Monday, October 28, 2013

Dangling Conversations

Bill Keller, New York Times executive editor-turned-columnist, devotes an unprecedented seven digital pages to his most recent piece, an apparently unedited email exchange with Glenn Greenwald on the role of contemporary journalism. Read the whole thing and see if you don't agree that Greenwald comes out the more lucid, fair-minded and even-handed.... despite Keller's pretty laughable claim that Glenn espouses a "partisan point of view."

So, journalism is activist.... who knew? I always thought the stories just kinda wrote themselves. And of course, every reporter in America has a duty to squelch his/her inner, inborn allegiance to one of the two right wings of the American uniparty, and fairly present the two equal sides of every argument. And Greenwald does not fall into this category, and Keller is out to find out why, why, why.

If you don't have time to read the whole thing, here's a brief synopsis:

Keller: So, you're an activist journo, who came into our exalted territory by way of lawyering and blogging. Ecccchhhhh!!!!! And now you're hypocritically going to work for a billionaire foreigner who started an internet marketplace (EBay) for the lower classes.  Ewwwwww.

Greenwald: Establishment journalism can be toxic, suffocating, neutering, boring, and conceited. Journalists are human beings with points of view. Get over it. All journalism is activist. The only things that count are accuracy and reliability.

Keller: We're more serious than you. We have editors in suits. We often respect our government. And ditto for national security (whatever that means.) So Nonny nonny boo boo.

Greenwald: Unquestioning fealty to authority is a clear and present danger. We should not value American lives more than non-American lives, and not mistake national security (whatever that is) with a government's desire for secrecy.

Keller: Stop pretending that nationalism and patriotism are dirty words! Stop it, stop it, stop it! And Julian Assange is a callously indifferent indiscriminate dumper and I can prove it! And by the way, how does it feel to sell out and become a star, a brand, for a foreign upstart?

Greenwald: WikiLeaks didn't dump all that false info on Saddam's WMDs. Or help elect Bush by withholding the story on his illegal wiretaps. Our new venture will operate on the premise that the purpose of journalism is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted and treat the powerful not with reverence, but with skepticism. By the way, your own reporter, James Risen, is being threatened with prison over his refusal to name names. By the way, our new venture will include both liberals and conservatives, but not in the vein of David Brooks.

Keller: Leave my David alone!! He is a compassionate plute in a suit.  Your scorn for fraudulent moderation is quite telling.... and extreme. Now I'll let you have the last word, because I am a standup guy and unlike some people around here, reasonable and reasoned. Good luck in your venture selling out to a foreign billionaire who caters to the underclass.

Greenwald: Brooks, like the paper that hired him, is a tool for the military industrial complex and the plutocracy controlling it and enriched by it. ("And with some noble  exceptions, The Times, by design or otherwise, has long served the interests of the same set of elite and powerful factions. Its reporting is no less 'activist,' subjective or opinion-driven than the new media voices it sometimes condescendingly scorns.")   This so called email debate was so much semantic gymnastics and weasel-wording on your part. But thanks anyway for wishing me luck.

My (somewhat ironic) comment:
I have to compliment Bill Keller for printing verbatim his exchange with Glenn Greenwald, when he very easily could have turned his column into another establishment smear job on a non-traditional journalist. (see the Julian Assange story by Keller from a few years ago, in which Assange's skipping and socks and personality quirks trumped his whistleblowing and leaks in the public interest.)
The conversational framing of this column is an indication that the Times is taking to heart some of the recent criticism about its proclivity to act as a mouthpiece for the government, too often giving unwarranted anonymity and protection to elected officials, the better to spread their propaganda.
Much of the credit for this seeming turnabout is also due to the Times's outstanding public editor, Margaret Sullivan. She has been at the forefront of criticizing everything from the paper's coverage of drone strikes, to the NSA revelations, and yes -- even David Brooks, when in a recent column he referred to mixed-race families as "mutts." (he said it was OK, because biracial people sometimes refer to themselves as mutts.)
Brooks had also attempted to pettily marginalize Edward Snowden as a misfit with girlfriend issues as soon as Glenn Greenwald broke the first NSA story. If anything, Glenn's criticism of him is way too mild. Brooks is a menace in centrist clothing, and a disgrace to journalism.
For further reading, here's a piece on Greenwald's de facto exile and the distinct possibility of his arrest should he ever venture back to the mainland of the Homeland. Were it not for Edward Snowden and Greenwald's reporting, Angela Merkel, the most powerful woman in the world, would never have learned that the United Stasians are listening in to her conversations. The international reputation of Barack Obama has been left dangling like a severed land line.


James F Traynor said...

I've read Raimondo's article outlying why Greenwald's return would probably result in hiarrest. And I completely agree.

This morning I listened to Moyers' interview of Gretchen Morgenstern, financial reporter for the NYT. She has a very dim view of the regulators 'punishment' of big banks for their transgressions. Moyers agreed, but undid it all when he continued the program with an interview of a guy named Dreier who praised the mayor of Richmond CA for fighting the banks by taking mortgages away from them through eminent domain. All this while omitting the fact that the mayor was elected on the Green Party ticket and urging people to be patient with the Democrats. And not a word either from Moyers who also never mentioned the Green Party during the interview while seeming to support her tactics.

James F Traynor said...

One of the great things about Greenwald is the way he can keep his cool. I heard him almost loose it just once when his partner was detained in England. Otherwise he stays on point. I think his fellow journalists are envious and would really like to see him get his comeuppance. He's got guts and he's right and they can't stand it. And he's gay for Christ's sake!

Jay - Ottawa said...

Below, part of a paragraph -- likely written well before publication of the Keller-Greenwald exchanges -- by Editor of the Guardian Alan Rusbridger in the latest New York Review of Books. The NYRB is a publication whose centrist political commenters rarely go out of their way to be too critical of the establishment in general or the Obama administration in particular. So, Rusbridger:

“Snowden—deliberately, it seems—did not give the documents to The New York Times, and it is certain that Greenwald would never have agreed to the Keller ground rules. None of this is to detract from the tough, admirable work The New York Times and others have done on the Snowden material. And vice versa, some British editors have come close to saying that it is not a journalist’s role to challenge the security services. But it does help explain how Greenwald—who has just announced he is leaving The Guardian to form a new philanthropic-funded independent Web-based reporting consortium—came to be in receipt of the biggest leak of intelligence in history. This venture, amply endowed with $250 million by a Silicon Valley billionaire, will be fascinating to watch. It takes little to imagine that it will be eyed with some anxiety by the top echelons of the NSA and GCHQ. This, some of them will be thinking, is a new media venture out of their nightmares.”

Could envy, or recognition that he was not in the scoop loop this time around, explain some of Keller's disdain?

And will a truly independent new publication push the NYT to the side a little more? Greenwald, writing for the Guardian till the end of October, promises that the big-muscled start-up backed by eBay’s Pierre Omidyar will not take long before it comes on line churning out nightmares.


Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I must admit I don't even look at the Times anymore unless someone recommends a particular piece. I admire Greenwald who comes across as highly intelligent, articulate and sincere - just as I admire Chris Hedges and Bill Moyers (although Bill is not as edgy). I wish Greenwald all the success in the world and appreciate that Pierre Omidyar is a decent enough person to step up to the plate with his billions and put them to good use rather than looking for ways to amass more power or money.

Keller comes across as an arrogant company man, ever willing to toe the company line. He is a lot less special than he thinks he is.


Jay - Ottawa said...

You’ll be shortchanged again if you spend one of your ten monthly freebies on this story in the morning’s Times.

“Where the Buck Stops, Some See a Bystander
“President Obama has been under fire for his seeming detachment from significant matters, like the rollout of the health insurance website and secret spying on allied heads of state.”

The story trots in like a lion then tiptoes out like a lamb, providing more excuses for Obama The Bystander than detailed examples of the President’s accumulating ineffectivenes at just about everything except leaving the plutocracy to its own devices.

Republicans are quoted first, then Democrats -- you know, the balance thing. Then, not cued by anyone from either party, Peter Baker rounds it out midway by volunteering this tidbit of evenhandedness:

“The challenge for any president is keeping on top of a vast array of issues, any one of which could blow up at any given time. Harry S. Truman spoke for many of his successors when he said that ‘the pressures and complexities of the presidency have grown to a state where they are almost too much for one man to endure.’ And that was decades before metadata technology came along.”

As I said at the top, Peter Baker’s article is not the tough look at leadership promised by the headline and the tease. As for readers’ reactions that follow, it's once again a cluster of top commenters who sing the tune just provided by Baker: Obama can’t, after all, be on top of everything in this massive government. And then again, what about Bush? And would you rather have McCain?

Expecting Obama to be all knowing on everything is a strawman easily knocked down. FDR was not on top of everything either. The difference? It’s the appointments, stupid. The people whom FDR picked to run the show: Harry Hopkins, Frances Perkins, Henry Wallace, George Marshall, etc., etc. Campare that to Obama’s stable of Summers, Clapper, Sebelius, Geithner etc., and those wondrous blue-ribbon panels where more presidential responsibility evaporates into gaseous atmosphere.

Bill Keller is no longer in the front-line chain of command, but is there any difference since Jill Abramson replaced him as executive editor?

Back to Karen’s blogroll.

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Good point, Jay-Ottawa about Jill Abrahamson - What a disappointment - but part of me just expected the Times, a Corporate entity, to just continue on supporting corporations and any politician of the same ilk whoever their editor was.

Excellent point - All of us who voted for Obama the first time, knew we had backed the wrong horse as soon as those appointments came to light. Obama is a corporate hack and those foolish enough to vote for him a second time expecting something else were fools. We found out quickly who Obama was as soon as he appointed Geithner and sat on his hands frittering the time away instead of going after the big banks as we all hoped he would do.

Obama and Clinton have done every bit as much damage as Bush and Reagan. Anyone who believes otherwise is a fool who is married to a party that doesn't exist anymore.


Zee said...


While I don't think that you will ever persuade me that big government is an unalloyed good, you make a valid point that FDR, though expanding government hugely, was, in the main successful by selecting experienced, hands-on appointees who got out and rode herd on the New Deal.

If Truman felt overwhelmed by the size of the government that he inherited from FDR, well, he still seems to have done OK, and Ike, JFK and LBJ all did pretty well too—LBJ's Vietnam war aside.

But all of these politicians had significant experience prior to being elected President. Ike was a consummate military logistician who organized and executed D-Day and oversaw the subsequent victory in WWII; he learned to be a politician by holding together the numerous, egotistical military and political characters whom he needed to pull the whole thing off. He was primed for the Presidency.

JFK had experienced war, served as a six-term Congressman, and then served more than a full term as a U.S. Senator before becoming President. If he didn't have Ike's or LBJ's credentials, he was, at least, much better prepared for it than Obama, and--unlike Obama--he probably took the job seriously, too. He laid the groundwork for the U.S. to make it to the Moon, among other accomplishments.

LBJ, of course, had spent an entire career in both Federal legislative houses, twisting arms and making deals long before becoming Vice-President. If Vietnam unfortunately consumed him—largely by poor choices as “advisors”—he still had hugely significant legislative accomplishments behind him before he threw in the towel: the Civil Rights Act and Medicare being chief among them.

Despite the size to which FDR had “grown” the government—the number of Executive Branch employees grew by a factor of three between 1940 and 1952, when Truman left office—they all generally seemed to have things under control.

Compared to these guys, Obama was/is the consummate lightweight, who, I think, actually resents the fact that people actually expect him to lead rather than bloviate. It is still unbelievable to me that the American people would trust a 4-year Senator of no visible accomplishments—either before or after his election to the U.S. Senate—to be their President.

Well, stupid is as stupid does.

And today's Presidential appointees are nothing more than revolving-door, Wall Street-to-K Street-to-White House-and-back political hacks, who prefer to attend DC cocktail parties and give pep talks rather than checking on their underlings. “We're Big Shots,” they seem to say. “We give the marching orders; how could they not be carried out? Bother to try to log on to and see if it actually works? That's for the little people.”

Well, what the American people saw in Barack Obama ain't what they got.

If Barack Obama represents the “President of the Future”—all campaign and no governance—then smaller government would be better. They might do less harm.