15 December 2013. Formatting errors fixed.
14 December 2013
The fact that Pierre Omidyar chose Glenn Greenwald as a collaborator told
me all I needed to know about his new media project. Now Jay Rosen has signed
on, promoting the business that Bill Keller called the New Thing.
Whether Keller meant this or not, I read it as a nod to the concept of "new
and improved" used to sell products.
So far, the New Thing (a k a NewCo) appears to have a left/libertarian bent.
It sounds like it will compete with the Nation, the Guardian, Mother Jones,
etc., but with lots more money and the vision of one man.
O/G/R have been touting transparency, with a righteousness that I find laughable,
considering how Greenwald plays with facts and attacks anyone who criticizes
The New Thing will be transparent in the sense that writers will reveal their
background, perspective and opinions, instead of pretending that they don't
have any, Rosen says. In other words, they will behave like many columnists,
editorial writers, commentators and mainstream bloggers do today, and as
many journalists did before they struggled to be objective.
A bit of history: The concept of objectivity that arose in social sciences
in the 19th century influenced journalism as well. Later, as corporations
increased their ownership of newspapers and cannibalized competitors, it
made business sense to promote journalists as objective. You didn't need
competing media if you could get all the news from one impartial source.
My career started when a metro daily could still devote many column inches
to in-depth pieces. This practice diminished as corporations strove for
increasing profits. My hopes reawakened with the discussion of unlimited
space on the Internet. But the Internet also brought more information than
most people wanted to handle. Many sought simple analyses, and blogs were
ideal for this. Most posts were relatively short with a distinct viewpoint.
After I left corporate journalism in disgust, I blogged for a few years.
But it was disappointing to see bloggers develop a pack mentality similar
to those of mainstream political journalists. Few bloggers did original
reporting. Posts that were inaccurate or incomplete bothered me, especially
when the bloggers went for sensationalism that would attract more followers.
Righteous anger felt liberating at first, but seemed to devolve into: "Fuck
you!" "No, fuck you!"
Mainstream media competed by adding more columnists as well as their own
bloggers. More writers made their opinions clear.
That's why I find it disingenuous when G/R complain that people have lost
trust in mainstream media because news reporters pretend they have no opinions.
In more than 18 years in newspaper journalism, I never encountered anyone
in the public who thought journalists lacked opinions. The question was whether
we tried to be fair when interpreting facts and seeking different views from
The New Thing will have the same problem, and O/G/R seem to be selling it
in the same way. Omidyar says the New Thing will not be a niche publication,
but will have business, sports and entertainment. That seems to suggest readers
can get all the news from one source, and this source will be trustworthy.
We already know that people are more likely to trust journalists who have
the same opinions that they do. Does Rosen really think that people will
have greater trust in writers with whom they disagree, as long as the writers
acknowledge their opinions?
Would liberals trust Fox if it declared upfront that it favors conservative
views? If I tell you that I'm an anti-porn feminist who first took notice
of Greenwald when he was defending Max Hardcore, or that I'm biased against
people with little or no journalism experience who become journalism professors,
would that make you more trusting of what I write about G/R? Do you think
that people who believe that surveillance is crucial to American security
trust Greenwald because he has stated his opinion?
In the 1990s, Rosen spoke at my newspaper. I talked to him afterward and
came away with the impression that he agreed that objectivity was a myth,
but was too invested in paid speeches to confront publishers and executive
editors. I've been surprised to learn that he thinks people can be objective
in their analysis and presentation of facts.
Even if a writer gives you his perspective, he's not necessarily revealing
all of his biases. In studies, for example, people often trust taller, more
attractive people even though they may believe those factors don't influence
them. If Julian Assange looked like Wallace Shawn or Coco, do you think he
would have the same following?
We can never catalog everything that has influenced us. The opinions of our
boss, praise, raises, awards, etc., can influence our thinking on particular
issues, even if we don't realize it. Who do you think Greenwald would trust
more: a government employee or someone who leaks information to him?
(This is a trick question because many government leakers/whistleblowers
are government employees, as was Chelsea Manning, who may have continued
in the military if she had not been caught. Mark Felt had a high rank in
Attempts at objectivity or fairness sometimes lead to writers publishing
"both sides" of the story even when they know that one perspective is factually
incorrect. G/R abhor this - as do many mainstream journalists. But this isn't
as clear-cut as it seems. A reporter might think that chemical companies
have proven their products are harmless, but include quotes from that nut
Rachel Carson, just to be fair. Facts are tricky because they can change.
What is fact to one person may be opinion to another.
Journalists rarely think that all the facts they know are relevant to the
story they are writing. In other words, they decide which facts the readers
get, as well as what stories to pursue, which sources to trust, what angle
to take, etc. That's why my friends have joked about working for the Truth
Factory. The New Thing will be no different.
According to O/R, the New Thing will hire journalists with great expertise
on the topics they cover. You know, like the best beat reporters.
Beat reporters are in danger of becoming less adversarial as they identify
with the people and institutions they cover and fear losing access to sources.
Rosen has bemoaned this process - as have many editors, who occasionally
move people into different beats or put more than one person on a story to
get "fresh eyes."
Doesn't Greenwald have to protect access to his sources? Would he have written
something negative about Snowden before he had gotten all the files? Once
all journalists start expressing their opinions fiercely, access won't be
an issue. People with information can choose the journalists most likely
to support them.
Greenwald built his writing career on expressing opinions, not digging up
facts not yet known to the public. Has he become famous enough that he can
now wait for people to give him information, as Snowden did, without ever
initiating a conversation with someone in government? Will he never chat
up someone in government to get a lay of the land or figure out who might
be ready to spill secrets? Does this make him more honest or more biased?
He has said that he doesn't have to curry favor with sources.
Maybe not government sources. But I'm sure his worship of Assange had some
bearing on WikiLeaks' decision to help Edward Snowden get to Russia.
Because of Greenwald's attitude on encryption, he might never have gotten
the NSA documents, if it had not been for Laura Poitras. She says Snowden
contacted her after seeing an article about her in the New York Times. The
Washington Post might have had the story if it had accepted Snowden's
requirements for publication.
He differentiates himself from mainstream media who sometimes sit on stories,
which he thinks shows "a fundamental sickness of the Western press."
I've both held stories and argued that they should run. Stories are generally
held to check information, get more information or debate whether personal
information is newsworthy. Is Greenwald holding back any information from
Snowden for his book?
Is the Guardian not part of the Western press? Has he not sold stories to
the New York Times and others? If the NYT had offered to replace Bill Keller
with Greenwald, would Greenwald have declined, for fear of being infected?
Are there no problems with journalists in non-Western countries? In Brazil,
Greenwald can curry favor for blasting the Western press. Get back to me
when he starts writing about how evil the Brazilian government and media
Omidyar says he wants to hire writers who already have a lot of online followers.
Sounds like a good business model to me, but not the best way to get at the
truth. Mainstream media already clings to commentators and columnists who
have become self-promoters and whose fans will defend them no matter what.
How does this differ from Greenwald?
Omidyar says he wants independent journalists, but they stop being independent
as soon as he gives them a paycheck. At least Rosen understands that he is
no longer an independent media critic now that he works for the New Thing.
"I had relationships and consultancies, which I disclosed, but that still
left me independent in some way."
What does independence mean in a journalist? Is it someone who has no employer,
or someone who has free rein to write whatever he wants, with little editing?
Is it someone who doesn't support any political party (but must secretly
have an idea of what he wants in an elected official)?
Did Omidyar hire Rosen because he was an independent media critic, or did
it have something to do with Rosen's praise for Greenwald and the New Thing?
If Omidyar wanted to support investigative reporting, why does he need to
create his own media entity, as opposed to a fund? I'm guessing the reason
One model might be the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which helped Seymour
Hersh uncover the massacre of civilians during the Vietnam war. http://fij.org/
By the way, Greenwald has changed his opinion about Hersh since he included
him among "the preening, hubristic, status-obsessed Washington media elite"
in 2005. Greenwald was an outsider; now he needs to identify with Hersh and
If Omidyar wanted to support Greenwald's reporting specifically, why didn't
he help the nonprofit Guardian, which is struggling to survive financially
and is now left to fight legal battles on its own? After all, the Guardian
gave Greenwald a bigger audience as well as colleagues who had much more
experience in investigative journalism. But when he got a better offer, he
jumped ship, taking Snowden's files with him.
Greenwald has tweeted: "If Laura Poitras or Jeremy Scahill or I were ever
told 'you can't write about this': how many seconds would elapse before we
Omidyar has helped avoid that problem by hiring reporters who reflect his
Greenwald says the New Thing will hire people whose views differ, including
conservatives. But if they focus on the ills of big government, what's the
difference? Would the New Thing hire a conservative who opposes same-sex
In addition to winding up in bed with government sources, Rosen once criticized
adversarial journalists for priding themselves on their ability to attack
and anger people; who are relentlessly negative; and who consider themselves
outsiders, separate from their communities. Sound like anyone you know?
Now he sees Greenwald as the face of the new-and-improved adversarial journalism.
Or, as Greenwald says, he will be "truly adversarial" to powerful people,
which I assume means the government and people who disagree with him. G/R
sound like politicians who sell themselves as the new-and-improved public
servants who will go to Washington as outsiders to truly fight special interests.
Omidyar has released information on the New Thing when it suits him, just
as you would expect from a businessman. How would he view someone who leaked
more information about it? Would this person be an independent, adversarial
journalist challenging power?
Perhaps Greenwald thinks the U.S. government has been the most restrictive
force in his life. Not everyone sees government that way. Male harassment,
violence and its threat have restricted my freedom much more than the government
has, although I recognize that men predominate in the top government positions,
as they do in the media (including the New Thing), business, religion, etc.
How will the New Thing fight a diffused power?
A decade or so ago, there was a push for newspapers to hire ombudsmen and
publish corrections and clarifications prominently, in hopes that this form
of transparency would build more trust among readers. Some, like the NYT
and Guardian, still do this. But media critics assume, and rightly so, that
ombudsmen aren't truly independent. Sadly, admitting mistakes does not seem
to build trust. Instead it gives fodder to those who already believe you
Greenwald has learned this lesson well. Instead of welcoming people who speak
truth to his power, he is notoriously nasty to anyone who criticizes him,
and he will go to ridiculous lengths to deny he did anything wrong. This
is brand protection, not a search for truth. My favorite example is his Twitter
exchange with Imani Gandy about her supporting Obama even if he raped a nun.
When criticized for joking about rape, he said he was simply replying to
someone else's statement. Then he says he wasn't joking, and it wasn't a
metaphor. Apparently, the king of hyperbole really does believe that Gandy
and others would defend Obama if he raped a nun on TV.
Greenwald is willing to give inaccurate information to the public to hype
his stories. A recent example is what he initially said about his husband's
detention in London before flying to Brazil.
Some years ago, in his defense against sock puppetry, Greenwald said he couldn't
control someone in his household praising him anonymously. Does that mean
David Miranda had not yet joined the family business?
If he and Greenwald had a nasty break-up, wouldn't he be in the same position
as a wife who works in her husband's business without credit? The husband
still has his business and brand loyalty from customers. The wife can only
make unsubstantiated claims to her skills and experience.
This has long been a feminist issue, but it also pertains to journalists
gaining pay and prestige from the unpaid and uncredited work of others.
When Greenwald publishes a sensational story, it helps his brand, because
many readers never see follow-up stories that explain what was wrong initially.
This has nothing to do with transparency or truth.
He can also put an incredible spin on facts. Take his claim that he has to
live in Brazil because the U.S. doesn't recognize same-sex marriage for the
purposes of immigration.
Hundreds of thousands of Brazilians live in the U.S. Long before the NSA
stories, was it impossible for Miranda to come to the U.S.?
In her Greenwald profile for the Rolling Stone, Janet Reitman writes:
had a powerful hold on him from an early age.
childhood role model was his paternal grandfather, Louis "L.L." Greenwald,
a local city councilman, and "sort of this standard 1930s Jewish socialist
type," who crusaded on behalf of the poor against the voracious "condo bosses"
who controlled the city. In high school, Greenwald ran a quixotic campaign
for a city-council seat, which he lost, but not before scoring a "moral victory"
by simply challenging his entrenched opponents. "The most important thing
my grandfather taught me was that the most noble way to use your skills,
intellect and energy is to defend the marginalized against those with the
greatest power - and that the resulting animosity from those in power is
a badge of honor."
So, why did he choose corporate law?
He then left to start his own firm, where he was "a constitutional law and
civil rights litigator," according to his blog, Unclaimed Territory. The
only case that's ever mentioned is this one: "He spent five years defending
the First Amendment rights of neo-Nazis. It was one of Greenwald's prouder
accomplishments as an attorney."
I understand supporting the First Amendment, but why don't we hear about
other civil-rights cases in which the people didn't deserve to be marginalized?
This is how the Southern Poverty Law Center describes Matthew Hale, a neo-Nazi
and leader of a white-supremacist church: "His beliefs inspired a killing
spree by his follower and friend Ben Smith and led him to solicit the murder
of a federal judge, which landed him a sentence of 40 years in prison in
Hale described Smith as "a loyal church member, a friend and a comrade."
He hunted Jews and people of color, killing two and wounding nine in 1999.
Survivors filed a wrongful-death claiming Hale had incited Smith to violence.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and Anti-Defamation League supported
Greenwald defended Hale pro bono. It was in this civil case that a U.S. district
court found that Greenwald "recorded telephone conversations with various
third party witnesses, without disclosing to those witnesses that they were
Apparently, he didn't think secret surveillance was bad back then.
In 2004, he wrote in the Chicago Tribune: "The vast majority of people find
Hale's racist beliefs to be odious and evil. Far more odious, and far more
dangerous, is the belief that criminalizing certain viewpoints by calling
them 'hate speech' is something that can be done while still retaining our
1st Amendment freedoms."
He was responding to this ADL piece:
Greenwald's best friend is the straw man. The ADL and Center for Constitutional
Rights were not advocating that the government criminalize hate speech. Instead,
they were trying to accomplish what Morris Dees of the SPLC did in the case
of Michael Donald, killed by Klan members in 1981. A wrongful-death case
against the United Klans of America resulted in a $7-million judgment that
Greenwald became disillusioned with the law, which he thought was full of
"unjust rules," Reitman writes. By the 1990s, she says, he was arguing with
social conservatives on the site Town Hall. Reading her article, you might
think that Greenwald never held any conservative views and went to Town Hall
only to argue. (Coincidentally, Omidyar has hired a prominent editor from
Reitman's article seems to contradict what Greenwald wrote last January about
the preface to his book "How Would a Patriot Act?":
The whole point of the Preface was that, before 2004, I had been politically
apathetic and indifferent - except for the work I was doing on constitutional
law. That's because, while I had no interest in the fights between Democrats
and Republicans, I had a basic trust in the American political system and
its institutions, such that I devoted my attention and energies to preventing
constitutional violations rather than political debates.
Iraq War was debated and then commenced
I was not politically engaged
In the preface, he writes that he had faith in "our democratic system of
government." After 9/11 "
my confidence in the Bush administration
grew as the president gave a series of serious, substantive, coherent, and
eloquent speeches that struck the right balance between aggression and restraint.
I was fully supportive of both the president's ultimatum to the Taliban and
the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan when our demands were not met."
He said his faith in the administration was first shaken in 2002, with the
indefinite detention of Jose Padilla.
In the run-up to the Iraq war, he writes that he had "doubts, concerns, and
grounds for ambivalence." Nevertheless, "I had not abandoned my trust in
the Bush administration. Between the president's performance in the wake
of the 9/11 attacks, the swift removal of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and
the fact that I wanted the president to succeed, because my loyalty is to
my country and he was the leader of my country, I still gave the administration
the benefit of the doubt. I believed then that the president was entitled
to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that
I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American
security really would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country."
He said he changed his mind only after the invasion started and no weapons
of mass destruction were found.
Perhaps that's not quoted more often because Greenwald copyrighted his book.
But he used passages from his preface in January to claim that he never supported
Bush or the Iraq war.
So, which version of Greenwald's life is correct? Was he a political naïf
who always supported the leader of his country, until revelations after the
Iraq invasion? Or has he enjoyed debating politics since he was a kid and
never supported Bush or the war? Where's an investigative reporter when you
In the preface, he also wrote: "Throughout our history, we have vanquished
numerous enemies at least as strong and as threatening as a group of jihadist
terrorists without having the president seize the power to break the law."
Say what? As Nancy Kassop wrote in 2003: "Throughout history, presidents
have taken actions during wartime that were later deemed either unconstitutional
or excessive, such as Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil
War." How could someone who studied constitutional law not know these things?
Or, did he omit them to make a stronger case against Bush?
Where's the evidence that Greenwald has always wanted to help the marginalized?
It wasn't in his 2005 post that decried illegal immigration: The parade of
evils caused by illegal immigration is widely known, and it gets worse every
day. In short, illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and
culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on
basic fairness grounds alone. Few people dispute this, and yet nothing is
You might not know this post existed at all because the archives at
http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com contain only the posts from the end of
each month. This is a change from last year, when I read all of his 2005
and 2006 posts. I assume this is a problem with Blogger.
He has attached a disclaimer to the immigration post saying he hasn't believed
what he wrote back then for a long time. He blames "Obama cultists" for digging
it up. For the record, I've been a critic of Obama since the 2008 primary.
I'm delighted when people with abhorrent views change their minds, but not
when they try to weasel out of their past.
Greenwald started blogging with his criticism of Scooter Libby in October
2005. "It is illegal to disclose classified information to individuals who
are not cleared to receive it. Period."
He criticized the administration, but he also commented on hyperbolic praise
of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald: "Much of this is overblown, and is plainly
motivated by an aching desire on the Left to believe that the Great Savior
has finally arrived, in the person of a U.S. Attorney from Chicago, to slay
the evil-doers in the Bush Administration and rescue the captive nation from
its 5-year nightmare."
In November 2005, he wrote Bush's "steadfastness and refusal to play by the
long-standing rules of the Washington establishment is almost certainly the
attribute which most accounts for the increasingly intense dislike of the
Bush Administration by the Washington press corps.
So Hersh thinks
it's 'alarming' that he's been writing anti-war articles for several years
now and Bush still hasn't caved in his support for the war. We're supposed
to be scared and outraged because Bush doesn't watch Wolf Blitzer interviews
and then change his mind afterwards, or that Bush still supports the war
even after Hersh writes another article based on anonymous officials who
have come to him in order to attack Bush's policies."
Greenwald accused Hersh of caricaturing Bush to the delight of some Leftists,
such as The Talent Show blog.
At this time, he disliked the "soulless" Clintons.
Also in November, he said the "increasingly populous group which supported
this war but now wants to pretend that Iraq is ready for us to leave -- all
because they want to minimize political damage to Republicans and to Bush
-- are really acting reprehensibly."
A 2006 post with a disclaimer that can no longer be found is this one:
These early posts criticize Bush for betraying true conservatism. "It has
long been clear that there is nothing remotely 'conservative' about this
Administration, at least in the sense that conservative ideology has stood
for a restrained Federal Government which was to be distrusted."
In the name of transparency, will he ever clarify whether he believed that
Harry Blackmun was one of the 10 worst Americans, who "with a single,
intellectually flimsy judicial opinion, did more than anyone else to inflame
and render irresolvable America's paralyzing and internally destructive culture
war"? Or was some anonymous woman to blame?
He accuses anyone who discusses his past as committing a smear job, even
if what they say is true. He seems to belong to the FOI wing that believes
that people with power and influence are fair game if they work for the
government or attack him, but not if they are promoting themselves or their
institution (See Assange).
He was outraged over the New York Daily News revealing that he once invested
in a porn business. Here's why it's relevant: Not only has he been an absolutist
in his free-speech defense of men who create hard-core porn, but he also
believes that if a woman says she was happy to swallow vomit, then, by god,
any feminist who questions her is "drowning in misogyny and contempt for
Here's what transparency might look like: "I once invested in pornography,
and I firmly believe that all the participants in my business did so willingly
and were never hurt in any way. Perhaps that colors my views on the women
who worked for Max Hardcore.
"By the way, I may not like it if a poor person sells his kidney in order
to keep his children from starving, but I'll absolutely defend his right
to enter into such a contract, and anyone who criticizes that practice must
have contempt for the free will of poor people.
"In fact, I don't believe in the coercive nature of money. That's why I think
a well-off American can go to a poorer country and find a poor, less educated
lover who happens to be much younger, more attractive and devoted, and it
has nothing to do with privilege."
I've criticized Greenwald anonymously before, and I've asked John Young for
anonymity this time because I don't want Greenwald fans to harass me. I'm
not looking for a job, and I'm not selling myself as unbiased. Young and
I have different views, but I enjoy reading him because he skewers hypocrites
in the freedom-of-information business.