Earlier this week, professional TV propogandist and etatist extraordinaire John Oliver took a trip to Russia to interview Edward Snowden. This made much “news.”i
During the interview itself, now watched some 4 mn times on youtube, Oliver took a “hard hitting” approach to journalism, one much applauded by the sycophantic media as a whole. In doing so, Oliver started by interviewing random passer-bys in Times Square, asking them if they’d ever heard of the greatest American hero since JFK (they hadn’t, but he still is) or if they were concerned that the government had pictures of their dicks (they weren’t, but they still do). Armed with this “ammo,” Oliver then “grilled” Herr Snowden on whether he read the documents he released (he did),ii how he “felt” about some random fucking NSA slide showing random fucking military positions for something or other in the illegal and falsely pretensed American invasion of a non-provoking sovereign nation with the intent to further the invading nation’s corporate interests and distract its citizens with “foreign aid” and “spreading democracy,” and lastly, more and more piles of red herring dicktalk.
So ya, Oliver is a 21st century Mildred Gillars, the Third Reich’s radio shill, known as “Axis Sally,” who performed in programs on Radio Europe designed to make American troops feel homesick and fearful, and therefore weaken their resolve. Oliver works in the same way too, making it seem like important things, like foreign surveillance, aren’t important, and the converse too, making unimportant things like pictures of your nutsack, seem important.
This has the exact same effect that Axis Sally intended : it “teaches the controversy” and frames the debate in such a way as to willfully mislead anyone foolish enough to entertain one of the given positions, just as I’ve previously discussed with lab-modified foods.
Needless to say, this whole Oliver-Snowden schtick sparked a lively debate :
Him: Did you see the John Oliver interview with Snowden? Really well done. [link]
Me: I watched bits and pieces of it,iii what did you like about it or what did you learn from it ?
Him: I think that was the toughest interview that anyone has given Snowden.iv While it was obviously edited, it was nice to seev him confronted with the reality of what he did and how he is not absolved of everything just because he passed the documents along to journalists.
Me: Do you think Snowden should be prosecuted for what he did ?
Him: SHOULD he be? I personally do not think so – as the documents that he revealed offered us a window into the domestic surveillance that has been going unchecked since 9/11. But he can’t sit back and absolve himself of everything related to the documents just because he handed off the documents.vi He can’t wash his hands of everything that happens once the documents are in someone else’s hands and they make mistakes in divulging sensitive information that is mentioned therein. He must bear some responsibility – and I think Oliver is one of the first to confront him with this reality.
Me: You don’t think that Snowden understands that his actions bore risks ? Did he not say that this is the fundament of liberty ? Also, what does it mean to ‘bear some responsibility’ ? Is he not exiled in Russia ?
Him: He knew that his actions bore risks. But he continually says that he put the documents in the hands of Greenwald etc. and they can decide what to release and when to release the information. But in some of the documents that were released, a piss poor attempt at redaction was made and information was made public that should not have been. That is sloppy and for him to say that “mistakes happen” simply is not good enough. Yes he is exiled to Russia, but he acts as if his hands are clean now that he has handed off the documents. They are in someone else’s hands and no longer his responsibility. Everything that happens with these documents and because of these documents is now on him – whether it is positive revelations to the american public or american soldiers getting killed when the poorly redacted documents are made public.
Me: If we’re looking for mistakes that “happen” shouldn’t we be asking why the USG is invading foreign territories to further its corporate interests, and that it’s this that puts american lives at risk ? Snowden didn’t put soldiers in Iraq under false pretenses and at staggering expense to millions of Iraqi families,vii to say nothing of american families and taxpayers. And does it matter if Snowden’s hands are 100% certified organic clean ?
Him: I completely agree that there needs to be more discourse about Team America: World Police. But he decided leak/steal the documents that he did and therefore he bears responsibility for his actions. It is not the end of the world if he is 100% clean – but he can’t wash his hands of other peoples’ mistakes.
Me: Isn’t that a bit like saying, “hey man, you really made me look bad when you borrowed my car last week and mowed down all those schoolchildren. Now my hands are dirty forever and I won’t be able to wash them of *your* mistakes !” Doesn’t that seem like a logical red herring to you ? Just as the “this is what normal ammuricans in Times Square think because they’re magically important” ?
Him: The part where he stole documents that he knew were classified cannot go unmentioned. He knew he was essentially committing treason according to american law. He can’t just say – “well this is someone else’s issue now. My work here is done.”
Me: Treason against terrorists is a moral imperative. And Snowden’s brave work can never and will never go unmentioned. That’s the point. We can’t unknow what we know (eg. that PGP works). If we fail to respond accordingly because we’re hung up on a piece of paper that everyone but the USG has to abide by then it’s we who will hang for our crimes, no matter the pretext. Recall the flimsy ‘wrecking’ of the Soviets.viii The finger of distraction is pointed at Snowden, the finger of survival is pointed at Oliver and the USG.
Him: I agree that it is a moral imperative. But he knew he was breaking the law. Simply put. So he cannot go through the process of knowingly breaking a law that is punishable by death and then try to wash his hands of responsibility. What he did was morally correct in my opinion. But against the law of the state that he was living in. However just or unjust the law is. And he took a direct action that has direct consequences. I am happy that he was brave enough to do what he did, but he does not operate in a bubble free of repercussions.
Me: Who’s saying that he’s in a bubble free of repercussions ? I’m not, Snowden’s not…
Him: He acts and speaks that way at times. As if giving the documents to Greenwald absolved him.
Me: “That way” ? So no one is actually saying it, it’s just being read from between the lines, and yet contradicting the words coming out of Snowden’s mouth ? See “the only time you can be free from risk is in prison.”ix
Him: He has given the responsibility to release the documents to the journalists – in doing so he is trying to distance himself from the sensitivity of the situation and let others decide what to release and when to release them. When these journalists make mistakes – blame falls on Snowden.
Me: I feel like we’re going in circles now, but I have enough for an article. Many thanks for bringing this up!
Him: Haha always happy to help. I feel like we fundamentally agree and are just getting caught on semantics.
I guess that’s what everything outside the bubble of the taught controversy looks like : semantics.
Who knew ?
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- When we have a self-proclaimed “comedian” posing as a news anchor, there’s really only two possible outcomes : wittiness like we see with The Onion, where the intent is to poke fun at the endless silliness of stupid people, or veiled shilling for state-level actors like we see with John Oliver, where the intent it to discredit serious people doing real work.
Oliver isn’t original in this, he merely continues in the meta-metastatic vein charted out by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert before him. Though, for the record, I did get a kick out of Stewart’s first book when it came out. I seem to recall something about peas and carrots being particularly chuckle worthy. Though, almost a decade ago, I was most definitely too naive to see through his pantomime. [↩]
- Don’t ask me how the media magickally claimed “he didn’t even read the documents derp he just understood them herp because we can’t even read so how could anyone possibly understand without reading herpaderp but whatever let’s just keep sidestepping his revelations derpaherp.” See also 19:48 of the video. [↩]
- Well, I more just read about it in -assets. What, you think I watch moving pictures to get my news ? Who has time for that ? [↩]
- A convenient “personal perspective” given that every shill of a news outlet framed it in precisely these terms, wouldn’t you say ? [↩]
- Strange sort of cathartic shadenfreude, neh ? [↩]
- This is the essence of “teaching the controversy” that will pervade the rest of this discussion. To my eye, Snowden completely appreciates what he did and accepts the risks. Yet through the lens of the constructed narrative intended to discredit him and distract from his reports, he’s dodgy and slimy and a mean bad person mkay. Like I dunno, a troll or something.
This is the essential difference between the inside and the outside of the emotional bubble that is “democratic debate” : from the inside, Snowden’s character matters so much as to be the central pivot of all subsequent argumentation ; from the outside, the value of the information he provided matters above and beyond all else, be that whether he rapes Thai lady-boys for fun, eats dogfood whenever he has a headache, or bathes exclusively in pig’s breast milk. [↩]
- When faced with an emotional conversational
opponentpartner, it does well to play into this feature, just as it does to use a tennis racquet in a tennis match instead of a cricket paddle, hence my references to families are amply useful in making my point, just as the state does when it calls someone it doesn’t like a “kiddy diddler” or some such. [↩]
- Too long of a train track ? That’s a failure to properly use the scarce resources of The People and a ‘tenner’ in the Gulag. Too short of a train track ? That’s a failure to properly account for the needs of The People, also a ‘tenner’ in the Gulag. [↩]
- See 21:24 of video. [↩]