In 1972, a lone junior reporter met with his deep background, anonymous source in a Washington, D.C. garage under the cover of night. “Deep Throat” told Bob Woodward the full extent of the Watergate conspiracy that Woodward and partner Carl Bernstein had overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to reveal. As depicted in All the President’s Men:

The list is longer than anyone can imagine. It involves the entire U.S. intelligence community. FBI. CIA. Justice. ... It leads everywhere. Your lives are in danger. ... You are under surveillance.

The two reporters, with the support of their editor, and despite widespread apathy among the American public, doggedly built the case that traced the crimes back to the White House, ultimately resulting in the August 9, 1974 resignation of Richard Nixon.

As these reporters’ investigation led them closer and closer, Richard Nixon may well have demanded that Woodward and Bernstein be gagged—in private. But never dared to issue this proclamation in the public arena. Had he given such a directive, the move to impeach may well have come much sooner.

Yet, in 2013, a former senior NSA official, using his own name, on camera, with two of his associates corroborating his account in full, and with his lawyer present, declares on the record to one of America’s major news outlets, USA Today:

The government unchained itself from the Constitution as a result of 9/11. And in the absolute darkest of secrecy, at the highest levels of the government, approved by the White House, NSA became the executive agent for a surveillance program that turned the United States of America effectively into the equivalent of a foreign nation for dragnet electronic surveillance.

Deep Throat was not the story in 1972, and Edward Snowden is not the story today. The abuse of America’s intelligence agencies is.

As more NSA whistleblowers came forward and detailed for USA Today, they had attempted “for the better part of seven years” to call attention to this out-of-control “Leviathan surveillance state” and restore Constitutional protections to the American people. Thus, they defend Edward Snowden for making his revelations directly to the news media:

Certainly he performed a really great public service to begin with by exposing these programs and making the government in a sense publicly accountable for what they’re doing. At least now they are going to have some kind of open discussion like that.

And yet, we are not having an open discussion. We are instead seeing a media circus. The messenger, Edward Snowden, has been made “the story.” Never mind those drab men in grey suits—the senior NSA officials trying to blow an apparently silent whistle. And, in particular, make sure to pay absolutely no attention to the message any of them is delivering.

Keeping under safe political cover, President Obama is deferring to the Justice Department—the same Justice Department which seized the Associated Press’ phone records and criminalized Fox News reporter James Rosen to pursue a leak investigation into a former State Department contractor. The President feeds the myth that the issue is confined to Mr. Snowden, and that “the rule of law” requires that Snowden’s extradition back to the U.S., where he stands to face felony criminal charges of theft of government property and two espionage charges: giving national defense information to someone without a security clearance and revealing classified information about “communications intelligence”—each of which carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Thus, Mr. Snowden becomes the eighth person charged under the 1917 Espionage Act under President Obama—more than twice the number charged under all previous administrations combined since the Act’s passage almost a century ago.

Arguably, the U.S. was under far greater imminent danger during President Nixon’s administration than today: the Cold War had become a hot war, with the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Nixon’s opening up of relations with China was dissipating the Chinese communist threat, but the Soviet Union and her worldwide allies remained a clear and present danger.

Richard Nixon was widely characterized as a paranoid leader. But how much more paranoid is charging eight people with espionage? If the current war is one against “Terror,” has Mr. Snowden aided and abetted any credible terrorist enemies of the state—or just enemies of the will of the Executive and a desire for universal spying privileges?

Had Deep Throat been made the story in 1972, Nixon, Haldeman, John Mitchell and the ill-fated gang would likely have served out their terms, passing along intact a network for spying on Americans that spells doom for liberty.

If we today make Edward Snowden the story—if we ask, “Where’s Snowden?” rather than “What’s the U.S. intelligence community doing to Americans’ civil liberties?”—we censure our whistle-blowing protectors as traitors, renounce our rights to privacy, and sanction a government completely “unchained” from the Constitution’s checks.

Is that really how we want to live?