It is difficult to believe that there was an NSA-related controversy at the Oscar's this weekend, but indeed there was. When Citizenfour, the documentary on Edward Snowden and his release of NSA secrets, won for best documentary, presenter Neil Patrick Harris joked that Snowden "couldn't be here for some treason."
One of the three who accepted the Oscar for Citizenfour, journalist Glenn Greenwald, denounced the joke as "stupid and irresponsible."
"I thought it was pretty pitiful," Greenwald told BuzzFeed after the awards. "So to just casually spew that sort of accusation against someone who's not even charged with it, let alone convicted of it, I think is, you know, stupid and irresponsible."
But Snowden himself, in a Monday question-and-answer with Reddit users, said he laughed at the joke.
"To be honest, I laughed at NPH," Snowden wrote in response to a user question asking about the joke. "I don't think it was meant as a political statement, but even if it was, that's not so bad. My perspective is if you're not willing to be called a few names to help out your country, you don't care enough."
Harris' joke did touch, whether intentionally or not, on a long-running debate in the US as to whether Snowden's actions make him a hero or a traitor. Speaking for myself, I have argued previously that this debate wrongly seeks to classify Snowden and his actions in a black-or-white, good-or-evil context that does justice to neither Snowden nor the practices his leaks exposed.
In any case, Snowden deserves credit for being willing to laugh at a joke that was at least partly at his expense, particularly given the degree to which the leaks have so changed his life, which now constitutes exile in Moscow.