October 22, 2013

The Establishment Makes Big, Sloppy Love to the Snowden Leaks

Richard Cohen’s Washington Post column this morning is a true tour de force in explaining the function of our Beltway media stars. Cohen’s column — which grieves over the grave and tragic injustice brought down upon Lewis “Scooter” Libby — should be immediately laminated and placed into the Smithsonian History Museum as an exhibit which, standing alone, will explain so much about what happened to our country over the last six years. It is really that good.

One could write media criticisms for the next several years and not come close to capturing the essence of our Beltway media the way Cohen did ....

That really is the central belief of our Beltway press, captured so brilliantly by Cohen in this perfect nutshell. When it comes to the behavior of our highest and most powerful government officials, our Beltway media preaches, “it is often best to keep the lights off.” If that isn’t the perfect motto for our bold, intrepid, hard-nosed political press, then nothing is. ...

If even our Beltway media — rather, especially them — argues that criminality by government officials should not be punished, and that light should not be shined on what they do, then pervasive government corruption and deceit are inevitable. That is just obvious. And that is why Cohen’s column so perfectly captures what has happened in our country and the truly indispensable role which most of our political press has played in all of it. -- From an article by some writer, who happened to be entirely correct on this occasion
I have to agree that no one more perfectly captures the wretchedly pathetic character of the ruling class and the Establishment than the irrepressible, wonderfully witty, power- and status-worshipping Richard Cohen. If he were fictional, we would laugh at the preposterousness of the invention. Since he is real, we laugh harder.

All of that makes Cohen's latest column worthy of note. The title declares: "Edward Snowden is no traitor." Cohen acknowledges that his initial judgments about Snowden -- that he was "ridiculously cinematic," "narcissistic," and "no real whistleblower" -- "were just plain wrong." Cohen then dispenses with a few of the major criticisms levelled at Snowden, noting that he "seems to have sold out to no one," and that his "residency in Russia has been forced upon him."

Cohen is now convinced that Snowden "is an authentic whistleblower." Moreover, this perfect embodiment of the Establishment is completely comfortable with what we've learned through the Snowden leaks. He's so comfortable with these leaks that he'd like to curl up with them and have a friendly drink. Cohen wants to be BFF with these leaks. He simply adores them.

Why is Cohen making big sloppy love to the Snowden leaks? Here's the first reason:
He has been careful with his info, doling it out to responsible news organizations — The Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc. — and not tossing it up in the air, WikiLeaks style, and echoing the silly mantra “Information wants to be free.” (No. Information, like most of us, wants a home in the Hamptons.)
Cohen includes that last bit about the Hamptons because he wants to remind everyone -- and assure other members of the ruling class -- that he himself is a member of the ruling class, and that he revels in it. When he writes "most of us," the emphasis is on us. He also wants to remind us ordinary folk that he's far better than we are, and we'd better not forget it.

The ruling class, including Cohen, love "careful" and "responsible" leaking. Such characterizations are painfully familiar at this point in the Snowden saga --for these are precisely the terms the select journalists who so carefully dole out little dribs and drabs from the Snowden trove use to describe their own work. These select journalists also employ the same noxious comparisons to WikiLeaks, as I just recently discussed:
The unavoidable implication of the way the NSA stories are marketed is that the NSA stories represent "good" leaking, while WikiLeaks represents "bad" leaking. Greenwald & Co. are "responsible," WikiLeaks is not. Greenwald & Co. are "careful," WikiLeaks is not. Greenwald & Co. are superbly protective of everyone on the planet, including the murderous ruling class, while WikiLeaks endangers every constituted authority and everyone who exercises destructive political power.
Cohen keenly appreciates my point that the manner of the Snowden leaks is "superbly protective" of the "ruling class," which is precisely why he's undressing the leaks so he can get more intimate with them.

Cohen has an additional reason for loving these leaks: "I am sure, though, that he has instigated a worthwhile debate." Ah, yes, the debate. Funny thing about "debates": when you debate an opponent, you grant, at minimum, a patina of legitimacy to the other side. "I want to murder you!" "I don't want you to murder me!" Let's debate! Maybe we can compromise on a less violent murder. Maybe I won't notice that I'm dead.

"We intend to spy on you everywhere, all the time, about everything!" "Oh, no! You shouldn't do that. You should only spy on me when you have a really good reason!" Let's debate! And the State will decide when it has a really good reason.

Once again, having a debate was one of the primary goals announced by Snowden himself, as well as by his chosen journalists. Chris Floyd recently offered these powerful comments about debates of this kind:
Snowden apparently put his life and liberty at risk just to see if the American people supported blanket surveillance of themselves and the world. And if they do – well, that gives the whole sinister shebang “a level of legitimacy.” So if the polls eventually show that most people are down with the invasive-pervasive spy program – because, after all, “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide” – then it’s all A-OK. Because there would have been a debate, you see, and that’s the main thing. That’s what gives even morally wrong programs their legitimacy. As long as, say, invasive surveillance, torture, aggressive war and hit squads have been given a sufficient modicum of ‘public input,’ of ‘transparency,’ then that’s all that matters. It would be too radical, too harmful, if one were to condemn such practices out of hand as sickening acts of depravity and state terror.

My word, we don’t want that kind of thing, do we? What we want – as our custodians have repeatedly declared – is to have our carefully vetted revelations provoke a debate that will lead to reform.
Floyd then dispenses with the notion of "reform," and you should read what he has to say.

The conclusion should be painfully obvious. The manner in which the Snowden leaks are being delivered to us represents no serious threat to the ruling class and the Establishment whatsoever. The ruling class is entirely comfortable with the leak stories. In fact, the ruling class affirmatively benefits from leaks of this kind: Americans are becoming accustomed to a startlingly comprehensive level of surveillance, and they are granting it their approval. That we are surveilled much if not most of the time is barely even "news" any longer. It's just the way things are. Perhaps we need to make a few adjustments at the outer margins, but basically everything is hunky-dory. Add a little "transparency," "oversight" and "accountability" and Americans will let the State surveil them 24/7. Don't you want to be safe? Of course you do.

As I say, all this is obvious to anyone who is paying attention. When Richard Cohen makes mad, passionate love to what is claimed to be "dissenting," "hardhitting," "fiercely independent" journalism, you know for a certainty that a fundamentally wrong turn has been made -- a turn directly into the welcoming, ardent arms of power.

But it is not obvious to everyone. In fact, it appears not to have even registered with Glenn Greenwald, who tweeted the following:
Richard Cohen does a complete about-face on Edward Snowden: [link]
Greenwald offers it straight. Not a hint of irony. Not the merest suggestion that perhaps, just perhaps, it might be a sign of trouble that Cohen wants to take the leaks home for a wickedly debauched weekend. Not even a single question. Nor does Greenwald offer any thoughts about the fact that he and his colleagues have marketed the Snowden leaks in a manner that Richard Cohen -- Richard Cohen, of all people -- finds thoroughly admirable and helpful. One might have thought that Greenwald would appreciate that helping Richard Cohen -- and thus helping the ruling class -- is not exactly what Greenwald claims to be the purpose of his work. Not exactly.

Some people have questioned me as to whether I've been too tough on Greenwald in my posts on the Snowden stories. C'mon, Arthur, they say. Greenwald is the only mainstream journalist who's even close to our views. We have to support him! What other chance do we have?

If this represents the only chance we have, we're finished. But it doesn't, and if you think it does, you lack imagination, and probably courage as well. But the love letter from Cohen does convince me of one thing in connection with my Snowden-Greenwald posts: I haven't been nearly tough enough.

Oh, yes. You probably want to know who "some writer" is with regard to the description of Cohen that heads this post. You know the answer to that question. It was Glenn Greenwald.

Of course.