These charts show how the Edward Snowden story is overwhelming the NSA story

July 3, 2013

Ever since the first details of the NSA's surveillance programs broke in early June, there have been two distinct types of coverage. There's news about the NSA itself — its programs, the fallout. And there's been news about the guy who leaked the information, Edward Snowden.

And, lately, Snowden appears to be dominating the headlines.

There are a couple of ways to see this. A search for "snowden" on Google News currently returns about 628 million search results, while a search for "NSA" returns about 235 million. That's not a precise estimate, but it's suggestive.

Another way is to look at Google Trends, which tries to measure search interest in a story. Here's a look at how "NSA" stacks up with "Snowden" as search terms over time within the United States. In the early days of he leaks, everyone was interested in the agency itself. But lately focus has shifted to the leaker — particularly after he announced he'd seek asylum in Ecuador:

You can play around with the graph here, and the trends don't change substantially if you try "NSA" instead of "National Security Agency" or look at how the whole world is searching rather than just Americans.

To take another example, here's how "Snowden" stacks up with "PRISM," the secret surveillance program that was exposed by the Guardian and The Washington Post in early June:

And here's a look at Twitter mentions of the three terms, as tracked by Topsy. Same basic deal:

Maybe that's not too surprising. The Snowden story is, after all, genuinely fascinating — not least after he disappeared into the bowels of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport and was then thought to be hiding on the president of Bolivia's plane (he wasn't, in turned out).

But a few weeks ago, some reporters were worried that the Snowden circus would distract from broader coverage of the NSA's surveillance programs themselves. "Snowden’s flight and its surrounding geopolitics are a good story; what he made public is a better one," wrote Ben Smith. And, at least for now, the flight seems to be crowding out everything else.

Further (non-Snowden) reading: 

--Here's everything we've learned about how the NSA's secret programs work.

--The FISA court is acting like a legislature, and that's a problem.

--Obama says the NSA has plenty of oversight. Here's why he's wrong.

--NSA documents "indicate that public assertions about these programs by senior U.S. officials have also often been misleading, erroneous or simply false."

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Sarah Kliff | July 3, 2013