Skyrockets in Flight: The Profitable Spectacle of Stylized Dissent

(Updated below)

As we all know, Glenn Greenwald recently revealed that he is saving the biggest revelations from the Snowden NSA archive until last, likening his journalistic process to a fireworks show a that builds up to a grand finale. This is, of course, the very opposite of any kind of actual journalism, which leads with the most important information first.

The traditional method would seem even more imperative in this case, as we are dealing with material which exposes vast crimes and deeply sinister actions by a tyrannical government. Greenwald himself has incessantly told us how important this material it is, how dangerous the government’s depredations have become, how urgent it is that we learn of this danger and do something about it. And yet he admits — no, he boasts — that he has been withholding information about the most dangerous activities, the greatest threats to liberty, for more than a year … solely in order to make a big splash, “where the sky is all covered in spectacular multicolored hues.”

If the threat is so great, should we not know the worst up front, in order to recognize the scale of the danger and take action more quickly? But if “the finale, a big missing piece” can wait for more than a year to be revealed, then how “big” can it be? Or turn the question around: if the finale really is that big and important, then what does it say about Greenwald’s constantly self-trumpeted concern for liberty that he would blithely wait more than a year before letting us know of this major threat — timing the sky-filling extravaganza with the release of his new book. A cynic might suspect that self-aggrandizement has trumped the love of freedom in this instance.

There is much to say about Greenwald’s astonishing admission, and I wanted to address a few more key points. But various matters have kept me away from the keyboard of late, and now I find that many if not most of the salient points I wanted to address are covered in a post at Rancid Honeytrap, especially in the long comment thread, where readers have unpacked the rest of the GQ story in which the fireworks impresario revealed his distorted vision of journalism.

Of course, Arthur Silber has been delving into the more troubling aspects of the handling of the Snowden revelations from the very beginning. (See here for a good précis of his work on the subject, including many links to previous articles.) He continues to struggle through a particularly bad downturn in his health, and has not been able to write for some time. As his blog is his only means of support, a dearth of posts can leave him in very low water. As always, if you are able to help keep this important writer going, I urge you to do so.


UPDATE: Oh my word, the landlord lawyer Carl Kandutsch has returned to the comments to take me to task for … well, I’m not quite sure. His learned disquisition was too cunning to be understood, as they say. It was something along the lines of, ‘If you criticize Greenwald, then you are just like Michael Kinsley” or some such howlingly false equating of apples and oranges. The whole thing was so disconnected from anything I’ve ever written that I couldn’t really follow it. 

I think it boils down to Kandutsch’s delusion that I was trying to argue that Greenwald has no right to make decisions on how to release the NSA material. Well, some people construct little strawmen they can demolish in demonstrations of their mighty forensic skills; but here Kandutsch has fantasized not just a strawman but a humongous Transformer or Godzilla to whup up on. He expends a great deal of energy (if little wit) in hallucinating assumptions that I’ve never asserted, then expertly taking me apart for failing to support these non-existent positions. Maybe this kind of shadow-boxing is a big hit in the courtrooms of Plano, but it seems a bit fatuous to me.

The main point I was making in my very brief post was simple: in journalism, it is customary to lead with the most important material first -- not save it for a big slambang finale. Another point: if you are in possession of revelations about terrible crimes -- revelations which you have decided to publish -- it seems strange to hold back, for more than a year,  a vital piece of information which yourself have publicly proclaimed is the most important, the "biggest" one you have. If you stumbled onto a cache of letters proving that your neighbor was a tax cheat, a carjacker -- oh, and had also murdered several people and was planning to kill your mother next Tuesday -- would you spend a year telling people about his tax dodging and car thefts …or would you not urgently reveal his murders and rush to save your mother? 

The point is that Greenwald's own assertions of his methods and intentions in this case bespeak a mindset more attuned to show business than journalism. And I believe that this is unfortunate when we are dealing with such vital issues as the construction of a militarist Stasi state on the ruins of the Republic. So yes, I am sometimes moved to criticism of the methods being employed to disseminate — or not disseminate — this information. And since this information is being largely controlled by a single person, then criticism of its handling must inevitably involve some criticism of the handler. 

(Although here again, Kandutsch indulges in fantasy, making up things I didn’t say, then attacking me for it, writing that “Floyd is content to substitute innuendo for argument … 'Greenwald is not a nice person, he wrote a book, he is employed by an ‘oligarch’, he makes money, he’s not a real ‘leftist,’ he’s sneaky.'” Except for Greenwald’s employment by an oligarch (no scare quotes, just basic fact), I’m not aware of making any of the other criticisms in my posts. Here, just as Greenwald did in his long and frankly hysterical attack on me several weeks ago, Kandutsch seems to conflate the things that I have actually said with every single criticism of Greenwald he has ever read.)

The landlord lawyer seems to operate on the assumption that no one has any right to make such criticisms in the first place. But as far as I can tell, he has not presented any argument at all in support of this assumption.