As those who have followed me for a while know, I am not a fan of Glenn Greenwald. It’s not personal. I think he’s a rude, arrogant, self-important asshole, but that’s not why I’m not a fan. Over the years, I’d say about half of the great reporters I have met and/or known rate the same description. But I respect them because they are/were great journalists.
Greenwald isn’t fit to lick their boots. Therefore, when one sees a performance like this one on BBC Newsnight, in which he displays his unfathomable arrogance and scorn for the legitimate news profession, it’s hard not to see a petulant middle schooler trying to convince the science teacher that he IS right; that the moon is made of green cheese, and he’s tasted it.
What the hell has Greenwald done to make himself think he’s such a world-class journalist?
First, watch this performance. It’s 14 minutes, but there are funny parts, I promise.
Anyone who has ever disagreed with Greenwald on anything knows his skin is about as thick as an onion’s. He cannot handle disagreement, and he takes it all personally. Which is why it’s actually a little bit funny, really, that he started off defensive when the woman interviewing him asked why he should be the arbiter of what is in the public interest and what is vital to national security. He claims that he’s no such a thing, because he works with other journalists at the Guardian. In other words, he either didn’t understand the question or chose to answer another..
His first definition of journalism is on one level interesting and inaccurate, as well as incomplete and rather childish. It is absolutely not the journalist’s job to “shine a light” on all things secret that people in power are trying to hide. He left out words like “detrimental” or “dangerous” or “compromise the public safety and security” or violate our civil rights. My beef with the Snowden story all along has been, these are simply secret documents; there has been nothing in documents released so far that demonstrate any wrongdoing on the part of the NSA. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. PRISM is not a “program,” and by all indications, they are going to the FISC with everything they want to do, and when they try to push too far, the FISC is pushing back. Nothing illegal in that.
But listen to his description of what they do, keeping in mind that he just said he’s no arbiter. He says he and the others go through each document line by line, and they don’t publish anything that would compromise national security. Isn’t it strange that someone who doesn’t trust anyone and is paranoid of everything demands that all of us trust him? He also doesn’t seem to understand that trust is earned over many years; it’s not instantaneous. Unlike Glenn, I demand that everyone check everything I say for veracity, and I provide sources, because I don’t expect anyone to just “trust me.” I hope you do, but I realize it’s not automatic. When he dismisses the GCHQ documents without saying anything more than “you can’t trust the government,” and expects us to believe him, it’s laughable. It’s not the statement of a journalist, but rather the statement of a crazy uncle who claims to have been taken away to other planets in flying saucers.
But notice what Greenwald doesn’t say.
He doesn’t say that experts screen the documents. He doesn’t say they interview people who can provide context for the documents. He doesn’t cite exactly where they come from or how they were used. For all we know, many of these documents came from a recycling bin or trash file for permanent deletion later. There could be 100 versions of some documents, and these were superseded by the 10th version. We are being presented with documents, and an IT guy, a lawyer-blogger who’s pretending to be a journalist, and (maybe) some actual journalists are highlighting them and telling us what they mean. There seem to be no experts in this scenario whatsoever. And let me be blunt; neither journalists nor lawyers have the ability to be experts on what NSA analysts do. If you wouldn’t have Keith Olbermann coach your NFL team, why would you trust Glenn Greenwald to explain to you what all of these documents mean, and how they mean the government is spying on you?
Greenwald claims his documents show instances where the NSA overstepped and recorded some emails and chat logs and things like this, and he implies that his documents show excess. Unfortunately, they don’t show that at all. What they have shown is that some NSA analysts have made mistakes, and that some others stepped over the line. But these instances came from internal NSA audits, the results of which were submitted to the FISC. In other words, the NSA is subjecting itself to oversight. That’s hardly the troublesome and constitutionally impermissible scenario Greenwald is trying to portray.
And what’s “laughable” isn’t the idea that publishing some of these documents may be damaging to national security, but rather Greenwald’s contention that they DO NOT have an effect on national security. I will agree with Greenwald in one respect; to claim that Snowden’s documents harm national security is speculation, to be sure. But it’s also speculation the other way, as well, and his job as a journalist isn’t to speculate in a way that matches his opinion. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what endangers our national security personnel in the field, because everything they do is secret. But as someone who considers myself patriotic, shouldn’t we be assuming that any information that helps a terrorist should be held secret, unless it demonstrates that a crime has been committed, or that civil rights are being violated? And so far, all we’ve seen from Greenwald are secrets; no evidence of crimes or serious ethical lapses.
This interview is full of the petulance and constant repetition of the same faulty logic that Greenwald is famous for. Notice his assumption that all spying is bad, and his dismissal of the interviewer’s suggestion that some spying is reassuring to the public. His sarcastic questions about whether there are pedophiles in Brazilian oil companies and the OAS, for example, based on his distaste for spying, demonstrate his inability to look at things with a journalistic eye. The answer might be yes! Could anyone have imagined at one time that there were pedophiles in the Catholic Church, or even in Congress? Basically, because he is predisposed to distrust the government, he must assume that anyone the government spies on is good and that all government spying is absurd.
And look at how he redefines journalism again. He claims that journalism is about preventing people in power from lying to the people they rule over. Keeping secrets is not the same as lying, and nothing Greenwald and Snowden has uncovered thus far has entailed a lie, or any systemic wrongdoing.
Also, note how indignant he becomes as he points out that HE hasn’t lost any documents, but that the NSA and GCHQ “lost” thousands. There’s that fake journalism streak again.
No, Glenn, Edward Snowden used his security clearance to STEAL documents. There’s a difference. If someone you trusted rifled through the bedroom Greenwald is wont to talk about and stole 100,000 reals, would you call the police, or would you just shrug and claim you lost it? It’s also quite humorous when Greenwald assures us all that the documents are incredibly safe and secure in his and the Guardian’s possession. He says that, unlike that leaky NSA and GCHQ, they’re using many layers of encryption, and they’re just safe as a bug in a rug. Uh huh. Then, the BBC reporter – an actual journalist – reminds him that when his partner, David Miranda, was stopped at Heathrow, he was carrying a thumb drive with the documents on it in his pocket, along with a piece of paper containing a password and details of how to access the documents on a thumb drive.
Then, he gets downright condescending, reminding her that, as a journalist (remember, he’s an expert now), she should never take anything the government says at face value, apparently even if it’s true. Unfortunately for pseudo journalist Greenwald, the government was able to access the documents while they had Miranda in custody. Not the encryption, but the documents. Note Greenwald’s sophistry on this point. He said they could only access 75 of the documents. But if they couldn’t get to the files in the first place, how were they able to get those?
Greenwald is then asked about his obvious journalistic threat to GCHQ and his answer demonstrates both his lack of journalistic chops and his immaturity. He not only denies the obvious threat, he claims to have published some of the revenge documents in Brazil (note that he does NOT say he cleared it with any British officials. Then he redefines journalism again, this time with a middle school-level definition that goes along the lines of, the more people in power keep secrets, the more they need the heavy hand of journalism. It truly sounds like a kid’s description of Thor.
In the last part of the interview, Greenwald just lies. She asks Greenwald how he knows Snowden hasn’t given up secrets to the Russians, and he responds because Snowden has never lied to him. That’s a lie, and Greenwald knows it’s a lie. In the initial interview about this, Snowden lied repeatedly, and Greenwald was the interviewer.
She suggested that there was no way to know whether or not Snowden had given up any documents in China or Russia, and Greenwald once again claims that the idea is “ludicrous” because there’s no evidence. What? There’s no evidence? None? He was in China, at a really expensive hotel. He’s now in Russia by the good graces of Vladimir Putin. There have also been numerous threats to disclose documents with the express purpose of :”bringing down: the US and UK government, Now, a journalist can’t state conclusively that he gave documents to either the Russians or Chinese, but the notion is NOT “ludicrous,” and there most certainly is evidence.
And his throwaway line about being placed in a “Supermax” prison and “disappeared for 40 years” is certainly not something a journalist would say. I challenge him or anyone else to give us another example where a leaker has been “disappeared” at all, let alone 40 years.
Here’s some other background, which I covered earlier.