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MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry can no longer bear former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s effort to travel to a country that will grant him asylum for blowing the whistle on massive secret surveillance by the United States government. She wrote an “open letter” for Snowden, which she read on her weekend cable news program, urging him to come back home to the US.

A posting on her show’s page reads, “Espionage. International intrigue. Secret government surveillance. Bad airport food. The Edward Snowden saga continued on Friday, when the leaker–who revealed information about the NSA’s surveillance of phone and internet records–spoke out from the Moscow airport, where he’s been holed up for three weeks, to demand that the U.S. stop interfering with his attempts to escape prosecution.”

This setup suggests that Harris-Perry finds Snowden’s belief that he must seek asylum from the United States to be trivial and unreasonable and that is exactly the case.

Glibly, she begins, “It’s me, Melissa. I hear you’re looking for a country. Well, wouldn’t you know, I have an idea for you! How about…this one?”

She adds, “I know you’re not super pleased with the government these days–and I feel you. The information you revealed about surveillance raises serious issues about the behaviors of our leaders and how they justify and hide those practices from the public. But, here is the deal: it’s time to come home and face the consequences of the actions for which you are so proud.”

Then, Harris-Perry goes on about how Snowden is somehow subjecting her to a situation where she has to talk about him instead of what he has disclosed on NSA secret surveillance programs:

…[M]aybe your intentions were completely altruistic–it’s not that you wanted attention, but that you wanted us, the public, to know just how much information our government has about us. That is something worth talking about. But by engaging in this Tom Hanks-worthy, border-jumping drama through some of the world’s most totalitarian states, you’re making yourself the story.

We could be talking about whether accessing and monitoring citizen information and communications is constitutional, or whether we should continue to allow a secret court to authorize secret warrants using secret legal opinions.

But we’re not. We’re talking about you! And flight paths between Moscow and Venezuela, and how much of a jerk Glenn Greenwald is. We could at least be talking about whether the Obama administration is right that your leak jeopardized national security. But we’re not talking about that, Ed.

We’re talking about you. I can imagine you’d say, well then stop! Just talk about something else. But here’s the problem, even if your initial leak didn’t compromise national security, your new cloak and dagger game is having real and tangible geopolitical consequences. So, well, we have to talk about…you.

We’re talking about how maybe now you’re compromising national security by jumping from country to country, causing international incidents and straining U.S. relationships with Russia and China. Really. Important. Relationships. And we’re talking about how you praised countries like Russia and Venezuela for “standing against human rights violations” and “refusing to compromise their principles.”

Government officials, particularly the administration of President Barack Obama, appreciate pundits like Harris-Perry, who think it is important to talk about how he is “causing international incidents and straining US relationships,” even though it is impossible to know what effect he has had right now.

How could he have made relations any worse? She did see this awkward photo of Obama and Russia President Vladmir Putin meeting to discuss Syria. She does know that the Obama administration had ramped up its campaign against the Chinese for hacking into US government systems and the systems of US corporations. They were outright accusing the Chinese government of encouraging cyber-espionage, even as the NSA was apparently engaged in hacking and cyber spying as well.

Also, what she says indicates a casual indifference to the reality that Snowden has a right to seek asylum and would not be engaged in what appears to be a “cloak and dagger” game if the Obama administration was not preemptively contacting all countries considering offering him asylum.

The American Civil Liberties Union described recently how they have interfered with his right in two ways: by revoking his passport and by preventing him from receiving “fair and impartial consideration of his asylum application” in many of the countries which he has applied. But that is not something Harris-Perry wants to consider because, Edward, come back home so I can stop having to talk about you on my show.

Harris-Perry continues:

I understand that you don’t want to come back. To do so would mean giving up your freedom, definitely before the trial, and likely for several months or years thereafter.

Yes, as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg recently emphasized in an editorial for the Washington Post, when his charges were increased from three counts to 12, with a possible 115-year sentenc, his bond increased to $50,000. He was, however, able to be out of prison for the “whole two years” that he was under indictment to “speak to the media and at rallies and public lectures.”

In the America of the present, Ellsberg declared, “There is no chance that experience could be reproduced today,” or that actions against Snowden, which might be illegal, would lead to the termination of Snowden’s prosecution.

As Harris-Perry concludes her “open letter,” it is clear this is a reality she is willing to accept:

I get it. It’s in its prisons where the U.S. commits actual human rights violations.

More than 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement, some for years, some indefinitely, despite the fact that solitary is cruel and psychologically damaging.

I know those aren’t the human rights violations, though, that you’re complaining about, Ed. But you might not have nothing to worry about anyway. Unlike most of the people in solitary confinement–including Private Bradley Manning, on trial for giving data to Wikileaks–you have cultivated a level of celebrity that itself will act as protection if you ever find yourself in U.S. prison. You’ve made a spectacle of yourself, and the Obama Administration will be very careful about how it treats you. Unlike all those other prisoners.

“Actual human rights violations” is an indication that she does not consider pervasive surveillance violating the Fourth Amendment to be a human rights violation. She would not have included the word “actual” if that was not the case.

Michael Bochenek, Director of Law and Policy at Amnesty International, has said, “It appears he is being charged by the US government primarily for revealing its – and other governments’ – unlawful actions that violate human rights.” And, “No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations. Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression.”

The message is clear however: solitary confinement is a human rights violation to Harris-Perry. The operations of the surveillance state? That is business as usual for the Obama administration and we should look the other way.


Harris-Perry’s contention since at least June 29 has been if Snowden really considers himself someone who engaged in an act of civil disobedience he should “face the consequences” like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela did.

As I wrote when she spoke about Snowden on her show, this whole argument that Snowden should have martyred himself and been arrested and faced life in prison if he really wanted to commit civil disobedience would be much more credible if Harris-Perry actually covered whistleblowers and had whistleblowers on her program to talk about these issues. A look over past shows indicates that on less than five programs there has been mention of “whistleblowers.”

I particularly highlighted the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, a case of a soldier engaging in multiple acts of civil disobedience. He is on trial right now, facing the possibility of being put in prison for life. He disclosed the “Collateral Murder” video, the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, the US State Embassy cables, the “Gitmo Files,” a report from the Army Counterintelligence Center that presumed WikiLeaks was a “threat,” etc. Whether Harris-Perry is that familiar with his case, I do not know. She has not covered it at all on her program.

Harris-Perry quite clearly does not think Snowden is a whistleblower or else she would be calling him one. Because she does not consider him a whistleblower, everything else is mass distraction.

But, it is not like she spent a section of her program talking about the geopolitical consequences of his acts like she warned in her “open letter.” The “open letter” was the only time that she talked about the latest with Snowden. In fact, her cheap dig at Snowden over “actual human rights violations” was her way of segueing into the next segment of her show on women in California prisons, solitary confinement and the force-feeding at Guantanamo Bay prison during Ramadan—each topics worthy of discussion.

Over the past month, CNN has mentioned Snowden during more than 370 news hours or programs. Fox News has mentioned Snowden during more than 80 news hours or programs. MSNBC has mentioned Snowden during just over 40 news hours or programs.

As Jeff Cohen recently wrote, “When it comes to issues of U.S. militarism and spying, the allegedly “progressive” MSNBC often seems closer to the “official network of the Obama White House” than anything resembling an independent channel,” and, “With Obama in power, a number of MSNBC talking heads have reacted to the Snowden disclosures like Fox News hosts did when they were in hysterical damage control mode for Bush – complete with ridiculously fact-free claims and national chauvinism that we’ve long come to expect from the “fair & balanced” channel.”

While the obvious point would seem to be that Harris-Perry and other hosts, who bluster about suggesting Snowden is making them talk about Snowden and they don’t like it, could just cover the exposures on NSA programs without paying attention to what he is doing in Moscow, the much more salient point is that they do not really care. Issues facing potential whistleblowers in America do not chart on the list of issues Harris-Perry is committed to covering so she has little patience for the story of Snowden, which seems to continue to hold the attention of a number of Americans.