Well, I didn’t see this coming.

The Guardian today in an editorial called for a pardon for Edward Snowden, while a New York Times editorial, posted late tonight, labels Snowden (right in its headline) a true “whistleblower,” hails his contributions and pleads for clemency.

Pundits and politicians are likely to reject this view, but Glenn Greenwald quickly pre-empted via Twitter: “How many media people who object to NYT editorial on ground that ‘lawbreaking must be punished’ will mention Clapper, torturers or Wall St?” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweets: “Snowden exposed major misconduct. Others filing official complaints were ignored/persecuted. He should be pardoned.”

Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic claims Snowden’s critics are wrong—clemency would not set a “dangerous precedent.” The WikiLeaks twitter feed simply observed that the Times had “finally” called Snowden a “whistleblower.”  Kevin Gosztola at Firedoglake asks the Times editors: "If Edward Snowden is a Whistleblower, What Does That Make Chelsea Manning?"   UPDATE:  The Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan probes the paper's reasons for backing Snowden now–and she adds her support.

Here’s the Times:

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

After logging many Snowden-related revelations, it concludes:

The shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security. Many of the mass-collection programs Mr. Snowden exposed would work just as well if they were reduced in scope and brought under strict outside oversight, as the presidential panel recommended.

When someone reveals that government officials have routinely and deliberately broken the law, that person should not face life in prison at the hands of the same government. That’s why Rick Ledgett, who leads the N.S.A.’s task force on the Snowden leaks, recently told CBS News that he would consider amnesty if Mr. Snowden would stop any additional leaks. And it’s why President Obama should tell his aides to begin finding a way to end Mr. Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home.

And from The Guardian:

Man does civic duty, and is warmly thanked? Of course not. Should Mr Snowden return to his homeland he can confidently expect to be prosecuted under the Espionage Act and, if convicted—like Chelsea Manning before him—locked away for a very long time. For all his background in constitutional law and human rights, Mr Obama has shown little patience for whistleblowers: his administration has used the Espionage Act against leakers of classified information far more than any of his predecessors. It is difficult to imagine Mr Obama giving Mr Snowden the pardon he deserves.

Mike Calderone at Huff Post tweets: “Don’t know if NYT can sway Obama on Snowden clemency, but it is the editorial page that matters most in the White House.” David Frum asks: “What’s the NYT edit board’s win/loss rate on its recommendations being accepted by Obama administration?” Tim Karr of The Free Press: “Clemency would help this ; but we need to repeal the Espionage Act and strengthen whistle-blower protections to help future Snowdens.” More as reaction sets in.