Alternately toasted as a heroic individual of high principle who followed the dictates of his conscience and vilified as a self-aggrandizing traitor to his country, Edward Snowden, the young man who pilfered National Security Agency secrets and leaked them to a British newspaper, now faces an even more dismal fate irrelevancy.

The daily Page One above-the-fold treatment in newspapers around the globe has diminished. He no longer leads the nightly network newscasts. He's been replaced as the prime topic of heated discussions on the talkfest roundtables on network and cable television.

His media domination worn out, Snowden is a 30-year-old guy living in an airport in Moscow for nearly a month waiting for a government somewhere in the world to offer him a soft landing.

Instead of being the subject of serious debate among academics, politicians and media, he's turned into a late night target of comics who muse aloud whether his airport digs offer hot and cold running water and indoor plumbing.

In the meantime, the American public remains divided over whether Snowden is a high-minded whistleblower who was genuinely and deeply troubled by what he viewed as government's unwarranted and illegal intrusion into the private lives of its citizens or whether he's a direct descendant of Benedict Arnold, willing to sell out his native country.

The polling data strongly suggest that Americans concede he's had his 15 minutes of fame and that while his actions have embarrassed the U.S. government, they have not seriously threatened its security. Embarrassment fades, terrorist attacks do not.

That he has steadily shrunk into irrelevancy is evidenced by the daily stories that have been pushed further and further back in the newspaper and whose lengths have declined from columns to paragraphs.

The outrage over what he did, as well as the ringing defense of his acts, have both cooled considerably. Speeches on the floor of the Congress about Snowden's perfidy have ceased to be tickets to the front page or invitations to the Sunday morning talk shows. His defenders - once eagerly sought after by talk show hosts to fan the flames of outrage on either side - have been reduced to 10-second sound bites or ignored entirely.

Snowden's attempt to achieve martyrdom by describing himself as someone who acted to protect those who may feel compelled to follow his conduct in the future came across as self-serving, a carefully constructed effort to cloak his actions in courage and nobility.

He and his supporters complained that the U.S. government's revocation of his passport was a vindictive and retaliatory move to prevent him from reaching a safe haven. Likewise, they contended, the Obama administration used diplomatic threats to convince governments who might be sympathetic to Snowden to consider whether acting on that sympathy was worth the potential cost.

These arguments are self-rehabilitative efforts at best. What could Snowden realistically have expected the U.S. government to do? It is the height of naivete to have anticipated the administration would give an "oh, well" shrug of its shoulders and absorb the ferocious political beating certain to be inflicted if it did nothing.

Whatever Snowden's motives, he's discovered what a great many before him have - there's a time limit on fame or notoriety, that once there's nothing more for the media to dissect and analyze, its attention turns elsewhere in search of an issue or an individual capable of capturing the American imagination.

Nothing is quite so jarring or devastating than the crash back to Earth produced by the realization that you're no longer news. The heady, dazzling days of international attention have come to an end for Snowden, and the only question remaining to ponder is which nation will offer him asylum - and even that's little more than a one-day story.

How history will treat Snowden will be settled only with the passage of time, obviously, but the history of the moment suggests he's destined to become a footnote.

So, he remains stuck in a Moscow airport while the world, which for weeks was riveted on his every move and word, has turned its attention elsewhere.

His plight is reminiscent of the opening scene of the acclaimed film, "Casablanca," in which the narrator somberly describes the desperate attempts by its rootless citizens to flee.

Some succeed, he intones, but the rest "wait … and wait … and wait."

Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.


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