Award-Winning Journalist Thomas Ricks Goes to War Against Greenwald

Of course it’s too late now. Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden will never deign to condemn Russia for its surveillance abuses or, specifically, its aggression against Ukraine. Once again, Greenwald and Snowden have been called out for their hypocrisy on this issue and, as we’ve observed, Greenwald definitely isn’t the sort of ego who concedes anything to anyone he perceives as his enemy — and that includes anyone who tweets challenging questions to him, the ranks of which now include two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and national security journalist Thomas Ricks.

You might recall Ricks’ in depth reporting during the Bush years and the Iraq War, along with the time recently when he challenged Fox News Channel’s Benghazi reporting while on Fox News; a trespass that led to the interview being cut short by the network.

Indeed, Ricks, who claims to have been open-minded about Greenwald and Snowden, finally ran out of patience and confronted Greenwald on Twitter regarding his total silence on Russia. Naturally, Greenwald reacted with his usual dollops of petulant smarm.

Predictably, Greenwald’s personal Beetlejuice, Mona Holland, appeared to defend her former law partner (tweet the name “Greenwald” three times and Mona pops into the thread). Greenwald’s disciples piled on and everything descended into a Twitter outrage scrum.

But of course Ricks is right to question the deafening silence from Team Snowden on Russia and, come to think of it, Brazil. Contrary to Greenwald’s too-clever zingers, no one’s expecting Greenwald and Snowden to comment on random issues unrelated to their stations, but when it comes to the nation that’s provided Snowden’s asylum and the nation where Greenwald resides as an expat (Brazil), it’s absolutely appropriate for these heroic crusaders against surveillance and authoritarianism to have spoken out at some point.

–Brazil’s domestic spying program, conducted by its NSA counterpart, the ABIN, recorded phone conversations between a Brazilian Supreme Court justice and one of its senators. Brazil has its very own PRISM surveillance database. It’s spying on social media. It’s spying on activists who oppose the construction of the Belo Monto Dam. It’s currently spying on potentially violent protesters in advance of the World Cup. And six journalists have been murdered in Brazil over the last couple of years.

–Russia is far worse. There essentially aren’t any warrants or court orders needed for mass surveillance of its own citizens. The Russian surveillance apparatus dwarfs the United States’ NSA, and there aren’t any protections or oversight restricting its activity. Russia has a history of imprisoning and even killing journalists and activists alike. And, while we’re here, its record on LGBT rights is atrocious.

All of these issues are squarely in the Greenwald/Snowden wheelhouse — not unrelated, random issues, but specific to Greenwald’s beat and Snowden’s mission statement. This is what makes their silence particularly deafening.

The message we’re getting here is that surveillance and authoritarianism is bad — unless there’s something in it for you. Neither Snowden nor Greenwald are brave enough to admit they need Russia and Brazil to protect them, therefore they won’t, as they say, shit where they live.

That’s just one possible explanation. There’s always the chance, as Ricks insinuated, that Snowden is Moscow’s “useful idiot,” and Greenwald, being Snowden’s primary media flack, is Snowden’s backstop on that front, refusing to throw any punches for fear of the blood-spatters hitting Putin in his mighty pectorals.

Or, as Occam’s Razor might dictate, perhaps Greenwald and Snowden are merely out to embarrass and shame the United States and, as a bonus, its closest allies. Curiously, the only time Russia, Brazil and China have even been mentioned in the Snowden files was in the context of being victims of surveillance, the most laughable case being the Snowden leak about Russia as the victim of spying by Norway. Poor, poor Russia.

Whatever the explanation, and knowing that it’s way too late to change gears now, it’s another indication that Greenwald, along with his source Snowden, isn’t interested in objective journalism. He’s not interested, as he’s repeatedly admitted, in the traditional rules of reporting. And therefore all of his reporting must be taken with an incredulous, critical eye. Set aside the fact that many of his scoops have been based on vague PowerPoint slides without the accompanying narration. Given how there isn’t an editor to provide a counterpoint to Greenwald’s bias, there’s a lot of room here for Greenwald to spin this information however he pleases for maximum outrage and, therefore, maximum traffic.

Journalism, whether it’s “adversarial” or not, can only be trusted when the journalist behind it is beyond reproach and solely guided by a desire to learn the truth regardless of whether it fits snugly into his or her agenda. For a journalist to so obviously color his hard news reporting (different from commentary and op/ed writing) with his highly vocal agenda ought to make any objective thinker wary of his veracity.

What else besides Russia and Brazil is Greenwald leaving out? Which documents are being ignored? Likewise, what information is he hyping or skewing for impact? And can you really trust this obviously agenda-driven reporter to provide details about aspects of the story that don’t conform to his stated goals? Ultimately, we’re getting most of our information about the Snowden files from a guy who can’t be trusted to report rationally, honestly or fairly, based upon, for that matter, a source who claims that the U.S. government is watching literally everything we do; can know your every thought; and which has tricked us into carrying sensors in our pockets.

Following Ricks’ lead, hopefully there will be other serious journalists who begin to ask questions about Greenwald’s motivations and his misleading articles. It can only benefit the broader debate about NSA, because for now, most of the information we’re hearing is badly colored by a reporter with an extraordinarily lopsided agenda.