If you’re at all familiar with Glenn Greenwald, you’ll likely look at the above headline and think one of two things. Critics of Greenwald will say to themselves, “Absolutely,” while his legion of devotees and champions will counter with, “Yeah, so?” But the fact is that there are few people who can seriously and honestly consider Greenwald’s public persona, his various proclamations and interactions with the general public which often come via his overworked Twitter feed, and not conclude that he’s an asshole. It’s simply a question of whether you think this fact matters, whether it’s an insurmountable impediment to taking what he says seriously or something that can and should be set aside because the message is more important than the messenger.
Yesterday, in response to news that the U.S. is sending military, intelligence, and law enforcement assistance to Nigeria to aid in the search for 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremists, Greenwald tweeted out the following:
@roqchams The ability to ignore virtually all history when advocating for The Next Western Intervention is as impressive as it is horrifying
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 7, 2014
Note that Greenwald’s first concern wasn’t the well-being of those kidnapped. There was no couching of his brash condemnation of the response to this atrocity with the admission that he cares about the girls now in the clutches of people who intend to sell them into slavery. There was no concession that maybe, just this once, the vast resources and technological prowess at the disposal of a superpower could be used for good. There was just what there always is, an opportunity to go directly to trashing his favorite boogeyman, the singular subject that matters to him and the ultimate evil that he’s made an entire career out of bashing: the big, bad West. Maybe you can make the excuse that his reaction is simply no-nonsense. Maybe you can say that the limits of Twitter’s format make it difficult to add context and nuance to a statement. The facts remains, though, that if you say something like this as a stand-alone comment, you are an asshole. And that’s what Glenn Greenwald is: an asshole. An insufferable, pompous asshole.
The question then becomes whether it matters that Greenwald is an asshole. Charlie Pierce at Esquire famously said that it shouldn’t concern anyone that he or she might not want to “invite Glenn Greenwald to dinner”; all that should be taken into account is the information he’s providing. But I just don’t think that’s the case. I’d argue that his personality is so pronounced — he’s such an asshole — that it informs and impacts his journalism. His pettiness, his arrogance, and his agenda-driven single-mindedness — all characteristics of being an asshole — is what has tainted his reporting from the very beginning, specifically when it comes to the NSA/Snowden story. He regularly buries contrary evidence,disregards inconvenient facts,aligns himself with horrible people simply because they happen to support his one pet issue, and shouts down anyone who dares to criticize his work, even if that criticism is intended to be constructive and comes from a place of good faith. He does this because, quite simply, he can never be wrong. And what kind of person can never be wrong? Yes, an asshole.
A good journalist is open to getting as good as he or she gives. A good journalist is willing to admit when he or she is wrong. A good journalist isn’t an ideologue. A good journalist is a bit of an asshole but one also imbued with empathy and humanity, with a belief that the world can be a better place (otherwise why would that person bother seeking the truth?). Glenn Greenwald has proven over and over again that he has no humanity. He’s all asshole. Most people, when having their intentions and motivations misconstrued because of something they’ve said, would work to make it clear what those intentions and motivations were. They’d do something as simple as saying, “Look, this is what I meant.” But not Greenwald. Of course not Greenwald. As usual, his response to criticism is to prove even further that he’s an asshole by doubling-down and blaming his adversaries for having the gall to call him out.
Case in point:
"Questioning the efficacy of **military** action means you're indifferent to Outrage X" may be the single dumbest rhetorical tactic we have
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 8, 2014
Dear Obama loyalists: next time you should also accuse those you don't like of supporting beating babies, torturing puppies & spreading SARS
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 8, 2014
Jesus, what a fucking asshole.