Tag Archives: Greenwald

Surveillance state: NSA reforms driven by Snowden (and Greenwald)

By Christopher B. Daly 

This may be obvious, but I think it bears repeating:

Absent journalists (and their sources, of course), President Obama would not have appointed a task force on the NSA, he would not have welcomed a debate over surveillance, and he would not be forced to consider reforms. From today’s Times:

While few in the White House want to admit as much in public, none of this would have happened without the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor now in asylum in Russia. While Mr. Obama has said he welcomes the debate about the top-secret-stampproper limits on the N.S.A., it is not one he engaged in publicly until the Snowden revelations began. Now the president has little choice — this week alone a constellation of forces is pushing for change: A federal judge called the bulk-collection program “almost Orwellian,” while some in Congress, many of his allies and Silicon Valley executives demanded change.

So, let’s give thanks to Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald for enabling us to act as citizens of a free country. In the end, Americans may decide that they like being spied on. If they do, I will still disagree, but I will say, So be it. What I cannot abide is the grasping for power that goes beyond the constitution, American laws, and common sense.

 

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Filed under New York Times, President Obama, surveillance

Keller v. Greenwald debate: Reporting v. Advocacy

By Christopher B. Daly

Bill Keller, former executive editor of The New York Times and keeper of the flame of traditional reporting, has squared off with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who disclosed the Snowden leaks and an avatar of advocacy, in a debate over the meaning and future of journalism. Their debate is well worth reading and contemplating. 

Here’s my take: they are actually talking past each other. Each participant represents a different definition of journalism and cannot fathom the other’s values. As I argue in my book, Covering America, they come from competing visions of the essence of journalism, each of which has a long record.

Keller stands squarely for the tradition of responsible, dispassionate, nonpartisan, factual reporting. This was articulated forcefully by Adolph Ochs, the great-grandfather of the current Times publisher, when he bought the Times in 1896. Keller seems to believe that this tradition is the only legitimate one and that all others represent a deformation or corruption of “real” journalism.

Greenwald stands squarely for the tradition of journalism that prizes journalism for its ability to change the world. This is the polemical, analytical, interpretive form of journalism that considers advocacy the essence of journalism. Practitioners like Greenwald often look down on the reporting tradition as a weak, hypocritical, trouble-avoiding compromise.

It may come as a surprise that the advocacy tradition is actually older (much older) than the reporting tradition. In America, the first newspaper launched in 1704, and for more than a century after that, most journalism in America was a fact-free zone of argument and advocacy carried out by the likes of Sam Adams and Tom Paine.

The first full-time reporter in America (the obscure figure George Wisner of the New York Sun– pgs 61-62 in Covering America) wasn’t hired until 1833, and it took decades to establish the idea that the proper contents of a newspaper were value-free “facts” gathered by non-partisan professionals.

Personally, I don’t think one tradition is inherently more virtuous or more valuable than the other. I admire the best in both worlds.

 

 

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Filed under blogging, history, Journalism, journalism history, media, New York Times, Politics

NSA Leak: Is Greenwald a journalist or activist? (Does it matter?)

By Christopher B. Daly

In his NYTimes column today, David Carr raises a somewhat misleading question about Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story about the illegal, secret NSA spying on innocent Americans. Carr poses the question: is Greenwald a journalist or an activist?

I think that’s the wrong question, for several reasons.

First, as a historian of journalism, I start with looking at the history of American journalism. For more than a century, back in the early days of newspapers in Colonial America and during the first few decades of the early national period, there was no such thing as “objectivity” in the newspaper business, and there were no full-time reporters.

Thomas Paine (Library of Congress)

Thomas Paine (Library of Congress)

That is, the entire industry was based on content created by people with an ax to grind. Often, they were political activists (like Sam Adams or Tom Paine) or surrogates for office-holders (like James Callender).

The idea that a journalist should be defined as a full-time, professional fact-gatherer who has no political allegiances is not only unrealistic, but it is already a historical artifact. If that definition of a journalist ever made sense, it was during a period (the mid and late 20th century) that is now over. Today, the term “journalist” embraces all sorts of folks with different business models, different priorities, and different media. So be it.

Glenn Greenwald is actually a case in point for this new media landscape. He is not just a reporter. He is a lawyer-litigator, an author, a columnist, a blogger, and an advocate. He is also gay and living in a DOMA-induced exile in Brazil. In all he does, he appears to have strong convictions (or biases, if you prefer). He makes no bones about his allegiances. In a sense, he is the compleat modern journalist — global, multi-platform, high-impact.

I don’t agree with him on everything, but I value what he does. And I appreciate knowing where he’s coming from — unlike some journalists who actually have an agenda but deny it.

 

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Filed under history, journalism history, media, Uncategorized

NSA Leak: Why not the Times?

By Christopher B. Daly

Since the disclosure of the NSA leaks story, a fair amount of media commentary has focused on the thinking of the self-identified leaker, Edward Snowden, who got access to secrets by working for a government contractor. Many have compared him to Daniel Ellsberg, who got access to secrets by working for a government contractor, then divulged the Pentagon Papers in 1971 to the New York Times. 

Some wonder why Snowden chose to cooperate with Glenn Greenwald (who is a lawyer/activist/blogger/freelancer) rather than a traditional media heavyweight such as the New York Times. Some of the concern is misplaced, I believe, since Snowden also shared his NSA leak with the estimable Barton Gellman of the Washington Post.

As far as the Times goes, the newspaper’s own Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, aired out the question in her most recent posting.

I think it is worth recalling some of the history of the Pentagon Papers case (which you can read at greater length in chapter 11 of my book, Covering America.) By his own CA cover finalaccount, Ellsberg had a political goal — ending the U.S. war in Vietnam. To that end, he first tried to leak the classified documents to members of Congress, on the theory that they could use their congressional immunity to read the papers aloud on the floor of the House or Senate. Because of their immunity, they could not be prosecuted for anything said as part of the proceedings of Congress and their remarks would be on the public record.

When the office-holders balked, Ellsberg turned his thoughts to the media. There I think it is indicative that he did not approach the Times as an institution. Indeed, the Times — in 1971 — was not well known for challenging the federal government. Instead, Ellsberg was targeting an individual journalist whom he thought he could trust: Neil Sheehan.

Ellsberg and Sheehan had a bit of history. They had met when Ellsberg was serving in the Marines in Vietnam and Sheehan was working for United Press in its Saigon bureau. Ellsberg had a sense that Sheehan was a skeptic about the war. Later, Sheehanimgres-1 joined the Times, and he was working as a reporter in the Times Washington bureau in 1971. Under the terms of employment for Times reporters, he was supposed to keep his political views to himself. On March 28, 1971, Sheehan wrote a lengthy multi-book review for the Times Sunday Book Review in which took seriously the idea that there should be war-crimes trials for the U.S. policy-makers who kept us in Vietnam. When Ellsberg read that review, he knew he had found the right journalist.

Three months later, Sheehan wrote the first front-page article in the series that became known as the Pentagon Papers.

imgres

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Filed under Journalism, journalism history, leaks, New York Times, Uncategorized