Do the Motivations of Leakers Matter?

Friday, January 24, 2014


A recent Pew poll found that although 45% of Americans believe Snowden's leak helped the public, 56% wanted criminal charges brought against him. Did he act to protect the rights of Americans, or dismantle what he considers a surveillance state? Does it matter why he acted? Brooke talks to New Republic contributing editor Sean Wilentz about his cover story that asks that very question.

Beacon - Late November


Sean Wilentz

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [12]

Dave Steele

This was an oddly-constructed story. Wilentz appeared to be trying to show an overriding partisan motivation for Snowden and the others. His argument was weak, and delivered in a bit of a weasely fashion, but went completely unchallenged on that point.

Deficiencies on that score are covered in other comments. I'd just add that I suspect a person that uses the term "Libertarian Right" doesn't understand (or doesn't want to understand) what "Libertarian" means.

If motivation matters, it seems to me that the key questions are "Do you believe that Constitutional considerations were key to Snowden's actions", and "Was it reasonable for him to believe effective formal channels were not available". Those would lead to a far more interesting take on the story.

Feb. 01 2014 05:51 PM
Evan from Santa Monica, CA

"Armed with legal findings by his attorney general (and personal lawyer) Alberto Gonzales, the Bush White House has declared that the president’s powers as commander in chief in wartime are limitless. No previous wartime president has come close to making so grandiose a claim. More specifically, this administration has asserted that the president is perfectly free to violate federal laws on such matters as domestic surveillance and the torture of detainees . . . The president’s defenders stoutly contend that war-time conditions fully justify Bush’s actions. And as Lincoln showed during the Civil War, there may be times of military emergency where the executive believes it imperative to take immediate, highly irregular, even unconstitutional steps . . . Lincoln’s exceptional measures were intended to survive only as long as the Confederacy was in rebellion. Bush’s could be extended indefinitely, as the president sees fit, permanently endangering rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizenry."

That was Sean Wilentz, in 2006, calling George W. Bush the worst president in history in the pages of Rolling Stone.

I don't disagree with anything he wrote then. It would have been worthwhile if Brooke had asked Prof. Wilentz why he seemingly has had such a turnabout on the constitutionality of widespread surveillance of American citizens.

Jan. 29 2014 01:43 PM
Hugh Butler from Chautauqua, NY

"Libertarian" as slur implying anarchism is a novel shorthand approach to reportage but does it qualify as journalism? Brooke is properly derisive that Wilentz proclaims his work "new" even though it reprints others who report about three men who traveled in philosophical proximity to "the Libertarian Right" which one supposes is composed of odd outliers who object to intrusive government. Whoa! Danger, Will Robinson!

Jan. 28 2014 01:17 PM
David Eisner

Wilentz: "The question is: Why does he go to Russia? ... How did he end up there?"

Yes, it sounds pretty suspicious ... unless you have a working memory. Snowden was on a layover at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow when the U.S. announced it had revoked his passport. The prevented him from boarding his next flight, and stranded him in the airport until Russia eventually granted him temporary asylum.

Brooke, I think you dropped the ball on this one. :^/

Jan. 27 2014 12:16 PM
John Browne from Vashon Island, Wa

I guess I wasn't the only one who was 'nonplussed' by the handling of Sean "Puffy" Wilentz, and the opportunity given him to defend/expand his accusatory imprecations regarding possible 'motives' behind Edward Snowden's behavior.
Holey-moley, Brooke! I'm pretty sure I've declared something outrageous in my own checkered past... by the age of 30. Hell, I voted for Barry Goldwater right out of the gate, assuming that he was a guy who "told it like he felt it" (even though I disagreed with most of his opinions), and that Lyndon Johnson was just a slick, lying politician that nobody should EVER trust. (Isn't this how EVERY naive leftist wack-o got a start?)
Hey... bring "Puffy" back in 3 months, and let him go after it all over again. If nothing else, it Does have entertainment value. ^..^

Jan. 27 2014 01:04 AM
Steve MacIntyre

Also, "New Republican" below is a typo, not a commentary on the magazine's political outlook. I need a copy editor.

Jan. 26 2014 02:52 PM
Steve MacIntyre

My apology for misspelling "Wilentz" below.

Jan. 26 2014 12:49 PM
Steve MacIntyre

Willentz's smear of Snowden et alia is so incoherent that there can be only one possible reason The New Republican ran it in the first place: it's a hit piece, and a hit piece of the most obvious and inartful kind.

Though he lays down a steady fusillade of innuendo, Willentz can't even settle on a specific defamatory claim, so he trots out a bunch of them, none bolstered by even a shred of substantiation: Snowden used to be against leaks before he was for them, Snowden is close to the Russians (hint, hint), Snowden is "paranoid", Snowden is right-wing, and so forth. Just a lot of unrelated crap thrown against the wall.

Though Brooke Gladstone never calls him out during this interview, that the discussion is nothing more than a ramble, a scattershot of unrelated accusations against Snowden et al. without thesis or core, almost by accident, exposes Willentz's game for what it is.

Jan. 26 2014 12:46 PM
novadust from glenside PA

getting a bit bored by snowden worship. the left seems to have lost perspective. what NSA has done in last 5 years or more is trivial compared to what FBI did under j edgar hoover.

Jan. 26 2014 11:33 AM

I was disappointed in this kid gloves interview of historian Sean Wilentz's New Republic piece on Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald.

The title of On the Media's piece is "Do the Motivations of Leakers Matter?" and yet nowhere in the piece is Wilentz pushed to justify the claim that they do. Wilentz is allowed repeatedly to assert they matter, but nowhere in the interview is he asked the obvious question, why?

I can imagine arguments both ways on this claim and it seems there is probably no simple answer in every circumstance, but if On the Media not only does not answer, but does not even attempt to answer the question your piece poses, what's the point?

As it is Wilentz gets off easy, being allowed to assert his claim that Snowden, Assange, and Greenwald's motivations matter, as if it's some sort of obvious fact and never having to actually defend the contoversial stance of his argument.

This is really the opposite of the kind of reporting I expect from On the Media. Normally On the Media tries to get behind the unstated assumptions of reporting elsewhere. But in this case, On the Media just gives Wilentz a platform to repeat his unfound assertions in a completely non-critical manner.

On the Media really also fails to fill in it's listeners on the broader context for the reception of Wilentz's article and other points of view on his unjustified assertions. I feel On the Media added to the confusion and fog surrounding Wilent's piece, rather than shedding much needed light as the show normally does.

Jan. 26 2014 02:31 AM
John B.

"On The Media" blew it, giving Sean Wilentz a platform to repeat his confused, contradictory, and utterly fact-less speculations about the supposed "motives" of Greenwald, Snowden, and Assange.

Repair your reputation, On The Media, by inviting rebuttal from "Henry" of Crooked ("The Liberal Surveillance State") or one of the numberless other critics who have so easily denounced Wilentz' smarmy screed for the baseless trash it is.

Jan. 25 2014 05:40 PM
Tom Roche

In this piece, US historian Sean Wilentz claims (~10:30 into today's podcast) that Assange, Greenwald, and Snowden (AGS) claim that "what the NSA has done is an attempt by the US government to know every thing that you have ever done in your life. It just doesn't make sense[.]"

Except that, not only does the AGS claim make sense, it fits well with previous behavior and current strategic realities, as the far greater US historian Alfred McCoy ( ) writes @ and discusses (audio) @ . Salient historical actors include (in both audio and text) J. Edgar Hoover (with whom OTM listeners are presumed familiar) and the more interesting (to me, and I presume the general listener) Ralph Van Deman ( ), discussed in the audio and in McCoy's 2009 book, "Policing America’s Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State."

The latter is this week's episode of CounterSpin, the audio blog of FAIR ( ). If you're a regular listener to OTM, but seek a less mainstream, more critical approach to media, you should probably be listening to CounterSpin.

Jan. 25 2014 10:37 AM

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