powerful have used to exploit the powerless since man first organized into groups. As soon as you establish two or more groups you create ‘us’ and ‘them’. Combine this with ambitious men and you have all the ingredients needed for exploitation to succeed. It has been framed many ways throughout the ages but it really does come down to the “red pill/blue pill” choice. If you are lucky enough to be born amongst the ‘haves’ keep your head down, don’t ask many questions and life is good. If you are unlucky enough to be born amongst the ‘have nots’ (or with a conscience) however your choices are not so simple.

      • Jay Rosen says:

        “Could this discussion have come about without Snowden committing a felony?”

        Yes, if the surveillance state has released the necessary information, like the FISA court order permitting bulk collection of all phone records, which was not known about before, and not public, but since the surveillance state did no such thing, then no.

        “Is it possible to disagree with Snowden’s actions because he did things that went above and beyond simply informing the public?”

        Yes. If you mean agreeing with some of what he did (to inform the public) and disagreeing with other things he did.

        And I don’t call people who disagree with me “mindless” because they disagree with me. I used that term “mindless” in reference to a specific reply in a specific situation Toobin found himself in, where he advanced a contradictory argument without showing any awareness of it. It’s not a general epithet tossed out on a whim.

        • gorilla cookies says:

          >>Yes, if the surveillance state has released the necessary information, like the FISA court order permitting bulk collection of all phone records, which was not known about before, and not public, but since the surveillance state did no such thing, then no.>>

          Come on. Just about all of this information had been reported on previously, if not released in its raw form. Everyone agrees to this. There have been books on the NSA. Snowden just caught people’s attention, in part because of the fugitive angle, which his supporters regularly disdain.

          Another question is: Did Snowden have to commit a felony to get the debate he says he wanted? Could he have stolen a lot less than he did, and therefore not face the jail sentence he is facing now? Should he have consulted a lawyer (and not Glenn Greenwald)?

          And yes, you can agree with some of Snowden’s actions and disagree with others. The question is: do the negatives outweigh the positives?

          You are arguing to be against Snowden is to be against openness. Nonsense.

          We still don’t know what Snowden stole, and what damage his actions have done or will do. We don’t know what he gave to Russia and China. Those are all open, and very troubling, questions.

          But they are why Toobin and others can think it’s good to have more discussion and sunlight, but not approve of what Snowden did. The premise of your piece was that was impossible and “mindless.” Now you say it “may be” possible to hold both those points of view. Trust me. It is.

        • Jay Rosen says:

          “Catching everyone’s attention” by releasing documents that show what’s going on was, yes, part of the logic of Snowden’s actions. And it succeeded. The reason that Congress is now considering changes to bring more transparency to the process, or even possibly cut off funding for bulk collection, is not because of the sexy “fugitive angle,” it is a direct result of what Snowden did.

          Final attempt, since you seem determined to misstate my view on this. In my view it remains mindless — that is, without good sense or logic — for Jeffrey Toobin as a journalist to condemn Snowden and reject his actions in the terms he did, and also welcome the debate that sprung from those actions, while at the same time praising Greenwald for investigative reporting. It is possible for a hypothetical observer to object to some of the things Snowden did and also welcome that debate, but I wasn’t writing about a hypothetical observer when I used the term “mindlessly” (adverb, you converted it to an adjective) about a specific moment in a specific exchange on a specific television program. Good day, sir.

          • gorilla cookies says:

            I agree that we are starting to repeat ourselves, but now you are saying that it isn’t that just the fact that Toobin disapproves of what Snowden did, you just don’t like his terminology. In your post, you note that Toobin called Snowden a criminal. By any standard, he is. What problem do you have with that?

            Anyway, you are now saying that you just have an issue with one Snowden critic (Toobin), rather than all of them (though if I’m not mistaken, you call them “statists” in a tweet). But we’re not talking hypothetical observers here. There are plenty of people who think we need, say, FISA reform but are turned off by Snowden’s overall action. Just because some of the ends may be good doesn’t mean we have to justify all of his means.

            The larger point, and this was an issue in both the Manning and now Snowden cases, is that we are now in a world where people can steal large amounts of confidential information very easily. Should journalists (and groups like Wikileaks) encourage that? If someone steals a whole bunch of documents, and some of them are valuable information for the public to know, and some of them put people’s lives at risk, is that a good thing, or a bad thing? And how do journalistic organizations balance the public’s right to know versus real national security needs?

            These aren’t easy issues, as much as some people would like to paint them as such. And anyone who does is, dare i say it, “mindless.”

          • Joseph Dillard says:

            Can you have democracy without the consent of the governed? I think not. The issue here is that, because what has happened lacks the consent of the governed in any sense that is justifiable, whether the United States remains a democracy. On that issue, the burden of proof is on the security state, and as far as I can tell, it has no proof. Consequently, it is slowly dawning on people that the United States is something other than a democracy and the debate is what to call what it has become.

      • Fred Brack says:

        As a retired newspaperman (“journalist” always seemed like such a high-falutin’ term to me, one employed by people seeking social status) . . .

        Reset: As a retired newspaperman I am always amused and annoyed by so-called “journalists” proclaiming, ex cathedra, what other journalists ought to think, or say. When I was a kid, the response to such lofty proclamations was, “Who made you Pope?”

        That question is appropriate in the context of Jay Rosen’s post. To be clear, my comment says nothing about my opinion of the merits of Professor Rosen’s or Jeffrey Toobin’s positions. By all means lets discuss and argue points of view. But lets do that without trying to kick someone else out of the club, out of a phantom “profession.”

        One of the pleasures I found in newspapering was I wasn’t in a club policed by self-appointed busybodies.

        • Jay Rosen says:

          Nobody is kicking anybody out of any club in this post. But thank you for you concern.

          • Fred Brack says:

            When, Professor Rosen, you write ” . . . it is not tenable, if you’re a journalist, to think . . .” it sure sounds like you have appointed yourself as the bouncer at the Celestial Press Club. It’s possible to disagree with Toobin without implying that, as a journalist, he is required to think in a certain way — in fact, to think like you do. We’re all familiar with enforcers patrolling the boundaries of political parties or religions. “Journalism,” in my experience, happily knows no boundaries. Thanks to the First Amendment, in this country anyone can call herself/himself a journalist and think whatever she/he wants, irrespective of what some snooty professor says. There’s no journalism governing body.

            Gripped by your passion for this subject, professor, you simply strayed over a line. Concede that and get on with the central debate.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            You’re the one doing the policing here.

            But we can agree on this: “Thanks to the First Amendment, in this country anyone can call herself/himself a journalist and think whatever she/he wants, irrespective of what some snooty professor says.”

          • Fred Brack says:

            By agreeing with my statement “in this country anyone can call herself/himself a journalist and think whatever she/he wants,” professor, you have implicitly conceded my point that you were high-handed in ruling that “it is not tenable, if you’re a journalist, to think (so and so).” That, in other words, a journalist must, absolutely must, think in a certain way or she/he is not a journalist. You just can’t bring yourself to make your concession explicit, resorting instead to the schoolyard taunt, “I’m rubber you’re glue.”

            Nevertheless, I detect some progress here. I suspect next time you criticize someone, as you did Jeffrey Toobin, for inconsistencies, or contradictions, or cognitive dissonance, you’ll avoid any implications that journalists must think a certain way or they’re not true journalists.

            Now let’s get on with the vital, never-ending discussion about conflicts among the American values of national security, government secrecy, and personal privacy.

          • gorilla cookies says:

            Fred raises an important issue about how Greenwald and his minions treat the issues here.

            The implication I constantly hear (and to some extent, Jay, in his comment) from Snowden-fans is that a REAL journalist would never criticize Snowden – or Manning, or Assange, or whoever the martyr-of-the-week is-and that everyone who does is simply a courtier of the rich and powerful. Greenwald and his fans engage in some kind of variation of this almost daily.

            To me, this is just a slimy and juvenile tactic that aims to shut down debate and dialog, to “shame” critics of Snowden and try and make certain criticism out of bounds. It also personalizes things unnecessarily — why not just argue these issues on the merits? Why bring someone’s job into this? Journalists criticize each other all the time. Jeffrey Toobin has every right to his opinion. It doesn’t make him any less of a journalist.

            I have always felt journalists can and should be encouraged to develop their own thoughts and opinions, and not walk in lockstep with anyone, whether it’s Snowden or Greenwald or Obama or the NSA or me or you. A hallmark of being a good journalist is independent thought. The hallmark of a bad one is trying to shut that down.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            Jeffrey Toobin–on TV constantly, with a megaphone 1,000 times bigger than this blog–has every right to his views on Snowden (linked to here in the After Matter section: check it out), and I have every right to criticize him.

            No one said any different, and nothing in my post suggests any different.

            This is a crap complaint, but the type of crap that comes from people who won’t sign their names or risk their reputations by making it. In other words, standard online behavior.

          • gorilla cookies says:

            Jay, you are now swatting at straw-men. I never said you didn’t have a right to criticize Toobin; I just didn’t like the terms you did it in. That’s my right as well. Anyone who has a fundamental understanding of journalism knows that it is about independent thought. For Jay to say “as a journalist,” Toobin should think in a specific way, is to me a betrayal to everything good journalism should be about.

            Toobin’s opinions on Snowden make him no less a journalist, just as John Lewis’ (correct) opinion on Snowden make him no less a civil rights icon.

            Anyway, Jay, there was a person in this thread who used his real name and objected to this very thing, and you treated him just as snidely and dismissively. So please focus less of ad homenin attacks, and more on substance.

        • joe says:

          Aw shucks, you’re just a giant chicken lawyer from the countryside. (See Futurama for an explanation).

          You gonna tell us next how Jay is one of those East Coast liberal elites sipping latte while oppressin’ the heartland with his elitism?

          When you can’t win the argument, make the debate itself an attack on your identity. Talk about PC.

          • Agreed. Personally, the adjective “snooty” pretty much gave away the whole offended-salt-of-the-earth-regular-guy thing.

          • Fred Brack says:

            Nothing I’ve said in my exchanges with Professor Rosen could possibly have given you any clues, Joe, as to my political views or geographic location. (In fact, I’m an ultra-liberal who’s lived on both coasts.) I merely chided the professor for claiming authority to say what a “journalist” could and should think. Unable to defend his implicit claim to such authority, he resorted to childishness. Now you come along, Joe, and stick your nose in by implying I’m some sort of conservative yahoo.

            Guess I learned my lesson not to blunder into the comment thread on this blog.

          • Fred Brack says:

            “Snooty” was meant to be playfully ironic. “Badges? We journalists don’t need no stinkin’ badges!”

            In other words, the First Amendment grants no authority to thought police. By implying that Jeffrey Toobin was barred, by virtue of being a journalist, from thinking anything other than what Professor Rosen thought, I concluded the professor was trying to enforce non-existent thought boundaries.

          • joe says:

            You’re “ultra-liberal” huh? That’s the worst kind of conservative — the one who starts out by implying in that statement that his sort of conservatism is the farthest bounds of acceptable thought.

            That’s though policing for ya. Not arguing that a certain logic is incorrect or incoherent, but implying that those who disagree with you are “hard X” or “uncivil” or some such nonsense.

            Dude, you’re the one whining about “self-appointed busybodies”, implying that folks are getting uppity, and such nonsense — and then are following it up by being offended when you get called on it.

            I find it hard to take anything you say seriously when it follows such a transparent pattern of concern trolling. Classic in fact — maybe this thread should be put on the wiki page for it.

            But it is in fact insulting to use such venerable rhetorical techniques, as if folks fell for it. Snooty indeed.

            I’m amazed by the intensity of the propaganda that even bring up this subject activates. Is it all volunteer? That last is an honest question — it goes to the question of how deranged our communicational networks have become by the collapse in meaning by techniques such as the one discussed in this posting.

  13. Hugh Sansom says:

    Several questions or points (apologies for the length):

    1. Despite the appearance of contradiction (and while there is a tension), one can be consistent in thinking that the debate resulting from Snowden’s leaks is good although Snowden’s actions themselves are bad.

    Jeffrey Toobin seems conservative to me. He certainly falls within the spectrum of standard American thinking where actions are justified instrumentally — by virtue of the good outcomes those actions produce. (The most dogmatically held example of this in the US is the conviction that enormous inequality is justified by the ‘trickle down’ effect.) So if the debate resulting from Snowden’s actions is a good thing, Toobin must believe there is some overriding negative outcome that makes Snowden’s actions bad. This could be a coherent argument, but neither Toobin nor others attacking Snowden make it because there is little real argument nor any wish for such in the mainstream about Snowden.

    My suspicion regarding Toobin’s (and others’) distress over Snowden’s leaks is threefold:
    a. Toobin and many journalists, scholars, observers like him (e.g., Matt Yglesias, Chris Hayes, David Gregory, etc.) deeply, personally identify with power, especially Washington (“This Town”, as Mark Leibovich has described). They have powerful incentives to do so; their wellbeing as pilot fish depends on that of the sharks.
    b. They therefore see criticism of Obama or the US government as criticism of themselves.
    c. They are profoundly unable to conceive of the possibility that American leaders, in government or business, might be guilty of really awful wrongdoing. This is why years ago, for example, Toobin could casually attack OJ Simpson before the facts were in, but cannot criticize any American leader, like Obama, as a plausible candidate for war crimes charges.

    Snowden or Wikileaks generate cognitive dissonance for the Toobins in America. They resolve the dissonance with just-so stories that exonerate American power. If they actually thought about it, they could construct a coherent argument. They are unaccustomed to doing so because the US culture is one that bitterly rejects challenges to power, fashion, wealth, fame.

    2. “[D]emocracy here at home must be balanced against the requirements of security.” What would be the response to: “Security here at home must be balanced against the requirements of democracy”? The notion that democracy brings demands seems to have been lost.

    3. How would Obama or Sen. Feinstein or any of those who endlessly defend government abuses react if there were a broad, deep public demand for democracy, defense of rights, and an end to massive surveillance? If we have not already reached the point of no return, we are rapidly approaching one where a surge in public opposition would provoke a constitutional crisis worse than that seen in the Civil War. The crisis will likely never arise because the public is so misinformed, so deceived, and so dogmatic in its faithful attachment to American power that the demand will never be made.

    Lest this seem like conspiracy theorizing or just handwaving, recall that in the Nixon years, calls by some within the administration for more troops in Vietnam were opposed because it was thought those troops might be needed in the US to quell domestic unrest. Recall also that both Bush and Obama made legal moves that would, in principle, undermine posse comitatus and allow use of US troops within the US.

    4. Despite racist hostility to Obama or malicious GOP opposition to anything Democratic, Americans are still overwhelmingly of the view that we owe obedience to political leaders. Americans identify the powerful in America with America itself. And they suffer under the delusion that they, any day now, will win the lottery and join the powerful.

    • Mutex7 says:

      Excellent comments and insight. This entire debate depends on whether you see the US government as controlled by inherently good and trustworthy people or whether you believe, as the founding fathers did, that all rule by man is inevitably fraught with danger and therefore opted for the rule of law and its incumbent restriction on the power of our representatives. Lost in all this debate over the expediency of surveillance ‘for our protection’ is that our entire legal system is predicated on the presumption of innocence and the belief that it is better to let a hundred criminals potentially go free than to punish men for crimes they didn’t commit.

      It is for this reason all of these activities need to couched and defended under the terms of war…buy the premise, buy the bit. This debate is necessarily predicated on the distortion of language. We have taken a word like ‘war’ which had been understood to have a particular meaning for the entire history of mankind and twisted it into being a worldwide conflict against a nebulous enemy, which can’t surrender and, of which, we continue to create more. The ‘war on terror’ is the perpetual motion machine of conflicts. Even Rumsfeld once had the insight to ask whether we aren’t creating more ‘terrorists’ than we are killing or capturing. Perhaps this misses the point though. In a military industrial complex, dependent on war for profit, perhaps the whole idea is to never run out of ‘terrorists’.

      We live in a nonsensical world where the executive branch needs a warrant to wiretap an American citizen but can kill this very same citizen without approval from any court simply by declaring him a terrorist. It’s like ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ meets ‘the twilight zone’ as people twist themselves into knots to keep from acknowledging reality.

      • “It’s like ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ meets ‘the twilight zone’ as people twist themselves into knots to keep from acknowledging reality.”

        In some ways, yes. But to me the bureaucratic overreach and petty vindictive bungling has for its cause substantial elements of Parkinson’s Law meeting the Peter Principle: namely, that the work will expand to fill the time allotted for its completion while everyone involved rises to their level of incompetence.

  14. Gabriel Meyr says:

    Good article. But how can you start it off by saying you’re “not pro-Snowden or anti-Snowden”? Looks like your commitment to objectivity uselessly contradicts the conclusions you draw later in the piece.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      You’re reading more into it than is there, and ignoring my qualification. The sentence reads, “I am not pro-Snowden or anti-Snowden, because to put it that way unnecessarily personalizes the issue.” The point I am trying to make is that I don’t think Snowden, yay! or Snowden, boo! is a good way of arguing about this case. My views are more complicated than that. And whether he’s a hero, a narcissist, a creep, etc. clouds the issue.

      I think he took a principled action in trying to alert the public about the overreaches of the NSA. I think the debate that’s followed from his actions has been a good thing, a necessary thing. And I believe those views are made sufficiently clear in this post. I’m not ready to defend everything he has done or said. I might be critical of part of it, and agree with the rest of it. Thus: not pro, or anti.

      I’m not claiming any sort of “objectivity,” a word you imported. I’m trying to elude crude categories that don’t help us and don’t express my thoughts on the matter.

      • D Davies says:

        Mr Snowden did “take a principled action” but there’s something more, which, I think, the word “service” describes. Service to one’s fellows is based in love. It took me the better part of two weeks before I recognized, was struck by and then overwhelmed by Mr Snowden’s expressive action. I continue to be awed by the singularity of it.

  15. Bob Lippman says:

    Missing in this discussion is this: the effect on the many decent individuals engaged in this overreach who are aware that it is not only unlawful but also unethical.

  16. Lance says:

    Excellent piece.

    You may want to dig in one step further though:

    what is electronic surveillance, in effect, used for – in the first place ?

    (I know: this is not the question you raised.)

    But as far as I know and as far as it is documented, electronic surveillance is used primarily for PROTECTION. So what’s wrong with protection ? Heck who would not protect himself or his/her loved ones ? This is so strong an argument that there is almost no dissent — the consent is almost obvious and your question

    “Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver?”

    is only about the details of that protection that the state/the government/the mafia gang – oops sorry cross that out- provides you. Should you be privy to those details or not ? It probably depends on your level of closeness to the state/the government, etc.

    But — as you climb up the ladder — you discover the obvious: the essence of protection and the absolute necessity of electronic surveillance. The state definitely needs to protect itself FROM US. This is what you call “the state’s freedom to maneuver”. And the extreme majority of the use of electronic surveillance is exactly this: to protect the state (and those who run it, I am not talking of you and me) against its own citizens.

    So maybe the time is ripe for a real debate on what kind of society we want to live in. Or maybe not. Isn’t it what your question was actually all about ?

    Sorry if I read in too much your piece. :-) Anyway I liked it.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      “So maybe the time is ripe for a real debate on what kind of society we want to live in. Or maybe not. Isn’t it what your question was actually all about ?”

      Yes, pretty much. I was trying to write about a debate we should be having, but what we’re not because we don’t want to face it.

  17. Reader says:

    Excellent analysis sir. One question, it is often implied that legislators who are appalled by the constitutional violations are prevented from disclosing the details of the violations in the legislature. Is this true in a legal sense? Is there some feature of the intel committees that trumps parliamentary privilege?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I linked to an article by a constitutional law scholar on that question but I will repeat it:

      “It’s time for Congress to use its freedom of speech power to force the intelligence debate out into the open….”

      http://goo.gl/ommbdS

      • Ross says:

        a good link (I hope people will follow it), and to a crucial piece of the Constitution I had always wondered about but never seen a treatment of until this.

  18. bmwahlen says:

    These arguments are unnecessarily complicated…the truth (as always) is quite simple: The NSA and all its eves dropping software is just a high tech tool by which criminals, mass murderers, warmongers, fraudsters and the like–keep one step ahead of justice. That’s all.

  19. Jeanne Schork says:

    Why could Senators Udall and Weyden have not taken advantage of the immunity that Senator Mike Gravel invoked when he read the PENTAGON PAPERS into THE CONGRESSIONAL RECORD?

    • Jay Rosen says:

      This is the web, people. Learn to use it. They probably could have done that, as this link (which was provided in my post and again in the comment thread) suggests.

      • D Davies says:

        Members of the House and Senate should IMO get on this immediately. It is deplorable to witness irresponsible public servants dithering around while young people like Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden sacrifice themselves doing the job our representatives were elected to do. I am disgusted.

  20. ralph scenic says:

    When I visited the Soviet Union, in 80’s, I asked a russian I met what he thought about the soviet media. His answer was – simple we just believe the opposite of what they say. That’s the same response that I now give about USG and msm.

    • Spring Texan says:

      Sadly, that seems like a VERY sensible rule.

      They just can’t or won’t stop lying.

    • joe says:

      What always impressed me by something like that is that “most” people knew precisely to read the opposite. Who were they lying to?

      That goes with the spying — in fact, people are right that most people have nothing to fear. Most people even at the height of Soviet intrusiveness could live their lives normally, as they had nothing interesting to say and were no threat to anyone.

      It was Gorbachev, for example, who had to meet with his own advisors in wheat fields in Idaho on summit trips to have a conversation about reform. It wasn’t the janitors at home making a joke, or a teacher having a fling on a vacation. And I’m sure that the latter two knew perfectly well what the real availability of chocolate was, and how the war in Afghanistan was really going (given which population produces draftees)

  21. xelcho says:

    What you are discussing here is clearly a small part of a much bigger issue.

    How is meaningful to contemplate the NSA intelligence effort without first considering how our military is engaged around the world in various forms of violence or threats. Clearly the NSA would have us believe that their efforts dovetail nicely with the magnanimous efforts undertaken by the US military. What is the predictable result of these military mis-adventures? According Jemery Scahill and many many others it is simply to enlist more Muslim extremists, aka “terrorists”. So the left arm (military and drone violence)is developing targets for the right arm (NSA) to “track”. Really, this seems quite childish and uninteresting as it were as many politicians and defense contractors are simply siphoning off our economy. Meanwhile the level of hatred of the US is escalating to ever new heights…

    So why not open all of this to discussion? Why is there no debate of our entire military/intelligence system?

    What are the real goals, what are the tactics employed? If they are unable to survive public debate how can the public be expected to support it?

    X

  22. TuffsNotEnuff says:

    The first hoax related to NSA’s PRISM and other spy-on-civilians programs is that NSA management controls what happens with the data they collect. Plainly, NSA and the White House have no idea how the computer systems work — proven recently when they promised to restrict access to the (irrelevant) query front-end tools.

    This is quite a hoax. It also requires you to believe that NSA does not have direct access to emails and other communications. “Direct,” maybe not. Indirectly through three-hop data stores at the ISPs — that’s what Snowden describes. NSA has to have full linguistic indexes to the ISP archives and that’s how the techs can get to anything in seconds.

    There is a second hoax. That one presents a claim that the Obama White House is accurately informed and controls what happens with these NSA systems. No way.

    Obama’s statements make it clear that he has no idea that NSA has indexed the ISP archives and grabs emails/comm data with no restraints. NSA uses a “hot pursuit” equivalent Order from the FISA court. That makes anything and everything arguably legal. Obama has no idea why building linguistic indexes remotely — at the ISPs, not at NSA — is critical to implement this three-hop spy system.

    As in the dark as Obama is, don’t imagine that G.W. Bush did any better. NSA made up a story and they have told it to every elected official from 2004 to present. In their own minds, the NSA managers have verbal constructs that avoid lying, while they mislead all of the elected Fools.

    Finally, where’s analysis of the down side risks of having these systems in place ??? What was the FBI Special Agent doing with 9,000,000 citizens’ records on his laptop? Was he out shopping them at $ 0.10 a pop? What happens when the White House gets a president matched to Aaron Burr, J. Edgar Hoover, or Dick Cheney? Corporate media hasn’t said a word about the down side.

  23. Michiel Jonker says:

    Gorilla Cookies writes in his last contribution: “The larger point, and this was an issue in both the Manning and now Snowden cases, is that we are now in a world where people can steal large amounts of confidential information very easily.”

    Yes, that is exactly what the NSA, GCHQ etc. are doing.

    Gorilla Cookies continues: “Should journalists (and groups like Wikileaks) encourage that?”

    The answer is: no, of course they should not encourage such criminal spying on millions of innocent citizens. And luckily, they don´t encourage it, but expose it.

    Mr. Gorilla Cookies deplores the fact that Mr. Snowden has broken certain laws, and that some journalists make use of this to make governmental violations of the American constitution known to a large public. He seems to suggest that such journalistic actions, although not illegal, are illegitimate.

    I disagree with that. “Laws” that prescribe secrecy about governmental criminality, and which have on top of that been put into force without the consent of a majority of well-informed, non-bribed representatives of a well-informed public, are not laws, but a form of omerta – the obligation of mafia participants to be silent. Even when such “laws” are “legal” in a formalistic sense, they are not legitimate laws.

    In imperial China, the emperor had a “Mandate of Heaven”. In absolutist France (before the French Revolution), the Kings regarded themselves as being appointed by God. But even the Mandate of Heaven could be lost. And we all know what happened to the French kings after they had ignored the well-being of their “99%” (OK, “5%”) for too long. Mr. Gorilla Cookies seems to be interested only in maintaining a facade of paper laws covering up for illegitimate mafia laws, but not in really legitimate laws and their effective implementation.

    What I miss in this discussion, is the fact that this is not about a balance between security and democracy, but about a balance between, on the one hand, insecurity as a result of a (partly self-created) risk of terrorism, and, on the other hand, insecurity as a result of a derailed, uncontrolled regime at home. Well-informed democracy is not one side of such a balance, but the best insurance against both kinds of insecurity.

    For all I know, Mr. Snowden has acted so far as a true whistleblower: only divulging information that is relevant to the abuses he wanted to draw attention to. The question is not whether Snowden has done too much – it is quite obvious that without his strategy of enabling journalists to publish pieces of information over a longer stretch of time, his actions would not have been effective, in view of all the lies and other power abuse that are applied in order to suppress his message. The question is whether Snowden has done ENOUGH to create a serious chance to bring back democracy and the rule of law to North America and Europe.

    As for newspapers and journalists… so far, only a few of them are drawing their readers´ attention to what is really at stake here. It is a hopeful miracle that in spite of the massive political efforts to befuddle us, more and more people are becoming conscious of the significance of this issue.

  24. Marmalade says:

    Could you change ‘imprimatur’ to ‘nihil obstat’ in the article? Imprimatur and nihil obstat were printed in books authorised by a bishop of the Catholic church – imprimatur means ‘it may be printed’, and ‘nihil obstat’ means ‘let no one hinder [the book appearing]’. In the sentence where imprimatur is used, the author meant just ‘permission’, and here ‘consent to keep secrets’ which makes ‘imprimatur’ a nonsense, or a very sick piece of irony indeed. Its too subtle a point to be an anticatholic slur, more likely just ignorance of the terms and their usage. Please consider a correction to make it make sense.

  25. DesertBunny says:

    Toobin Principle=Toobinthink,a variation on Doublethink.

    • TuffsNotEnuff says:

      Toobin leverages a hoax: “Snowden is a criminal” with his own assertion that pragmatism is irrelevant.

      These RWNJ hoaxes serve as containers for limitless numbers of lies and large numbers of arguments that fit to the Informal Fallacies. Caught iIn the act of serving this hoax, Toobin wants to present himself as a sympathetic person who favors Rule of Law. It’s doublethink and stinking BS too.

  26. Dissent Now says:

    Lol, Toobin. Pwned.

  27. joe says:

    Yes — finally someone starts to get it.

    This mechanism of internal repression — of questions that can not be asked — is systematically crucial. Then you can have perfectly open discussions, as long as certain thoughts are off limit by definition.

    This is most obvious in the current case, where the issues are off-limit by secrecy, not just the details but the very policy questions themselves. But it’s not limited to that — there are a large number of political questions that will immediately brand you as disloyal and anti-American if you even ask them, make the informed consent necessary to claim democratic legitimacy extremely problematic.

    And to go further on this story, Reuters is now reporting that the DEA has been using NSA (and other illegal to use in court) tips since the 70s. After making their case, they go back and scrub the history, inventing an initial source distinct from the factual source so that they can make a court case. The IRS apparently has been involved in this as well.

    So, we’re literally rewriting history so that the NSA-type spying can have judicially effectiveness. In fact, repressing our own legal memory.

    It’s truly astounding. It’s like the crazy-ass postmodernist nutcases were right all along. I’m expecting evil alien reptilian overlords to unmask themselves any day now.

  28. joe says:

    Oh, and look up Carl Schmitt, the legal theorist in Germany in the 1930s. His idea about the state of exception, the power to limit democracy and thereby dispense with it except as a legal fiction, shows the danger of this kind of mechanism of self-repression.

  29. gezzerx says:

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    Joseph Goebbels quote

    If you don’t know who Joseph Goebbels was,Google him,you may be surprised who he was & what he did. Are we becoming what we once despised ? ? ?

  30. proximity1 says:

    RE:

    Disclosure: I am not pro-Snowden or anti-Snowden, because to put it that way unnecessarily personalizes the issue. I am not “for” the National Security Agency or against it. As a U.S. citizen I am implicated in what the NSA does, and I want it to succeed in discovering those who would harm us. My concern, as a writer and journalism professor, is with another fight: the one for public knowledge, for sunlight, for the facts to come out so we know what’s going on. I am primarily interested in the journalism that Edward Snowden has set in motion, and the gains in public knowledge that have resulted from his actions, which I have called the Snowden effect. #

    The question that bothers me most can be put this way: #

    Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver?

    (snip)

    …”People who make a career in journalism cannot pretend to neutrality on a matter like that. If a free society needs them — and I think it does — it needs them to stand strongly against the eclipse of informed consent.

    There’s a great deal I agree with in your article–“Glenn Greenwald sent me.”– and so, I’m puzzled over one point and would like to bring it up for more consideration.

    You’ve aptly noticed some important psychological dysfunctions in the rationalizing of many concerning the whole set of issues in what may be summarized as the Edward Snowden Whistle-blowing affair. I agree with those points you make in noticing that J. Toobin and Piers Morgan, cited, and so many others not cited, in effect do this: “Repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step.”

    So I find it interesting that you, yourself, seem to have something of that in your own reasoning: where you find it necessary to place a disclaimer at the start, informing us that you are “not pro-Snowden or anti-Snowden.”

    I don’t understand that. Again, the whole point of “being ‘Pro-Snowden’, after all, concerns specifically his public acts in which he divulged information showing apparent habitual official crimes to the press. It’s for this that anyone who is an ordinary observer of public affairs knows about E. Snowden at all.

    Since he didn’t become notable for some and notorious for others for any other reasons than these disclosures of apparent official criminal behavior, I can’t see why one ought to, especially given your views, disclaim being “Pro-Snowden”.

    I am ‘Pro-Snowden’ because I approve of what Mr. Snowden did, and I’m Pro-Snowden out of respect for his conscientious acts, his moral stand, his courage to see, recognize and act on his moral understanding of the circumstances in which he found himself as an N.S.A. contract employee –with a working conscience.

    I don’t understand how, except by doing a bit of psychological compartmentalizing, you are able to maintain both the views, highlighted above in boldface.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      I just don’t think “pro-Snowden” is a good way of describing what I am pro. If it works for you in what you support, all good.

      I am not pretending to neutrality on the more vital matter of repealing the principle of an informed public. I am against that. I think it should be fought against– actively. And I think journalists should be in the forefront of that fight.

      Snowden’s most important actions have been the ones that demonstrated what is at stake in what I have called the eclipse of informed consent. These are the views I hold that I am trying to make clear in this post. I hope that helps.

      • D Davies says:

        Being informed is of no value unless one is responsible, which is where Americans seem to come unstuck. Too many avoid responsibility at all costs, wildly abdicating it to anyone who promises to relieve us of it.

        Self-government is hard, time-consuming and exhausting. I don’t recall anyone saying it was going to be easy, just worth it, because, as we are quickly finding out, being exploited and discarded is not much fun.

        • proximity1 says:

          “Being informed is of no value unless one is responsible, which is where Americans seem to come unstuck. Too many avoid responsibility at all costs, wildly abdicating it to anyone who promises to relieve us of it.”

          That is a very important insight–and so true. The current ethos in English-speaking culture, most pronounced in the U.S. version, is precisely this which you describe. I call it the habit of “making a ‘virtue’ of any and everything which one believes, rightly or wrongly ‘to be unavoidable'” and it runs through and through popular opinion on topics of great diversity. It is essentially a resigned approach to the world, a surrender in advance of a fight, apparently based on the easy refuge of believing that “there is nothing anyone can do about …” (whatever the case may be). This is reinforced in myriad was, in all sorts of popular mass media–television, film, recent journalism and books and, still more, all over the discussion fora of the world wide web, which, as a force, do tremendous social harm along with whatever incidental good happens along the way.

      • proximity1 says:

        RE: “I just don’t think “pro-Snowden” is a good way of describing what I am pro. If it works for you in what you support, all good.”

        I believe that these–‘Pro-Snowden’ and ‘pro-‘his public civic-minded actions’ are, whether recognized or not, and however inconvenient to our post-Englightenment morality, inextricably connected, necessarily connected and I believe that this connection is not only necessary, it’s for important reasons also ‘troublesome’ and that this troublesome aspect drives your taking pains to force a distinction between the person (you won’t avow an approval for) and what the person did (which acts you do avow approval for).

        This is to take the individual actor and render him or her an abstraction in some supposedly “larger story”; but advocating such a distinction leaves us, I believe, in exactly the same moral peril as those who are still working in jobs such as Mr. Snowden had and who have read the press, thought over the “issues” and concluded that they’re not implicated, since we may divorce a person from his acts, each may find and make his own way as it suits his own “personal” proclivities. That divorces the moral import of acts from their intimately personal connection with those who in fact act and, again, forgive me repeating myself, this leaves us in precisely the sort of situation which is so well and so easily exploited by the very people who have made a target of Snowden personally for what he took upon himself as an act of moral conviction.

        You, I think, ask of us to focus exclusively on the conviction itself as an abstraction, and this lets all of the rest of us who are and who have bene faced with analogous moral dilemmas, from feeling intensely the obligation to respond to the moral demands of our consciences.

        This, I think, is right at the heart of what is most admirable about what Edward Snowden was able to do and what the vast majority of us find beyond our abilities.

        That is a post-Enlightenment view of moral responsibility, in keeping with the way in which our world has taken in so many respects a “depersonalized” view of reality.

        But, as any respectable Englightenment thinker would argue, “No actor?, then no moral act.”

        • Jay Rosen says:

          Thanks. Interesting.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            Not just “interesting”. Essential and vital. Calling it “interesting” means that you distance yourself from the moral implication of what Proximity1 says, i.e. its implication for YOU.

            Snowden belongs to the small minority of people who want their words and their acts to match each other. That is, the small minority of people who are not cynical or (wilfully) naive. Snowden did not say: “It is interesting that I am participating in unconstitutional acts that threaten to eliminate democracy and the rule of law.” He chose not to be cynical, but to stop doing the wrong thing.

            In addition, he chose to do something about the wrong thing, at great personal risk. This changed him from a merely non-cynical, decent person into a hero (OK, “we can´t all be heroes”… oops, that is again a cynical thing to say).

            A good read on this is Peter Sloterdijk, “Critique of Cynical Reason” (Kritik der Zynischen Vernunft). First published in the early eighties of the 20C, it is more relevant than ever.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            Thanks. I’ve written five posts on the meaning (and consequences for journalists) of what Edward Snowden did. I think you’ll find, if you’ve read them, that I’m taking it pretty seriously– and personally.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            I don´t doubt your good will or your seriousness at all, but I want to point out (following Proximity1’s lead) that in this case, an essentially academic stance, however serious, is at odds with the sort of engagement required to make a difference, in the end.

            I can’t look inside you, and I don’t know the circumstances in which you are making your personal choices. Maybe your academic stance is tactics in order to make your personal contribution more effective.

            But if that is so, these tactics are counterproductive in this case. If you think favourably about Snowden’s actions, while knowing nothing else about him, why would you not admit that, on the basis of the knowledge that is at your disposal, Snowden seems to be a good person?

            By not admitting that, you suggest that there is some other, unmentioned factor influencing your judgement of Snowden as a person. Is it fear to be ridiculed by academic-minded friends or to be accused by authorities of being a “Snowden-fan”? By implicitly showing such fear, instead of explicitly admitting and addressing it, you would weaken the strength of your arguments about the positive value of Snowden’s actions.

            By not committing yourself as a person totally to the CONSEQUENCES of your own argument about Snowden’s actions, you create the impression that your arguments are somehow incomplete, that there is some shadowside to them that you don’t mention. In that way, you do an injustice to your own arguments.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            If there’s something I am not spelling out, it’s that I believe in a more complete separation of private and public than most people do, including many of my readers.

            In this case, the distinction between the private man and the public deeds I rendered as I am not “for” or “against” Snowden. Although I understand why people focus on Snowden the person and the drama of his fate as fugitive, I believe he wants us to focus, and I agree we ought to put our focus, on what he has revealed. That’s why I wrote a post called “the Snowden effect.”

            I recognize that the separation between private man and public deeds is not absolute, and that the two are entwined in some degree, but the distinction is one I try to observe in all of my work.

          • proximity1 says:

            You’re welcome. I want to reiterate that your essay here is one of the best on the topic that I’ve read anywhere, by anyone; I’m grateful to G. Greenwald for drawing attention to it.

            What you point out is _very important_ and few others have looked in so helpful a manner at the underlying facts which you treat. It’s for those reasons that I took up trying to take your own insights and apply them further, to your own approach in other respects.

            There is a question we might ask and seek and answer for: If your assessment is correct here,

            “Repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step. But it’s not just Jeffrey Toobin. Congress did it too.”

            as I agree it is, then we can wonder,

            “How and why do so many people of rather better than average intelligence take that course in their thinking?”

            If so many bright people are doing this, it probably indicates that there’s an inner need at work to which they’re responding; but what exactly and why?

            My response is that the inner need(s) concern their attempt to maintain their cognitive balance faced with a set of circumstances which otherwise put them in a flagrant moral dilemma, one which contradicts their own admirable self image. To protect that–which is of extreme psychic importance–they need some way to rationalize the fact set which is so disturbing. We have seen, in the example of Edward Snowden, what can happen when someone of conscience cannot devise a face-saving rationale: he found it impossible to remain in his position; William Binney and Thomas Andrews Drake, facing similar dilemmas, also couldn’t trick themselves through a rationale and both turned « whistle-blower », the only morally defensible course open once one traverses the reasoning grounds they covered. A lot of very intelligent people are taking great pains to avoid having to follow those examples. This is evidence of something important –morally and socially important—at work. And we, as observers, are in some way also confronted.

            That, I think, is the aspect so many find outrageous–though unacknowledged– in Edward Snowden’s disclosure: his moral example has put all of us before a very urgent moral issue and escaping it has become both urgent and difficult. Yet many are trying to find an escape. And I think that is behind what we witness in the comments above by Jeffrey Toobin, for example.

            I want to thank you and your probing article for the fact that it has prompted me to sharpen and refine my thinking on these issues. Before I read your piece, I hadn’t seen things in quite the way I do now.

            • I also have to thank D DAVIES @ August 9, 2013 at 2:54 am and MICHIEL JONKER for their follow-up comments which I read and very much appreciated and for the reading recommendation referring to Peter Sloterdijk, “Critique of Cynical Reason” (Kritik der Zynischen Vernunft.

            And, in reading your article, « The Snowden Effect », your reference and link to Matthew Cooper’s essay, « Why Edward Snowden’s Motives Matter », which I thought was also exceptionally good analysis throughout.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            @Jay Rosen and @Proximity1

            Thanks to both of you for this exchange of thoughts. It offers me consolation, and I will explain why. But first I’d like to react to Jay’s latest comment.

            You write: “If there’s something I am not spelling out, it’s that I believe in a more complete separation of private and public than most people do, including many of my readers.”

            This is an extremely important point, in at least two ways. Summarizing them: (1) The banality of evil (Hannah Ahrendt) is made possibile by a radical separation of the private and public domain. “Privately, I love my family and my dog. Publicly, I only followed the orders of my superiors when I did horrible things. So as a person, I’m not responsible for what happened.” (2) Invasion of a person’s privacy is not the same as evaluation or judgement of a person’s character on the basis of his or her public acts.

            You write: “Although I understand why people focus on Snowden the person and the drama of his fate as fugitive, I believe he wants us to focus, and I agree we ought to put our focus, on what he has revealed.”

            I agree with you here, but as it happens, Snowden has also, and most importantly, revealed something to a large public about the psychological mechanisms (in big organisations) that make terrifying abuses possible, and about the psychological mechanisms (as exemplified in his own person) that are required to counter such abuses and to limit the damage that they are causing. Snowden makes, as a person, a very strong moral appeal to us all – to us as persons.

            You write: “I recognize that the separation between private man and public deeds is not absolute, and that the two are entwined in some degree, but the distinction is one I try to observe in all of my work.”

            I am afraid that, in this case, you will have to sacrifice part of the paradigm on the basis of which you have thus far been doing your work, in order to enable yourself to take your work a step further. It is required by the nature of this specific case in combination with the nature of the private-public entwinement. It would be, in a deep sense, immoral to exclude personal considerations from your evaluation of the merits of Snowden’s actions, and those of the journalists (like Greenwald) and newspapers (like The Guardian) that are vital to the effectiveness of Snowden’s actions.

            The reason that I feel consoled by our exchange of thoughts, is that it makes me feel less alone. Some years ago, I became a whistle-blower. The abuse in question was of very small proportions compared to what many other whistleblowers have revealed, especially since then. I even managed to stay employed by my employer for the time being, in spite of publicity. However, all the psychological mechanisms (both individual and collective) that one sees occurring in the Snowden case, also occurred in my case, as in the cases of almost all whistleblowers who are not silenced prematurely.

            The many ways in which people distance themselves psychologically from whistleblowers, are one of the reasons why most whistleblowers succumb to the psychological burden that follows their choice to divulge something. For people who have managed to stay “inside the fold”, it is almost impossible to image what it does with a person when one is “out in the cold” for a long time – having to defend oneself without receiving substantial support from well-meaning people. It would be interesting to get statistics about the percentage of whistleblowers who get heart attacks, compared to non-whistleblowers.

            What triggered me to respond to this article about the “Toobin principle”, is that you, Jay, address some of these mechanisms, while at the same time implicitly obeying another member of the same family. That IS very interesting.

            Please don’t think that I’m laughing AT you. The process that I’ve been going through, has made it necessary for me to look at my own mechanisms as well, in fundamental ways. And believe me, it is a zoo. I am quite sure that Snowden is working hard these days, not only on “the big game”, but also doing a lot of self-reflection. It is the only way to survive the process as a HUMAN being.

            It would be so healthy if people like Clapper, Alexander and Obama would turn part of their attention away from power-play in order to balance it with real self-reflection. But I’m afraid they are quite addicted to power-play and their position somewhere high up in their herd, which they try to make also our herd – ignoring their chances to participate in a real community. And despite well-groomed public appearances, their addiction to power cannot but have a deep influence on their private life as well.

          • joe says:

            @Jonker: You’re talking about a much more radical separation than what Jay is talking about here.

            Not intentionally bringing in your point of view — or even trying to disavow it — is perfectly reasonable as a particular kind of argument. Claiming that C is true regardless of whether A or B (even knowing that I think A) is a very strong argument for C.

            That’s very different from saying that “I’m personally for A, but in public I do B for pragmatic reasons”, which is a common political position that introduces issues of “banality of evil”. It’s particular common among liberals who want to claim credit of “good intentions” even when they’re real intentions as analyzed by their effective speech and actions are in direct opposition to those claimed intentions.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            @Joe (13 August, 8:14 AM)

            Thanks for probing my position. Here follows my commment on your probe.

            You write: “@Jonker: You’re talking about a much more radical separation than what Jay is talking about here.”

            Well, Jay Rosen does not specify how radical the separation is that he, in his work, wants to make between the “private” and the “public” domain. So what you are doing here, is to try to fill in the void that Jay leaves. What I did, was to imply that an argument which leaves such a void, is not convincing, because it opens the door for moral acceptance of “banal forms of evil”. (Like a chain, an argument is as strong as its weakest link.)

            You continue, trying to fill the void: “Not intentionally bringing in your [i.e. Jay´s] point of view — or even trying to disavow it — is perfectly reasonable as a particular kind of argument. Claiming that C is true regardless of whether A or B (even knowing that I think A) is a very strong argument for C.”

            Sorry, but that is not what Jay did. Jay asserted that he, Jay, is not “for” or “against” Snowden (Snowden as a person who made a moral choice to divulge information, and a pragmatic AND moral choice to survive AND maintain his ability to talk in the future by keeping himself out of the reach of the US government – including the US “justice apparatus”, which has been severely compromised in several ways).

            Jay gave a strong hint that he in fact was thinking A (i.e. sympathizing with Snowden), but he did not want to be taken up on that hint. That is a form of hypocrisy.

            Jay´s position would have been convincing, or at least consistent, if he had said that he is both “for” Snowden and “for” Obama, Clapper, Alexander etc. – hoping that all of them will make good moral choices in the future. But that is not what Jay said.

            You continue: “That’s very different from saying that “I’m personally for A, but in public I do B for pragmatic reasons”, which is a common political position that introduces issues of “banality of evil”.”

            Alas for your argument, this is exactly what Jay implied/hinted: that he is personally sympathizing with Snowden, but that he does not sympathize in public, for pragmatic reasons (his reason being that he wants to focus attention on the content of Snowden´s revelations, not on Snowden´s person or “saga”).

            Jay wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to be perceived as being a strong defender of a well-informed public, but he also wants to be perceived as being free of any moral association with the man Edward Snowden. In order to achieve this, Jay formally denies having a positive opinion about the morals of the man who made a well-informed public possible, while at the same time hinting that he (Jay) has such a positive opinion.

            You conclude: “It’s particular[ly] common among liberals who want to claim credit of “good intentions” even when [their] real intentions as analyzed by their effective speech and actions are in direct opposition to those claimed intentions.”

            Jay does two things: (1) He wants to claim credit of good intentions, and merits this credit by taking a stand in favour of a well-informed public; (2) He wants to claim credit of good intentions, but says something in opposition to such intentions, by denying his moral association with Snowden.

            This shows that Jay´s loyalty is divided. He wants to do the right thing, but does not want to risk losing part of his position in terms of his relations with his academic, journalistic and political network.

            My experience as a whistleblower (see above) has taught me that one cannot count on the support of people with a divided loyalty, when things get really unsavoury. This does not diminish my respect for Jay´s valuable contribution in the present phase of the process.

            But it influences my expectations about his behaviour if things would get really difficult. For instance, taking a hypothetical thought example, if Congress, judges and key functionaries of newspapers would get seriously, secretly and massively intimidated by the US government, I am not sure where Jay would stand then. Maybe he would opt for safety and leave certain other people to their fate.

            In fact, I am not sure of my own behaviour in such a case, either.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            P.S. Confession, for the sake of intellectual honesty: suddenly I remember that I´ve said somewhere else, about a month ago: “It is not about Snowden as a person. It is not about legal hair-splitting (Snowden breaking some secrecy laws that seem straightaway inspired by mafia practices). It is not about spying on diplomats. It is about spying on millions of innocent citizens.”

            So a month ago I said that it is not about Snowden as a person, and now I criticize Jay Rosen for saying he is not “for” or “against” Snowden as a person. Why?

            The reason is that, about a month ago, I was afraid that the US and European governments would succeed in their attempts to divert attention from the content of Snowden´s revelations, in order to be able to label him as a criminal. Now that it is clear that these attempts have more or less failed (for the time being, in the USA and Germany), and Snowden is widely recognized as an honest whistleblower who revealed true and very relevant facts, it has become less risky to emphasize the importance of the moral example he gives us as a person.

            So there was “political” rhetoric in my statement of a month ago. At the time, I was not conscious of that. Interesting.

            It would be even more interesting to hear whether Jay Rosen’s statement about not being “for” or “against” Snowden as a person, has comparable roots.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            Re: roots. One of them is this statement by Snowden:

            “I don’t want public attention because I don’t want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing.”

            He does not fear the consequences of going public, he said, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. “I know the media likes to personalise political debates, and I know the government will demonise me.”

            http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/09/edward-snowden-nsa-whistleblower-surveillance

          • joe says:

            @Jonker: You continue: “That’s very different from saying that “I’m personally for A, but in public I do B for pragmatic reasons”, which is a common political position that introduces issues of “banality of evil”.”

            Alas for your argument, this is exactly what Jay implied/hinted: that he is personally sympathizing with Snowden, but that he does not sympathize in public, for pragmatic reasons (his reason being that he wants to focus attention on the content of Snowden´s revelations, not on Snowden´s person or “saga”).

            ============

            This is where you crucially missed my argument (and I failed to properly explain it). I’m arguing against the “banality of evil” being mere hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is one of the least sins, that has been blown up to vast extents to avoid making real moral choices.

            The “pragmatic” public choice I’m talking about isn’t public virtue that you can’t live up to. It’s a pragmatic immoral act that contravenes your private morals. It’s the inverse of hypocrisy, where you fulfill your evil public duty yet save your personal virtue because you’re kind to neighbors, dogs and small children.

            That’s not what Jay is doing. He is playing a rhetorical game — but claiming that he isn’t “for” or “against” Snowden is merely a rhetorical ploy. It’s not an evil act against his innermost heart that he does as a pragmatic requirement of the day. It’s just setting the stage for a conversation.

            Save the moral condemnation for real sins. It devalues the entire concept when it becomes one more tool in the internet argument arsenal. There really are bad guys out there who exemplify the “banality of evil”.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            @Jay Rosen (13 August, 9:29 AM)

            Thanks for explaining about the “root” that persuaded you to say that you are not “for” or “against” Snowden. You wanted to follow Snowden’s wishes, and to follow his strategy of focusing on the content of his revelations. Two questions:

            1. Do you agree that it can, in some situations, help Snowden if you, as a journalist and as a professor of journalism, adopt a different position from that of Snowden himself? For instance by stating that the story of Snowden’s personal moral choices form a vital part of the Snowden effect?

            2. Do you agree that the risk that Snowden’s personal story is succesfully abused for diverting attention from the content of his revelations, has been over for the last couple of weeks?

            If you agree with both points, could that be a reason to revise your position and now admit that you are in fact “for” Snowden, in the sense that you explicitly applaud his moral act of divulging information to the public, including his breaking certain secrecy laws that would otherwise have prevented him from divulging this information? Because it was the only way in which Snowden could enable the public to become “well-informed” informed again, after having been totally deceived by governments and major internet companies?

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            @Joe (August 16 at 4:24 AM)

            I think you are making things needlessly complex, and that this contribution of yours is not entirely coherent. Now you seem to introduce a distinction between three kinds of behaviour: (1) “banal evil” (doing evil deeds while invoking orders /laws /wishes from above in an attempt to be absolved from personal responsibility); (2) “mere hypocrisy”; (3) “rethorical ploys”. You claim that Jay Rosen is behaving in the third way, with which there is nothing wrong – according to you.

            Well, let’s be a bit rough. Following your reasoning, it could be said of Mr. Goebbels (minister of propaganda of the Nazi regime) that he was just playing a rhetorical game. In your words: “It’s just setting the stage for a conversation.”

            And, still following that reasoning, the same could then also be said of many generals, for instance the American generals who directed the Vietnam war – they did not shoot themselves, did they? They only, well, persuaded others to do that, referring to certain laws and duties… Sorry, but in my opinion that kind of reasoning is very unsound.

            Rhetoric by intelligent, knowledgeable people concerning important public matters is never innocent. What Jay does – denying that he is “for” or “against” Snowden as a person, i.e. as a person who made moral choices and acted according to them – is a subtle way of forsaking Snowden and the morals for which Snowden put everything at risk.

            Who was that biblical figure again who denied three times that he had seen… One does not need to be a Christian to recognize the moral content of this biblical story.

          • JOE says:

            @Joinkers:

            Goebbels, really? Curtis LeMay, really?

            I know the internet loves legalism, but I don’t think your analogies have any substance. That Rosen is trying to shift the argument away from Snowden and focus on the important matters has no moral overlap with a propaganda campaign that resulted in the death of millions.

            Step away from the argument. Step away from the words — there’s no banality of evil here, or hypocrisy. There’s a dude who at worst covered up his private inclination to focus his argument.

            If that’s a Judas or Peter, we’ve sunk back into the legalism that ultimately is what the guys you referenced LOVE.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            @Joe (August 17, 2013 at 8:59 AM)

            Joe, could you please spell my name correctly? I’d really appreciate that. That’s not legalism, but just plain civility. By the way, what is your full name? Afraid to mention it?

            You completely miss the point. When I referred to interpreting the behaviour of Goebbels or certain generals as innocent, I did not make any comparison with Jay’s behaviour. I referred to your way of reasoning, which can be used to arrive at such absurd conclusions. My point was that this shows that your way of reasoning is very unsound, because with such reasoning you can argue that ANYBODY, even the greatest villain, is not responsible for his deeds.

            Such unsound reasoning should not be applied to the behaviour of Jay Rosen. He deserves better.

            You write that Rosen’s behaviour “has no moral overlap with a propaganda campaign that resulted in the death of millions.” I don’t know what you mean with “no moral overlap”, to me it sounds like a term that can serve to create certain taboos. I don’t like that kind of taboos (political correctness). But I definitely think there is no need whatever to compare Jay Rosen’s behaviour to that of people responsible for many killings. Strange that you thought I would make such a comparison.

            Then you write: “Step away from the argument.” That is what I would advise you to do – with reference to your argument (reasoning) which I criticized. But in order to do that, you first have to recognize and identify what kind of argument you actually made.

            You write: “There’s a dude who at worst covered up his private inclination to focus his argument.” No, I think that is disingenious of you to say. Jay Rosen is perfectly able to focus his argument without disclaiming his opinion (“for” or “against”) regarding Snowden’s moral choices and actions.

            You conclude: “If that’s a Judas or Peter, we’ve sunk back into the legalism that ultimately is what the guys you referenced LOVE.” Huh? Why would it be legalism to criticize somebody for looking away, or for subtly forsaking somebody who made a brave choice? Please explain.

          • joe says:

            @Jonker: I referred to your way of reasoning, which can be used to arrive at such absurd conclusions.

            That’s a fallacious argument. Any non-mathematical argument, taken out of context, leads to absurd conclusion. This is pretty much the entire history of philosophy: take a perfectly good argument, apply it out of context, and then show how it leads to absurd results to try to prove that the common understanding in the first place was wrong.

            That has led to hugely wasted time and effort. And now, completely off-topic, which is that at best you accuse Jay of a minor misdemeanor.

            Everyone has divided loyalty. There is no purity in this world — and if you believe you have it, that’s pretty good evidence that you’re fooling yourself.

            I understand that you want deep reflection about these things — but deep reflection has to start with the ways we fool ourselves, not rhetorical devices that may or may not be to our taste.

  31. Rob says:

    Good analysis and commentary. I think you and Will Wilkinson are right in identifying the core of the problem being the idea that “national security” (and its related issues) is too “important” to be left for the public to decide. Ultimately, it’s about democracy. Said differently, in a certain sense, people like Toobin don’t really believe in democracy and think that these issues can and should be worked out by a specialized class of individuals operating more or less in the dark, who supposedly have our best interests at heart. Hence the need for swift and ostentatious repression – to send a message – when leaks disrupt that well-oiled system, as we saw in the Bradley Manning case.

    The contradiction between on the one hand welcoming the debate occasioned by people like Snowden and Manning, profiting from it, and on the other finding the actions which brought about the debate reprehensible is the classic contradiction which appears in people who have the luxury of debating these issues but who would risk nothing themselves to raise them.

    They can take advantage of federal whistle-blower laws; they can bring their complaints to Congress; they can try to protest within the institutions where they work. But Snowden did none of this.

    - This is often said about Manning by his detractors and, as is the case with Snowden, is contradicted by their own statements, which show that they were discouraged from pursuing certain avenues. The reason they leaked these materials is precisely because they knew that to be the only way to concretely affect policy, all other avenues being closed to them.

  32. At a more fundamental level, the term “classified” has clearly become strictly meaningless. The US government’s pathological need to operate in secret leads it to “classify” just about everything, even going so far as to re-classify publicly available information from the past. And when any government starts believing in the mutability of the past as a means of controlling the future, then we have truly entered an Orwellian world.

    • joe says:

      Look at the Reuter’s DEA story on “parallel construction”, where NSA tips are vacuumed from history.

  33. RuizM says:

    `

    [ “The Toobin Principle:

    repeal the concept of an informed public, repress your decision to take such a drastic step because it’s too much to face ” ]

    ===

    Toobin’s problem distills down to plain old cognitive dissonance — very common in journalism, politics, religion, and life.

    Toobin is personally insignificant except to highlight how rational, well educated, well-intentioned people so easily embrace illogical and destructive viewponts. It helps explain how are government guided America into its present dystopia.

    ===

    “Most people would rather die than think – in
    fact, they do ” –George Santayana

  34. An interesting article that allows rhetoric to replace analysis. Take Mr. Risen’s question “What part would you not want to see?” How can that be answered? It cannot. Why? Because the answer reveals the context and the wider security. Taken in isolation any single piece of information looks harmless.

    Secondly, people were discussing secrecy and surveillance before Snowden. The media has made it a big issue so it must be new. Alas, research would show that it has been a key concern for a lot of people inside and outside the government for a long time. Top media story does not make it new, but then that is how journalism works these days.

    In terms of the practical issue, an opponent looks to do is build up a mosaic of understanding of a country’s capabilities so it can defeat those capabilities. To find out about those capabilities, a country will look at a variety of sources mainly open and then closed to build up a picture. There is a lot of noise, distractions, from which the signal needs to be found. An opponent may wait years for various signals to identify the targeted information. The more it is hidden, the harder it is to extract the parts to reverse engineer it. Leaving that aside, there is a deeper flaw within this whole approach.

    Most readers need to start with Pozen’s work on secrecy. https://www.law.upenn.edu/institutes/cerl/conferences/ethicsofsecrecy/papers/reading/Pozen.pdf and follow Steven Aftergood’s excellent blog http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/

    Reading Pozen’s article and Mr. Aftergood’s blog would help us to avoid having uninformed journalists trying to explain secrecy issues to the uninformed public. This is not a criticism, it is to point out that most commentary is going from a pre-set rhetorical or political position rather than a sustained or examined body of knowledge. Moreover, the public is trying to digest this half or pre-digested punditry without a baseline or a frame of reference. We get the miller lite of analysis (Privacy Good (Taste great) Security Good (less filling) rather than informed debate. Dueling soundbites is not informed debate.

    The flaw that I mentioned is twofold. First, we elect representatives to work for us and to maintain scrutiny of the government. The public while interested are trying to get on with their lives and do not have the time nor the interest to be their own representatives 24/7. To put it differently, but directly, America is *not* a direct democracy. We forget the democratic process in our indignation that the NSA is doing its job.

    Second, we forget that America is engaged in serious conflicts around the world with people who very much want to kill and maim Americans (and its allies) as and when they can. As a result, the United States (and all countries) operates a surveillance system. (Quick name a country that does not have a surveillance system of some sort.) To prevent this surveillance is needed. As the threats have changed, all the 9/11 attackers were inside the United States before the attack, and are not state sponsored, it is very difficult to identify them. (They usually avoid publishing their intent and membership lists on the web). This is why it is rather disingenuous to focus on the Patriot Act, when the Public Law 107-40 presents a more compelling case for why the NSA is doing what it does.

    The final point to note is that this blog entry is an analysis of the media response to a media issue. At best, it is a meta analysis of the security issues and a proxy for the public’s opinion on the role of the NSA. What the media and the journalists believe and do is not the same as what the public believe and do nor is it what the elect their representatives to do.

    Other than those minor points, this is a well written piece that stimulates thinking and presents an insightful analysis of the media’s response to the issue.

    • joe says:

      America is a representative democracy and not a direct democracy. Pseudo-intellectual balderdash — throw in some Madison to win the jackpot.

      Representative democracy has never worked on the principle that we pick personalities which then have free reign. Almost every society would be democratic under such a definition, and that in fact goes way beyond Bolzhevik democratic centralism in putting form over substance.

      Even going back to Madison, representative democracy means that we elect policy makers on the basis of their history of making policy, and continue to reelect them on their transparent history of policy decisions.

      They are our agent. An agent continue in good graces on the basis of how well they advance our interests when we audit them, not by picking them by “character” or some such theological nonsense. They represent us in the sense that they are doing what we believe we would do, if we had the time and education to do so, not in the sense that they are some organic sampling of us.

      The only way to know whether they are in fact representing our interests is to audit their decisions. If we are incapable of that, and are asked to trust their private judgment, then we are not being represented by them at all — we are merely consenting to be ruled by them.

      And that’s no more democratic than the election of kings during the dark ages.

    • joe says:

      “Other than those minor points, this is a well written piece that stimulates thinking and presents an insightful analysis of the media’s response to the issue.”

      And that’s just trollish. You present such points as “You forget that we’re at war”, “You have no idea about our theory of government”, and “This is merely navel gazing”; then you add nonsense politeness, which is simply an insult to the reader, as if you could go around our rationality with this flimsy “civility”.

      Civility without substance, a classic move of the propagandist. You know, the folks reading here can tie their shoes without your help.

  35. proximity1 says:

    @ Michiel Jonker: August 11, 2013 at 6:41 am

    Rationalisations are one of the most frequent and the most formidable tactics in coping with the dissonance that we face, the unsettling inconguencies between what our objective observations relate to us and what we’d prefer to see and believe to be the truth, the facts.

    Anyone who accepts the moral challenge to challenge a belief or a set of practices which are false but commonly-accepted and, most of all, approved by authorities is going to provoke hostility from _most_ others who by definition are ‘the crowd’ that goes along to get along.

    Michiel, you may have at some point taken solace in reflecting on the fact that those still faithless, the protectors of the false system, are the people who have failed morally and their castigations of you are the evidence of their deep insecurity. Their denunciations can be understood as the “homage” a fraud and pays to those whose morals are superior to their own. This is also something that there is clear evidence of Edward Snowden’s having understood. In his public remarks, he’s clearly not impressed with the attempts by President Obama to position himself on the moral high ground, which any honest person can see he has no place on.

    Another remark on the “personal vs. public” aspects of the Snowden affair:

    some issues are mainly personal in character, other mainly public. Still others are par excellence ones which have both an essential personal aspect and a public aspect. Issues which concern political morals are perhaps the most ideal example of the type which are necessarily at once personal and public. To look for a way to separate or lessen the significance of one or the other is to distort the character of the matter at hand and to invite a view which “crops the image” to the detriment of the observer.

    In this, a “personal vs. public” approach presents a false dichotomny, I think. In order to gain the valuable moral lessons that this affair presents for us, we have to reject that tempting view and recognize that in this and other vital issues, there is no valid “personal vs. public” distinction to be made. These are matters which, because they are political, are essentially public, and, because they are moral in character, are no less essentially personal.

    Finally, that leads me to this observation which I’d very much like to see discussed in greater depth somewhere:

    There is something particularly pathetic in the assuptions and the collective behaviors of the president and his supporters in their effort to defend themselves morally and intellectually. I have in mind that their entire posture is one which implicitly denies and ignores what is essential about our technological & moral predicament.

    Here is my rough-draft brief of the matters we have still to address very seriously :

    U.S. society, like practically all the other similar modern high-technology nation states (Britain, France, Germany, Italy– “Western Europe & Japan” in general– are rotting morally from within while what are more and more evidently desperate efforts to shore up a society via technological “fixes” are officialdom’s norm in response.

    That, we ought to recognize, is pathetic and it’s emblematic of what is going so terribly wrong in our societies.

    Internal moral rot cannot be remedied by greater and greater efforts to supervise and control–however imopressive the technology being used may be.

    “This moral rot, which is put down to diverse causes according to conflicting political ideologies (Allan Bloom made a reactionary conservative’s case in his book, The Closing of the American Mind, while others, to whose views I subscribe, countered with a very different analysis, while still agreeing in substance that there are very deep and serious defaults in our society’s course–see, e.g. Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology as one of the best examples of the views I support), is only worsened by the measures being taken to, it is claimed, make and keep us safer from danger. But whatever the political ideological point of view, the facts before us are rightly alarming and they cannot be seriously addressed by resorting to still-more-strictly-imposed authority, backed by every more invasive and imposing technology, however benign the sales pitches and the public realtions campaigns to lure the public into acceptance.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      From the conclusion to my earlier post, The Snowden effect: “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.”

      • Michiel Jonker says:

        It seems you make a distinction now between “not being either for Snowden or against Snowden” and “regarding the Snowden effect as more important than the Snowden saga”.

        Proximity1’s comment was about the disclaimer at the beginning of your present post that you are not “for” or “against” Snowden. By reverting to your distinction the “Snowden effect” and the “Snowden saga” as made in your earlier post, you dodge the discussion about your disclaimer.

        Even if you regard the “Snowden saga” as less important, it does not need to mean that you have no opinion about Snowden as a person. So why the disclaimer?

        Moreover, the “Snowden effect” as you described it, implies a moral awakening by a large public, their representatives, and journalists. This moral awakening can only described meaningfully by taking into account the personal roles fulfilled by Snowden on the one hand, and his adversaries (e.g. Clapper, Alexander, Holder, Obama) on the other hand.

        The widespread indignance about what governments and their secret services have done, is rather consistently expressed in terms like “the lying bastards” and “Snowden is a hero”. It is the personal roles fulfilled by the whistleblower and his antagonists, which people can identify with or abhor.

        Calling the “Snowden saga” less important than the “Snowden effect” is like calling the heart less important than the total blood circulation system: in theory it is correct, because a heart could be replaced by a transplant; but in practice it is meaningless, because this transplant would also be a heart of sorts. The Snowden saga is a vital part of the Snowden effect.

        The theoretical possibility that there could have been a John Smith saga and therefore a John Smith effect, is hardly a good reason for calling the Snowden saga “less important” than the Snowden effect.

        So why bother?

        I smell fear.

        I have experienced fear myself. If you are afraid, this does not lessen my respect for you. What would disappoint me, is unwillingness to acknowledge this fear as the true reason for claiming not to be “for” or “against” Snowden, and for looking away from the central importance of the morals, choices and history of specific, named persons for what happens in this world at this moment.

        • proximity1 says:

          Your comment here (@ 7:37 p.m.) presents my own sentiments exactly, down to the smallest detail. Thank you–again–for stating things so clearly and so well.

    • Michiel Jonker says:

      @Proximity1 (August 11, 8:36 AM)

      I agree with your remark about rationalisations that are used by people in an attempt to reduce their own stress, when that results from cognitive dissonance (meaning: their perception of the difference between the world as it is, and how they deeply long for it to be – a perception that causes them to feel pain, and then fear).

      How much cognitive dissonance can we stand? We all get some training. But we can react to this training in different ways. Roughly speaking: either by repressing our perception (of which the Toobin principle is an example, as pointed out by Jay Rosen, but of which the disclaimer of Jay Rosen himself also seems to be an example); or by acknowledging our perception (not the perception of our neighbour, but our own) and dealing with it, for instance by taking action in the real world (like Snowden has done), and/or by mourning consciously about things we are unable to change.

      Moral superiority is a very tricky issue. Claiming the “moral high ground” for oneself can easily become a way of repressing certain perceptions, and of manipulating other people – as we have seen Obama trying to do in the first speech about the NSA-spying in which he took a stand, just before he went on holiday.

      Claiming moral superiority can also create a lot of antagonism, if it is done in a way that belittles other people, directly or indirectly. The higher the hierarchical position of a person in his community, the bigger his space for claiming moral superiority without creating antagonism inside this community. The Pope is a good example of this. The way in which Obama claimed moral superiority in his speech, shows that he has a narrow view of the community he belongs to. He has lost touch with a lot of people. And he seems to underestimate the loss of authority (i.e. informal position) that he has incurred in the last two (or six) months.

      Snowden, on the other hand, seems to have been very aware of the risks of (the attribution of) moral superiority – as you also point out. Already in his first interview he asserted that he was just a normal American.

      You write: “Michiel, you may have at some point taken solace in reflecting on the fact that those still faithless, the protectors of the false system, are the people who have failed morally and their castigations of you are the evidence of their deep insecurity. Their denunciations can be understood as the “homage” a fraud pays to those whose morals are superior to their own.”

      I did not take solace in a view like that, because I felt that such a view would not help to improve the situation in any practical way.

      What Snowden seems to do, is not claiming moral superiority, but allowing people´s perception of it to do its work, without himself getting attached to the way in which people perceive him.

      While the leaders who are responsible for the spying activities use (manipulative) power in order to win the battle, Snowden uses (moral) strength.

      In Snowden, very talented deceivers like Keith Alexander and Obama seem to have found a very talented, honest opponent. That the best may win!

  36. joe says:

    In regards to total surveillance of emails across international boundaries, Judith A. Emmel said in the NYT:

    “In carrying out its signals intelligence mission, N.S.A. collects only what it is explicitly authorized to collect,” she said. “Moreover, the agency’s activities are deployed only in response to requirements for information to protect the country and its interests.”

    That’s an interesting quote to parse, in terms of this repression. Since we can’t have a publication discussion of what the “explicitly authorized to collect is”, since that is interpreted by secret DOJ finding, and since we can’t discuss what it “our country and its interests”, since those are also defined by secret DOJ findings and secret cases, in fact those terms mean precisely what a very small collection of people define them to mean, with no possible feedback from the rest of the human race, other than whether we like the cut of their gib.

    Once transparency is gone, words themselves lose any possibility of being tied to meaning. Once meaning is gone, what do we have left?

  37. I just wish the public would have read what the government already published for years on the surveillance state.

    Perhaps that is the news story we need to consider, why is it the public only take notice when the press publicize the issue?

    Here is the public report from the Congressional Research Service from 2006 on the NSA programme. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/m010506.pdf

    Or this law school article on the constitutionality of the warrantless programme. http://bit.ly/1eEuyf7

    Or this report that explains the amendment, that gives immunity to telecommunications providers for providing the data.

    Wow, we need Snowden to tell us what was already published in 2006 and a concern from 2001 onward. Or failing that, they could have subscribed to Secrecy news and seen this discussion since 2006. http://blogs.fas.org/secrecy/?s=fisa&submit_x=-957&submit_y=-81&post_type=post&paged=10

    Is this really news or is someone’s political agenda at work? Perhaps that is story we need to consider. Why now? Who benefits from this “disclosure”.

    • Jay Rosen says:

      Yes, why doesn’t the general public read more law review articles? It’s a big fat mystery.

      • I would not expect the public to read law articles. I would expect them to look beyond the headlines and hype presented as “new and breaking” and use their own critical reason and the internet to consider whether the hype is justified. I found the reports by using the search terms NSA, warrantless, surveillance and found the relevant information. However, I am less concerned about the public than I am about journalists who are paid to research and write on these topics.

        Wikipedia has dozens of these pages and loads of information. Again, where is the discussion of the retroactive immunity offered by the President. The coverage in 2006 was minor. Is it that it now fits an agenda today?

        I can understand the public not being as interested (so much for the Snowden effect) however, I cannot understand why people, journalists in particular, who are paid to write have not done this research and seem surprised to find out about the reports, the history of the FISA and FICA.

        After all, Madison did argue that “A popular government without popular information
        or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

        If the press are unwilling or unable to do this research, is it any surprise such revelations going back to 2001 are a surprise?

        Event the senate refused to debate it in 2006 when Edward Kennedy and Patrick Leahy brought to the floor. “On January 20, 2006, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee along with lone co-sponsor Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) introduced S. Res. 350, a resolution “expressing the sense of the Senate that Senate Joint Resolution 23 (107th Congress), as adopted by the Senate on September 14, 2001, and subsequently enacted as the Authorization for Use of Military Force does not authorize warrantless domestic surveillance of United States citizens.”[54][55] This non-binding resolution died in the Senate without being brought up for debate or being voted upon.[56]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NSA_warrantless_surveillance_%282001%E2%80%9307%29 Accessed 12 July 2013

        I discuss this and other issues in my post here: http://lawrenceserewicz.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/why-we-have-surveillance/

        The government is talking but who is listening?

        • joe says:

          There is a good question buried in here — but it’s buried under pseudo-intellectual balderdash.

          What Lawrence is implying, is why did the media deign to allow the argument to come forward at all now? Is it due to the extraordinary act by Snowden which put the information in a format accessible to the press, which is composed of folks with undergraduate journalism degrees, which is just a step up from getting a teaching degree at most universities? (Sorry for the snobbery, but it is the truth).

          Or is this the side effect of a bigger fight under covers — that a fight internal to the intelligence services is coming out through the press, maybe purely political and maybe ideological; maybe in fact someone(s) within the system are even upset by the implications of the power handed to them.

          But the problem is that those questions are indeterminate. They are about conspiracies, which even if they do exist, we lack sufficient data to determine them to any useful extent.

          So we should talk about what we do know — which is the data that has come out from the whistleblowers, rather than get distracted by the agendas of others.

          And that is why this “but whadda about the conspiracy” is pseudo-intellectual balderdash.

          • Two comments. First, most people live in 1D, they see life as linear some in 2D, they see some nuance, they are usually around politics, and there are some who live in 3D. They are, as someone once said, the people in washington who can shape a policy without leaving fingerprints. This is not a conspiracy, it is how people influence events. If you wanted to get something disclosed you would make sure that Mr. Snowden and Mr. Greenwald met. Mr. Greenwald was not going to go to the Senate or tell Mr. Snowden to go talk to the NSA. If someone can aid and abet that meeting, especially indirectly, that is something to consider. Look at how book advances worth millions are brokered for the President and others. Or look at how Rahmn Emmanuel made a lot of money, in a field he knew nothing about, yet it gave him the financial position to run for office. All the companies he worked for went bankrupt and the records are not accessible. You can arrange someone to get a payment without paying them. I recall that G. Gordon Liddy (a convicted felon) owns no weapons, but his wife is an avid gun collector. These are not conspiracies, these are how people get things done.

            Second point, the issue was not whether the press let the discussion happen, it is why is it ahistorical. I appreciate that Mr. Greenwald is a master of self-promotion and has done an excellent job of promoting himself and the “scoop”. (Congratulations on the book deal) My concern is that the debate and reporting has been seen without historical roots. Why? The issue is not a conspiracy, nor is it about the material disclosed, it is why the press (this is a media blog after all) lack a historical perspective on this issue.

          • Jay Rosen says:

            “Or look at how Rahmn Emmanuel made a lot of money, in a field he knew nothing about, yet it gave him the financial position to run for office. All the companies he worked for went bankrupt and the records are not accessible.”

            Now you are just spreading wrong information and I am not allowing that.

            Rahm Emanuel went to work for Wasserstein Perella & Company in 1998. It’s true that he did not have a background in finance. He had a rolodex and Washington connections of obvious use. He worked on Mergers and Acquisitions (deals) and helped bring in clients. Wasserstein Perella & Company was sold in 2001 to Dresdner Bank of Germany for $1.4 billion. It did not go bankrupt. You simply made that up. You cannot do that on this site. You will not be allowed to disinform the readers of what I write. Who do you think you are? Some kind of cypto-operative? Go away. Don’t come back.

            http://online.barrons.com/article/SB122973324821923181.html

            http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/04/us/politics/04emanuel.html?pagewanted=all

          • joe says:

            “This is not a conspiracy, it is how people influence events. ”

            Conspiracy: a combination of persons for a secret, unlawful, or evil purpose.

            Yeah, those aren’t examples of super-genius “3d” thinking (gaad, you’re an insufferable twit), but conspiracies. The world is full of them, it’s how the world works, but to claim them without having evidence is just one more propaganda technique. You throw dirt at your opponents, or you make an entire area of inquiry ridiculous by making outlandish, evidence free claims — or a combination of ‘em.

            It’s not particularly clever. Any idiot can use it, with some minimal training. What’s next, we’re going to get a disinfo campaign about how the UFO’s are behind Snowden? Or the reptile lords? Or how Snowden is actually a plant by Putin? Or that the teabaggers are working with Rahm and the Reptile Lords in Kenya?

            If you have some evidence of a particular conspiracy, everyone is all ears. But vague claims that “someone may have helped someone meet” is information free, useless and irrelevant. It’s an attempt to get people to take their eye off the ball, in a fairly transparent way, which of course like all rhetorical devices works very well when someone isn’t paying attention.

            Super crypto-operative indeed.

    • proximity1 says:

      …”why is it the public only take notice when the press publicize the issue?”

      Excuse me but it’s very late in the game to be posing such a question. Are you serious there? Can it really have escaped your notice that generally, and in the U.S. in particular, people are living in a sea of consumer-media distractions, purpose-made to keep them in a semi-dazed state of entertainment-besottedness?

      That doesn’t even inlude the other factors of contemporary life which make following social and political affairs a nearly full-time task. Companies pay fortunes to full-time expert lobbies because in our circumstances, it requires that to stay abreast of and at par with the other competing actors in the struggle to manage and shape public policy and public opinion.

      There is no mystery about how and why an average person is nearly lost and helpless in trying to stay adequately informed through the dense thicket of mis- & dis-information. Things are that way because, all around, this so well serves the interests of the class of privileged who can pay for professional lobbyists and use that tremendous advantage against the rest of us who cannot.

      And, that said, I’m frequently amazed at the incredibly stupid and useless stuff that soaks up hours of radio-broadcast time–time which, in theory, could be devoted to giving the public a good background in the actualities of political affairs. There are programs which purport to do that, of course, but they are without exception, highly stylized and managed to avoid just the sort of brush-clearing explanations which I’m saying mass-broadcast-media have always failed to present except in the most exceptional circumstances. Corporate sponsorship is the mainstay factor in keeping things this way.

      In France, where the majority of the radio broadcasting is still under the aegis of the state’s operations, the situation is no different or better. The best analysis radio, while much better than most things aird in the U.S., is still pathetically lacking in the needed content. In commercial radio, it’s simply not worth tuning in at all. Though I listen from time to time to a 24H business-news station ( “B-FM” : http://bfm.radio.fr/ (they also have a television arm of their coporate propaganda machine) just for occasional refreshers in the stunning propaganda which the public is treated to in matters of finance and corporate politics. It’s amazing.

  38. Sorry, I missed out the article on the retroactive immunity for telecommunications providers.
    http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/RL34600.pdf

  39. proximity1 says:

    RE: “The public never got its day in court.”

    link: Spencer Ackerman article @ The Guardian, U.K. : “Intelligence committee withheld key file before critical NSA vote, Amash claims
    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/12/intelligence-committee-nsa-vote-justin-amash

  40. proximity1 says:

    RE : Joe, from post @ August 16, 2013 at 4:24 am

    While I’m sure that Michiel can answer ably for himself, I have these comments in response to your post.

    I think there’s confusion going on here, but I’m not sure I understand your views well enough from what you’ve written to pinpoint it.

    The “pragmatic” public choice I’m talking about isn’t public virtue that you can’t live up to. It’s a pragmatic immoral act that contravenes your private morals. It’s the inverse of hypocrisy, where you fulfill your evil public duty yet save your personal virtue because you’re kind to neighbors, dogs and small children.

    I don’t understand what you mean by “private morals” (or “public virture” either, by the way) unless you refer to the moral aspects of private acts–as distinguished from public acts, I suppose. But I’m still confused as the relevance of this to the matters discussed.

    That’s not what Jay is doing. He is playing a rhetorical game — but claiming that he isn’t “for” or “against” Snowden is merely a rhetorical ploy. It’s not an evil act against his innermost heart that he does as a pragmatic requirement of the day. It’s just setting the stage for a conversation.

    Again, like Michiel, J.R. can speak for himself better than anyone else on this point; my own reading, though, was not at all that he was engaged in anything that could be described as a deliberate (conscious) ploy on his part–rhetorical or otherwise.

    I think people over-philosophize about the “banality of evil” from Arendt’s writings about Eichmann in Jerusalem. For me, the plain fact is that there’s no particular need or cause for stressing the fact that “evil” acts, acts which violate a moral imperative, are often done (most often done) by average people–there are so many more of us, after all–and that agents of great evil needn’t be “great men and women” in appearance or otherwise. Why these everyday truths should have been the source of such comment and controversy circa 1960s with the trial of Eichmann is a mystery to me. Arendt apparently was not prepared to find so unimpressive a man in the defendant’s box of the courtroom. I have never understood why she should have thought so.

    I read Jay’s comments as meaning that he and anyone may be, for quite good reasons, neutral as to the matter of “Snowden–‘pro’ or ‘con’ the person as opposed to what he did?” even as he argued, rightly, I thought, the moral obligations of reporters to support, on professional principles, acts by which official wrong-doing–criminal acts, esp.–is divulged, made publicly known. As I see it, the one logically and morally implies the other.

    Jay has explained that his objective is to keep faith with E. Snowden’s own desire that he, Snowden, not become the focus of most or all of the public debate. I think this danger, once quite a valid concern, is now rather behind us.

    Still, so many critics of Snowden have argued that “going to Hong Kong” or to Moscow was not a morally respectable course–usually expressed as “not heroic.”

    My reaction to these complaints–besides their being so full of disingenuity–is that Snowden does many things everyday which have nothing to do with his heroism–which he expressly disclaims, by the way. When he makes breakfast or goes to buy groceries, he does these things, too, “unheroically.” So, yeah, flight to Hong Kong or Moscow isn’t of itself heroic. Neither is brushing one’s teeth. But, to live and to make one’s way in the world, one has to make breakfast, do the shopping and brush one’s teeth; and Edward Snowden, to do them and everything else, had to leave the U.S. because he had the plain common sense to recognize that everything else he might do as a free individual, depended on his doing that– and all that came afterward was obviously premised on it. These are practical matters and issues and it is for them, as practical matters, that I believe, as a practical matter, that I’m morally obliged to support not just the acts of whistle-blowers but the whistle-blowers themselves, as real people who flee, who fear, who do many things, with or without heroism involved not least because these people as individuals and not only what they have done or are alleged to have done, are under attack by those who want to find, silence and punish them. It’s not only what they did which must be defended by the public, it’s they, themselves, as people.

    • Michiel Jonker says:

      I just commented on these last contributions of Jay Rosen and Joe in the subthread where they made them.

      • proximity1 says:

        Thank you. I read them.

        Michiel Jonker:
        August 16, 2013 at 6:14 pm
        @Joe (August 16 at 4:24 AM)

        I think you are making things needlessly complex, and that this contribution of yours is not entirely coherent.

        I agree there.

        But, alas, I disagree with some of your explanations of the thinking behind Arendt’s take on Eichmann and the Enlightenment’s part in the background of that. I think you are oversimplifying that immense period and the varied thinking that it carried and left us. In any case, my point was with regard to one individual’s attitude toward evil as a phenomenon–that of Hannah Arendt and whether or not it stands up to scrutiny in the context of this discussion– and her use of Eichmann as a model example for the more general case she was making– and not the Englightment movement as a whole and the philosophers in it.

        • Michiel Jonker says:

          You write: “But, alas, I disagree with some of your explanations of the thinking behind Arendt’s take on Eichmann and the Enlightenment’s part in the background of that. I think you are oversimplifying that immense period and the varied thinking that it carried and left us.”

          You are absolutely right that I did not pretend to offer more than a hint of one of the many possible approaches to an explanation.

          About half a year ago I became the proud owner of “Democratic Enlightenment – Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790″ by Jonathan I. Israel (950 pages excluding endnotes etc.). It grins at me, intimidatingly.

          With “The Toobin Principle” Jay Rosen refers to the repression by journalists of the daunting self-knowledge that they have decided to give up the ideal of a well-informed public, thereby also giving up the ideal of a functioning democracy. Those are ideals stemming from the Enlightenment. They are bound up with optimism about the possibility of social and political advance through the exercise of reason. That is why I thought my flimsy approach forgivable.

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            Oops, sorry, the book has no endnotes, only footnotes. And a bibliography (75 p.) and an index…

        • Michiel Jonker says:

          @Proximity1 (August 17 at 1:51 PM, again)

          Thanks for making me have a look at “Democratic Enlightenment” (Jonathan I. Israel) again. I can’t resist quoting some passages that confirm your remark about the variedness of Enlightenment thinking:

          “Like Hume, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, and Voltaire, [Adam] Ferguson [1723-1816] did not deny the need for improvements and to make society better. (…) But his Enlightenment sought to retain most of the existing foundations, walls, and roof in place at any one time, making only gradual, step-by-step, and carefully restricted changes without taking ‘away so much of your supports at once as that the roof may fall in’. If attitudes needed transforming extensively, the basic structure of government, law, and administration, as he saw it, and the main lines of social hierarchy, should remain in place. Most great figures of the Scots Enlightenment thought similarly. The one major exception was the republican-minded and remarkable John Millar (1735-1801), author of *The Origin of the Distinction of Ranks* (1771), an enlightener powerfully infused with a sense of the need to weaken aristocracy and push forward much more vigorously the emancipation of women, slaves, serfs, and the non-privileged generally. (…) Equally, eighteenth-century science divided between those who saw the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry as divinely given, laws conceived, as Newton, and still more his disciples, had, within a framework of physico-theology, and those who saw no evidence of anything but the operation of purely physical forces. (…) Minds, as Turgot formulated in his metaphysical dualism and Lockean psychology, are determined (…) not by mechanical causes but in pursuit of final causes. (…)”

          “Throughout the history of the Enlightenment, whether we approach it from a scientific, religious, or political standpoint, this fundamental and irresolvable duality between the created and providential and non-created and non-providential schemes of reality was so important that it generally remained the chief factor shaping the Enlightenment’s course. It is the starting point of the characteristically modern split between those who think in termms of science versus religion, as against the plea that science and religion do not conflict but stand in harmony, as well as the start of the equally basic modern split between ‘right’ and ‘left’ in politics and social theory. (…)”

          “On one side was a body of thought maintaining that ‘reason’, meaning inference and argument based on physical and mathematical evidence only, is the sole criterion of truth, the exclusive guide in our affairs, and sole means of understanding the human condition. On the other stood the mainstream Enlightenment refusing this exclusive privileging of ‘reason’ and claiming two fundamental and distinct sources of truth, namely reason and religious authority (or alternatively tradition). True Enlightenment, held this camp, asserts the harmony between these. (…)”

          “Reason depending for its sway on reasoning, debate, and argument, Radical Enlightenment unreservedly endorsed freedom of expression, thought, and the press, seeing this as what best aids discussion and investigation, through debate, law-making, and social amelioration, claiming ‘we shall never experience how far human reason can reach in the sphere of general truths’, as Diez, the first German proponent of full freedom of the press, put it in 1781, ‘if we restrict or wholly refuse freedom of thought’. Against this, both moderate and still more the Counter-Enlightenment stream retained (or re-introduced) permanent elements of thought policing and censorship. (…) the mainstreama subordinated human affairs, morality, marriage, and society generally to what was deemed the divinely created and revealed physical and moral order.”

          (From: Democratic Enlightenment, pp. 17-20)

          These texts about Enlightenment place the “Toobin Principle” and the behaviour of the NSA in a special light (no pun intended). One could argue that the huge spying activities of the NSA are in harmony with “mainstream Enlightenment of the eighteenth century” because this continuous spying on all citizens is legitimized by a divinely created order that requires thought policing and censorship.

          This argument would relieve poor Mr. Toobin of the need to stay unconscious of his own decision as a journalist not to deem a well-informed public desirable anymore. Without repressing anything (except the US citizens) anymore, the NSA, Obama and figures like Toobin could openly advocate that the USA reverts to a form of government that existed prior to the American and the French revolutions.

          They could claim that democracy, civil rights and freedom of the press are aberrations, caused by “radical” Enlightenment, which should be curbed, because… well, because American presidents are in fact appointed by God, Who only uses the voters, the big corporations and the NSA as His instruments in order to implement His policies.

          Stalin and Hitler would smile from their graves. They would not mind God being invoked – a mere detail in the execution of power. They knew that their legacy would not get lost, in the end. They always knew THEY were much more mainstream than western democracy.

          • proximity1 says:

            Now it’s my turn to thank you –for your comments and for the reference to “Democratic Enlightenment” (Jonathan I. Israel). I’ll make a point to look for and read this text.

            I owe the bulk of what I have in interpretation of the Enlightenment to historian Peter Gay’s writings–mainly his two-volume work, “The Enlightenment” ‘The Rise of Modern Paganism’ and ‘The Science of Freedom’–have marked me and have been one of the springs of my reading direction for over thirty years.

            As I see it, as in our times, the Enlightenment period was a raging debate over the most fundamental issues of freedom and all aspects of human affairs in political society and was conducted by some brilliant minds. With it, there was–as you mention– at every point, a Counter-Enlightenment view and its proponents rejected the fundamental assumptions–such as there were–which were generally shared more or less as a basic view by most of the major Enlightenment figures. Of course, there were some differences in their emphases, in the way they used and intended certain terms. But, with that a basic consensus formed among the two warring camps– Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment thinkers, which historian Zeev Sternhell refers to as the “Anti-Enlightenment”, which, in our time, he writes, included Isaiah Berlin, among others.

            Also, thanks to and based on my reading of Peter Gay’s history, I see the Enlightenment figures facing a central set of problems:

            they sought to oppose two intimately related forces, monarchical hereditary rule and its “co-conspirator,” The Church, which offered the basic rationale of divine authority for both monarchy and the Church itself.

            The problem was to reject these standing authorities without completely rejecting authority itself as being founded on something. The solution most agreed on was to appeal to “reason” as the new and superior source of authority and to insist that both monarchy and The Church were antithetical to right reason. This opened an intense investigation into what reason was, where it was, why it was and how it operated. Opinions on these were diverse and conflicting. Some opposed “reason” and “passion”, others argued that they were inseparably linked and, that, for the better more than for the worse, though somewhat for the worse came with a circumstance that was, they argued, a “given” of human nature.

            One problem is that “reason” is not a “gift” bestowed on humanity, something firm, fixed and readily manageable; it’s quality of human and other life. It is fluid, as are all aspects of the nervous system; a product of continuously emergent and changing biological operations in sense-data reception and interpretation and construction. The Enlightenment’s philosophers needed but didn’t have our modern advances in understanding of neurobiology. We have these advances but, in politics and in economics, most people, even leading figures, either don’t know or don’t apply this knowledge and remain, for that, in a situation which is similarly impoverished. [ An aside: The work of biologists in the developing study of “Stochastic Gene Expression” (SGE) should eventually place all of our efforts in these areas under a new set of interpretive imperatives. See, for example, the work of Jean-Jacques KUPIEC ( http://www.canceropole-idf.fr/sites/default/files/manifestations/sem2013-kpole-colloque/sem2013-kpole-colloque-12-kupiec.pdf ) and that of others who have taken the progress gained and applied it to their analyses of human social and political affairs, as Jean-Paul Baquiast has done in his book, Le paradoxe du sapiens – Êtres technologiques et catastrophes annoncées , the preface of which was contributed by Jean-Jacques Kupiec.]

            Since these social and moral issues–the legacy of the Enlightenment– cannot be escaped, but, rather, only ignored (to our peril), they have always remained there right in the midst of all we try to do in practical social philosophizing. It’s better that we take the issues up quite deliberately and face them than that we try and avoid them. All our current controversies and dilemmas are closely concerned with the central topics of the Enlightenment’s protagonists–who didn’t resolve things in any definitive way probably because that is not possible to do; but they did produce and leave to us a wealth of important work on the matters which still plague us.

            We should use it as we continue to work on issues which, due to a world technologically remade, is not responsive to the provisional working ‘solutions’, political and philosophic and economic, to which they came more or less differently to adhere.

            The recent writing of Georges Corm is extremely interesting as a review and reinterpretation of how the Enlightenment’s legacy has helped or hindered our contemporary understanding of our political problems’ roots.

    • Michiel Jonker says:

      @Proximity1 (August 16 at 9:57 AM)

      I agree with almost all of your comment here. Especially your last four paragraphs.

      Still, a few notes.
      (1) You write: “Again, like Michiel, J.R. can speak for himself better than anyone else on this point; my own reading, though, was not at all that he was engaged in anything that could be described as a deliberate (conscious) ploy on his part–rhetorical or otherwise.”

      I think that Jay Rosen, as a professional in the field of journalism and as a “craftsman”, was and is well aware that everything he writes in this blog, has a rhetorical dimension. But I agree with you, that Jay probably was quite sincere when he said that he was not “for” or “against” Snowden – not using a rhetorical “ploy”.

      However, we will never be sure. Where one’s own consciousness and the wish (or drive) to convince others meet each other in one’s own head, everything is kind of fluid. Things are hard to pin down there, even for oneself.

      It is in this fluid territory of the mind that real moral choices are made, or “born”. It is also in this territory that reality as we perceive it, is moulded to fit our needs.

      In this part of their mind, power-hungry people create a perception of reality that gives them a reason to commit their power-hungry deeds. In the same way, people who are afraid create a perception of reality that justifies their behaviour.

      (2) You write: “I think people over-philosophize about the “banality of evil” from Arendt’s writings about Eichmann in Jerusalem. For me, the plain fact is that there’s no particular need or cause for stressing the fact that “evil” acts, acts which violate a moral imperative, are often done (most often done) by average people–there are so many more of us, after all–and that agents of great evil needn’t be “great men and women” in appearance or otherwise. Why these everyday truths should have been the source of such comment and controversy circa 1960s with the trial of Eichmann is a mystery to me. Arendt apparently was not prepared to find so unimpressive a man in the defendant’s box of the courtroom. I have never understood why she should have thought so.”

      I think the explanation has in part to do with the Enlightenment ideal of, and optimism about man as a reasonable being. In this view, a person with great mental faculties can be expected to use them well and make a great career on the basis of his merits as a reasonable being.

      So in this view, when a person reaches a high position in society (especially: in government), also implying a high responsibility, this person can be expected to have a well-developed, “great” reasonability, which also means: not looking for cowardly, superficial, insincere excuses to cover his ass when doing terrible things (like Eichmann did). Enlightenment expectations about the role of reasonability tend to be a bit romantic.

      In the 1960s these expectations were still alive, in spite of what had happened in the Second World War, in the form of ideals (leading to student and hippie movements), and in the form of partly unconscious assumptions and norms about human reasonability and decency. In the second half of the 1970s, these assumptions started to submerge gradually – in the same time when neoliberalism started its rise, which would last fourty years (until the economic crisis that started in 2008).

      I remember the ominous feeling I got in 1980, when I heard that Reagan had been elected. I saw how certain people around me started to clothe themselves differently and talk in a different way, in that same year. Harder, less empathic, less merciful. I wondered what was happening. From that time on I tried, rather clumsily, to keep my own ideals alive in my way of behaving.

      Since then, I’ve met many people who did not succumb to the moral downturn, but did their work and lived their lives with empathy, sincerity and integrity. But during the last fourty years, they have not represented the dominant drift in society. Very sad. I can only hope that some kind of turning point is approaching.

      • Michiel Jonker says:

        Correction: “fourty years” for duration of rise of neoliberalism should be: “thirty years”.

    • JOE says:

      Regarding the banality of evil: I see that discussion often abused, reduced to some kind of banal hypocrisy. Arendt’s point, in my view, was that a great evil was indeed done, but by a person who justified it in the most banal of ways. Not just following order, but “simply doing my job”. Eichmann’s actual monstrosity was masked by claiming a banal personal virtue, that he paid his rent, was a good neighbor, went to work and just did his job, making no moral judgment on his context.

      This is a very chronic disease, the disease of pragmatism as a cover for a great inner immorality, and I believe that it underlies a great deal of this column, to get back to Toobin.

      All of this is possible only because people, unlike Snowden, can be banally evil. They take acts as agents, public acts, which are counter to the ideals they claim privately. They’re “good liberals” or some such principled stand, except that in practice and in substance they’re entire careers undermine that.

      Look at Palantir (the company), for example. The top guys are a hippy liberal stoner philosopher, and a libertarian businessman — and I don’t doubt that is how they relate personally with friends and family. But in public, they’re running one of the major spying infrastructures, and use their “personal ideals” to escape responsibility from their public actions.

      Jay’s rhetoric isn’t that kind of thing. He’s not doing some great evil that requires this many lines of analysis. At best, the appropriate response is “Sersly? The view from nowhere doesn’t work here.”

      Important moral choices are being made. This isn’t one of them.

      @Joinkers:
      As long as folks see themselves as merely consumers, who’s labor is simply a means to maximize that consumption, things ain’t going to get better. If you’re just a rational market player, then you’re not actually a moral entity. There’s your banality of evil, a chain of agents that never end in someone who takes responsibility, a collection of monads simply responding to their environment.

      • proximity1 says:

        I think that the matter of the character of evil as “banal” or something else is a very unproductive focus–but, paradoxically, the reasons why I believe that to be the case are, in my opinion, worth discussion if we found the proper time and venue for it.

        I don’t think this thread is necessarily that venue–but I do think that this preoccupation with whether it’s useful and interesting to debate evil and a banality of it has serious implications for the issues we are concerned with here.

        To do the matter justice, I’d have to dig out my copy of Eichmann in Jerusalem for a review of the arguments there. And, while I expect to come across it soon, for other reasons, I won’t have time in the near term. All my comments on the issue have been off the cuff, based on my general views of the issues, and without having had recourse to Arendt’s book.

        Last point– you’re assuming, wrongly I think, I (or Michiel) are working from an assumption that Jay is some sort of model of bad moral conduct.

        So, when you write,

        “He’s (Jay) not doing some great evil that requires this many lines of analysis,”

        my reaction is, Indeed, he isn’t and, by the way, no one here has even implied this, let alone alleged it directly.

        Your comments strike me as coming from a touchy conscience, if not a somehow somewhat guilty one. I start from the view that Jay and this site are resolutely trying to defend the same causes and principles that I want to defend. Our discussion is over some arguably important details of how to do that.

        No one that I’ve seen thinks that Jay’s intentions and motives are other than quite respectable and worthy ones.

        • joe says:

          It’s not a touchy conscience or any such psychological issues — it’s being touchy towards what may be “concern trolling”. Look above to find some examples of that kind of gamesmanship.

          Of course, that’s one of the evils of concern trolling — that it creates that kind of touchiness, which then derails good-faith arguments. In the end, open discussion is destroyed by the bad players.

          It’s a very significant issue for democratic polities that is much underdiscussed.

      • Michiel Jonker says:

        For the most part, I can follow your interpretation of what “the banality of evil” means. One point though: the banality in question does not only manifest itself in the JUSTIFICATION of evil, but also in the evil ITSELF. Possibly, you point to the same thing when you write: “…pragmatism as a cover for a great INNER IMMORALITY” [emphasis mine].

        So what is this evil, this inner immorality that can be great and banal at the same time? And what are the “roots” of it? I think the roots of it are small and often banal, and I recognize them also in myself, and even in small children. Ever seen a two-year-old grabbing the toy of another two-year-old and pushing him away? There’s your root of evil.

        Roots of evil are important, because by identifying them early on, we can sometimes prevent great evil from happening.

        You mention Jay’s rhetoric and then you state: “He’s not doing some great evil that requires this many lines of analysis. (…) Important moral choices are being made. This isn’t one of them.”

        I’m not going to duplicate the discussion we are having further up on this same thread. I agree with you that Jay is not doing some great evil. But I still think that he makes an important moral choice. The choice to distance himself, as a journalist, from Snowden’s moral view of things, by disclaiming any position in relation to it. In some cases, “not making a choice” means that one also makes a choice. This is such a case.

        The choice that Jay makes with his disclaimer (not being “for” or “against” Snowden) is a choice for a beginning (a “root”) of indifference. Keeping a door open for an opt-out if things get really difficult. Indifference, in its turn, can be a root of evil. The indifference of many people in Europe about the fate of those who were persecuted by the Nazis (Jews, other ethnic or cultural groups, homosexuals, critical people) enabled the Nazis to do what they did. The indifference was partly born from fear, and it led to people looking away, not wanting to see what was happening.

        Small choices can have great moral significance. I’m convinced that Keith Alexander and Barack Obama made many small immoral choices, which gradually solidified them into very dishonest men.

        Now about Jay’s choice. There is a difference between, on the one hand, Jay Rosen and almost all other journalists, and on the other hand, Snowden, Greenwald and a few other whistleblowers and journalists. This is NOT the difference between “the Fourth Estate as a state of mind” (see the latest blog on this site) and the state of mind of institutionalized journalists and employees. It is clear Jay belongs to this “Fourth Estate” at this moment.

        The choice of Jay that I have criticized, concerns a difference WITHIN “the Fourth Estate”: the difference between those who jump into the water and swim, and those who stay on the riverbank and throw lifejackets at the swimmers.

        Both functions are necessary and valuable. But choosing whether to swim or not, is an important moral choice. Without swimmers, the child (a “well-informed public”, democracy, rule of law) will drown.

        I’m not one of the swimmers anymore. I’m trying to climb back on the land. I’ve learned some lessons about my limitations as a swimmer. And of course no-one can swim forever. Still, I’m proud that I was a swimmer for some time. And I’m happy to see the actions of a magnificent swimmer like Snowden. I hope that people in Jay’s position will have the courage to say publicly: “Go, Snowden, go! It’s good what you have done, and what you are doing!” I don’t expect Jay to swim. But he might at least step into the water, letting it play around his ankles.

        Regarding your last remark: I totally agree with you that the people whom you call “rational market players”, for instance in the guise of “consumers” who are indifferent to the damage caused by their collective consumption patterns, manifest one form of “the banality of evil”.

        However, they ARE moral entities. They just don’t want to make the right choices – yet.

        • Michiel Jonker says:

          P.S. I just read Jay’s latest post, “Conspiracy to commit journalism” (20 August). There, Jay contrasts “sunlight coalitions” defending transparency and public information with authoritarian, secretive “surveillance-over-everything_forces”.

          I must say, in this later post Jay comes close to “letting the water play around his ankles”, because he mentiones “sources” as one category of people (along with journalists, couriers, readers who write comments etc.) who form part of these “sunlight coalitions”. It is clear that he uses “sources” as a code-word, not only for official sources (government spokespeople etc.), but also for whistleblowers, leakers of information etc. So he clearly values the contribution of these last people to transparency, public information and accountability of governments.

          However, Jay still does not explicitly mention “whistleblowers” (like Snowden) as members of the “sunlight coalitions” who fight for saving democracy. Why this strange reluctance?

          • Michiel Jonker says:

            26 August: new post from Jay Rosen, describing how the global surveillance state tries: “To make journalism harder, slower, less secure”

            Last sentence: “Journalism almost has to be brought closer to activism to stand a chance of prevailing in its current struggle with the state.”

            Yes! Now Jay comes (“almost”) very close to explicit approval of Snowden’s moral choice and action. Touching the water with the sole of his foot…

            What Snowden did, can be regarded as part of the work of a very, very brave undercover journalist: penetrating a powerful organisation that had turned criminal, exposing its legal façade for what it is: a façade.