When I graduated from college, one of my first job supervisors said to me, "Rhoads, I like what you are trying to do. But I am not sure I really like what you are actually doing." The case of NSA-leaker Edward Snowden helps to illustrate why so many news stories get so complicated. We often think that any choice must be a mutually exclusive one. We think that Snowden must be either a hero who wanted to expose too much government spying on ordinary citizens, or that he must be a super villain and traitor to America who betrayed the secrets of our country. But we usually do not think that he could be both at the same time.
Snowden could be a seen by some people as a hero who still deserves to go to jail or even as a bad villain whose actions, regardless of their motivation, still might provoke the necessary national debate that could ultimately help his country in some mysterious and unforseen way in the future. It is impossible to fully evaluate Snowden right now becuase you would need to be able to read his mind to understand his motives, which also could also be mixed up. So no matter if Snowden thought he was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons or the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, or any combination, his case has helped to get many Americans across the political spectrum to re-examine just how much we should trust our government to be the ultimate spy and collector of intelligence and at what price in terms of our personal freedom, privacy, and safety. The fact that Snowden is now a fugitive from justice in Russia certainly does not argue in favor of the notion that his motives are pure and altruistic. But the irony is that the debate he has started could still help all of us even if a court someday finds him guilty of treason.