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Why I don’t trust Glenn Greenwald

Willard Foxton, writing for The Telegraph, on Glenn Greenwald and the creepy cult that surrounds him:

I’m sure Mr Greenwald sees himself as a crusader for justice. It’s exactly that commitment to a cause that makes me wonder if he came across a document exonerating the Obama administration in this scandal, would he throw up his hands and say “Sorry guys, we have to forget about this one”? Or would he quietly bin it, because it doesn’t fit with what he believes as an activist? Journalism isn’t just about writing good copy, it’s about actually finding the truth, and accepting that sometimes it won’t be a truth you like.

This is exactly the problem I have with Greenwald. I don’t trust him not to simply ignore anything he comes across which doesn’t fit with his narrative.

Selective publication of documents only works if the journalist handling them can be trusted to publish the truth of what he finds. That’s incompatible with the idea of “activists journalist” that Greenwald espouses – because an activist, by definition, is batting for one side rather than another.  There’s not a chance he would print “a truth he doesn’t like”.

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  • http://danielsieradski.com/ Daniel Sieradski

    There’s a difference between being an activist and being unethical. As an advocacy journalist myself, I often encounter evidence in my research that counters my previously held assumptions and am forced to modify my position. A dishonest person will deny facts which do not align with their worldview. An unethical person will bury them. An activist journalist however, should be a truthseeker — the truth, above all else, should be their cause. I have seen nothing in Greenwald’s career up until this point that gives me concern that he misrepresents facts, hides the truth, buries inconvenient information, or otherwise behaves unethically, or that he’s batting for a team other than the preservation of the universal rights we all take for granted. We should all be skeptical of the media and media elites and their motives and interests. But we shouldn’t approach life assuming everyone and everything is fundamentally corrupt and untrustworthy. It tears away at our social fabric if we go through life believing that everyone is a shit.

  • mostlyfreeideas

    There’s absolutely no evidence to support that accusation against Greenwald. In fact, it appears to be a total straw man. You start with an assertion without claiming it to be at all true, then use it to support a conclusion that he would never publish a truth he doesn’t like.

    The fact is, Greenwald has published verified facts about things the government has been secretly doing and which are unconstitutional (despite attempts to distract from that issue by arguing their policy merits). If you can cite an example where he has refused to publish evidence that the government activities haven’t really occurred then it might make your assertion valid.

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    “I have seen nothing in Greenwald’s career up until this point that gives me concern that he misrepresents facts, hides the truth, buries inconvenient information, or otherwise behaves unethically”

    Having debated with Greenwald in the CiF comments before he became famous (as it were) I can tell you that this is exactly what he does.

    I’d really recommend you read this: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/12/greenwald/

    Greenwald’s approach is not simply that of an activist: it’s that of a an Advocate, in the legal sense. He brings the tools of legal advocacy, which are largely to do with tactics like “discrediting witnesses” (baseless ad hominem attacks on anyone who argues against him), a view of contradictory evidence as simply something to be got round, by any means necessary, and a rhetorical style that’s designed to convince someone of your case, not establish the truth (there’s a difference between reason and rhetoric).

  • http://www.technovia.co.uk Ian Betteridge

    No, he’s constantly used incomplete evidence to support his narrative, often by stretching the evidence.

    To take one example: the very first Snowden story, in which Greenwald claimed that the NSA had “direct access to [Google] servers.” This was supported by the words “direct access” on a slide – but the slide was taken completely out of context. And “direct access” turned out not to mean to the servers containing user data.

    There are lots of examples like this. Sometimes, it’s simply because Greenwald doesn’t know what he’s talking about (he doesn’t understand tech, even now). But his selection of evidence is also worrying: it’s incomplete in a way which suggests foul play to me. Notably, in some of the early stories he did with The Guardian, additional contextualising evidence was published – and in every case I looked into, if you looked at the context the original claims fell down. Interestingly, since moving on from The Guardian, pieces from the Snowden files have always lacked this conextualising information.