There was a time when I really wished I could understand what drives Glenn Greenwald’s hatred of President Obama. But then, I realized. I really don’t care. I just wish his editors would be a little more discerning with his use of links and, um, “facts.” I used to be able to count on the UK Guardian as an unwavering, very dependable news source, but it’s becoming more difficult to do so, when they hire people like Greenwald to write for them.
First of all, they portray Greenwald as a progressive or liberal, and I don’t see him that way at all. But that isn’t what really bothers me about Greenwald. The most bothersome thing is the way he uses suppositions and facts interchangeably, as if they’re equal.
Take his latest column, regarding Obama’s nomination of James Comey as director of the FBI. Greenwald, as usual, uses the column as a vehicle for tooting his own horn, and to make an unsubstantiated attack against President Obama. First, he tries to establish himself as an expert on the covert activities of the Bush Administration, because he’s written about it many times. Now, I would never belittle that. I actually find much of the information on the NSA spying program to be very credible. Yet, he seems to have chosen to ignore his own notes in some spots, only to remember them later, when he’s pretty sure readers have stopped reading. In this article, he makes statements about Comey that are simply not supported by available evidence, and then contradicts himself. In fact, after he starts like a house afire, and essentially blames Cowey for the downfall of civil rights, by the end of the article, he pretty much admits that Obama could have chosen much worse.
The question I keep asking myself is, where are his editors? He’s not writing for his own personal blog; he’s representing a truly good news organization. Why does he get to tell outright lies and then contradict himself later within the same column.
For example, this is from his column;
…the Bush DOJ’s most senior lawyers – Attorney General John Ashcroft, Deputy Attorney General James Comey and OLC chief Jack Goldsmith – approved a legal memorandum in 2004 endorsing radical executive power theories and warped statutory interpretations, concluding that the Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was legal, thus making it more difficult to prosecute the Bush officials who ordered it (even if the Obama DOJ were inclined to prosecute, which they were not).
It was announced yesterday that this very same James Comey – who as Bush’s Deputy Attorney General authorized the once-very-controversial, patently illegal Bush NSA eavesdropping program – is President Obama’s choice to be the new Director of the FBI.
I left the links in there, because I found them fascinating. For proof that Obama chose Comey, Greenwald uses a New York Times Article. But the link for his claim that Comey “authorized” the NSA eavesdropping program, he links to a TWEET! Seriously, click on it. It’s a bit unbelievable. Again, where are his editors?
The Tweet is from Jameel Jaffer, who is a Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU. I’m sure Mr. Jaffer is a great guy, and not at all a liar. But Greenwald claims he’s a journalist. At least I assume he is, since he’s writing opinion pieces for a news organization. That someone said something is not proof of truth, and journalists are supposed to dig for the truth. And the problem with the statement is, it’s simply not true.
How do I know this? Because Greenwald himself actually says otherwise. I’m not kidding. Start with the following passage from the Times article Greenwald so kindly linked to:
In the 2004 episode that defined Mr. Comey’s time in the Bush administration, the White House counsel, Alberto R. Gonzales, and Mr. Bush’s chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., sought to persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft — who was hospitalized and disoriented — to reauthorize the administration’s controversial eavesdropping program.
Mr. Comey, who was serving as the acting attorney general and had been tipped off that Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card were trying to go around him, rushed to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to thwart them. With Mr. Comey as well as Mr. Mueller in the room, Mr. Ashcroft refused to reauthorize the program. Mr. Bush later agreed to make changes in the program, and Mr. Comey was widely praised for putting the law over politics.
According to testimony Mr. Comey provided to Congress in 2007, Mr. Ashcroft rose weakly from his hospital bed when Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Card approached and refused to approve the program.
That information actually came from an in-depth investigative piece the Times published in 2010 – the one that Mr. Jaffer was referring to in his Tweet, which I easily found here. The one that’s entitled, “Justice Deputy Resisted Parts of Spy Program.”
Getting the information wrong is only part of the story. Greenwald apparently hopes beyond hope that his fans will only read a few paragraphs, because several graphs after he says Comey “authorized” the wiretapping program, he recounts the above scenario. Now, there are a couple of things to keep in mind, not the least of which is that Comey was DEPUTY Attorney General, and was only Acting Attorney General while Ashcroft was extremely ill in the hospital. In other words, the only time Comey could have “authorized” any such program, he clearly didn’t. What’s more, Greenwald knows this, because later he says:
It is true that Comey was at the center of a dramatic Bush-era political controversy that earned him praise from many Bush critics, including me. Comey was one of the Bush DOJ lawyers who, along with Ashcroft, Goldsmith, and FBI Director Robert Mueller, had threatened to resign if Bush did not modify the NSA program in order to make it legal in Comey’s eyes, and he then went to the hospital where Ashcroft was quite ill to prevent then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andy Card from bullying the infirm and barely cogent Attorney General into signing off on the legality of the NSA program.
In other words, there was something the NSA was doing for years – that we still don’t know – even more extreme than the illegal NSA program revealed by the NYT in 2005. It was Comey, along with Ashcroft, Mueller, and Goldsmith, who threatened to resign if it did not stop, and they deserve credit for that. But the reason they didn’t end up resigning was because Bush officials “modified” that NSA program into something those lawyers could and did endorse: the still-illegal, still-radical NSA eavesdropping program that spied on the communications of Americans without warrants and in violation of the law. And this was accomplished by inventing a new legal theory to accompany the old one: that Congress, when it enacted the 2001 AUMF, silently and “implicitly” authorized Bush to eavesdrop in exactly the ways the law expressly forbade.
Wow. First, Greenwald suggests that Comey “authorized” the program, then he matter-of-factly denies the same and then suggests that Comey must have signed off on something that was “even more extreme’” than the wiretapping program, even though even he doesn’t know what it could be.
Greenwald’s not done, of course. Apparently unconvinced he has made his case on the NSA wiretapping program, he switched to the torture memos.
Then there’s Comey’s mixed and quite murky role in authorizing Bush’s torture program. Internal DOJ emails released to the New York Times in 2009 show Comey expressing serious reservations, and even objections, to the willingness of Albert Gonzales to legally authorize any interrogation techniques the White House wanted, and he warned those officials that their involvement would be condemned by history. But even as he did so, Comey, as the New York Times explained, eventually, albeit reluctantly, gave his legal approval to those techniques:
“Previously undisclosed Justice Department e-mail messages, interviews and newly declassified documents show that some of the lawyers, including James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general who argued repeatedly that the United States would regret using harsh methods, went along with a 2005 legal opinion asserting that the techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency were lawful.
“That opinion, giving the green light for the CIA to use all 13 methods in interrogating terrorism suspects, including waterboarding and up to 180 hours of sleep deprivation,‘was ready to go out and I concurred,’ Mr. Comey wrote to a colleague in an April 27, 2005, e-mail message obtained by The New York Times.”
As I wrote at the time, the NYT article significantly overstated Comey’s role in approving these torture programs. But it is true that he ultimately acquiesced to their legalization.
This is just not true. And given that Greenwald is a lawyer, he has to understand this. He was asked his opinion about whether or not the torture methods were legal. The Bush torture memos didn’t “legalize” anything. In many ways, the AUMF, which Greenwald practically dismisses as irrelevant, and the Patriot Act largely did that. Here is a link to the Comey torture emails. While Greenwald sees a guy who’s tying to “legalize” torture, it’s clear the opposite is going on here.
Greenwald obfuscates better than anyone, too. For instance, it’s instructive to point out where he chooses to cut off his New York Times citation. Here are the next couple of paragraphs: read as follows:
While signing off on the techniques, Mr. Comey in his e-mail provided a firsthand account of how he tried unsuccessfully to discourage use of the practices. He made a last-ditch effort to derail the interrogation program, urging Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to argue at a White House meeting in May 2005 that it was “wrong.”
“In stark terms I explained to him what this would look like some day and what it would mean for the president and the government,” Mr. Comey wrote in a May 31, 2005, e-mail message to his chief of staff, Chuck Rosenberg. He feared that a case could be made “that some of this stuff was simply awful.”
In other words, while Comey had to admit that current US law was probably in favor of torture, he thought it was wrong. Such a thing is actually quite common. In fact, the reason more “Banksters” haven’t been arrested and thrown in jail is because, while a lot of what they did was unethical and immoral, they were legal at the time. It’s why we needed Dodd-Frank, and why we need to expand Dodd-Frank.
Basically, Cowey separated the legal argument from the moral and ethical argument, which is actually ultimately a good thing.
Let’s be clear about something. The FBI Director position has to be filled, and the only way to do that is to give Republicans someone they have a difficult time rejecting. That means the choice had to be conservative. Even Greenwald admits (long after he assumes his readers have given up on him) Comey really isn’t a horrible choice at the end:
James Comey is far from the worst choice to lead the FBI. I doubt it will change much of anything one way or the other, and there are undoubtedly worse people within the senior ranks of the Democratic Party who would be the likely alternatives. But it’s still a potent symbol of how little has changed in the right direction and how much it has changed in the wrong direction. If you had told progressives in 2008 that the Bush lawyer who approved the NSA program would be named by Obama as the FBI Director, they would scoff in disbelief. Now they’ll cheer. That is what has changed.
Only he did NOT “approve” the NSA program, Glenn. You and the New York Times just said that.
This is the sad state of journalism these days, folks.