The Horrific Overuse of “Defiant”

The top right headline across four columns in Friday’s NY Times was “Defiant Russia Grants Snowden Year’s Asylum.” Please, spare us the parroting of the official story and just give us the news. Other sources led with the press secretary’s “extremely disappointing” or versions thereof. The WSJ used “defying” to refer to Russia in the first paragraph, though the headline was that the grant of temporary asylum “Hits U.S.-Russia Relations.”

One problem with “defiant” is that Russia and the U.S. have no extradition treaty. The broader issue is that the Times does readers no favors by insinuating that we are not living in a multipolar world where if we force down the plane of a South American head of state whose flight began in Moscow, we can hardly expect Russia to hand Snowden over without losing face. As Alexei Pushkov, head of Russia’s State Duma Committee on international affairs, put it, “Even though Obama said that he wouldn’t ground a plane over some ’29-year-old hacker,’ they trapped Snowden after they grounded the Bolivian president‘s plane.” The U.S. government is quite understandably eager to arrest Snowden–but their actions had the consequence of compelling Snowden to stay where he was and effectively compelling Putin, who was apparently eager to see Snowden leave Russia, to let him stay. Just because Putin has been wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove in all this is no reason to misreport Russia’s actions as “defiant.”

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