The New York Times' "public editor" writes a little piece that asks an interesting question in the title:
By MARGARET SULLIVAN
She lists various articles over the last eight years that recounted much of what Edward Snowden said. For example, James Bamford has been covering the NSA since his 1982 book The Puzzle Palace. Bamford regularly discloses interesting information in Wired, such as the revelations of the more central NSA whistleblower William Binney.
And there were plenty of disclosures about telephone metadata snooping going back to Carl Cameron's four-part Fox series in 2001.
No doubt there are lots of reason Snowden got so much publicity, but let me mention a subtle one. Unlike Bamford, Binney, Cameron and many others who have looked into snooping in America, Snowden, as far as I can tell, has never mentioned the I-Word: Israel.
Generally, anybody who looks into NSA questions pretty quickly notices that the NSA outsourced some spying on Americans to Israelis, and that, by now, the question of which country is the dog and which country is the tail has gotten murky. For example, here's a 2012 Wired article by Bamford:
But that's not the kind of thing that the media or, to be frank, the great majority of the American public wants to think about. We've all been socialized to shut our brains off when it comes to this tail wagging the dog question. Cameron got to keep his job at Fox, for example, but his series got erased from the official record.
Snowden, in contrast, has kept things nice and neat for people. Everybody seems to have a nice strong opinion about Snowden in part because he hasn't set off the mental shutdown process that the I-Word provokes in well-trained Americans.