If there's anything that almost everyone can agree on, it's that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has started a conversation about government surveillance that wouldn't have happened otherwise. As NBC's Meet the Press host David Gregory (1/19/14) put it, "He started one big debate."
But who gets to be part of that discussion?
In the wake of Barack Obama's speech on the NSA, Gregory's show kicked off by asking Newt Gingrich and Harold Ford, formerly of the Democratic Leadership Council and currently with Morgan Stanley, to weigh in, alongside two reporters who tend not to give opinions on matters of controversy. Gingrich seemed to defend Obama's embrace of NSA wiretapping, adding that "Snowden has to be tried." Ford wanted to make clear that he supports drones ("I hope that when Congress has this debate, that someone will play the devil's advocate and make clear we kill more terrorists using drones") and doesn't care for Snowden: " I'm not a Snowden fan. He should come back home and face the music."
After that came a bipartisan duo of NSA supporters, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, who in addition to defending the NSA also suggested, without any evidence whatsoever, that Snowden was being helped by a foreign government: "I don't think it was a gee-whiz luck event that he ended up in Moscow." Feinstein said this of Snowden: "I think to glorify this act is really to set sort of a new level of dishonor."
The only substantive departure came when Gregory did a brief interview with Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, who has been a critic of the NSA surveillance programs.
Over on CBS's Face the Nation (1/19/14), we saw Mike Rogers yet again, claiming that Snowden must have had some help. Host Bob Schieffer closed by saying, "You really broadened the information that we had about this." As we noted previously (FAIR Blog, 7/2/13), Schieffer had previously expressed a desire to hear more government officials publicly defend the program.
CBS did invite one NSA critic, Sen. Mark Udall (D.-Colo.), for a brief follow-up interview (about half as long as Rogers').
After that, Face the Nation heard from former Obama adviser Tom Donilon, who said: "Snowden has done great damage to the United States across a range of dimensions…. I would call him a traitor, yes."
Then Schieffer interviewed former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who said the Snowden revelations are "the worst disclosures in the history of the US intelligence community. I agree with Chairman Rogers that it will cost billions and billions of dollars to repair the damage."
Morell also laid out his theory that the NSA, if it had more robust surveillance powers, could have prevented the 9/11 attacks. Specifically, the NSA would have found one of the hijackers in California, and it would shared that information with the FBI. But this theory has been repeatedly challenged by journalists and terrorism investigators.
Morell was not asked any challenging questions, though; Schieffer closed the interview by noting that Morell has now been hired by CBS. (Morell was recently the subject of a puff piece on 60 Minutes by CBS's John Miller–FAIR Blog, 10/29/13; proving that the revolving door spins both ways, Miller has now been hired to be the top counter-terrorism official at the NYPD–Daily News, 1/2/14.)
And Face the Nation closed with a reporters' roundtable, featuring David Sanger of the New York Times, the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus and Christi Parsons of the L.A. Times, which touched on the NSA controversies.
If recent polling is to be believed, the US public has grown more skeptical about the NSA surveillance programs. Too bad Sunday chat shows are still presenting such a lopsided view.