Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Critics Go to War Over "Sourpuss" Glenn Greenwald's Book

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Glenn Greenwald's book No Place to Hide was released this week. It's a regular cavalcade of details about the exiled spy - sorry, whistleblower - Edward Snowden, as well as the involvement of authors and Pulitzer winners Greenwald and Laura Poitras, plus the Wikileaks crowd. But Greenwald has run afoul of several book critics, for which he immediately lambasted them for the freedom of speech he says that Snowden is fighting for. Hypocrisy Much?

Critic Wars erupted, and as with all-things-Greenwald, people have to take sides.

Previous Related Posts:
All Hail the Snowden Pulitzer
Was David Miranda a Mule or a Journalist?
Greenwald Threatens to Spill UK Secrets
UK Detains Greenwald's Partner, Twitter Erupts
Define Spy For Us: Greenwald and Snowden
Greenwald Threatens America


The Guardian, which shared a Pulitzer with Greenwald and Poitras, had a mostly glowing review of the book. But of course they wish he had mentioned their newspaper more in the text because they validated and helped Greenwald when no one else would.

Henry Porter in The Guardian UK
I think the book does a disservice to my colleagues at the Guardian, which after all is established media. The author tips his hat occasionally but does not really acknowledge the importance of the seasoned reporter Ewen MacAskill's work in Hong Kong, or the team that assembled to sift the documents, decode their inner secrets, prioritise information, gain reaction, shape the stories and provide analysis.
It was one of the most impressive journalistic operations I have ever seen and without it Glenn Greenwald would have floundered and, indeed, have been dismissed more easily as an activist journalist. He has done a great job of exposition and advocacy and for that he should be praised, but credit should be shared.

Two reviews in particular seemed problematic for Greenwald mainly because they were NOT glowing and they questioned his motives. Please don't ever do that, reviewers! Criticism should not be critical, but should be left up to experts like Greenwald.

From George Packer in The Prospect
. . . It’s the only account we have by one of the main characters, an ex-litigator for whom prose narrative is another form of political combat.
. . . But the book’s greatest interest lies in what it reveals about dissent and the dissenter in an age when democratic institutions are in disarray. Greenwald and Poitras have a clear political agenda, which is why Snowden, with his deep distrust of the institutional press, chose them.
Greenwald has no use for the norms of journalism. He rejects objectivity, as a reality and an ideal. “‘Objectivity’ means nothing more than reflecting the biases and serving the interests of entrenched Washington,” he writes. “All journalism serves one faction’s interest or another’s.” This is hardly a new notion, but it’s also a destructive one.
. . . Greenwald and Poitras “vowed to each other repeatedly and to Snowden” that their actions would honour Snowden’s choice. So Poitras is outraged when the Guardian violates Snowden’s wishes by sharing his files with the New York Times, as if the Guardian were a vehicle for Snowden’s purposes. And Greenwald attacks the New York Times, which had received thousands of documents from Wikileaks, for highlighting Julian Assange’s troubling behaviour, as if the paper owed its source the benefit of clergy rather than its readers a full picture. Greenwald treats his source as inviolate.
. . . The sense of oppression among Greenwald, Poitras, and other American dissenters is only possible to those who have lived their entire lives under the rule of law and have come to take it for granted.

Excerpts from Now-Infamous and Scathing New York Times Book Review by Michael Kinsley
. . . Greenwald? In his mind, he is not a reformer but a ruthless revolutionary — Robespierre, or Trotsky. The ancien rĂ©gime is corrupt through and through, and he is the man who will topple it.
. . . Greenwald doesn’t seem to realize that every piece of evidence he musters demonstrating that people agree with him undermines his own argument that “the authorities” brook no dissent. No one is stopping people from criticizing the government or supporting Greenwald in any way.
. . . What kind of poor excuse for an authoritarian society are we building in which a Glenn Greenwald, proud enemy of conformity and government oppression, can freely promote this book in all media and sell thousands of copies at airport bookstores surrounded by Homeland Security officers?
. . . private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.
. . . Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.
. . . So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.

Greenwald took umbrage with both Packer and Kinsley and wrote a scathing rebuttal - how can these reviewers be against him? How? They must be political tools for Obama:

Glenn Greenwald in The Intercept
. . . in a totally unpredictable development, Kinsley then used the opportunity to announce his contempt for me, for the NSA reporting I’ve done, and, in passing, for the book he was ostensibly reviewing.
. . . Kinsley dutifully tells Times readers that I “come across as so unpleasant” and that I’m a “self-righteous sourpuss” (yes, he actually wrote that). I also describe in the book how jingoistic media courtiers attack anyone who voices any fundamental critiques of American political culture; Kinsley spends much of his review deriding the notion that there could possibly be anything anti-democratic or oppressive about the United States of America.
. . . Reviews of No Place to Hide internationally (the book has been published in more than two dozen countries, in nine languages) have, almost unanimously, been extremely positive. By stark contrast, reviews from American writers have been quite mixed, with some recent ones, including from George Packer and now Kinsley, attempting to savage both the book and me personally.
. . . Do I need to continue to participate in the debate over whether many U.S. journalists are pitifully obeisant to the U.S. government? Did they not just resolve that debate for me?

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor for the New York Times, agreed with Greenwald and published a rebuttal of Kinsley
. . . Here’s my take: Book reviews are opinion pieces and — thanks to the principles of the First Amendment — Mr. Kinsley is certainly entitled to freely air his views. But there’s a lot about this piece that is unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards, the sneering tone about Mr. Greenwald, for example; he is called a “go-between” instead of a journalist and is described as a “self-righteous sourpuss.” (I’ve never met Mr. Greenwald, though I’ve written about his work, as Mr. Kinsley notes.)
But worse, Mr. Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance. There clearly is a special role for the press in America’s democracy; the Founders explicitly intended the press to be a crucial check on the power of the federal government, and the United States courts have consistently backed up that role. It’s wrong to deny that role, and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand. Mr. Kinsley’s argument is particularly strange to see advanced in the paper that heroically published the Pentagon Papers, and many of the Snowden revelations as well. What if his views were taken to their logical conclusion?

After her own motives (and sympathies for Greenwald/Snowden) were questioned on Twitter and in the NYT comment section, Ms. Sullivan rolled back her criticism of the critic somewhat.
I think there is no reason in this case to distrust Mr. Kinsley or to suspect that he did not read the book, digest its material and write a review based on his own judgment. As part of our editorial process, we made sure that Mr. Kinsley’s characterization of the work was backed up by material in the book itself. By that standard, the review was certainly fair and accurate.
To take on but one specific criticism of the review: At no point did Mr. Kinsley call Mr. Greenwald a sourpuss. The actual text reads as follows: “Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in ‘No Place to Hide,’ Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss, convinced that every issue is ‘straightforward,’ and if you don’t agree with him, you’re part of something he calls ‘the authorities,’ who control everything for their own nefarious but never explained purposes.” For a reviewer to address how a writer comes across, particularly in a memoir or first-hand account, is entirely fair game for a book review, and by no means an ad hominem attack.

More critiquing the critics and their critics:

The Tone and Thought Police at the New York Times
Kinsley, truth to tell, is unkind to Snowden, and that is where the trouble begins. Sullivan thinks Kinsley’s “sneering tone” is “unworthy of the Book Review’s high standards.” Kinsley says, among other things, that Greenwald, whatever he may really be like, comes across as a “self-righteous sourpuss” in the book. Never mind that the New York Times would not have an op-ed section if sneering were ruled out of bounds. Although Kinsley gives us Greenwald’s own words to back up his assertion, it is too much for Sullivan, who apparently thinks that Kinsley should have found a way to indicate that Greenwald’s authorial voice is that of a self-aggrandizing blowhard without being insulting.
. . . Here, then, are the standards the public editor of the New York Times applies in investigating “matters of journalistic integrity” in the book review section.
. . . Reviewers who express views that, however plausible, are considered out of bounds by Times staff should be compelled to recant if they wish to get published.
~ Jonathan Marks in Commentary

Greenwald's haters, exposed
. . . both Kinsley and Packer at least give lip service to the idea that what Greenwald and Snowden have revealed is valuable and troubling. But in their predictable desire to distance themselves from the kind of fundamental and, yes, radical attack put forward by the NSA leakers, Kinsley and Packer are defending the national security state as flawed rather than corrupt, in need of reform rather than reconstruction. And if you think that sounds crazy, maybe you’re another Robespierre or Trotsky, too.
~ Elias Isquith on Salon

I predict that Packer's attitude toward Snowden will one day seem as absurd as someone insisting that MLK would be worthy of condemnation if he hadn't gone to jail, or that the activists who stole FBI files proving improper spying ultimately harmed the rule of law by never turning themselves in.
Like Michael Kinsley, another moderate liberal journalist who made dubious claims in a review of Greenwald's book, something about Packer's relationship to the establishment causes him to understate the radicalism of the international security state and to overstate the radicalism of its critics.
~ Conor Friedersdorf on The Atlantic

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