Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Like My Glenn Greenwald Undaunted and Relentless

Greenwald understands that the truth trumps power
unless you or someone else don't let it.

By way of introduction to my thoughts on the recent mainstream journalistic condemnation of Glenn Greenwald and his unrelenting campaign to let truth be the antiseptic it can be when brave people are unbowed, I've long understood why this sort of thing -- even among the so-called liberal press -- might happen, especially in DC. It's changed how I view journalism, and it didn't start yesterday.

When I came back in 1990 from Japan where I'd lived for several years, I developed viewing habits driven by my growing obsession with politics. I really did undergo a kind of tectonic shift. I wasn't uninterested in politics before, I simply didn't make it what I did with my time.

Then I started watching Washington Week with Paul Duke, and one or two of the Sunday morning shows. I especially liked Cokie Roberts, I confess, and I even admit to admiring David Broder. I suspect there was still a lot to admire about Broder at the time. He hadn't begun his long slide into embarrassing irrelevance.

But the point was that all the elite Washington reporters impressed me, and I waited each week to have them shape or fine-tune my opinions. I trusted them that much. I suspect, as I said, that they were more relevant in those days.

At some point -- I recall it was about the time Gwen Ifill took over Washington Week -- the group of elite reporters, among them John Harwood, John Harris, Elizabeth Bumiller, Jackie Calmes, etc., just started to seem to espouse opinions as if they were in some infinite loop, laughing at their own insights, smarmy in their elitism. I got it. They played by inside-the-Beltway rules and maintained access.

Frankly, I began to yell at the TV; even my wife was thinking of having me banned from the living room. I relented eventually, and we both solved the problem. Fridays were no longer about the politcal wrap-up shows. They were about good food, good wine, good company, and maybe some Netflix thrown in toward the end.

The same thing eventually happened with our Sunday viewing. We reduced it to web replays of ABC's This Week. I just wanted to hear what the mainstreamers were selling. Eventually, though, just how much of Peggy Noonan saying "My sense of this is..." can a sentient being take? Now we don't even watch that anymore.

I might as well throw in that I was a big fan of Slate in the early days when Michael Kinsley was Editor-in-Chief. I admired his insight and his sly humor. Watching him turn into a snide asshole over the last few years has been painful.

So when it comes to this Greenwald bashing -- with Kinsley leading the way by proclaiming in a review of Greenwald's latest book that we should listen to the government and only print what they say we can, and that, further, it's possible to view a Glenn Greenwald as a criminal for conducting fearless journalism -- the background for my reaction is that I've long since given up thinking that the elite press of Washington and even New York can be trusted anymore. There were many reasons for this shift over the years, a chief example being Tom Friedman's endorsement of the Iraq War on Charlie Rose  with his famous Suck. On. This. comment. I haven't been able to read him much ever since.

And so it is with the rest of the mainstream political press. There still are good ones -- sad to say one of the Greenwald bashers, Jonathan Chait, I thought was among them -- worth listening to. But we may be at the point of some Great Churning, where the real journalists with real spine start to emerge, and the old guard, some hiding in new-guard's clothing, start their long slide into irrelevance. It's a pity.

I've been reading Greenwald since his very early days on his blog, Unclaimed Territory -- here's an example, he's not an overnight sensation -- and I hung through a lot of interminable blog posts at Salon, god the guy can run on, but I always valued his insight, his tenacity, and his integrity.

Would that these clowns who condemn him now had the spine to even be in the same league with him. Let the Great Churning begin. Time to get out the buckets and clean up the scum.

Michael Kinsley: When does integrity become a liability? When it threatens access.

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