While much has been written about the Snowden effect, another interesting feature of the recent NSA revelations is the Greenwald effect, which is the label I apply to the irrational hostility that Glenn Greenwald evokes from so many quarters in the media. I can understand those people in the mainstream media who hate him. Long before his involvement with the Edward Snowden NSA revelations, he had no hesitation in calling out the media and naming names when they carried water for the government and were hypocritical in the way they covered events when the US government or its allies/clients did it or when countries that were considered hostile did it. His relentless exposing of legacy media shallowness was not something they were used to. The last straw was him getting the opportunity to break the biggest story in decades precisely because they had proven themselves to be so feckless and unprincipled and untrustworthy.
As Peter Maass of the New York Times said in an interview on the radio program On the Media in response to the question of why Snowden did not go to the major media outlets, this shows how the media landscape has changed.
What this means is that there is a new role for journalists who are not part of the established major media. And yes, Laura’s [Poitras] won a MacArthur Genius Award, she’s won a Peabody Award. She was nominated for an Academy award. But she is not part of any major institution. And, as far as Glenn’s concerned, yes, he has the Guardian but, again, that’s not the same clout as the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post. Sources actually may prefer to go to them, not despite the fact that they’re outside these major institutions, but because they’re outside these major institutions. [My italics-MS]
What Snowden said is that it was because they had been very vocal and straightforward about their views on the surveillance state, and because they could not be controlled by a major media organization that he went to them, because he wanted to be sure that if he took the risk that he was going to take, I mean, risking his life to give them this information, that they would publish it.
For members of the legacy media, that must not only sting, it must also scare them as they see themselves being ignored by sources and cut out of their privileged gatekeeper role.
But more surprising is the strong hostility to Greenwald from some members of the informal media, such as bloggers or writers for smaller publications, some of whom occupy the left/liberal end of the political spectrum. For example, take this piece from Balloon-Juice or this piece from Wonkette. Note that the criticisms are never about what Greenwald actually writes, which they have to concede is almost always right on target and backed up with evidence. They are personal attacks, accusing him of being narcissistic and self-aggrandizing and a publicity hound. I have followed Greenwald from the beginning and those were labels that would never occur to me to apply to him. It is true that he is now much sought-after for interviews and quoted but so what? He has an important story to tell and he is using every opportunity and avenue to tell it.
Part of this animus is because when president Obama does something wrong, Greenwald does not hesitate to attack his actions in strongly worded terms the same way he used to describe the actions of Bush/Cheney. These people are Obama supporters and they seem to want any criticisms to be worded more genteelly, accompanied by the dutiful genuflections that Obama is a good and well-meaning man who is forced to take these unpleasant actions and that anyway the Republicans are much worse. Greenwald clearly has little patience for these conventions.
But I don’t think that is the entire story. I think that what also sticks in their craw is that he has on occasion spoken favorably about Ron Paul and some of his stances on civil liberties and foreign policy. For some people on the left, libertarianism is a dirty word and by speaking favorably, though narrowly, of someone who was the standard bearer for the libertarian wing of the Republican party is enough to get you ostracized from their club. It is similar to the way Ralph Nader is treated. There are those who will never say anything good about him because they blame him for Al Gore’s loss in 2000. They ignore the huge number of good things Nader has said and done before and since that time.
What people tend to do is some sort of calculus that weighs the positives and negatives of people and comes out with some overall score. If that score is a net positive, then they support that person even to the extent of downplaying their faults, while if that score is negative, they fail to support them even if they say or do something good.
This leads to hyperpartisanship and disintegration of movements and is not constructive. If we are to get any progress we have to learn to unite with others on specific issues that we agree on while at the same time opposing them on issues that we disagree. We should not waste our time worrying about whether people are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ overall but which label to apply to specific actions that they take.