Glenn Greenwald came in and trashed the place. And it's not his place ...
To think critically is always to be hostile,” the political philosopher Hannah Arendt declared in what turned out to be her last interview before her death in 1975. Pointing out that critical thought always challenges and undermines established rules and conventional wisdom, she added: “Thinking itself is such a dangerous enterprise.
Perhaps the following will explain why I'm highlighting that comment. It's from an article by David Carr in the New York Times from last year in which he wonders, as I continue to wonder, how it is that people who call themselves journalists and liberal political commentators can be so dismissive of the Snowden leaks and the role of a free press in exposing such government activities. I certainly understand why government officials would take that line. But reporters? I'm still gobsmacked.
But I shouldn't be. Here Carr quotes Bill Keller on why so many alleged journalists are hostile to Glenn Greenwald rather than the government that is operating in the dark with impunity:
"Stuff that used to happen in a sedate place with a kind of Robert’s Rules of Order have now turned into the World Wrestling Federation, with everybody piling into the ring and throwing punches,” he said. “There has been a tendency for people used to a more decorous world to bristle at the characters who have acquired prominence in this new world.”
Does that remind you of anything?
In Washington, That Letdown Feeling
You see, miscreants like Glenn Greenwald and Michael Hastings and Matt Taibbi break the rules by which all the friends in the political establishment live. The interlopers who "trash the place" are impolite and sometimes obnoxious and play by rules that are not approved by Village consensus. And one must assume that the arrival of the free-wheeling internet culture that spawned the likes of Greenwald is still very annoying to many of the respectable people who all cluster together in the media claques of New York and Washington.
By Sally Quinn
.... "It's much more personal here," says pollster Geoff Garin. "This is an affront to their world. It affects the dignity of the place where they live and work. . . . Clinton's behavior is unacceptable. If they did this at the local Elks Club hall in some other community it would be a big cause for concern."
"He came in here and he trashed the place," says Washington Post columnist David Broder, "and it's not his place."
"This is a company town," says retired senator Howard Baker, once Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. "We're up close and personal. The White House is the center around which our city revolves."
Bill Galston, former deputy domestic policy adviser to Clinton and now a professor at the University of Maryland, says of the scandal that "most people in Washington believe that most people in Washington are honorable and are trying to do the right thing. The basic thought is that to concede that this is normal and that everybody does it is to undermine a lifetime commitment to honorable public service."
"This is a community in all kinds of ways," says ABC correspondent Cokie Roberts, whose parents both served in Congress. She is concerned that people outside Washington have a distorted view of those who live here. "The notion that we are some rarefied beings who breathe toxic air is ridiculous. . . . When something happens everybody gathers around. . . . It's a community of good people involved in a worthwhile pursuit. We think being a worthwhile public servant or journalist matters."
"This is our town," says Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, the first Democrat to forcefully condemn the president's behavior. "We spend our lives involved in talking about, dealing with, working in government. It has reminded everybody what matters to them. You are embarrassed about what Bill Clinton's behavior says about the White House, the presidency, the government in general."
And many are offended that the principles that brought them to Washington in the first place are now seen to be unfashionable or illegitimate.
Muffie Cabot, who as Muffie Brandon served as social secretary to President and Nancy Reagan, regards the scene with despair. "This is a demoralized little village," she says. "People have come from all over the country to serve a higher calling and look what happened. They're so disillusioned. The emperor has no clothes. Watergate was pretty scary, but it wasn't quite as sordid as this."
Carr pointed out the serious problem this circling of the wagons brought to the important story of the NSA leaks, which even those who think Greenwald is a terrible pill mostly admit is a real story:
The reflex is understandable, but by dwelling on who precisely deserves to be called a journalist and legally protected as such, critics within the press are giving the current administration a justification for their focus on the ethics of disclosure rather than the morality of government behavior.
Many of these members of the press aren't thinking, certainly not in the way Hannah Arendt spoke of it. Their hostility is aimed at the people who "misbehave" by breaking the social rules rather than the government that carried on a clandestine spy operation that is clearly running amock and is working overtime to restrict the very work they are supposedly charged with doing. And appallingly, in many cases, it's simply because of what they see as a threat to their social hierarchy and their own clubby little rules of behavior.
“I think the people in our business who are suspicious of Glenn Greenwald and critical of David Miranda are not really thinking this through,” said Alan Rusbridger, editor in chief of The Guardian. “The governments are conflating journalism with terrorism and using national security to engage in mass surveillance. The implications just in terms of how journalism is practiced are enormous.”
If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack.
Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?
Glenn Greenwald may be the biggest asshole on the planet (he isn't, btw) but to even mention that, much less dwell on it when we are discussing something of such major importance betrays this pathetically provincial (and frankly somewhat adolescent) view of what matters in this world. If a critic cannot rise above his personal pique at an author's personality and see the work through a lens not colored by resentment and bitterness then it's probably best not to review it.
By the way, the New York Times assigned their top book critic, Michiko Kakutani, to review the book a couple of weeks ago, one without the agenda that Kinsley obviously had going into it. It's a very different review. Interesting that nobody bothered to mention it when it came out.