These are certain things that you will not easily find in U.S. media like Jimmy Carter declaring that we no longer have a functioning democracy in this country. Another is reading about Snowden as a whistleblower. The White House has been highly successful in telling media not to refer to Snowden as a whistleblower and enlisting various media allies to attack him as a clown and a traitor or mocking his fear of returning home. This week you had to read Moscow Times or other foreign sites (or a link on Reddit) to learn that Snowden has won this year’s Whistleblower Award established by German human rights organizations.
The award handed down by the Association of German Scientists (VDW) and the German branch of the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) comes with a small financial reward that will be given to Snowden’s legal representatives. Such awards will bolster his claim for asylum.
While there is no evidence thus far of any motivation by Snowden except his desire to reveal an unconstitutional program, the media has largely complied with a demand of the White House that he not be called a whistleblower as Obama officials and members of Congress denounce him. The problem is that many Americans and foreigners view him as a whistleblower and some as a hero. Likewise, the effort to get Americans to embrace a new surveillance-friendly model of privacy has largely failed though most average Americans feel helpless in a system with a locked monopoly of power by two parties.
As I have noted before, it brings to mind the successful effort to convince media to call waterboarding “enhanced interrogation” in the media rather than “torture” as it has long been defined by courts. Snowden is a whistleblower in my mind. It is true that the Administration can argue that these programs were lawful to the Supreme Court’s precedent stripping pen registers of full constitutional protection in Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735 (1979). Many of us disagree with that ruling, but this is a new application of the precedent. While the government has long sought the information for individuals, the Administration is essentially issuing a national security letter against the entire population. Moreover, it does appear that violations have occurred in these programs.
Putting aside the legality issue, whistleblowers are defined more probably by public interest organizations. For example, The Government Accountability Project, a leading nonprofit handling whistleblowers, defines the term as “an employee who discloses information that s/he reasonably believes is evidence of illegality, gross waste or fraud, mismanagement, abuse of power, general wrongdoing, or a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety. Typically, whistleblowers speak out to parties that can influence and rectify the situation. These parties include the media, organizational managers, hotlines, or Congressional members/staff, to name a few.”
Snowden clearly fits that more common definition of whistleblower, even if the government contests the application of statutory protections. Many can legitimately question Snowden’s chosen means for objecting to this program. However, the hostile and dismissive treatment by the establishment reflects an obvious fear of the implications of this scandal. We saw the same full court press in defining Julien Assange in a way that avoids calling him a journalist or a whistleblower. He is just an Assange. Well Snowden is just a Snowden in the view of U.S. media . . . until he can be called a prisoner.