Facts and Fabrications: Responding to a Greenwald Smear
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Written by Chris Floyd   
Saturday, 07 June 2014 10:58

(UPDATED BELOW)

Oh well, once more into the breach with matters Greenwaldian. Word comes that I've been subjected to a personal smear by Glenn. Some of this has played out in the comments on the previous post, but I thought I'd bring it out here for an airing, and to expand on a few points.

It began with this from a commenter, Semanticleo:

Chris; GG replied to you from the flank: "Of course, Chris spent years heaping praise on me and privately seeking opportunities to write in my space. He must have had a sudden epiphany that I’m really just a pro-imperial militarist. I wonder how he explains to himself how he remained fooled for so long."

This was my initial response (lightly edited here):

Did he really say that? How amusing. However, I'm afraid that young Glenn is being economical with the truth if he says I spent years "privately seeking opportunities to write in [his] space." This simply did not happen. It is true that he asked me (and others) to fill in him for a week at Salon in 2007 while he was off, which I did quite happily. He also asked me to participate in a Talking Points Memo Book Club discussion, based on his new book at the time, which I also did. This too was in 2007. In 2008, he asked me -- again, as before, on his own initiative -- to do a podcast discussion with him on his blog. (I wasn't able to do it due to scheduling problems.) But I cannot recall -- nor can I find any evidence in the still-extant record of our email contacts going back seven years -- any time when I asked Greenwald for an opportunity to "write in his space" or even hinted at such a thing.

And yes, I've praised many of Greenwald's pieces over the years (as he has done with mine); why not? I often found myself in agreement with him on many issues, found many of his insights and information useful, and linked and praised accordingly. We also disagreed at times, in a friendly way, sometimes in comments he contributed to my blog, or in blog posts.

I didn't have a "sudden epiphany" that Glenn is "just a pro-imperial militarist." In fact, I never said he WAS a pro-imperial militarist. What I have said is the simple truth: he seems very happy to WORK for an oligarch whose public activities clearly advance a harsh neoliberal, pro-imperial, militarist agenda. This troubles me. It troubles me precisely because I admired much of Glenn's work in past years. Just as it troubles me that other writers whose journalism I've admired and found useful have gone to work for an oligarch with such a disturbing record -- people like Jeremy Scahill and Matt Taibbi, with whom I worked almost 20 years ago in Moscow. I don't think this is a good development; I think it bodes ill for journalism, for effective dissent against an overbearing power structure. I think we should find some other model for investigative journalism, rather than partnering up with neoliberal oligarchs like Omidyar. Is this really such a controversial opinion, worthy of a personal smear?

And yes, I've also questioned the handling of the Snowden material, and what I believe are the troubling implications of how it has been handled. I've explained my reasoning behind these concerns at some length.

But all of these concerns are based on my observations of the facts at hand. My opinion on these matters are not "epiphanies;" they have developed over time, in response to events as they've happened. Glenn did go to work for Omidyar. This was troubling. The facts coming out about Omidyar's record are troubling. I found the handling of the Snowden material, as it has played out over the course of more than a year, to be troubling in various ways (while still being glad, as always, when any information about our malevolent power structure leaks out). If none of these things had happened, I would not have written any of the material that Glenn now finds so objectionable.

Obviously Glenn disagrees with my interpretation of these events. That's his right, of course. He can disagree vociferously, as he did in my comment section a few months ago. Why not? He can even attack me personally, as he seems to have done here, if this quote is accurate. But I don't think he should tell lies in an attempt to blacken my character, instead of engaging with the substance at hand -- Omidyar's record, and what it means for top dissident journalists to come under his financial umbrella.

***

I thought that was it, but it seems there was more, as Tarzie noted in a follow-up comment:

Chris: You were not furnished with the full quote. Glenn also called this statement of yours an out and out fabrication:

His most prominent employee, Greenwald, constantly affirms his belief
that we should indeed have a powerful and far-reaching security state —
it should just be “reformed” and “overseen” by people he approves of.
(Snowden has voiced the same opinion.)

I left a reply to this on The Intercept, but they cherry pick comments, so there is no guarantee it will be published or answered. This was my direct reply to Greenwald's remark about your 'fabrication.'

--------

Well then perhaps you should explicitly clarify what your position on the security apparatus is. Because I think Floyd's assessment is at least correct in regard to Snowden, who frequently touts the essential goodness of spying and whose only real objection seems to be bulk data collection. When people object to what they see in Snowden's remarks as a very subservient, conformist view of the security state -- that is the viewpoint of someone who has spent his entire working life inside it and still insists he's working for it -- you belittle and ridicule them for never having blown whistles. With smears like 'chicken pseudo radicals' you have worked very hard to prevent any discussion about the very thick layer of national security ideology that comes bundled with almost everything Snowden says. Until you explicitly contradict him and repudiate the security state in stronger and more explicit terms, I don't think you can, in good faith, call Floyd's assessment a fabrication.

So let's just clear the air: what is the proper role of the Intelligence Community? If Congress would make any adjustments you suggested, what would those adjustments be? It would be especially interesting and refreshing to learn your views on other agencies besides the NSA.

I think Tarzie's reply to The Intercept covers the matter well. As he points out, Greenwald has attacked anyone who questions Snowden's affirmation of the need for a powerful spy system, and has not, to my knowledge, ever differentiated himself from this position. If Greenwald is NOT in favor of a robust security apparatus (albeit one 'reformed' and 'regulated' as he would like it), then he has never made that clear. Instead, two seconds on the internet finds quotes like this on Al Jazeera in January, where he talks of the need for "a much more sensible surveillance system."

I don't understand who he thinks will run this "more sensible surveillance system" in a militarized state hellbent on "projecting dominance" in every part of the world, and protecting an economic-social system based on vast and brutal inequality. That is the ruling system we have now: so again, among those who rise to the top of such an unjust and morally skewed system, who will you trust to carry out "more sensible surveillance"? And of course, the problem is not just surveillance, but all the other depredations being committed by our "security" apparatchiks and political leaders on a daily basis, including running death squads out of the White House with the direct participation of the president.

There are already laws on the books prohibiting warrantless surveillance, torture  -- and, indeed, "extrajudicial killing" (murder) and aggressive war. This has not stopped our bipartisan ruling class from carrying out these crimes and others, relentlessly, remorselessly and without the slightest accountability. Now, we can "engage in debate" about "reforms" for a "much more sensible surveillance system" until the cows come home -- but in the system of political and socioeconomic organization we have now, none of this will make any difference. You will still have the same kind of people running things, because the kind of people willing to commit or countenance such crimes are the only kind of people who will rise to the top of such a system.

And this system of power does not just include "the radically corrupted political class in DC," as Greenwald rightly describes it (in a quote one of the commenters here pointed out). It also, most emphatically, includes figures like Pierre Omidyar -- billionaires who use their money and power and connections to manipulate governments, society and events, as far they are able, toward the perpetuation and expansion of elite interests. Who does Greenwald think is corrupting the "radically corrupted political class?" Who is buying off the politicians? Who is influencing and sometimes even writing laws and policies for their own advantage? Who is partnering with the security state to destabilize and manipulate foreign goverments? Who is doing the corrupting? The oligarch class, and the corporations and financial interests they control and work with.

You can root out the entire "corrupted political class in DC" today, and you will still end up with another corrupted political class to take its place -- because that's the only kind of political class that will be produced by the wider system of power, which is dominated not by politicians but by corporate interests and oligarchs. If you support and celebrate the oligarchs who perpetuate this system, then you can be sure you will never see any genuine change or reform.

So yes, I believe that writers who call for "a more sensible surveillance system" in the current system of power do indeed hold that "we should have a powerful and far-reaching security state." I believe that is the logical conclusion and practical implication of such a stance. Any kind of effective surveillance system -- "sensible" or not -- will necessarily have to be powerful and far-reaching; otherwise, what's the point? So again, a belief in the need for an effective surveillance system means believing you need a state powerful and far-reaching enough to operate it.

I don't think it is a "fabrication" to draw such a conclusion from Greenwald's public positions, and his often heated, personal attacks on anyone who disagrees with Snowden's clear views on this question. If I've overstated the case, oversimplified his position, drawn the wrong implications from what Greenwald has said (and not said), if he has a different or more nuanced view, if he does not agree totally (or at all) with Snowden on this question, then I'd be glad to hear it.

But again, we are speaking here of opinions drawn from facts on the ground, not "fabrications." Greenwald states we need a surveillance system, albeit a "sensible" one. I observe this stance and make an observation about it, drawing on what knowledge I have of the sinister system of power we now have. Greenwald goes to work for an unsavory oligarch who is aiding and abetting political and social developments which I believe are harmful. I observe this, and state my concerns and opinions about it. I offer these as my personal opinion, in a blog read by a few hundred people. If there is new information, new facts on the ground that cause me to alter my opinion, then I will do so.

But as far as I can tell, Greenwald doesn't offer any new information to refute my opinions, any arguments against my conclusions, any new facts -- or even old facts or arguments that I might have missed. Instead, as he did earlier this year, he leaps straight to personal disparagement and, sad to say, out and out fabrications of his own. He says I'm a liar -- because I disagree with him. He says I bugged him privately for years to let me use his media platforms -- this is blatantly untrue, and Greenwald knows it to be untrue. He knows that the one time I used his media platform was when he invited me to do so, unbidden, out of the blue. I thought it was a kind gesture, and I thanked him kindly for it. It's sad that he now wants to take this act of kindness on his part and turn it into a nasty and mendacious personal smear against me.  I hope he can find some better uses for his time and talents than indulging in this kind of petty business -- or serving oligarchs, for that matter.

***
(UPDATE)
This is the last go-round on this particular brouhaha, offered here only because a recent comment provides such a sterling example of the kind of response any criticism of Greenwald or Omidyar provokes. This is from a commenter adopting the pseudonym "Lout" (although the person has previously commented here in their own name). I've lightly edited it because the original is ungrammatical at a couple of points:

Given that the only common threa[d] running through the various pretexts proffered for hating Greenwald has to do with Greenwald being successful, I suspect that the weird obsession [with] Greenwald is for the most part rooted in simple envy. It's as if the widely held perception of Greenwald as a formidable dissident has robbed some people of their sense of personal identity, and the thief must be made to pay.

My response:
I don't "hate" Greenwald nor do I have a "weird obsession" with him. Nor have I told lies about him to blacken his character, as he has done to me. Greenwald had a reputation as a "formidable dissident" during the years we often linked to each other's work. He has the same reputation now. What does that have to do with anything?

I have offered my critical opinions on some aspects of how the Snowden revelations have been handled, without ever denying the courage and tribulations of those who've brought them (partially) to light. I've also expressed my deep concern at seeing indeed formidable dissidents like Greenwald, Taibbi, Scahill, etc., being employed by an oligarch whose own dubious and dangerous activities are the very things that formidable dissidents like Greenwald,Taibbi and Scahill would normally denounce and expose. What does it mean for investigative journalism and dissent to come under the financial umbrella of such a figure?

I think these are important questions to consider. Yet such concerns are immediately denounced as mere "jealousy" -- as if wealth and status are the only concerns, the only values that could possibly motivate anyone to criticize the public actions and positions of prominent people. (When Greenwald criticizes Obama, is it because he's jealous that Obama is more famous and powerful than he is? Or could it possibly be that Glenn has genuine motives, rooted in his own values and beliefs, that drive his concerns and spur him to write? If that's true for him, as I'm sure Citizen Lout would affirm, why can't it be true for others? Citizen Lout, like so many of Greenwald's fierce defenders, seems to have difficulty grasping this concept.)

The fatuous cod-psychology about people feeling "robbed of their sense of personal identity" is entirely characteristic of this whole ugly business. I write articles that say: I have concerns about the handling of the NSA revelations, and here are my reasons; I have concerns about dissident journalism getting into bed with unsavoury oligarchs, and here are my reasons. But what is the response to these concerns, which are based on public actions and positions? Not counterarguments but personal attacks: smears, lies aimed at denigrating personal character, sneering amateur psychology which attributes any criticism of these public issues to some kind of character flaw in the critic.

After many years of substantial agreement with Glenn on many public issues, I now have a substantial disagreement with him on these particular public issues. Is this so unusual? Especially among writers in such a volatile and contentious field as politics and public policy? I haven't attributed Glenn's actions and positions on these issues to some deep-seated character flaw or psychological imbalance in him; I think, on these issues, that he has made some wrong choices: choices which -- precisely because he is a formidable dissident with a high public profile -- could have an adverse effect on the course of investigative journalism and dissent in general. That's why I've spoken up about my concerns on these public issues, and why I've offered evidence and arguments to explain my concerns. This is not "hatred"; it's called debate.

But again, the response to this has been personal attacks, calumny, disparagement and, in Glenn's recent statement, lies against my character. And here, from Citizen Lout, insipid pop psychology instead of argument.

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