Thursday, January 22, 2009

Greenwald vs. 'abject ignorance'?

"There are times when the glaring ignorance one encounters from people who are paid to write about political issues is so severe -- so illustrative of how distorted and misleading our political discourse is -- that it's impossible to ignore even though one would really like to."
-- Glenn Greenwald

There are times when a writer so compulsively over-dramatizes everything -- hypes it up so relentlessly with words like "severe" and "impossible" -- that one must struggle to resist the temptation to think of him as a histrionic stereotype.

Such temptation is especially difficult to resist when the object of Greenwald's ire is not, say, Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney, but rather the mild-mannered libertarian blogger, Megan McArdle, whose Crimes Against Humanity are (a) to ask a very sensible question about Gitmo detainees, and (b) to get linked by Instapundit for doing so. (Reynolds is to Greenwald as Moriarity was to Holmes.)

Glenn, think about: Do you really want to pick a fight with the Giant Blog Woman? She's bigger than Godzilla, and you'll be like Tokyo.

UPDATE: Thanks to the commenter who points out this previous BloggingHeadsTV exchange between Greenwald and McArdle:

I'm watching this video and severely disliking Glenn's arguments for requiring journalists to report this, that or the other. With the sole exception of libel law -- and American libel law is stacked in favor of the defendant -- I don't want government requiring journalists to do anything. We can complain all we want about the quality, amount and content of journalism (and I do), but government compulsion in journalism is frightening.

UPDATE II: All your Instalanches are belong to us. For the benefit of readers who are not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fans, Mycroft Holmes is Sherlock's older brother, "the most indispensable man in the country." (This may be arcana, but some fans say that Myrcroft's wife, Dr. Helen Holmes, was the hottest babe in fin de siecle London.)

UPDATE III: In the comments, someone calling themselves "Glenn Greenwald" writes:
[P]lease identify a single instance where, either in that video or anywhere else, I've ever advocated that the state impose obligations on journalists. I don't and haven't.
All righty, then. I don't want to transcribe the entire video, but here are a couple of sentences of what Greenwald said to Megan about "public interest" in journalism:
"I see journalism as a profession like the medical profession or the legal profession, where going into work every day and thinking about, 'How do I maximize my profits? How do I feed my readers whatever they want so I can charge as much as I want for commercials?' is not the only concern. There are other concerns that conflict with that, and I think the law gives privileges, special privileges, to journalism, to journalists, in every single possible realm that's based upon the assumption, the premise that journalism owes a duty to the public interest besides maximizing profit."
OK, the medical and legal professions are both licensed by the state, correct? Not just anyone can hang up a shingle and declare himself a surgeon. And what, pray tell, are these "special privileges . . . in every possible realm" accorded to journalists? If I get a speeding ticket on my way to an assignment (it happens), can I go to court and say, "Your honor, I am a journalist," and expect the charge to be dismissed? No.

Greenwald seems to imply -- excuse me if I don't fully grasp his entire argument -- that the legal privileges (he says are) accorded to journalists might be made contingent on their acting in "the public interest." Well, who is to be the judge of "the public interest"? Me? Megan? Glenn?

If Greenwald feels that the press corps as a whole is not doing a bang-up job, he's got a lot of company (including the editors of most newspapers and magazines). But when he compares the practice of journalism to law and medicine (both state-licensed professions), and speaks disparagingly of the profit motive, excuse my paranoia in discerning the implied threat of a Federal Bureau of Journalism looking over my shoulder.

I've got no more "privileges" than Greenwald has, and I'm sure that his affiliation with Salon would be plenty enough to get credentialed as a reporter, if that's what he wants to do. He can go and do all the eat-your-vegetables journalism he wants -- or at least as much as Salon is willing to pay for.

That's just it, however: Somebody's got to pay for all this reporting, and as long as the bill is paid by publishers dependent on ad revenue, the incentives of the market will prevail. From all the baleful headlines I see about the newspaper industry, it certainly doesn't appear to me that publishers are guilty of paying excessive attention to market demand. If a newspaper doesn't make a profit, it won't do much good to demand they serve "the public interest" once they're bankrupt and out of business.

UPDATE IV: The Case of the Tortured Analogy, wherein I find myself accused of likening Glenn Greenwald to Sherlock Holmes. What I intended, of course, was to suggest that (in the Greenwaldian mind) Professor Reynolds is a shadowy menace like Moriarity, the evidence of whose evil handiwork is . . . everywhere.

The Doyle reader will recall how relentlessly Holmes pursues Moriarity. This relentlessness occurred to mind as I pondered how Greenwald can't go two days without lashing out at his nemesis Reynolds -- which I think is just hunky-dory, BTW, since I end up getting 'Lanched for posts mocking Greenwald. (How do I maximize my profits?)


  1. Glenn Greenwald must be still nursing a grudge from when Megan McArdle spanked him on Bloggingheads

  2. I'm really not sure why I'm bothering, and I'm almost certain I'm going to regret it -- I already do -- but please identify a single instance where, either in that video or anywhere else, I've ever advocated that the state impose obligations on journalists.

    I don't and haven't.

    I'm against all government intrusion into media activity. I'm against the Fairness Doctrine. I'm against hate speech laws. I'm basically a First Amendment absolutist.

    We weren't talking in that discussion about obligations on journalists imposed by the state. We were talking about ethical and professional obligations which journalists have in exchange for all of the unique benefits they receive from the Government (shield laws, special protections from subpoenas, special access, etc.).

    There are "obligations" other than ones imposed by the state. You have the obligation -- an ethical one -- not to completely misrepresent other people's arguments, but the fact that you breached that obligation here -- and, in general, do so repeatedly -- doesn't mean I think the state should impose punishments on you. I don't.

  3. "She's bigger than Godzilla"

    That comes off rather churlishly.

    Let me chivalrously and accurately add, "but way prettier".

  4. Forcing reporters to report on certain topics or to report a certain way? Hmmmph. I guess that's just Gleen showing off all that First Amendment expertise that has as a result of being a recognized constitutional scholar.

  5. I'm certainly no fan of Glenn Greenwald and his many Brazilian boyfriends. But he is making something that is, if true, and important point: are the military commissions governed by the UCMJ? If yes, then he is engaging in his typical asshatery. But if no, then he has a legitimate claim to the factual accuracy of McArdle's post.

  6. I strenuously object to the characterization of Glenn(s) Greenwald as "Holmes." He strikes me as more the "Inspector Clouseau" type, esp. with regard to his many faces, his outsize ego, and the wake of destruction he leaves. He doesn't, however, remind me of Clouseau in his perpetual, if accidental, rightness.

  7. Just a note, but Glenn (Reynolds) was referring to the supercomputer from Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress rather than Sherlock's brother (the 'But you can just call me “Mike” . . . .' is a dead giveaway)

  8. [Glenn(s) Green(s)wald writes:]There are "obligations" other than ones imposed by the state. You have the obligation -- an ethical one -- not to completely misrepresent other people's arguments, but the fact that you breached that obligation here -- and, in general, do so repeatedly -- doesn't mean I think the state should impose punishments on you. I don't.

    No folks, I'm not dead.

  9. Doesn't this guy's dough-face kind of creep you out?

  10. It could be that Greenwald is just a ... dick

  11. You have the obligation -- an ethical one -- not to completely misrepresent other people's arguments...

    So says Glenn Greenwald who has made a career out of misrepresenting other's arguments. Watching that video, I'm struck with the impression that Glenn's mainly upset that all the things he thinks are important (and thus imminently newsworthy) aren't getting the attention he thinks worthy.

    Note all the issues he keeps on bringing up are his hobby-horses, and how he always injects them in the conversation.

    Shorter Greenwald: Why won't the media spend all their resources investigating the stories I think important, and publish them according to my partisan narrative.

    In fact, it sure seems like Glenn's about to break out in a tantrum because the media doesn't acquiesce to his whims.

  12. The man's what my grandmother would call a well educated idiot. And she was a newspaper writer with a degree from Penn in the thirties.

  13. Greenwald always reminds me of PeeWee Herman with a law education. He spends an enormous amount of effort obfuscating his cries of "I know you are, but what am I?" and parsing words and sentences and threatening in a lawyerly way, but it's just to cover up his PeeWee Herman essence.

    He's mainly an irritant with an enormous ego and Delusions of Adequacy.

  14. Quoth our host:

    The Case of the Tortured Analogy, wherein I find myself accused of likening Glenn Greenwald to Sherlock Holmes.

    I thought you were saying Greenwald acts like he's a cocaine addict.

    Anyone who claims that a very short stint at a big New York-based law firm has made him into a "constitutional litigator" has obviously got his head so far up his own behind that he probably needs some sort of anesthetic. (My perspective for so opining is as a former partner of a comparable New York-based law firm.) Oh, the pain, the pain of sock-puppetry!

  15. I think "Glenn Greenwald" is just a sock puppet for Thomas Ellers.

    Anyhoo, at the 48-49 minute mark, Greenwald says the following: If the media is not serving its "public function," perhaps "we ought to consider repealing the First Amendment. I don't see why we need to give journalists any privileges at all."

    And at the 50-51 minute mark, he says "and if they, the media is not doing a good job of performing those functions of the common good and the social interest, then we should revoke their special privileges as well."

    Now, this was clearly intended as a reductio ad absurdum against Miss McArdle's point that the press has no special responsibility to serve as an anti-government watchdog. But it clearly indicates that Greenwald's "First Amendment absolutist" stance is based on a particular theory about, and understanding of, the First Amendment, and (and here's what those quotes prove) is conditioned on, and conditional with, the press acting as he thinks they should.

    It's all well and good to say "I've never said the state should impose affirmative obligations on the press," and "I oppose the fairness doctrine" and yadda-yadda. But one has no basis for First Amendment opposition to affirmative state obligations or to the fairness doctrine if one believes ... as Greenwald says quite clearly he does ... that the very existence of the First Amendment ought to be conditional upon the press doing things X,Y,Z (which they are currently not doing, Greenwald never tires of telling us). The fact Greenwald calls himself "a First Amendment absolutist" is mere obiter dicta if he undercuts the basis for its existence.

    I firmly believe that a man is the only and absolute authority on his self-conscious opinions. But because we have absolute choice of our opinions, we also have no choice whatever about the consequences of those opinions. By making his 1st Amendment stance conditional upon particular behavior, Greenwald actually undermines it. Or epigrammatically, the fact that one opposes building a roof is of consequence if you supported building a foundation and walls.

  16. "Glaring ignorance" among political reporters is not new. There is a great reference to it in a novel form more than 50 years ago, Ediwn O'Connor's "The Last Hurrah." The reporter is nicknamed "Mattress" Mulrooney because he never leaves his house and seldom leaves his bed.