Neil Patrick Harris catches flak for his Snowden pun at the Oscars

A joke by Oscars host Neil Patrick Harris made at the expense of U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden on Sunday evening probably didn’t get the response he thought it would.

Surprising few, the elusive filmmaker Laura Poitras received an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film Citizenfour, which follows her journey with journalist Glenn Greenwald to greet and debrief Snowden in Hong Kong. She was joined on stage by Greenwald, Citizenfour producer Dirk Wilutzky and editor Mathilde Bonnefoy, and much to everyone’s surprise, Lindsay Mills, Snowden’s girlfriend who now lives with him in Moscow.

“The disclosures that Ed Snowden revealed don’t only expose a threat to privacy but to our democracy itself,” Poitras said upon receiving her Oscar. “When the most important decisions … [that] affected all of us are made in secret, we lose our ability to check the powers that control,” she said.

As Poitras and her colleagues departed the stage, Harris, a.k.a. “NPH” made his quip:

“The subject of Citizenfour, Edward Snowden, could not be here tonight for some treason.” 

(Sorry, this embed was not found.)

Snowden is charged with three felonies, including espionage, but is not charged with treason. Either way, Snowden supporters on Twitter did not find his joke funny.

A few people, however, found the value in NPH’s pun, even while still supporting Snowden as a whistleblower:

Snowden’s leaked documents have caused a wave of controversy for more than a year and a half, sparking widespread debate over the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance capabilities. Snowden currently resides in Russia, and many fear that returning to the United States may mean a secret trial and life behind bars for the 31-year-old.

Last week, Snowden’s leaked files played an instrumental role in revealing that the British and American governments have potentially compromised billions of cellphone SIM cards worldwide.

Poitras was previously nominated for her 2006 film My Country, My Country which examines the nation of Iraq under U.S. military occupation. Citizenfour will air on HBO on Monday, Feb. 23, at 9pm. 

Update: This article has been updated to provide additional clarity and context.

Photo by Disney ABC Television Group/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron

Dell Cameron was a reporter at the Daily Dot who covered security and politics. In 2015, he revealed the existence of an American hacker on the U.S. government's terrorist watchlist. He is a co-author of the Sabu Files, an award-nominated investigation into the FBI's use of cyber-informants. He became a staff writer at Gizmodo in 2017.