“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
– David Gregory speaking to Glenn Greenwald on the NSA leaks scandal.
The Edward Snowden/NSA scandal has created a giant rift between political commentators and journalists in America. Sadly, it means the lines have been drawn and you are now either with Snowden or against him, and nowhere in between. The contentious exchange between corporate journalist extraordinaire David Gregory and professional agitator Glenn Greenwald exemplified this deepening chasm, and illustrated why journalism in America is generally screwed.
Let’s be clear about this – Gregory’s questioning of Greenwald was shameful beyond belief. Whatever you might think of Greenwald, to assert that he might be complicit in a crime because he published National Security Agency leaks in a newspaper that someone else passed on to him is very, very troubling. Greenwald asked Gregory: “The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator in felonies, for working with sources.” He went on: “If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal.”
It’s an airtight argument, and as Andrew Sullivan writes: “Glenn’s role in this was at first passive. Snowden contacted him, not the other way round. He then did what any non-co-opted journalist would do – and examined the data independently, with other independent journalists and published the truth.”
Gregory defended himself, saying that “The question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regards to what you’re doing,” adding, that “of course anybody who’s watching this understands I was asking a question, that question has been raised by lawmakers, as well. I’m not embracing anything.”
Gregory has the right to ask Greenwald whatever he wants, but his choice of questions reveals pretty much everything you need to know about him. Sullivan notes that when questioning Gen. Petraeus about the US government’s use of torture, Gregory refused to use the word torture:
That [the use of ‘torture’] would be awkward because Gregory is a social friend of Liz Cheney (Gregory’s wife worked with Cheney’s husbandat the law firm Latham & Watkins). Who wants to call their social friend a war criminal? Notice also this classic Washington discussion by Gregory on torture. It’s entirely about process. There is no substantive position on something even as profound as war crimes.
Fast forward to Glenn Greenwald, and Gregory has no problem insinuating he should be charged with crime against the state.
Journalists are supposed to stand up to power and break stories. It is their job to hold elites to account and reveal uncomfortable information in the interest of the public. Greenwald, as flawed as he is, at least tries to do that, while Gregory is happy to repeat talking points disseminated by the White House.
Gregory has been a journalist for over 20 years, and a major public figure for at least 10 of them. Gregory has never been involved in taking down a powerful figure or putting his career at risk to reveal information to the public. Just take a look at Gregory’s Wikipedia page. His career is one long tribute to corporate and political power – a perfect resume in the eyes of Washington’s elite. He covers presidential elections, gets exclusives with prominent politicians, is married to a federal prosecutor and sends his children to the same school as the Obamas. Gregory is so popular with the establishment that George W. Bush threw a birthday party for him during the 2000 election campaign. Apparently completely oblivious to the concept of actual journalism, Gregory even had the temerity to defend the media after the debacle of the Iraq war, telling Chris Matthews that:
I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us in the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that. If there wasn’t a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate?
So much for fostering public debate.
There are some very serious holes in Greenwald’s reporting on the NSA leaks, and there’s a strong case to be made that he has been far from objective. But Gregory’s questioning of him is so far removed from the notion of serious journalism that he makes Greenwald look like the second coming of Seymour Hersh.
As irritating and biased as Greenwald is, his journalism is infinitely more responsible than David Gregory’s, a ‘reporter’ who sees no problem cavorting with some of the worst criminals in US political history.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.