Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Journalism, Maddow, Greenwald & “Terrorism”

From The Rachel Maddow Show’s opening segment on August 19th, 2013:

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“Journalism is not terrorism. Journalism can be enraging to people in power. Journalism can sometimes even be frightening to people in power. But journalism is not terrorism. Reporting on what governments do, even when those governments prefer to keep those actions secret, is not terrorism. Terrorism is... not an all-encompassing term to be applied to everything the government doesn’t want you to do.” [5:19 mins]

[The whole episode, actually, was excellent, with Maddow taking on a number of important issues, including Corporate malfeasance, in an intelligent and impactful manner.]

Most disappointingly of all, the White House reported that it had been given a heads-up from the UK that they would be detaining Greenwald’s partner. This is very disappointing indeed. Given the “special relationship”, why on earth didn’t the US object to the detention? As Maddow says, surely the UK would have no qualms in stopping if the US government asked us to? Clearly, the US must not have asked, as the detention took place. Standing by while this happens does nothing to help make the government’s case. It’s the equivalent of petty retribution from authorities who seem to have forgotten that they are under scrutiny, and have taken leave of their senses. It’s pathetic, but massive bullying. It’s embarrassing that members of the US and UK governments would act this way.

I wanted to write a little bit about Greenwald’s response, too. The first I read about it was the journalist’s rather aggressive (though understandable) response, in which he reportedly said (reported on Huffington Post):

“I will be far more aggressive in my reporting from now. I am going to publish many more documents. I am going to publish things on England too. I have many documents on England’s spy system. I think they will be sorry for what they did,” Greenwald, speaking in Portuguese, told reporters at Rio’s airport where he met Miranda upon his return to Brazil.

The Telegraph ran an article with the headline “Glenn Greenwald threatens UK after partner's Heathrow detention”, stating that the journalist will “start publishing material with more frequency and fervour” in the wake of David Miranda’s detention.

My initial thoughts, after reading this, were that if he is going to blitz a slew of articles and documents about the UK’s own unacceptable surveillance activities from Snowden is an understandable reaction. At the same time, I am also wary of anyone – journalist or otherwise – offering reporting motivated by revenge. It diminishes (if not destroys) said reporter’s credibility. That being said, Greenwald does admit that he engages in “adversarial journalism,” and I think that is in part what makes me uncomfortable (for want of a better word) about his style: not necessarily that he tries to challenge powerful people and institutions with his journalism (it is absolutely what a free press is meant to do), but more that his work is so self-consciously, and so tonally, adversarial. It is for much the same reason that I don’t like much of Keith Olbermann’s and Lawrence O’Donnell’s reporting, not to mention pretty much everything by a “celebrity” on Fox News (and that’s before we talk about the actual content of their “news” programs).

Thankfully, Greenwald has been able to clarify his comments (which were provided out of context, and at 5am after a highly stressful period) – the gist of which seems to have been slightly lost in translation. The Washington Post sort-of reported on this (with a disappointing lack of detail). Greenwald was later exclusively interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday night. Here’s the specific exchange about “revenge”:

COOPER: Glenn, I saw a quote from you saying you would be “more aggressive, not less” in reporting on England. Some headlines seem to indicate you were going to be acting out of revenge. Is that accurate?

GREENWALD: It’s completely inaccurate, Anderson.

I was asked whether or not the detention of David would deter my reporting and what I thought the outcome would be for the U.K. government. What I said was that if they think they're going to deter me in any way from this threatening behavior, they’re deluded. It’s going to have the opposite fact on me.

It will embolden me, and the reason it will embolden me is because when I see governments abuse their power, as the U.K. government did, I realize that they need even more transparency and more accountability and it makes me want to work harder and it makes me want to faster to inform the world about what it is that they’re doing. When I said I thought they would come to regret it, it wasn’t because I was going to publish out of vengeance.

It was because I knew what they had done was extremely counterproductive to their own interests.

The transcript from the interview can be found here [CNN]. And here’s the video clip itself (which I got from Mediaite)…

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