I hope the media excitement over this White Bronco moment sustains and re-focuses on what the US government is doing in the dark.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 23, 2013
Yes. Me too.
That said, given this "Catch Me If You Can" international chase, this may be one (very brief) moment, in which I can (for now) forgive the mainstream corporate media for their breathless worldwide, man-of-mystery manhunt coverage. Snowden's Run is, after all, just one helluva good thriller story.
The New York Times' David Carr described it this way: "[A]s Edward J. Snowden made his way across the globe with a disintegrating passport and newly emerged allies, Twitter was there, serving up a new kind of chase coverage, with breathless updates from hovering digital observers speculating about the fleeing leaker’s next move. All day Sunday, it was like watching a spy movie unfold in pixels, except it was all very real and no one knows how it ends."
What is impossible to forgive, however, is another sideline distraction to the substance of Edward Snowden's disclosures that happened on Sunday, though it's a disturbingly important one that needs more light amidst the other, thrilling, if less important distractions. This part of the story came via the national embarrassment otherwise known as NBC's Meet the Press with David Gregory, when the titular host suggested that Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who helped break many of the Snowden disclosures, had "aided and abetted" the former NSA contractor, and should, therefore, be "charged with a crime" himself.
Gregory's friendly help to the U.S. Government's surging War on Journalism was echoed again today, by yet another supposed journalist, when Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial columnist for the national embarrassment otherwise known as the New York Times, offered (also on live television) that he would "almost arrest" Greenwald in addition to Snowden...
Here's the exchange between Gregory and Greenwald on MTP yesterday...
"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements," Gregory said, loading the deck, out-loud, on live network television, "why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?"
"I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies," responded Greenwald. "The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence --- the idea that I’ve ‘aided and abetted’ him in any way."
Greenwald continued: "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 email and phone records of the AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator in felonies for working with sources."
"If you want to embrace that theory," Greenwald concluded, "it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal. And it's precisely those theories, and it's precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States."
Carr, in his column today, echoed Greenwald's response to Gregory:
Before Sunday's Meet the Press was even off air, Greenwald took to Twitter to comment on Gregory's irresponsible "musings" again:
Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 23, 2013
Then, of course, Sorkin, a CNBC anchor and NYT financial columnist, thought it wise to continue such "musings" about charging his fellow journalist Greenwald with crimes for reporting on things.
"I would arrest [Snowden] and now I'd almost arrest Glenn Greenwald," Sorkin squawked on CNBC's Squawk Box this morning...
Greenwald, after hearing about yet another journalist calling for the arrest of a fellow journalist, asked Sorkin this sharp question about his fellow NYT colleagues via Twitter:
@andrewrsorkin Should the NYT editors & reporters who published classified information about false Iraq WMD claims be arrested?
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 24, 2013
Before Meet the Press was over, Gregory read Greenwald's critical tweet on air, and then offered this "only asking questions" response in his own defense:
There are loads of problems with that response, but I'll focus on just one or two for now. "Rather than going after the questioner, he could take on the issues," charged Gregory. Well, that's interesting. Rather than going after the messenger/journalist, Gregory could have taken on the issues of the substance of Snowden's disclosures. Instead, he chose to create a faux "how long have you been beating your wife?" premise for his question, as Washington Post's Eric Wemple noted.
"To the extent that you have murdered your neighbor," Wemple mused in response, "why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?"
Greenwald echoed that response with HuffPo media critic Michael Calderone today: "It’s like saying, to the extent that you molested children, should you be arrested as a pedophile? ... It assumes that I’ve done something that he has no evidence to suggest I’ve actually done. It’s an accusatory question. It’s not just a question; it’s an accusation."
To use Gregory's own defense against him, using the sort of irresponsibly loaded language that he did, is a "problem from somebody who claims that he's a journalist."
But Gregory says he is just asking questions. Okay. Here's a question I suppose I could just "ask" about Gregory: "To the extent that you work for a company which aids and abets war crimes, should you be put to death?"
There is, of course, "debate" about whether General Electric --- which owned NBC until very recently --- aids and abets war criminals through their various, enormous military contracts. War crimes can be punishable by death. Would it be appropriate for me to ask, in a public forum, (even on a tiny blog, much less the NBC network) whether Gregory should be killed?
If not, why not? I'm just asking questions, after all.
The answer, of course, is no. That would be completely irresponsible for me, or any other journalist to do, even given the far larger body of evidence that exists to support the charge of "crimes" by GE versus those by Greenwald (which, I should note for clarity, amounts to zero.) It would be completely irresponsible for me to phrase such a question that way, even if Gregory was here to offer his answer in response. Merely poisoning the atmosphere, as a journalist, with such unfounded accusations, spurious connections, and deadly suggestions, particularly in this atmosphere, is something that would be inappropriate for me to do.
It is something that Gregory, who has worked inside the D.C. bubble for a very long time, knows better than to do himself. Or, at least, he should.
And, of course, he does know better. But it depends on who he is talking about, and whether or not its someone considered to be in his club, unlike that rabble-rousing outsider Greenwald. Note that neither Gregory, nor the Wall Street advocacy journalist Sorkin called for the Washington Post's longtime investigative journalist Barton Gellman to be arrested or charged with any crimes. They did not suggest Gellman "aided and abetted" someone who has been charged with felony espionage crimes. Why not? Gellman broke the story of the NSA's super-secret PRISM program --- arguably the most noteworthy of Snowden's disclosures to date --- on the very same day that Greenwald did so at the Guardian (with several other Guardian journalists.) And yet, Gellman, a long time D.C. insider at the in-the-club Washington Post, seems to get a free pass from his fellow insiders like Gregory and Sorkin, something that Gellman himself has noted, taking on both Gregory and Sorkin via Twitter today.
"I see no difference between Greenwald’s Snowden-derived journalism and Gellman’s Snowden-derived journalism," longtime NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen observes today. "David Gregory didn’t present any evidence for such a difference. In fact he said nothing about Gellman and the Post 'aiding and abetting.'"
"At some level, I feel like it's Christmas and I’ve been given the greatest, best gift that I could wish for," Greenwald told HuffPost's Calderone today. "My critique of the D.C. media has long been that instead of being adversaries to government power --- to the government and political power --- they’re servants to it and mouthpieces for it."
This entire story reminds me again that Greenwald's critique was true enough ten years ago when the lack of an adversarial press corps resulted in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of deaths in a decade long war in Iraq, thanks to official government allegations which went unchallenged despite being demonstrably false, and known to be such, even at the time. Even now, just months after an extraordinary brief round of hand-wringing and navel-gazing by the media --- including those at NBC --- over the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War lies, huge swaths of the very same establishment media seem not to have learned a thing. In fact, arguably, they are getting even worse by the day, now even turning on their own in blatant disregard for the very clear First Amendment provisions for the press found in the U.S. Constitution.
"Politicians would like to conflate the actions of reporters and their sources, but the law draws a very clear and bright line between the two in an effort to protect speech and enable transparency," Carr writes. "Mr. Greenwald may have a point of view and his approach to journalism is through the prism of activism, but he functioned as a journalist and deserves the protections that go with the job."
In one twisted sense, we're lucky, week in and week out, to have David Gregory on air to remind us of just how bad this whole pack has truly become. If it's Sunday, it's very likely another massive failure by David Gregory and the pro-government, pro-political power establishment media on Meet the Press...and beyond...
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CORRECTION: Comcast purchased General Electric's minority stake in NBC in March of this year, several years ahead of schedule, after they had already purchased a 51% majority share from G.E. several years earlier. I had originally referred in the article above to G.E. as once "a majority owner and...now a minority owner of NBC". Thanks to Owen Thomas on Twitter for noting my error, which has been corrected above.