What the US government PR machine has done with the Snowden leaks is really amazing; absolutely horrible, but amazing. It’s that awe you get when some feat of great skill, regardless of any context of morality.

When Snowden’s revelations exploded the US government had to scramble to figure out how they were going to do damage control. Yes, it was exposed that they were trying to spy on every man, woman, and child on the planet without any care for law or oversight, but that was never up for debate. That was going to continue no matter what. Instead, the US government had to find a way to manage the fallout in a way that minimized exposure and attention to their illegal programs, while at the same time allowing those programs to continue.

Snowden revealed the US government was collecting EVERYTHING electronic. They read your email, your facebook posts, monitor your browsing history, your amazon purchases, track your location with your phone, and record all the phone calls you make.

They chose to sacrifice the program of the bulk phone records collection.

With everything exposed, the US government had the media frame the debate around phone records. They took everything the government was doing and ignored everything but bulk phone record collection.

During the Bush/Cheney years I was introduced to the concept of the media/politicians repeating something over and over again in order to force an association between two things. We saw the same thing happen here with regards to the NSA leaks. Whenever the leaks were brought up, they were always in the context of phone records. This was repeated over and over again until the (NSA leaks = bulk phone records collection) and everything else disappeared.

Now that the US media had reduced the scope of the leaks down to just one program, it was important to frame the debate in a way that would produce the outcome they wanted. (Namely, no real changes)

As a student you might have learned that how/what you ask as a question can influence a discussion. The classic example is asking someone:

“So how many times a week do you beat your wife?”

The question comes with a set of built in assumptions, namely that you beat your wife. It frames the discussion in a particular way. It’s a “loaded question.”

The question we heard over and over again after the Snowden leaks was “Who should keep the phone records the government collects? The Telecom companies or the government?”

That’s a loaded question that assumes the bulk collection is going to continue.

“Telecoms or the government” was a distraction debate. The media pushed this “debate” as a way to draw people’s attention away from the fact that the government was still illegally collecting all of your phone calls (and everything else for that matter.)

Now the US congress can bring up a bill to stop the bulk collection of phone records in their present form. Politicians can appear to be doing something, they get their good PR, and in the end the bill doesn’t actually do anything to change the situation, but the public gets their dog and pony show and is satisfied. Story arc complete. Cue curtains. News cycle moves on. Status Quo maintained.

You can’t help but appreciate the evil beauty of the whole situation.