The news media want to hand him not a rope but a pedestal.
The Guardian editorialized last week that its high-profile source is a hero worthy of a presidential pardon. Likewise, The New York Times opined that the Obama administration should offer Snowden "a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home" and serve less time than the three decades he faces under a pending criminal complaint so that he can enjoy "the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community."
Who knows? Mayhap The Gray Lady can give Snowden a blog whence he can lecture readers about privacy rights, as he did in a recent Christmas greeting video.
In one sense, Snowden, 30, is a sympathetic figure. In an ocean of anonymous leakers, he came forward to put a name on the avalanche of information he shared with Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and The Washington Post's Barton Gellman. That singular act gave credibility to the leaks, ended any debate as to what the NSA is doing and peeled off the gauze that camouflaged an industrial-sized intelligence bureaucracy that couldn't secure itself.
On the other hand, if Snowden can lift about 1.7 million classified documents without penalty, any contractor can leak state secrets with impunity. No other superpower on the planet would entertain such self-destructive folly.
Snowden has argued that he had a moral duty to challenge an intelligence machinery that was out of control. Hudson Institute senior fellow Gabriel Schoenfeld, author of "Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law," is not impressed. Snowden outed U.S. intelligence "for engaging in activity that almost every state engages in." The former contractor then went into hiding in China and Russia, where he enjoys temporary asylum. "I think it is disgraceful," quoth Schoenfeld, that Snowden lectures Washington but "doesn't have the courage to criticize abuses of free speech in his host country."
To reach its "free Snowden" position, the Times quoted a federal judge who found the NSA program to be "almost Orwellian" while ignoring another federal judge who upheld the program's constitutionality. The Times also ignored testimony that "telephony metadata" prevented as many as 50 potential terrorist attacks, including a 2009 plot to blow up the New York subway.