South Park Beclowns Greenwald and Snowden; Sirota Pens Another Sappy Love Letter

cartman_greenwald_nsa

Most Americans have stopped paying attention to Glenn Greenwald’s ongoing NSA articles based upon Edward Snowden’s stolen NSA documents. When Greenwald careened wildly off the rails following the detention of his husband at Heathrow Airport and then when he turned his attention toward exposing NSA surveillance operations that have zero impact on the constitutional rights of American citizens, he didn’t necessarily lose supporters, but the public’s attention dissipated accordingly.

Wednesday night’s season premiere of South Park probably didn’t help either.

In it, Trey Parker and Matt Stone satirized both Greenwald and Edward Snowden in the form of the (hilariously) loathsome nutbag Eric Cartman who becomes simultaneously obsessed with uploading all of his thoughts directly to the internet via a social media platform called Shitter, while contrarily lashing out at NSA for “not respecting his privacehh.” Later in the episode, Cartman, like Snowden, applies for a job as an NSA analyst, solely to blow the whistle on the agency’s surveillance programs (an NSA official foolishly hires him on the spot). After literally blowing a whistle at NSA’s unexpected surveillance methods, Cartman ends up at home reading the internet and sobbing because “nobody cares” about his NSA news and he’ll have to hide out in Russia.

In today’s TV landscape, I’m not sure there’s a funnier or more salient platform for beclowning a public figure than South Park, and Parker & Stone absolutely nailed the two primary characters in the Summer of 2013’s NSA saga. And if South Park is any indication of the broader public view of Greenwald/Snowden, the duo might be suffering from a very serious optics problem. Being shoved into the copious, cheesy-poof-stuffed body of Cartman is perhaps the ultimate endcap on America’s acknowledgement of these crusaders while other issues such as Syria, healthcare and federal spending have taken center stage.

But then there’s David Sirota.

In his Salon.com column, Sirota presented yet another sappy, hagiographical love letter to Greenwald and Snowden, obviously targeting the remaining throng of Snowden true-believers. At the top of his second paragraph, Sirota laughably praised Greenwald’s misleading, sensationalistic articles and the accompanying click-bait headlines as having been “responsibly” published. Anyone who’s paid attention with even a cursory degree of skepticism has recognized the obvious gaps in Greenwald’s stories, say nothing of how Greenwald has never once acknowledged any contravening evidence that might tamp down his desired level of subsequent public outrage.

From there, Sirota mentioned a new Gallup poll showing an upswing in the public’s trust of the news media. Naturally, he credited “one of the decade’s largest” increases in trust of the news media to, yes, Greenwald and Snowden.

Thankfully, Sirota included a link to the actual poll results so we can peruse how wrong he is.

First of all, the poll showed the exact same nine-point spread for this year as it did for 2011: 55 percent of those surveyed distrust the news media, along with a 44 percent level of trust. Granted, that’s better than 2012’s 60-40 numbers, a twenty point spread. But it’s statistically the same as it was in every year since and including 2008, save for last year of course. Gallup noted, “Although up from the all-time low found last year, Americans’ confidence in the mass media remains lower than it was in the late 1990s and early 2000s.”

Clearly there’s still a serious problem with the news media and public trust. But to attribute this reversion of the polling results to a pre-2012 level doesn’t prove a damn thing about Greenwald and/or Snowden.

Also, the poll specifically asked about newspapers, television and radio. Certainly the poll didn’t exclude digital journalism, but it didn’t name it as a category either. Are we to believe that Greenwald and Snowden impacted all of these other forms of media? I mean, radio is occupied entirely by far-right screechers and conspiracy theorists, so it could be that various scandals like Benghazi and the IRS impacted the numbers. What about hundreds of other above-the-fold headlines that drove various news cycles? There’s no way of knowing because the poll doesn’t cite any specific examples of news stories that drove this year’s results.

Sirota took a gigantic, jet-pack propelled leap in suggesting that it was, indeed, the big NSA story that convinced people to trust the news media more than it did last year (but about the same as it did in previous, pre-Snowden years). There’s no doubt that it was a major story for sure, but there’s absolutely no statistical correlation showing it was the prime mover of the numbers.

Curiously, Sirota also reported, “[T]he NSA disclosures were the most prominent media story at the time of the survey.” Really? The survey was taken earlier this month, September 5-8, at the height of the Syrian crisis; the congressional hearings about authorizing military action against the Assad regime; and the disarmament deal reached by the U.S. and Russia. The only Greenwald articles in and around that span of time were about NSA’s breaking of encryption codes and NSA surveillance of Brazil and Mexico. I’m not sure the general public was anxious to break out torches and pitchforks and march upon Fort Meade to indict NSA for doing exactly what it’s tasked with doing: codebreaking and foreign intelligence. Yet Sirota made it sound as if the poll was taken at the true high water mark of the NSA story back in early June.

Nevertheless, Sirota, channeling Greenwald’s scolding, sanctimonious tone, wrote that the mainstream news media ought to “stop being angry about getting scooped” by Greenwald and instead should “say thank you because they owe the Guardian a debt of gratitude.” Yeah, I’m sure that’ll happen without any evidence whatsoever.

Frankly, if the mainstream press is obliged to say anything to Greenwald, it ought to ask him why he misled the public about why his husband was detained, or why he continuously repeats the debunked “war on whistleblowers” claim, or why he buries or omits exculpatory details, or why he dubiously presents information out of context, or why he’s greatly exaggerating the scope of wrongdoing within NSA, or what specific degree of surveillance is acceptable to him, or whether any reforms within the system will ever be satisfactory to him. In fact, a significant chunk of the press has been frustratingly hands-off with Greenwald and rarely if ever has questioned him with the same tenacious, litigator style for which he’s famous.

But they won’t do it, and he’ll probably win a Pulitzer in spite of his generally atrocious reporting. And it appears the Sirota apple doesn’t fall far from the misleading Greenwald tree, as indicated by Sirota’s utterly specious polling analysis. In a rational, sane world, the entire Greenwald clique, including Sirota and Laura Poitras among others, ought to be taken with an enormous grain of salt from now on — and certainly not trusted enough to carry the entire news media with it. They’ve absolutely earned that skepticism, if not widespread public disbelief.

Bob Cesca is the managing editor for The Daily Banter, the editor of BobCesca.com, the host of the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast and a Huffington Post contributor.

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  • Badgerite

    Oh my. Sirota’s own description of Greenwald’s reporting:
    “Doggedly flogging the controversy as an ongoing commentary” about the entire relationship between the public, the government and the press.”
    I would actually say that that is about right. ‘Doggedly flogging’ is not journalism. ‘Doggedly flogging is demogoguery. Propaganda. And that is what Greenwald has consistently done. This blaring out stories that make highly inflated claims with only a tenuous connection to the truth with exonerating details buried in a brief line or two somewhere inconspicuous. And never a whole story, but rather a continued drizzle of stories (about one a week until recently). A parsing out of misleading information. I’m sure that type of journalism has translated into financial gain for the Guardian, but so did those people who flogged the Kennedy/CIA conspiracy theories til they eventually dropped by the weight of their own nonsense. My personal favorite was the one he published during the presumed run up to the military action against Syria that never materialized. And what did he ‘reveal’ that week? Why that the US has had and most certainly still has intelligence sharing arrangements with Israel. How interesting that Greenwald and the Guardian picked that particular moment to publish a ‘revelation’ about the US relationship with Israel.
    And if you look at the Gallup statistics he cites, it appears to me that there is a great correlation between mistrust of the media and the period during which the economy almost melted down. In the fall of 2008 distrust of the media took a great leap upward and stayed there til the present. Probably because they gave the public not even a clue that what did happen in the fall of 2008 was going to happen.

  • Badgerite

    You want an important story, one that tells you something you did not already know and does not get it wrong, check out Dexter Filkins piece in the New Yorker about Qassem Suleimani, “the Iranian operative who has been reshaping the Middle East.”
    And then ask yourself if you even suspected any of this. It is a long article. But it is a very good and informative one.

  • lucidamente
  • kfreed

    At last, Libertarian Glenn Greenwald of Koch-funded Cato Institute ascends to the glorious heights of fame and fortune… upon inspiring a spot on South Park featuring his unfortunate pet organ grinding monkey, Snowjob.

    Fitting. Why do I hear tunes fromt “The Book of Mormon” in my head whenever Greenwald and Snowden’s names are mentioned? “Hello, my name is Elder Price. And I would like to share with you the most amazing book”… “You and Me (But Mostly Me)…”

    I can’t stop laughing.

  • dubstub

    There was plenty of fun poked at NSA apologists too. Butters is the naive defender of the NSA who willingly accepts total surveillance from a benevolent government. “Your government is watching you and your government wants you to be happy. Have a nice day!” It takes a little bit of self awareness to recognize when you’re being laughed at, I guess.

    Also, “Most Americans have stopped paying attention to Glenn Greenwald’s ongoing NSA articles based upon Edward Snowden’s stolen NSA documents”? Um, not according to the polls. Not according to the Senate Intel Committee hearings, which you have totally ignored.

  • Jeremy Grunloh

    Let me state upfront that I really like Bob’s reporting on Greenwald, Snowden and the NSA. He and Charles Johnson are welcomed voices of reason on the subject. However, self-identified libertarians Matt Stone and Trey Parker should never be looked to for any sort of cutting satire. I usually enjoy South Park, but that all changes whenever some
    character—most of the time a child or a member of a dis-empowered
    minority—starts to sentimentally parrot some bullshit libertarian
    concept that’s not been thought through on any level past the
    bumper-sticker stage. Parker and Stone lose their entire sense of humor
    in these instances. Such as in the “Goobacks” episode where they
    inserted the (at the time) Cato-Institute-approved-talking-point “there
    is no evidence global warming exists” in the mouth of the union-leader
    character.

    There are other
    examples from South Park of odd moments of libertarian
    political-preaching sticking out like sore thumbs: Like having Token,
    the “token” black kid, rail against hate crimes legislation or
    affirmative action. Or having Richard Dawkins behave so
    uncharacteristically (in a forced attempt at creating a false
    equivalency between the behavior of fundamentalist christians and
    atheists), it defeated the purpose of satire.

    Or, in an episode
    about anti-drug fanatics, where one character said: “I’m an
    ultra-liberal, so i believe the ends justify the means.” What? I dont
    get it. I still dont get it. Ultra-liberals being anti-drug fanatics?
    Believing that the ends justify the means? It just didn’t make any
    sense. What’s the joke? Or the one where Stan’s dad has to go to an AA
    meeting and then starts acting like an alcoholic. It was fine right up
    until the end where they started moralizing about how avoiding alcohol
    completely wasn’t actually controlling oneself, and that all alcoholics have to do is just control themselves and drink moderately…or something like that.

    And
    while Parker and Stone make a big to-do about how nothing is sacred and
    they skewer all sacred cows, in reality they worship sacred cows: the
    sacred cows of libertarian ideology. Like the Boy Scouts episode.
    They had fun mocking the sacred cows of homophobes, and then at the end
    erected a gold-plated sacred cow out of the right of private
    organizations to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. It
    wasn’t funny. It wasn’t mocking a sacred cow. It was constructing one.

    Penn
    and Teller (two other outspoken Hollywood libertarians) are the same
    way. Jillette announced that the mission of Bullshit! was to destroy
    each and every sacred cow…except for his own of course. That’s why
    you never saw a “Libertarianism” episode of Bullshit!, despite the
    high degree of relevance.

    From what I can tell, Parker and Stone
    (and Penn and Teller) more or less think taking a strong position on
    anything at all makes you an idiot because the world is too complicated
    to understand, or something to that effect. It’s the typical “centrist”
    (which most libertarians pretend is their synonym) “truth is always
    somewhere in the middle” school of thought, where you get to look like
    the sensible voice of reason without actually having to bother thinking
    about things. To them, it’s all about their gut reaction and they’re
    never interested in asking why they have that reaction, which is why
    they’ve done stupid things like swallow the Sore/Loserman bullshit during the
    2000 recount hook, line and sinker.

    Don’t get me wrong: if
    what you want to see is a satirical libertarian political cartoon that
    caters to your point of view, that’s fine (it’s no different than a
    preachy liberal or conservative cartoon that caters to their own points
    of view). However, the difference is that the latter cartoons are
    usually honest about what they’re about, whereas South Park ostensibly
    claims to be iconoclastic, insinuating that libertarianism is some kind
    of anti-political stance that believes in skewering sacred cows, when
    it’s really a political stance of it’s own (and is just as defensive and
    preachy as doctrinaire liberals and conservatives can be).

    While
    South Park can be good, Parker and Stone aren’t able to resist the
    temptation to make the show about their own political beliefs even when
    they criticize others for doing so in their own show. I suppose they are
    only human, and this should be expected, but those who believe that the
    show is equal opportunity skewering are simply wrong.

    • kfreed

      Anyone looking to South Park for an ideological compass would surely find him/herself starring in a future episode:)

  • Morey Hamstercram

    Sirota is Greenwald’s towel boy.

  • JozefAL

    Bob, you sort of skipped over the early part of the “South Park” episode. The one where Kyle was constantly trying to get Cartman to stop carrying on his “private” conversations in public and then Cartman turned it around and accused Kyle of eavesdropping on him. How many times have people been subjected to overhearing OTHER people’s phone conversations because the person on the phone is walking along talking into the phone (or the ether, in the case of those wireless earpieces) in a normal–or slightly louder than normal–tone and then they’ll accuse others of listening in on a “private” conversation? You don’t normally see two people in public carrying on a conversation that’s easily audible to others–even if in a fairly crowded or noisy area. At restaurants, most people engaged in a private conversation will stop when the server comes along, even if it’s just to drop off the breadsticks and drinks or the meal, and wait until the server’s gone. Put a cell phone in the picture, and the talker just keeps on talking into the phone unless the server “interrupts.”
    And, of course, after Cartman gets his Shitter, he’s putting his thoughts out there for the whole world to hear but he gets pissed when Kyle “listens in” to those thoughts–just as people who post their “deepest” thoughts on Twitter and Facebook suddenly become outraged when someone criticizes them for some inflammatory Twitter/Facebook posting. (Or like the proverbial employee who calls in sick but posts photos of himself lounging on the beach or rocking out at a concert and then is astonished when he’s called in before the boss and asked to explain the pictures.)
    As for the “real truth” about the NSA’s operations, it does sort of make you think about something: We routinely praise Santa’s spying (“he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake”) and, of course, parents don’t have a problem playing one child against the other to “find out the truth” and they don’t typically have a problem looking through a child’s room for “evidence” of wrongdoing but when the “government” does the same thing, suddenly there’s a problem with it.

    • kfreed

      Were we expecting Cesca to write a full-blown critique:) Or were we expected to watch it (link) and make sense of it on our own? No offense, but I could have lived out the rest of my days never having read your dissertation on the subject of a South Park episode ::wink:: When a joke needs ths much explaining, it ceases to be inspire.

  • steve s

    Actually, I thought one of the funniest aspects of the episode was how upset Cartman was when he found out the NSA didn’t see him as a threat. There is a strong undercurrent of narcissism in people’s belief that the aparatus of the NSA is so fearful of their incoherent and irrelevent musings on social networks that they are spying on every thing the say/type. But, yeah, there are 300 million people in the U.S. and frankly, the government just doesn’t care what all but a few of them are saying or doing.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    >>>Frankly, if the mainstream press is obliged to say anything to Greenwald, it ought to ask him why he misled the public about why his husband was detained, or why he continuously repeats the debunked “war on whistleblowers” claim, or why he buries or omits exculpatory details, or why he dubiously presents information out of context,
    or why he’s greatly exaggerating the scope of wrongdoing within NSA, or
    what specific degree of surveillance is acceptable to him, or whether
    any reforms within the system will ever be satisfactory to him. In fact,
    a significant chunk of the press has been frustratingly hands-off with
    Greenwald and rarely if ever has questioned him with the same tenacious,
    litigator style for which he’s famous.

    Word.

    Greenwald is a lying prick with pretensions of grandiosity. The sooner he is gone from the public sphere, the better off we will all be.

    And, he should take Sirota and the rest of the losers with him.

    • conundrum

      Sounds like Greenwald has hypomania, just like Quin Pu

  • Ipecac

    South Park is often very scattershot in their satire (often deliberately) and while I appreciated the Cartman story, I wasn’t sure how to take the rest of the episode. Butters basically starts a cult of government wherein even the hated DMV is seen as benevolent and wise. I fully admit I may just not have gotten it, but I was confused as to the points they were making.

    • The Panic Man

      The short form of the “points” in every South Park ep: “We’re right, everyone else is wrong and stupid.”

      Its creators are white male libertarians who never grew up. That’s pretty much how they work.

      • Ipecac

        Yeah, that sounds about right.

      • Chez Pazienza

        That’s not only reductive, it relies on the faulty assertion that the goal of Trey and Matt is to be political provocateurs and not just comic absurdists. The fact is that they make fun of everyone equally, and that’s what’s always made their stuff so biting: that each side tries to claim it as their own while overlooking all the ways in which it itself has been ridiculed by the very thing it’s embracing. Yeah, they have their political beliefs, I’m sure, but their comedy has never been about politics first or about shoving that belief in everyone’s face to make a point; it’s always been about open mockery of everything and everyone and I don’t think it stems from some pious belief that they’re “right” but rather that it’s just a lot of fun to be troublemakers on a large scale.

        • The Panic Man

          In other words, you admit I’m right – they’re teenagers/twenty-something who never grew up.

          But please, continue flailing in defense of their centrist horseshit.

          • Chez Pazienza

            Did Trey and Matt run over your dog as a child or something? They’re not “centrist” in the way you desperately have to believe they are (for whatever reason). They’re nowhere on the political spectrum. They’re comic writers who take shots at everything our culture serves us, whether it’s politics, celebrity, media, etc. To pigeonhole and then rail against South Park because it doesn’t lean far enough over to the political side you want it to, and think it should, and then assume that because of this it must be staking out an antagonistic political space you strongly disagree with — well, that’s your problem, not Trey and Matt’s.

          • Lady Willpower

            They’ve obviously made fun of something that Panic Man holds sacred, and done it in brilliant fashion. Hence the infantile response (while simultaneously accusing others of not having grown up).

          • Sebastian L. Jackson

            Panic Man is a Scientologist.

          • Lady Willpower

            Haha.

          • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

            Trey and Matt have consistently made fun of people from all over the political continuum. Even their musical about Mormonism doesn’t just pick on that religion. I admit that the part about Butter’s trusting acceptance of the government’s benign intentions and resulting cult was not as amusing to me as Cartman’s off the chart and ironic paranoia. But that’s probably how someone with GG’s beliefs would have experienced it too–they wouldn’t have found the Cartman storyline funny but the Butter’s storyline hysterical. That’s the point that Chez is making. Trey and Matt aren’t out to support one political cause or another. They simply make fun of the extremes of our culture. That’s not centrist, that’s satire. And satire isn’t always about making us laugh–it should, at times, make us wince–that’s why it’s considered the highest and most difficult to understand form of humor. It pisses off everyone at some point or another. So in this aspect, Southpark was spot on.

          • Badgerite

            Oh please! If they had lampooned the NSA instead of your heroes you would be saying just the opposite. As a ‘centrist’, I can’t say as I care what they lampoon. Apparently your ego is so fragile that to have your heroes challenged is to challenge your view of yourself. Which, as far as you are concerned, is unacceptable.

          • Andrew Bowers

            They did lampoon people who religiously support government surveillance in the very same episode. You either didn’t watch it or are a personal confirmation of the point that people see only what they want to see.

          • Badgerite

            Of course I did not watch it. And I just don’t care who they lampoon. And it is amazing to me that anyone does. So what am I a confirmation of?

      • formerlywhatithink

        “We’re right, everyone else is wrong and stupid.”

        I’ll take who is Glenn Greenwald for a $100 Alex.

      • D_C_Wilson

        If they have any political cause they support at all, it’s that nothing should be considered too sacred as to be off limits to satire. You can especially see that when they do an episode on religion. No one else in the US media would touch the Mohammod Cartoon controversy, but they took it head on, even when Comedy Central censored it.

        But this doesn’t come from some infantile desire to always be right. They just want to prove that you can satirze anything.

    • feloniousgrammar

      If I’m not mistaken they’re libertarian.

    • Zach Callahan

      With Butters as Bob Cesca and all his followers.

    • kfreed

      They were making fun of opposing extremes. We can consider the fact that they nailed the Greenwald/Snowden act, and effectively doused the general hysteria with a virtual bucket of cold water, a public service .
      The joy of satire… and here I thought the tea party had murdered it.