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.