The strategy for revealing the Snowden documents

In an interview with GQ magazine, Glenn Greenwald explains the strategy that was developed to deal with the documents that Edward Snowden gave them. It was determined by his antipathy towards mainstream US media and the way they were so deferential to power.

I think most TV journalists, like all those Sunday-talk-show hosts like David Gregory and Bob Schieffer and George Stephanopoulos, to a lesser extent—the whole kind of dynamic of those Sunday shows is to ensure that the most powerful people come on their shows, which they accomplish by giving them a platform to basically spew what they want in an unchallenged manner. I mean, there’s the appearance of adversarial questioning, but it’s all very reverent.

He also took on the late Tim Russert who was treated like some kind of god in the media world despite being a terrible reporter who always seemed to me to be an obsequious toady who covered it up by being a blowhard.

Right, and that was with Tim Russert, who was depicted as hard-nosed. You know, like everyone was petrified of him. When he died, Lewis Lapham described him as the overaccommodating head waiter at some really swanky restaurant who’s just really good at ass-kissing every rich person who comes into the door. And that was Tim Russert—which is why they all loved Tim Russert, right? Because the benefit of Tim Russert was that not only did he let them control the message, but he cast the appearance that they were subjected to really rigorous questioning. So it was the extra bonus of propagandizing while convincing the public that they weren’t being propagandized. And so I think all those TV hosts do that, and I think that most major newspapers are incredibly deferential to high-level government officials, and especially to military and intelligence officials.

We know that Snowden was well aware of this, especially the outrageous case of the New York Times sitting on president George W. Bush’s illegal wiretapping story for 15 months and only publishing it out of fear of being scooped. It was this kind of thing that made him determined not to give his treasure trove of information to the mainstream media and so he approached people whom he knew were principled outsiders. He first reached out to Greenwald and when that did not initially work out because the latter was slow to adopt encryption and was unconvinced that Snowden was not some random crank, he approached Laura Poitras. But before Poitras contacted Greenwald and recruited him and the Guardian to look at the documents, she contacted Barton Gellman who had worked with the Washington Post and whom she knew, which was why that newspaper was in the loop early.

Greenwald says that this understanding of the subservience of US media to the US government influenced how he would report the Snowden story so that its impact could not be undermined by the US media’s desire to have cozy relations with the government.

I knew from the start that I was going to be super-aggressive with how it got reported. If I had a document about Norway or Brazil, I was going to try to team with a journalist in those places. I knew that I wasn’t going to abide by the normal rules that the U.S. government has told media outlets they have to abide by if they want to do this stuff without being prosecuted. I knew I was going to cross those lines, because I don’t believe in those lines.

However, the Guardian also gave some of the documents to other US media like the New York Times, which was eager to report on the biggest story of the year. Greenwald makes the point that although the US government accuses Snowden of revealing its secrets to its enemies, Snowden himself has actually not released any information to the public. He could have just uploaded all his stuff on the internet but was adamant that he felt that he did not have the expertise to judge what information should be released to the public and what should remain hidden and that journalists should make that call.

In fact, the revelation of US spying on the Chinese government and companies that caused so much outrage and charges of disloyalty was made by none other than the very oh-so-respectable establishment New York Times, likely because that was one of the few stories they had access to. If they had the entire Snowden files, I suspect that they would have sat on it in order to not embarrass the US government.

Not that the US government is easily embarrassed. No matter how much of their lying and hypocrisy is exposed, they just keep on doing it. Just today they made a big public spectacle of indicting people affiliated with the Chinese military of spying on US companies, going so far as to have the FBI print out wanted posters of five officers of the Chinese army. In the wake of the Snowden revelations of what the US has been doing globally, this was just begging for the response that the Chinese made.

China’s foreign ministry called the allegations preposterous and accused the US of double standards. The assistant foreign minister, Zheng Zeguang, summoned the US ambassador, Max Baucus, to lodge a formal complaint, according to state media. The authorities in Beijing also suspended China’s role in a joint anti-cybertheft group with Washington.

China also accused the US of hypocrisy, tacitly recalling Edward Snowden’s revelations last year that Washington had overseen the hacking of Chinese companies, including the Shenzhen-based telecommunications company Huawei.

The US government long ago lost the capacity for shame. It will keep on lecturing other countries on how they should behave while excepting themselves from the same standards.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    The US government long ago lost the capacity for shame.

    When, I have to ask, did it have that?

  2. doublereed says

    In terms of foreign policy, I don’t think any country ever had capacity for shame.

  3. astrosmash says

    To whom is the hyprocricy and lies directed. Who is meant to be convinced? Certainly not the countries who are the recipients of our hypocritic activities. And our own country’s citizens? Who already don’t trust the government and can easily and readily point out the lies? All the practice does is further legitimize our distrust… So I ask again? Who the hell is the lying meant for at this point. I suppose it’s just the stance of ‘official position’….goddammit it is SO frustrating!

  4. moarscienceplz says

    The US government long ago lost the capacity for shame.

    To be fair, I think that losing the capacity to feel shame is one of the first things jettisoned by any aspiring politician of any nationality.

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