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What Glenn Greenwald Gets Wrong

Memo Pad Politics

What Glenn Greenwald Gets Wrong


Earth to Glenn Greenwald: if you write a book slamming The New York Times, it’s naïve to expect favorable treatment in the New York Times Book Review. Been there, done that. Twice as a matter of fact.

On the first go-around, the NYTBR reviewer — a Times alumnus— described mine as a “nasty” book for hinting that name-brand journalists don’t always deal off the top of the deck. No inaccuracies cited, only nastiness.

Next the newspaper located the most appropriate reviewer for Joe Conason’s and my book The Hunting of the President in its own Washington bureau — the original source of the great Whitewater hoax our book deconstructed. That worthy accused us of partisan hackery on the authority of one of the few wildly inaccurate Whitewater stories the Times had itself actually corrected.

If you think we got a correction, however, you’d be mistaken.

So when Greenwald complains that his book No Place to Hide, detailing his and Edward Snowden’s exciting adventures in Hong Kong before the Boy Hero flew off to Moscow, got savaged by NYTBR reviewer Michael Kinsley, it’s easy to feel sympathetic. It’s no fun getting trashed in the only book review that really matters.

Kinsley’s biting wit and withering cynicism can be hard to take. But for all that, the review wasn’t entirely negative. It never denied the importance of Greenwald and Snowden’s revelations about government snooping, nor did it question the author’s journalistic integrity. “The Snowden leaks were important—a legitimate scoop,” he wrote, “and we might never have known about the NSA’s lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them.”

True, Kinsley’s tone is far from worshipful. “His story is full of journalistic derring-do, mostly set in exotic Hong Kong,” he writes. “It’s a great yarn, which might be more entertaining if Greenwald himself didn’t come across as so unpleasant. Maybe he’s charming and generous in real life. But in No Place to Hide, Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss.”

Alas, anybody who’s experienced Greenwald’s dogged ad hominem argumentative style can identify. I’m rarely mistaken myself, but I do try not to impute evil motives to everybody who disagrees with me.

However, contrary to the army of syntactically-challenged Greenwald fans who turned his essay into an Internet cause célèbre, Kinsley never said the man should be jailed. He wrote that being invited to explain why not on Meet the Press hardly constitutes evidence of government oppression.

Indeed, also contrary to the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, Kinsley nowhere “expressed a belief that many journalists find appalling: that news organizations should simply defer to the government” in deciding what secrets to reveal. He wrote that “the process of decision making—whatever it turns out to be—should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I do think the newspaper’s public editor should be more capable of fair paraphrase—an important journalistic skill.

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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  1. sigrid28 June 4, 2014

    My grandmother was a twin. According to family legend, as preschoolers, she and her sister shocked their grandparents’ congregation one Sunday by joining in the hymn-singing at the top of their lungs: “This is the way we wash our clothes, wash our clothes, wash our clothes. This is the way we wash our clothes, so early in the morning.” Alternately, I find it more entertaining to watch clothes agitating at the local Wash-n-Go than to follow the melodrama of journalists sorting out their dirty laundry in public or whitewashing the antics they employ to become celebrities by making a spectacle of themselves. Though I will confess that both pranks have sold a lot of books and other reading material.

  2. elw June 4, 2014

    What it comes down to is money. Although I agree, the Snowden debacle become a debacle because it was poorly thought out and had no real focus. Snowden would have done much better, had more sympathy if he had stayed with the metadata hoarding instead leaking information that was unimportant to everyday people. They let their oversized egos lead them too far over the edge and where they could have done something admirable they became controversial. So they have a bit more money, but Snowden is stuck in a worse place and

  3. ExVariable June 4, 2014

    When we exercise our liberty and enjoy the fruits of success, we also become morally responsible for directly associated failures.

  4. ExRadioGuy15 June 5, 2014

    Well, there’s one reason why the NYT would be so harsh on Greenwald, and it has to do with Eddie Snowjob….
    What I’ve said constantly is that Eddie Snowjob is neither a traitor nor a patriot/whistleblower…why?
    He’s not a traitor because his actions don’t rise to the level of treason. They most likely rise to the level of espionage, which usually has the same penalty as treason, death. But, technically speaking, Snowjob’s not a traitor.
    He’s not a patriot/whistleblower because the NYT and the Washington Post both exposed the domestic surveillance program in 2005 AND 2006. Those two papers also correctly pegged the legal justification for it: the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. If you wish for the domestic surveillance program to end, you do that by getting the Patriot Act fully repealed..simple…
    If Snowjob isn’t a traitor or patriot, what is he? He’s a dumbass….


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