Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A little soul-searching

As regular readers here know, I've been pretty consumed lately by the NSA/Snowden story. That hasn't come without a lot of soul-searching. You all know that I've been following Glenn Greenwald for years and have no love lost for his reporting. So just as we see people who seem to be motivated by "Obama Derangement Syndrome," I've been worried that I'm suffering from "Greenwald Derangement Syndrome." I don't want my view of these important issues to be driven by my feelings about any particular individual.

And while I've obviously been a strong supporter of President Obama, I also regularly question myself about whether or not I'm "blindly" supporting his administration. I'm very aware of the history of the intelligence community in this country. Their record is abominable. But I also want to think about what it looks like when we want to change that. Its a much more complex process than simply saying "shut it all down!" And so I wonder if that is what we are witnessing.

Ultimately what it comes down to is that I'm a bit depressed about how our so-called "liberal" media is handling this issue. I'm not just talking about the MSM. I'm talking about people I've looked to for guidance on understanding important stories...like Steve Benen and Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum and - to a certain extent - BooMan. I've occasionally disagreed with all of those writers. That's not what bothers me. What does bother me is that, as I've said, I've done a lot of soul-searching through all of this and am NOT reacting simply from anti-Greenwald or pro-Obama.

What all of those writers have failed to do is ask any real substantive questions about Greenwald and The Guardian's reporting. They're more than happy to question the Obama administration, but don't see any reason to question the hysterical claims in the reporting on Snowden's leaks, even after - as Bob Cesca documents here - so many of those claims have been proven to be false. Its gotten so bad that Cesca has coined the "24 hour rule" - wait 24 hours and the real story will surface. But by then the link bait has worked and everyone has moved on to the next outrageous claim.

As an example, I found this particular article by Andrea Peterson at Wonkblog (Ezra Klein's blog) to be particularly noxious given the circumstances. She is defending Greenwald for saying this following his partner's detention at London's airport:
I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England too. I have many documents on England’s spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did. [...] They wanted to intimidate our journalism, to show that they have power and will not remain passive but will attack us more intensely if we continue publishing their secrets.
She totally buys into Greenwald's claim that other news outlets "sensationalized" this quote in suggesting it was retaliation against the UK. Does anyone else find it unbelievably ironic that Greenwald would be complaining about "sensationalized" reporting? Many of us have been working feverishly to follow up on his sensationalized stories to try and get the basic facts. So while Peterson feels it necessary to devote an entire blog post to defending Greenwald against sensationalism, I don't see the same dedication to challenging his outrageous claims.

Greenwald is really good at bullying reporters when he thinks they've misinterpreted what he said. We saw that with his reaction to this quote as well as the Walter Pincus article. But no one seems interested in pushing back when he says equally outrageous things like "the Obama administration is waging a war on whisleblowers" or insinuates they'll be "disappeared."

In the article I linked by Benen up above, he finds the detention of Miranda to be outrageous. And yet his reporting never once mentions that Miranda was carrying stolen classified documents that Snowden leaked. Doesn't he think that is a significant part of this story? And does he not find it equally outrageous that Snowden lied when he said that as an analyst he could read anyone's emails...even the President's? Not a word from Benen about that one.

Greg Sargent wrote a whole blog post giving Greenwald the chance to explain how the timing of Snowden contacting him before he took his job at Booz Allen didn't implicate he was involved in Snowden taking the job in order to steal classified documents. But has he written anything about how "direct access" was a total hoax? Zero, zilch, nada.

I don't need any of these guys to agree with me. I'd just like to see some actual reporting on this story because its important. And yes, I get pissed when they don't do that. What happens when I get pissed is that I get defensive and have taken "sides." I'll continue to do so until they start doing their job. If that makes me an "Obot" in Kevin Drum's patronizing characterization of "the great emo/Obot debate"...so be it.


  1. Good for frickin' you! You are the true voice of reason on the Internet for me. I saw a great tweet yesterday (paraphrase) Nothing in the world matters until it happens to a journalist. h/t owllis (I think). These bloggers seem to identify most heavily with other bloggers/journalists and not to regular people. The loss of perspective isn't a good look. Identifying with GiGi is just plain ugly. It's chronic, though, that's certain. It's sad to watch.

    1. Thanks Tien. I'm so very disappointed in "our side" lately when it comes to reporters.

  2. Seems like you've described what looks like a "good ol' boy" club of leftist, mostly male, white bloggers. Can't criticize anyone in the "family" ever. Thanks so much for posting this. I've found, lately, that I can't stomach some of my favorite bloggers, either.

    1. Yep. I noticed the "white good ol boy club" too. We definitely need to lift up some diverse voices!

    2. What's funny about this line of thinking and the friction over it is what ultimately differentiates the NSA from the NYPD? When the NSA monitors 1-2% of the world's electronic communications, there aren't enough terrorists to make that math work.

      Technological revolution allows governments to profile on an unprecedented level. In the old days, you had to spy on specific state institutions and persons. The NSA couldn't just infiltrate the Soviet Union and cruise around random dachas hoping to sweep up the good stuff. Now it can monitor every byte from whole regions of the world 24/7. And of course, the profiled are some of the worst off people on earth, living in largely stateless stagnancy or chaos.

      The NYPD is in theory constitutionally constrained. There are higher authorities in the justice system that can compel it. Who compels the NSA? What global entity can bind the supercop?

      It's something to think about.

    3. What "little perspective?"

      The NSA rarely spies on Americans. There are never any terrorists in America. The NSA spies on foreigners.

      Foreigners who are statistically unlikely to be terrorists in the aggregate. They are profiled based on their proximity to cell towers in south Asia and the middle east. They don't breathe free air. Beyond their own hideous or broken governments, America is watching them.

    4. @aonymous 12:32 So, you're offended by the fact that the NSA, whose mission is "signals intelligence," is actually doing its job. Tell me, are you equally offended by being spied on by the Russians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Iranians, etc., etc., etc.? How about the massive amounts of data mentioned in that very piece Smartypants posted about what Facebook gathers, every day. That's just a small part of what corporations gather on people.

    5. I'm cynically making the exact same argument the SDS and Malcolm X's of the world made 40-50 years ago to prove a point. I'm making the exact same argument universal prison rights advocates made this year with the simultaneous hunger strikes in Gitmo and Pelican Bay.

      Except people like you can't see past the color of the president, so this frightens and enrages you and makes you want to bring up Facebook for some reason.

      The NYPD profiles locally in the name of crime suppression. The NSA profiles globally on the basis of terror suppression. Gutcheck time: is there something at root that divides them? Is the NSA an unequivocal good without tradeoffs, or does it abridge human rights in order to provide security?

      You want this to be about race? It can always be about race. I'm just pointing out where the "third world solidarity" movement used to lie.

    6. @anonymous: No, you're not pointing that out. What you're doing is a non sequitur. Fact is, we have always spied on other countries, just as they have spied on us. That, like it or not is the way the world works. It doesn't have anything to do with "picking third-world countries" or "race," it has everything to do with "what are their intentions?" There have been, and continue to be, groups that mean to harm US interests or citizens. Their color is immaterial, they exist. The Baader-Meinhof group, ard the Red Army Brigade are examples within not-too-distant history which just happen to have been ... European. That's what intelligence is for, to not only find out what their intentions are or to prevent something from happening.

      Now, as to your "see past the color of the president," that's rather funny. This president has been instituting ever stricter controls on what the NSA can do, along with checks to insure that those controls are followed. The previous president wasn't, yet the same people who are now (like you) screaming their heads off were all in favor of that unrestricted spying when he was in office. At the same time, those who have been screaming about "corporatists!!!" - basically the same tired "capitalists!" that they used to scream - are now screaming for corporations - who gather far more information with no checks and oversight - to "save them."

    7. The previous president wasn't, yet the same people who are now (like you) screaming their heads off were all in favor of that unrestricted spying when he was in office.

      Yep, that's totally what this is. George Bush is my sun and stars.

      You have now deliberately missed the point six or seven times over, so I think we're done here.

    8. Oh grow up

      Doug r

  3. I share your frustration. In the interest of fairness, I'll also point out this piece by Megan Carpenter, whose URL basically describes it, since she does have a point, up to a point:

    Meanwhile, The Guardian, which rightly ridiculed the insistence of the British security services on pulverizing their MacBook (etc), is now financing a legal effort to have Miranda's electronic equipment given back, and "a mandatory order that all data seized is returned and copies destroyed" ... it is to chuckle at the vagaries of life

    1. We've been chatting about Carpenter's article on twitter. To suggest that our critiques of Greenwald are simply about the fact that he is "mean" is extremely untrue and patronizing.

    2. I did say, up to a point ... TwitWars tend to be even less conducive to subtlety than blog comments!

  4. The thing here is that you have love in your heart for this government. That's the key characteristic of the "obot:" a deep and abiding affection for this one particular president that ennobles the entire government and history he presides over. Patriotism is born from many mothers and fathers, and it mutates and adapts and evolves throughout a person's life.

    Going back to Laura Poitras last week, she sure doesn't have this love. Perhaps because of that time she was labeled an enemy conspirator by the army and then had her property impounded over and over again every time she crossed a border? But also because a lot of people don't have that love and faith of country based on its foreign policy and global hegemony. And Obama can't necessarily change that.

    Bush was made illegitimate. His government's secrets were exposed, his standing was compromised, his party expelled from office, and his policies unwound or reversed. Obama hasn't been made illegitimate, that's why he's so threatening to so many people. The tea party tried and failed, big business failed, Occupy Wall Street went nowhere, and now there's an effort to revive anti-statism and backlash against the American security state that went dormant with the demise of Bush and the neocons.

    Greenwald and Wikileaks aren't journalists. They're antagonists of the American security state. Their goals are to compromise America in the eyes of people abroad, to scare off foreign governments and corporations from publicly collaborating with the US, to divide the US government against itself, to fracture the symbiotic relationship between the US media and the government, to make the American public cynical and untrusting and favorable to isolationism, and to turn off citizen engineers and coders and computer scientists from "working with the enemy" going forward. Some of their goals are succeeding, some of them aren't.

    The premise behind all of this is that the US government is a criminal conspiracy. Like RICO. One criminal action (i.e. Iraq) unconditionally informs all other actions. They don't want people to believe that the government can contain multitudes. Obama's health insurance reforms can't exist simultaneously with Iraq. The USG has to unilaterally disarm its hegemony or remain illegitimate. Anti-statism is a complete rejection of progressivism.

    Now if you have love in your heart for this government, this is all ridiculous and offensive or even frightening. People like the journalists you list above don't have unconditional love for the government. They have respect and admiration and occasionally trust, but a lot of people don't get past the bad things about the government. Iraq was a crime. The national building in Afghanistan is a fiasco. The US aligns itself with fascists and theocrats. Right now our government has perfected a global profiling and assassination method of combat that would threaten World War III if certain other countries started doing it.

    People on the left are willing to believe the worst about America, and maybe even see the villain get its comeuppance. Superior propagandists like Greenwald are exploiting that.

    1. There's much in what you say that's true.

      But what you don't provide for in that analysis is someone like me - who fully recognizes all of this country's past sins and is taking a look at how a pragmatic progressive president is working his way through trying to unravel it all. That's not a blind love of country - its imagining that change might be possible and just might be underway.

    2. Love necessarily means seeing beyond the flaws. But you can't force people to fall in love. Like I said, your progressivism is incompatible with anti-statist leftism.

      Now, my personal definition of obots is the people who's newfound love of country and interest in politics immediately evaporates in January 2017, but that's beside the point.

      Sargent, Maddow, Drum etc. are willing to see an ongoing case made against America. They are not opposed to seeing the current Democratic administration implicated. They don't instinctively withdraw from the idea, they welcome it. It fits their preconceptions. They don't want government celebrated for doing little steps, they want it humiliated for not doing big ones. This will keep going because the left will never get the contrition they want because the right wing won't have it.

    3. ...I read all this...here is my perspective

      I understand the "fear: that folks have regarding the NSA....

      but as a person of color...I must say that worries about the NSA are not at the top of my list...

      JOBS....VOTING...EDUCATION...the prison pipeline..POLICING such as STOP and Frisk engender more fear than the NSA.......

      I wonder if this fear of NSA can compare with the fear that blk and brwn folks have when they are stalked and stopped by the police...

    4. Sheba Lo

      This fear of NSA is being driven by folks who are peddling a fantasy that its possible to have privacy on the internet. That has always been a myth. The sooner people realize that - the better.

  5. Yep. I find it really disturbing about how people have no problem with questioning 9/11, the Boston bombing, the Newtown shootings, etc. I got into it with a few people when Hannah Anderson (the 16 year old from California) was kidnapped and brought home. There was a disturbing amount of people who said "she's in on it!"

    Why is Greenwald above questioning, especially when his stories have, again and again, been quietly "updated" or "corrected" in the next day or so? Why have so many journalists given this guy a pass?

    And now, Snowden is somewhere in Russia. What's the story? Greenwald and his partner. NOT the 4th Amendment. NOT US citizens' rights to privacy. It's about how the world is against Greenwald and he'll make them pay!

    I've seen some parodies of him as a Bond villain. This story actually reminds me of 'Skyfall' (villain based on Assange) and 'Tomorrow Never Dies' (Murdoch-like media mogul stirs up conflict to sell papers and get broadcasting rights).

  6. Thanks for this. I too have been amazed at how many journalists and bloggers have dropped the ball on this, accepting Greenwald's claims at face value before even hearing the other side. Greenwald is an untrustworthy writer because he uses hyperbole so often. For example, this is what he said on CNN back in June:

    "There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world. That is not hyperbole. That is their objective.”

    This is flatly absurd. Even if you accept Greenwald's mind-reading claim that their objective is to "destroy privacy and anonymity," if would take a fool of a higher order to accept that it was their ONLY goal. Greenwald didn't even seem to entertain the notion that the nation's security might be a goal of the NSA.

    I'm tempted to go on and on with this, but it would be a huge undertaking. For fun, try googling Greenwald's name along side the words "literally impossible." Do it again with the word "obviously." Read what you find and his dishonesty becomes clear.

  7. In addition to considering breadth over many reporters as you've done, you may also wish to consider depth, over time. For example Jon Karl and the lack of sanctions for his conspiring to make shit up. I'm sure there are scads of others as well.

  8. I figured you were annoyed with Greenwald. I lost patience with his fuckery a long time ago. He was 40 before he learned to not blindly trust the government. Now he's on some righteous crusade where he and his band of idiots keep their hair on fire. It's not derangement syndrome when facts are involved. Glenn's a putz. He's only fit to be mocked.

    If you identify with Greenwald, then you're an asshole. That's Greenwald's shtick. There's no room for nuance. There's no room for discussion or inconvenient facts. You're either with him or against him. I'm very much against him and his dumb ass supporters. Yes, you're an asshole if you identify with him.

    Are those pro Greenwald bloggers stupid? If you can't see through Greenwald's bullshit, politics may not be for you. I've had a low opinion of a couple of those guys for a while.


  9. Booman did reblog my post. So not all as one on this.

    Here in UK it is worse. Only ones questioning GG are right wing bloggers from rival newspaper the Guardian. I have tried to get left to listen but head is meeting wall.

  10. Derp.

    That would be ' right wing bloggers from rival newspaper the TELEGRAPH'

  11. I also think journalists automatically side with Greenwald against the Obama administration because they're still pissed at the "persecution" of fellow journalist James Rosen. They lump everything together as part of a whole, rather than judging each news story separately or looking beneath the surface or at the facts. That these guys can buy into anything Greenwald peddles makes me less inclined to read them in the future. Simply put, they're not in your league.

  12. I agree completely. Here is a link to a Brit's perspective. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danhodges/100231711/why-does-being-a-relative-of-glenn-greenwald-place-you-above-the-law/


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