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Debating 'The Snowden Effect'

On Monday's NOW with Alex Wagner, Alex and the panel discussed "The Snowden Effect" -- a term coined by NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen.

On Monday's NOW with Alex Wagner, Alex and the panel discussed "The Snowden Effect" -- a term coined by NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen.

"The Snowden Effect," he writes, is the "direct and indirect gains in public knowledge from the cascade of events and further reporting that followed Edward Snowden’s leaks of classified information."

The substance of Snowden's leaks, Rosen argues, is much more important than the media's obsessive focus on the "Snowden Saga"--his flight from justice that has taken him from Hong Kong to Moscow, and now has him weighing asylum offers from Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

Alex Wagner read aloud two passages from articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times this weekend documenting the workings of the secretive FISA Court, which the latter reported has "quietly become almost a parallel Supreme Court."

"That's terrifying," she said. "The president has said the three branches of government have signed off on all of this, but when you dig deeper into how the law allows the government to do these things, the terminology is incredibly vague. Whether it's 'imminent threat' or 'relevant,' I mean these are hugely broad terms with much grey area!" Executive Editor Richard Wolffe agreed about the need to have a substantive debate about the leaks themselves, but said Snowden had only himself to blame for diverting attention away from his cause.

"Even with the secrecy that comes with national intelligence there is a room for debate about the powers of that court," Wolffe said. "I just think that Snowden, his intent, his strategy, his personality, his libertarianism--all of that clouds these very complicated issues and makes it much harder to have this debate."

Salon Editor-at-Large Joan Walsh said that even her liberal friends who remain unperturbed by the NSA surveillance programs should be concerned about the conservative makeup of the FISA court--a theme taken up by New Yorker columnist Hendrik Hertzberg.

"What scares me about these new revelations about the FISA court is that of the eleven members--all of them appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts--ten are Republican appointees, so this is an even more Republican court than the Supreme Court itself," Hertzberg said. "At least there you've got four people who are looking out for the public interest," he joked.

According to a new poll, Americans remain fairly divided about Snowden's actions, with 33% saying he did the right thing by leaking NSA documents and 38% saying he did the wrong thing.