Hopefully you’re somewhere near a fainting couch because you’re going to need it for news this shocking: Glenn Greenwald was completely wrong about why NBC abruptly took Egyptian-American correspondent Ayman Mohyeldin out of the field in Gaza last week.
You’ll remember Mohyeldin was pulled immediately after witnessing a barrage of Israeli shells that killed four Palestinian boys on a beach last Wednesday. He had apparently played with the boys just moments before the attack and witnessed their deaths. NBC’s decision to suddenly yank someone whose coverage had been stellar and whose efforts in Gaza were being acknowledged and praised around the world admittedly seemed a little odd, but there could’ve been a half-dozen decent reasons for it.
To journalistic integrity’s Watcher on the Wall, however, only one possibility made sense and therefore must have been the answer. Since Mohyeldin was of Arab descent and he’d spent most of his tour up to that point reporting on the horrific impact Israeli airstrikes were having on Palestinian men, women, and children, it was obvious to Glenn Greenwald that the powers-that-be at NBC were afraid of his refusal to toe the line of the Israeli government and its lobby. It was another example of the establishment media’s fealty to authority, which just happened to fall in line perfectly with Greenwald’s oeuvre, allowing him the opportunity to essentially pull a giant load of baseless conjecture out of his ass and write a thousand words on it.
What Greenwald did is something he’s become incredibly adept at: arranging a series of potentially unrelated facts in a specific order to create the very strong impression that the whole thing adds up to malfeasance. He smelled a rat in NBC’s decision to pull Mohyeldin, and he made sure that the narrative that served his agenda was the one people who read his piece would come away with. The only problem is that, again, there were several other rational explanations for why NBC might have wanted to remove Mohyeldin and replace him with Richard Engel, not the least of which was that Mohyeldin’s replacement was Richard Engel. Engel is a star: NBC News’s widely recognized, highly respected, globe-trotting, bullet-dodging dreamboat. And when the story blows up huge — like when Israel begins committing to a ground invasion of Gaza — you want your star. Mohyeldin was a terrific journalist well before his assignment in Gaza and his performance there only increased his stock, but at this point as far as NBC is concerned he’s still no Richard Engel.
So, between Greenwald’s theory and the one that takes into account the way television news actually works and sometimes doesn’t work, which do you think wound up being correct?
Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s Reliable Sources and an actual reporter — as opposed to a guy who traffics only in polemics and whose entire journalistic career has been based around one source — did a little digging into the mysterious question of why NBC yanked Mohyeldin. What he found was that there was no cloak-and-dagger attempt to silence a pro-Palestinian voice within NBC News, there was just the usual, painfully desperate grab-assery that permeates network news thinking at the executive level when eyeballs are on the line.
Among some NBC employees, concerns still linger about whether Mohyeldin was singled out for his empathetic stories about Palestinians in Gaza. But the interviews strongly suggest that this was a situation caused by network news infighting and bureaucracy. Said one of the employees, “Everyone’s looking for a conspiracy and missing the real story, which is a news division making mistakes through ratings nervousness.” …
Mohyeldin had already been in Gaza for about two weeks when, on Wednesday, July 16, Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel arrived in nearby Tel Aviv. Engel, the network’s biggest overseas star, became the lead reporter in the region — a common television news practice…
Mohyeldin understood that the “NBC Nightly News” might only make time for one report from the region on Wednesday night, and that it would likely be Engel’s. But then he witnessed an Israeli strike on a Gaza City beach. Four children were killed in full view of reporters. Mohyeldin and his crew began filming, and he alerted his bosses to the potential for a “Nightly News” story about what he’d just seen.
In New York on Wednesday afternoon, NBC News President Deborah Turness became personally involved: wanting “Nightly News” to consider using Mohyeldin that night, she asked him to send in a script and prepare a TV package.
When she screened the package, however, the sources said Turness was disappointed in his “tracking,” the television term for a reporter’s narration of a package. Instead of asking him to narrate it again, or appear live on “Nightly News” to tell the story in his own words, Turness said the script would be given to Engel instead…
“The producers are so paranoid about the ratings, they’ll do anything to stick with the faces viewers know and trust — so that would be Richard over Ayman,” said one of the employees. “Plus, there is no tolerance if a story is fed in and doesn’t live up to expectations.”
In June of last year, I wrote a piece in which I tried to make it clear exactly what brand of back room politicking goes on within your average broadcast news department. This particular paragraph can be applied perfectly to what Stelter’s reporting is highlighting at NBC News concerning Mohyeldin and Engel.
The thing about corruption at most news networks is that it’s a little like the kind of corruption you find in U.S. politics. The fanciful would love to have you believe that there’s some kind of Star Chamber in an undisclosed penthouse at the top of the Time Warner Center in Manhattan making deals with world governments and money interests just like they’d love to have you believe that there’s a secret cabal at work behind the scenes within our government that pits the Illuminati, the U.N. and the Disney Company against the interests of every man, woman and child on the planet. It’s fun to imagine. It’s also horseshit. Corruption within a newsroom is typically the kind borne from incompetence and lethargy, not cunning. It’s forgetting to do shit; overlooking important news stories because everybody suddenly succumbs to the tunnel vision of groupthink without even knowing it; picking one story over another for a show or a schedule because the former’s reporter has a higher Q-Score or because you just happen to have a hard-on for her or him, or excluding someone from a show because you think that person’s an arrogant little shit who needs to be knocked down a peg. It’s the kind of petty, stupid nonsense you thought you left behind in high school and can’t imagine still being subjected to as an adult.
What’s noteworthy about the above quote is that it was part of a larger story on former CNN correspondent Amber Lyon, who had gone on to join the ranks of Alex Jones’s InfoWarriors and push various conspiracy theories into the media bloodstream. The term “conspiracy” also comes up, as you saw, in the quote from an NBC employee Stelter featured in his piece. Because that’s really what we’re talking about here: Greenwald basically pushed a conspiracy theory. Sure, he didn’t come right out and claim that Ayman Mohyeldin was pulled out of Gaza because of his willingness to report on the conflict there from perspective of dying Palestinians, but he didn’t have to. He simply threw out a bunch of points, introspectively scratched his chin, and left it to readers reach the supposedly obvious conclusion for themselves. He raised a bunch of questions but, because he’s neither practiced nor interested in true journalism, he didn’t really make much effort at finding actual answers. He did what he does all-too-often: worked backward from a conclusion he’d already reached and simply didn’t worry about facts that might disprove his case.
But what he was implying was false. And while he’s now touting “the power of social media” as the reason NBC News decided to flip on its decision and send Mohyeldin back to Gaza, the fact remains that the social media backlash against NBC on this was entirely the product of a conspiracy theory — a conspiracy theory spun out of thin air and unsubtly promoted by Glenn Greenwald.