Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine recently posted a really good little column that draws some fascinating parallels between Glenn Greenwald's personality and that of Ralph Nader. For something so quick and to-the-point, it's honestly one of the most insightful pieces examining what makes Glenn so wonderfully "Glenny" that I've ever read; to say that Chait has nailed Greenwald's essence is an understatement.
Take a look:
"Greenwald, like Nader, marries an indefatigable mastery of detail with fierce moralism. Every issue he examines has a good side and an evil side. Greenwald, speaking not long ago to the New York Times, said something revealing about his intellectual style:
'I approach my journalism as a litigator,' he said. 'People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.'
That is a highly self-aware account. Of course, the job description of a litigator does not include being fair. You take a side, assume the other side is lying, and prosecute your side full tilt. It’s not your job to account for evidence that undermines your case — it’s your adversary’s job to point that out.
This way of looking at the world naturally places one in conflict with most liberals, who are willing to distinguish between gradations of success or failure. Nader and Greenwald believe their analysis not only completely correct, but so obviously correct that the only motivation one could have to disagree is corruption. Good-faith disagreement, or even rank stupidity, is not possible around Greenwald. His liberal critics are lackeys and partisan shills. He may be willing to concede ideological disagreement with self-identified conservatives, but a liberal who disagrees can only be a kept man."
A journalist can certainly be part litigator; every journalist to some extent is an advocate. But what makes Greenwald the furthest thing from a journalist is that his tendency toward litigation in favor of his intransigent beliefs causes him to not only overlook facts that contradict his central argument but to then lash out through verbal and intellectual violence at those who point out his negligence. As Chait says, he leaves it up to his adversaries to present the side of the debate that he believes he has no responsibility to consider and promote. However, since he holds so firmly to the case he presents and thinks so highly of both himself and the causes he embraces, there's no way those adversaries can be anything but immoral by taking an opposite position.
The thing is, though, that while a journalist is part litigator, as I've said a few times before, he or she is also part scientist. A good journalist has to constantly be testing his or her theories and findings for signs that a bias might be getting the better of the commitment to the truth. In other words, journalists try to prove themselves wrong as often as they try to prove themselves right, just to make sure that an adversary has no contrary argument. Not one that holds water anyway. Greenwald will have none of this. He doesn't check his facts and he doesn't seal up a story airtight because he doesn't approach his work like a journalist -- he approaches it like an ideologue.
Case in point: Over the weekend, Greenwald embarrassed himself entirely by instinctively going on the attack on Twitter against Daniel Serwer. Serwer, the father of Mother Jones and MSNBC contributor Adam Serwer, had pointed out that Greenwald, through his constant supplication and fan-girl teasing of new details directly from the mouth of his teen idol, is doing little more than being a PR flack for Edward Snowden. As criticism, this may be somewhat stinging, but in Serwer's defense it has the benefit of being absolutely correct. Greenwald's reaction was exactly what you would expect: He fired off a snotty, petulant tweet in response aimed at putting Serwer in his place:
Here's the only problem with Greenwald's response: He's provably, quantifiably wrong; Daniel Serwer has actually done more to make the world a better place in his lifetime than Snowden or just about anybody else ever will.
Here's his résumé, compliments of the Center for Transatlantic Relations:
"Daniel Serwer (Ph.D., Princeton) is a Professor of Conflict Management, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations, at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He is also a Scholar at the Middle East Institute.
Formerly Vice President for Centers of Peacebuilding Innovation at the United States Institute of Peace (2009-10), he led teams there working on rule of law, religion, economics, media, technology, security sector governance and gender. He was previously Vice President for Peace and Stability Operations at USIP, where he led its peacebuilding work in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Balkans and served as Executive Director of the Hamilton/Baker Iraq Study Group. Serwer has worked on preventing interethnic and sectarian conflict in Iraq and has facilitated dialogue between Serbs and Albanians in the Balkans.
He was a minister-counselor at the Department of State, serving from 1994 to 1996 as U.S. special envoy and coordinator for the Bosnian Federation, mediating between Croats and Muslims and negotiating the first agreement reached at the Dayton peace talks. From 1990 to 1993, he was deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Rome, where he led a major diplomatic mission through the end of the Cold War and the first Gulf War."
This is the guy who Glenn Greenwald thinks has done less than Edward Snowden in his lifetime. What this shows is that Greenwald is either A) so delusional in his dauntless worship of Snowden that he truly believes that Serwer's accomplishments pale in significance, or B) such a knee-jerk and piss-poor journalist that he didn't bother to check his facts before running his mouth off. Either way, Greenwald's comment cements, for those who still require it, why he doesn't deserve to be taken seriously and why everything he writes should be eyed with suspicion. This kind of bullshit -- the kind of thing we're very much used to from Greenwald -- isn't the behavior of a journalist, even a necessary, iconoclastic asshole journalist (and there are many of those). It's the behavior of a pissy child.
Adding: Cesca posted not only the full conversation between Greenwald and Daniel Serwer but Adam Serwer's totally fair response to Greenwald's insult, which included the words "Hey Glenn, fuck you." He also put up the best responses to the resulting Twitter hashtag game based around Greenwald's "best Snowden brags." You can find it over at Bob's blog.