People have quickly become enamored of the ongoing story of the fugitive NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. In response, publications all over the globe have responded with stories focusing on Snowden’s trans-national flight to evade arrest. In feeding the human intrigue associated with this ongoing story, the original focus of the story, the unfolding revelations of government surveillance, may be lost in the shuffle.
When Snowden narrowly avoided extradition in Hong Kong with a flight to Moscow, his “narrative,” as it could be called, split into two distinct prongs. The first was his revealing leak on the NSA's PRISM and other surveillance programs, and the subsequent questions on the morality and specific details of government surveillance. The second prong is the "rogue agent on the run" story. The latter prong of the story broke on Saturday, and has outweighed the former in coverage by leaps and bounds ever since.
As of Tuesday afternoon, here are just a few major publications that are offering front or main-page coverage on Snowden’s Russia disappearance, with little to no mention of PRISM: The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Miami Herald, Fox News, CNN, NBC News, and even The Guardian, the British publication that broke the PRISM leak in the first place.
Granted, there has not been a major piece of information revealed about PRISM for news outlets to report in a few days, but that is also a part of the problem. In addressing Snowden for the first time, President Obama took a bit of the heat off of himself and his administration. The way I see it, this is an opportunity to prod even to deeper into the discrepancies between the president's and Snowden’s descriptions of PRISM and similar programs. However, it appears the press junket is not as keen as I am to stay on that subject. If they were, there would be more pressing questions for various government officials, more microphones and tape recorders in the face of Washington’s intelligence community, and more blurbs from credible sources on the government's anti-terrorist and anti-hacker programs.,
Trending toward the sensational in a quest for page-views is to be expected from the media. An intrepid rebel with who has been called both a traitor and a hero is undoubtedly a romantic image for outlets to cover, journalists to write about, and people to read. However, in this day and age, given the ongoing interest in the scandal at the IRS, I think there is we can take heart in our country’s attention spans as they pertains to the more bureaucratic and boring scandals. Indeed, if we can keep up on the ins and outs of a 501c4 without collectively nodding out, then national curiosity about the intrusive listening power of our government will certainly also keep our ears perked and our eyes on the chalkboard, even as the bird in the window flies back to its coop (or to Ecuador).