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Should Journalists Do Journalism? A Debate

[ 178 ] May 24, 2014 |

Michael Kinsley, having long since lost his fastball, has become above all become committed to complacency. His pose is not exactly that he’s the only one to tell the truth: that everything is just fine. It’s more that we might reluctantly admit that injustices exist, but we shouldn’t do anything about them, particularly if this might mean conflict with our rightful overlords.

So when it comes to Kinsley v. Greenwald, I guess it’s not surprising that I’m strongly inclined to agree with Isquith. But more when I have a chance to finish Greenwald’s book.

Comments (178)

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  1. FlipYrWhig says:

    I’m underwhelmed that Isquith’s conclusion, echoing the conclusion of all Greenwald fans regarding all Greenwald critics always, is that criticizing Greenwald is attempting to silence his brave voice and uphold The System.

    • Ronan says:

      I dont really care much for the GG vs anti GG factions soap opera, but Ive often thought that Dana Priest must be pretty pissed off, as she was writing about all of this (in more detail and with more nuance) long before GG. (and even released a book about the subject a year or two before snowden that never really took off) Interesting how it goes, init?

      • According to the Wiki, her input at the WaPo was ignored before the war, so why would you think that would change?:

        In the days before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Priest and fellow Post reporter Karen DeYoung filed a story with their editors that the CIA had significant doubts about documents alleging an attempted uranium purchase, but the Post did not publish the story until March 22, 2003, after the invasion had begun.[29][30]

        • Ronan says:

          still, she she must be pissed off. is all im saying

          • One thing I read recently is that many discoveries in science are named/credited to not necessarily the scientist/discoverer in question, but the first scientist/discoverer who successfully publicized their findings.

            But, yah, from the Wiki it would seem that she deserves a lot of credit. I think a factor is that GG is a good talking head, so he makes for a good interview, video or print. GG as a publicity hound(Canis kardashia) serves his purposes quote well. He really reminds me of a character out of Shaw: Confident, a touch arrogant, very intelligent, and very ideological.

            • Ronan says:

              Not wanting to romanticise her career too much or get carried away, but I think a lot of it is built into her professionalism aswell. This was her beat for decades (and she was one of the earliest on the rendition story aswell afaicr) so her incentives and experience would probably push her towards being careful and nuanced, whereas GG can trade in simplicities, hyperbole and self promotion, at times.
              Dont get me wrong, I actually like GG (though I never got in to the habit of reading him consistently) – and I havent read the above links yet which I assume (?) are touching on this topic – but his brand of journo-activism has a very different set of incentives and expectations then Priest’s slow accumulation of evidence. (having said all of that as well, I dont know what the experts make of Priest. Id be surprised if they were hostile, but it’s possible)

              • Barry says:

                It’s amazing how nuance and responsibility and such generally mean (a) being wrong and (b) being wrong in a direction pleasing to the elites.

                • Ronan says:

                  maybe, but what does that mean in this context? are you saying that that applies to priest?

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  It’s amazing how nuance and responsibility and such generally mean (a) being wrong and (b) being wrong in a direction pleasing to the elites.

                  To see someone write this in the aftermath of the Iraq War and the Bush administration as a whole makes me extremely pessimistic about humanity.

                  Yeah, it’ s nuance and responsibility that are in service to power and likely to lead you wrong. Why, those dead-certain, black-and-white fist-wavers are usually right, and never function in the service of power.

      • joe from Lowell says:

        she was writing about all of this (in more detail and with more nuance) long before GG

        See, there’s the problem right there. Greenwald’s target audience are people who consciously define themselves in opposition to the careful, nuanced monkishness of mainstream liberals.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          That’s supposed to be “wonkishness,” but whatever.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Yeah, nuanced wonkish liberals like George Packer.

          Many liberals supported the Iraq War for “nuanced” and “responsible” reasons. They put a great deal of sohistry to work defending something that was obviously wrong.

          Lot of that going around.

          • joe from Lowell says:

            Why are you talking about George Packer? What does George Packer have to do with anything?

            Many liberals supported the Iraq War for “nuanced” and “responsible” reasons

            so, you know, BOO NUANCE!

            What a fantastic lesson to draw from the Bush years: nuance ain’t that great.

            • DocAmazing says:

              First, if you read Isquith, Packer also chimed in on GG and this issue. Second, love of “nuance” also leads putative liberals to point out that police are justified in beating up protestors who are, after all, privatizing public spaces and who really aren’t unarmed anyway, or that overseas wars serve many purposes, not just the desires of miltary contractors and resource-extraction industries.

              Sophistry and bullshit in service of muddling fairly clear issues is often mislabelled as “nuance”. We see plenty of that, even in these precincts. There is no virtue in larding a fairly straightforward issue with absurd filigree, and it is not coincidence that such squid-ink attempts are usually made in service of power.

              • joe from Lowell says:

                It’s a good thing lack of nuance doesn’t lead any putative liberals to say anything stupid.

                Seriously, you look back at the Bush years and, all in all, you come out of it determined to warn people about the dangers of nuance.

                I’m sort of reminded of people who tell stories about the one-in-a-million cases of people who were killed because of their seat belts.

                Some people just don’t like to wear seat belts. They feel restrained.

                • Lee Rudolph says:

                  Restraint and nuance go hand in hand!

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Currently, we have people who want to take a “nuanced” approach to force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo, a “nuanced” approach to robo-signing and overt fraud in mass foreclosures, and a “nuanced” approach to coal ash spills.

                  At a certain point, the word “nuance” loses its meaning and becomes a synonym for “sophistry”, or more simply, “bullshit”. When you find yourself making excuses for abuses of power for flimsy reasons, it’s time to find a better word than “nuance” to fall back on.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  At a certain point, the word “nuance” loses its meaning and becomes a synonym for “sophistry”, or more simply, “bullshit”.

                  I’m sitting here with my jaw hanging open that you would write this as your immediate follow up to your first paragraph:

                  Currently, we have people who want to take a “nuanced” approach to force-feeding prisoners at Gitmo, a “nuanced” approach to robo-signing and overt fraud in mass foreclosures, and a “nuanced” approach to coal ash spills.

                  You write this, with the scare quotes around “nuanced” to make sure you aren’t actually saying anything about those positions, and then complain about the word losing meaning.

                  Honest to God, I’m retyping this comment from a harangue about how you’re using the word to mean everything and nothing.

                  You amaze me. You’re DocAmazing.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Let’s make it simple, then, joe, seeing as you’re lost in all this nuance.

                  Making excuses for abuses of power is just that: making excuses. Intellectual exercises in rendering those excuses entertaining or otherwise compelling are simply decorations on excuses for abuses of power.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  Let’s make it simple, then, joe, seeing as you’re lost in all this nuance.

                  Yeah, you just went way over my head.

                  Derp, wot part of illegal don’t you understand, derp?

                  People who insist on making things simple are simple people.

    • It’s especially unfortunate that your attempt at snark describes the position of Kinsley with 100% accuracy.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        Indeed, which is why I didn’t have the same problem with it that Scott and Isquith did. I haven’t read Greenwald’s book, but, come on, that’s what he always does: the only explanation of criticism of Greenwald can be love of authority. Don’t logicians call that a false dichotomy? I’m amazed that he goes to that well so often and continues to get away with it. He might as well say “stuck pig squeals.”

        • I dunno, when people talk about locking Greenwald up,(Kinsley isn’t the only one to do so, BTW) and that’s not even a majority of his critics, such bootlickers don’t realize they’re playing into GGs game as well. That Kinsley thinks musing about it is some sort of ‘contrarian’ librul stance tells us all we need to know about him.

          Privilege: One hell of a drug.

        • Barry says:

          It’s amazing how nuance and responsibility and such generally mean (a) being wrong and (b) being wrong in a direction pleasing to the elites.

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            Sure, if you set things up so that everyone who disagrees with you is part of “the elites.” Greenwald defended the ruling in Citizens United that was highly pleasing to the Koch brothers and other actual elites. I don’t see that he’s consistently anti-elite. I think that gives him way too much credit.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Aaand again we have the I Can’t Stand the Messenger So The Message Must Be Wrong response. I have no love for Greenwald, either, but Greenwald isn’t the point. The runaway US intelligence commnity is.

      • Barry Freed says:

        Pretty much this exactly. I just don’t get why it’s so hard.

      • JL says:

        Yep. The issue here is not whether I think Greenwald is kind of a douchebag.

      • But then you don’t get the point that Kinsley, who was always an idiot to me, and his type are making. It’s that the government should be allowed to do anything it wants. Even though it mostly benefits corporations and the right. Can anyone ask Kinsley about the docu dump the State Department did last night on Kissenger’s involvement with Chile and Pinochet’s rise?

        • Random says:

          But then you don’t get the point that Kinsley, who was always an idiot to me, and his type are making. It’s that the government should be allowed to do anything it wants.

          You just said something that isn’t even remotely accurate.

          But if I point out that what you said isn’t at all true, you’re probably going to label me a sycophantic zombie-slave of the elites.

          • philadlephialawyer says:

            I won’t label you that, but Kinsley did say:

            “The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.”

            Which, I think, is fairly paraphrased, in this context at least, as “the government should be allowed to do whatever it wants.”

            And that is why Kinsley is dead wrong.

            The GG/anti GG food fight is of no real interest to me. Cuz I don’t really care about personalities, GG’s or Kinsley’s. What I don’t like is a leviathan State declaring vast swaths of information “secret” with no oversight or control, and having the power to punish those who don’t abide by those declarations. Kinsley, apparently, thinks all that’s peachy-keen. GG doesn’t. Thus, on this round, and on the facts (and, again, leaving personalities out of it), GG is right and Kinsley is wrong.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        Kinsley accurately diagnoses that Greenwald sets up trap arguments so that disagreement is and can only be a sign of authoritarianism. That’s true, and it’s been a Greenwald signature for a long time. He even did the same thing when he appeared on the Chris Hayes show and, when pressed about his rhetoric, said once again that he likes making powerful interests uncomfortable. Well, there are other objections that aren’t of that nature, but he doesn’t credit them, and neither do his fans.

        IMHO Kinsley is on the mark about how Greenwald argues, but off the mark when he pivots from that to how Greenwald is naive and offers no solutions for the dangerous world and blah blah blah. But the point about his tendency towards deck-stacking and false dichotomies is quite valid, and Isquith sidesteps all of that, and Scott by signing on to Isquith’s review is doing the same thing.

        • witless chum says:

          You have to make the argument for why I should care, though. Greenwald is stick to beat the national security.

          • Aimai says:

            Who cares if Greenwald has the ability to make his critics look like idiots (“set up traps”)? I mean really, who gives a fuck? I don’t like Greenwald, and once I did, very much, but so what? Maybe he doesn’t bathe enough either. Maybe he stiffs the waitress at his favorite restaurant. Can you explain to me how this has anythign to do with Kinsley’s argument that Journalists should be locked up if they displease the government?

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              I wasn’t responding to that part of what Kinsley wrote. I was responding to the part where he reviewed Greenwald’s book and found flaws in his reasoning, flaws I have long observed myself. Seeing as it was a book review, I figured I might as well pick up on the part where he was reviewing the book.

            • GoDeep says:

              Can you tell me why you stopped liking him? I have a hard time understanding why liberals would hate him.

              • Aimai says:

                I don’t hate him. I respected his work under Bush because he didn’t strike me as so nihilistic and totalistic–he has become a very totalistic thinker, very rigid and very “let the world burn” in his attitude towards American politics. He sees it as a laudable kind of purity. I see it, and many people do, as the willingness of a person who is quite priviliged with white/male privilege, choosing to see other people’s concerns (people of color, women, children, the elderly) as somehow childish or compromised or unprincipled.

                His willingness to attack Obama and HRC personally and his inability to see any difference in outcome between supporting a Democrat or supporting a Republican leads ordinary political actors towards a position of learned helplessness–he sees it as a higher virtue but I see it as creating a sense of despair in the voter and the activist which leads to a reinforcement of the status quo.

                I also personally dislike the ACLU/Bill of Rights absolutist attitude that makes all other kinds of struggles vanish. Its one part of the struggle. Its not the whole ball of wax.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  He’s also become very conspiratorially-minded, seeing collusion and corruption as the reasons behind the adoption of policies he dislikes. Statements like “no one could reasonably disagree that” and “it can only be that” became tics.

                • Random says:

                  Can you tell me why you stopped liking him? I have a hard time understanding why liberals would hate him.

                  I for one have always regarded him with contempt from the very first few sentences I read by him.

                  “Oh hey, how principled and consistent of you to start criticizing Bush….6 weeks after Katrina. Tell me more about how you were fighting the glorious struggle against The Elites when you were working at Cato, voting for Bush, and supporting the Iraq War?”

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  I’m actually fine with Greenwald having donned the mantle of the civil libertarian gadfly absolutist. I just don’t know why that should be regarded as liberal, because it’s kinda one of the fundamental faultlines of the contemporary liberal tradition: how much should the government be able to restrict individual liberties in pursuit of (what it claims to be) the general good? Surveillance is one of those issues, and finding the right balance there is difficult and involves various ugly compromises. Greenwald doesn’t much like the compromise part–fair enough, that’s not his job, but there are people whose job it is, and we need to think about what we want them to do. A consistent civil libertarian might have trouble figuring out the right to public accommodations, because it involves telling business owners what they must do with their property. Frankly, the easiest option is to say it’s all outrageous tyranny, which is why IMHO being “principled” on these questions isn’t especially brave. YMMV.

                • joe from Lowell says:

                  I respected his work under Bush because he didn’t strike me as so nihilistic and totalistic–he has become a very totalistic thinker, very rigid and very “let the world burn” in his attitude towards American politics.

                  The Bush era was a good time for people with blunt minds. it’s doesn’t take a large capacity for making fine distinctions and appreciating the higher aspects of moral reasoning to figure out that invading Iraq in response to 9/11 was stupid, or that torturing people is wrong, or that federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies should follow the law and get warrants when they want to tap phones. In an era like that, the blunt mind becomes a positive boon, because it functions more effectively as a battering ram against a whole rotten edifice than do sharper minds, which tend to get caught up in giving the other side whatever due it might deserve and other non-smashy activities.

                  Fast forward to the Obama era, and the questions are much harder. Is shooting at al Qaeda figures an acceptable response to 9/11, and what are the downsides? Is arresting people for leaking classified materials wrong, and when? Should the standards for getting warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court be changed, and how? These are not questions that avail themselves to blunt thinking. Nor, for that matter, is “Why are the writings of blunt-minded people getting less love today than they were eight years ago?”

        • Murc says:

          But the point about his tendency towards deck-stacking and false dichotomies is quite valid, and Isquith sidesteps all of that, and Scott by signing on to Isquith’s review is doing the same thing.

          Because it’s irrelevant to the issue at hand?

          Kinsley’s assertions about how Greenwald badly constructs arguments and doesn’t engage in good faith are completely beside his larger point, which is that Kinsley is basically saying that even if Greenwald were the second coming of Cicero, it would still be illegitimate for him to do the kind of journalism he does.

          That’s what Isquith objects to, and its what Scott is signing onto.

      • GoDeep says:

        I don’t see why ppl dislike Greenwald so much. B/cs he doesn’t fit their gay stereotype & takes up w/ Brazilians he’s not a REAL AMERICAN.

        • Erik Loomis says:

          If you think this is the objection people have to Greenwald, you are not thinking about this issue clearly.

        • Ronan says:

          This is an amazing comment, GoDeep, and an example of why I love you so very, very much (although batshit crazy as well, of course ; ) )

        • Random says:

          B/cs he doesn’t fit their gay stereotype & takes up w/ Brazilians he’s not a REAL AMERICAN.

          I think it has more to do with his penchant for spewing falsehoods and then responding to anyone who points out the falsehood with personal attacks. Kinsley and Greenwald are both absolutely horrible journalists, and judging from their journalism they are also both horrible people.

          • GoDeep says:

            Since he left Salon I just haven’t been able to read him as much–unless its abt Snowden of course.

          • Dilan Esper says:

            I think people don’t like Greenwald because he is disrespectful to anyone who disagrees with him.

            At the same time, Greenwald critics often make homophobic and xenophobic arguments against him, as if the circumstances that expatriated him discredit his arguments.

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              My dad is fond of saying that you have to fight fair. Greenwald is terrible at that.

              • Aimai says:

                You might want to read Digby on Kinsley before you start arguing that GG is the only one in this discussion who doesn’t “fight fair.” GG is a debater and a lawyer with all the tics and tricks of those trades. Kinsley is an apologist for power–he wouldn’t give a fuck how horrible GG is if GG were Bill Gates.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  I don’t have any feeling one way or the other about Michael Kinsley as a pundit, so he may well be fighting unfairly too. But having read his review of Greenwald’s book, I appreciated the kinds of objections he raised to how Greenwald builds cases as a general rule. I guess the takeaway a lot of people had from the piece was “Kinsley says Greenwald should be locked up,” but that wasn’t what I noticed. Guess I locked in on the beginning part while others locked in on the end.

                • Aimai says:

                  Well, if you ignored the most important part of Kinsley’s essay–the entire reason he chose to accept doing the review–he’s more than earned his pay. GG is not writing a philosophical treatise–he’s a polemicist in what he (and many other people see) as a life and death struggle for control of a rogue state. Kinsley’s job in reviewing the book was to try to kneecap the overall argument so that readers of the review wouldn’t bother reading the book and would dismiss it out of hand. Because like him or hate him GG’s point of view is, in fact, dangerous to the security state and a complacent acceptance of all crimes committed in its name. And Kinsley’s point of view is not–its all about acceptance, deference, and shutting up. GG could be biting the heads of whippets for all I care at this point. Kinsley’s perspective, qua journalist, is disgraceful. Like Zombie George Polk should get up and kick his liver up into his teeth for this.

              • grouchomarxist says:

                Fighting fair implies the opponents are pretty much equally matched. When one side greatly exceeds the other in power and reach, fighting fair — by the stronger side’s rules — isn’t a particularly smart thing for the weaker side to do.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  “Anyone who disagrees with me worships power,” which is the kernel of just about every debate in which Greenwald has ever participated, isn’t fighting fair by any definition. I’m talking about how he fights with critics, which, by your standards, he far exceeds in terms of power.

                • Aimai says:

                  What mystery power does GG have? I’m honestly curious.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  Ask the woman he compared to Leni Riefenstahl for posting pictures of Obama. When Greenwald doesn’t like you, he rips you, and his fans swarm you. And that’s how he fights a lot of his fights. I’m not focusing on how he fights with Obama or Michael Kinsley. I’m focusing on how he fights with normal people. In that context, he’s the one with the power–the social capital and the cachet. How he exercises it is unpleasant and often mean-spirited. Yes, that’s the “asshole” part, but he mashes it all together such that his asshole-ness with people beneath him is just a colorful personality quirk, when in actuality it goes to the heart of how he constructs arguments and reads motives when he locks in on a target.

        • djw says:

          I don’t see why ppl dislike Greenwald so much. B/cs he doesn’t fit their gay stereotype & takes up w/ Brazilians he’s not a REAL AMERICAN.

          Is your second sentence included to demonstrate the veracity of your first? If so, this comment works well.

        • joe from Lowell says:

          I really don’t think that anti-Brazilian animus should get second billing, “GoDeep.”

          It’s pretty much the driving force behind the thinking of most American liberals on most issues.

          eyeroll

      • djw says:

        Yes, and while Greenwald should be faulted when his mode of responding to critics isn’t accurate or fair to those critics, this doesn’t appear to be one of those cases.

  2. somethingblue says:

    I am sceptical that Michael Kinsley ever wrote columns worth reading. But if you say so …

    • I, too, have a hard time believing that. Running The New Republic under Marty Peretz is not something I associate with worthwhile writing of any stripe.

      • Ann Outhouse says:

        I’m old enough to remember…

        …and I don’t remember Kinsey ever being anything other than an opportunistic contrarian. He might have been a little more deft at it before his arteries hardened, but otherwise, this is Same Old Same Old.

    • osceola says:

      Even in his heyday, representing “the left” on Crossfire and on Buckley’s show, he went out of his way in interviews to say he wasn’t really of the Left.

      I never really considered him contrarian as much as a purveyor of eye-rolling sighs and condescension that some people interpret as “independent” thinking.

      And didn’t he briefly (before Slate) steer Harper’s so quickly and dangerously toward the cliff Lewis Lapham was called back to rescue it?

  3. Aimai says:

    You don’t have to love GG to really despise Kinsley for that piece, and for his lifetime of sucking up to power.

    • Random says:

      Well said. Kinsley vs. Greenwald is like watching a GOP primary. So long as both sides come out damaged, I chalk it up as a win.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      You don’t have to love GG to really despise Kinsley for that piece, and for his lifetime of sucking up to power.

      Oh, yeah.

      Henry Kissinger is alleged to have said upon hearing about the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, “Is there any way they can both lose?”

  4. Scott,
    If Kinsley ever had a fastball, it wasn’t exactly in the same league as the ones thrown by Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, or Randy Johnson.

    It was probably closer to Jamie Moyer.

  5. DocAmazing says:

    Isquith bringing in Packer is entertaining. Packer will always have a special place in US discourse for perfecting the argument that McMegan now specializes in: “I may have been wrong (in Packer’s case, about the Iraq war), but my opponents were right for the wrong reasons, so I wasn’t wrong.”

    • TT says:

      Only George Packer posseses the intellect necessary to understand the nuances, complications, arguments, dynamics, et al of the Great Issues shaping Our Time. “Second-rate minds”, especially to George Packer’s left, lack this capacity, which is why no issue truly matters until George Packer has rendered an opinion.

  6. Bruce Vail says:

    So much of this ‘debate’ seems to be about personal animus against GG, who has had the temerity to highlight the recent failures of the journalistic establishment.

    • Joe says:

      If it wasn’t for him, who oh who will criticize the MSM?!

      • Bruce Vail says:

        I think you have to admit that GG’s criticism of MSM is more direct, intense and sustained than that from most of the other critics. Certainly more effective.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      So much of this debate seems to be that Greenwald and his fans don’t understand that there are reasons other than “personal animus” or deep-seated lackeyism or moral corruption to disagree with Glenn Greenwald about things.

      • Hogan says:

        Sure, but Michael Kinsley is not an example of any of those other reasons. He’s enabling GG and fans.

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          Perhaps, but I was gratified to see _someone_ call out Greenwald’s approach to argumentation, because it drives me bananas.

          • Aimai says:

            But the reasons you are giving, Flipyourwhig, are reasons to dislike Greenwald. They don’t make Kinsley’s arguments any better.

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              Kinsley’s arguments about Greenwald and argument, those I was glad to see. Kinsley’s arguments about surveillance, meh.

              • Aimai says:

                Is it possible to imagine that Greenwald has escaped being attacked for being an asshole? I literally can’t think of a single blog comment or article which doesn’t include a personal attack on him as its preface. Hell, most of my comments on him do.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  But — and I know you know this, but I want to say it anyway — Greenwald’s chief problem isn’t that he’s an asshole, which of course he is, but rather that he interprets evidence in tendentious ways. When you try to call him on it, he goes even further into Asshole Mode, because he doesn’t really comprehend that it’s possible to find him wrong without being an authoritarian lickspittle. Reducing all of that to “he’s an asshole” just plays the game Greenwald wants to play, which is “I’m an asshole in pursuit of the higher truth, and proud of it,” rather than the reality, which is that he’s an asshole who also willfully misreads facts and evidence.

                • Aimai says:

                  But Kinsley is an authoritarian bootlicker. Greenwald isn’t wrong about that.

                • Gator90 says:

                  I once called GG (whom – full disclosure – I admire) a “snotty, juvenile prick” during an argument at his old blog. He was actually pretty cool about it.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  It is unfortunate that the person finding fault with Greenwald’s habit of classing all his critics as authoritarian bootlickers would himself be an authoritarian bootlicker, then.

              • Col Bat Guano says:

                Aren’t the arguments about surveillance just a bit more important?

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  In a discussion of a review of a book, I’m sort of interested in what the reviewer says about the book. I’m funny that way.

    • Random says:

      But you only think that way because you are an evil, shallow-minded elitism-worshipping whore who can’t think for themselves.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      So much of this ‘debate’ seems to be about personal animus against GG

      And most of what’s left seems to be about personal animus against Michael Kinsley – both sentiments being wholly understandable.

      Left to compete for the remaining sliver of space are issues of surveillance practices, government oversight, public oversight, the rights and privileges of journalists, and some other boring stuff.

      THAT WRITER I DON’T LIKE SUCKS!

  7. jeer9 says:

    As a former long-time subscriber to TNR (whose interest was sustained in the’90s only by its excellent Arts section which even at its best could not compensate for the Iraq war drivel), I think it’s fair to say that Kinsley wrote some very sharp, satirical pieces during the Reagan years but that he has been an embarrassment for quite a while now.

    He’s always possessed a weird careerist masochism that should not, in ordinary circumstances, have overwhelmed the dignity of someone of his “intelligence” – but there he was trading quips with Buckley on Firing Line or wrestling in the antediluvian goo with Novak. If one keeps in mind that his sort of journalist seems cut from the theater critic mold, those musty gentlemen almost inevitably end up defending the proprietors and their agenda, regardless of each show’s declining production values or barely professional performance. Carping about quality at this late Constitutional date is a sure sign of ingratitude and a measure of artlessness.

    • TNR (whose interest was sustained in the’90s only by its excellent Arts section

      I read it regularly around 1990/1991 for just that reason, but I’ve become so annoyed with TNR that I worry that now I’d disagree very strongly with my past self for liking the books section back then.

    • Aimai says:

      Theater Critic Mode is very astute. Not only do these guys tend to reduce politics and even war to “what was opening night like in the New Haven try outs” but they also tend to evaluate things as either “good theater” or “bad theater” and their principle audience is other hacks and critics like themselves. The voters (or theater goers) are just the rubes who buy the crap that the theater producers are selling.

  8. pete says:

    Greenwald is a gifted polemicist, but on the evidence Dana Priest is a much better journalist. Priest has made a career out of digging up hidden information, checking it from multiple sources, and writing it up clearly and accurately. Greenwald was given a document dump, which he is stringing out for maximum publicity (“saving the best for last“) and his announcements routinely include exaggerations and misleading analysis — as well as data. So I have a problem with the title of this post; I don’t think Greenwald is or wants to be a journalist, except insofar as he can alter the definition to fit what he does want to do.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      I’m confused by the title too, because it doesn’t seem to me to be the core of Scott’s criticism, which I would say is that Kinsley is tut-tutting Greenwald about how we live in a scary, scary world in which good people have to do bad things to keep us safe. I don’t think either one of them is making an argument about journalism.

      • Hogan says:

        Kinsley’s position is “Never print anything the government doesn’t want you to print,” which is an argument about journalism.

        • Aimai says:

          Yes. Kinsley’s argument is specifically about Journalism which, as he sees, as interfereing with the dirty deeds that need doing by square jawed government bureaucrats.

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          I guess. I was reading it as a book review and kind of screened out the non-book-review parts.

          • Aimai says:

            I’ve written book reviews. You really are not supposed to spend most of your time on an ad hominem personal attack on the author unless that is dispositive.

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              That’s what most of the TLS book reviews are like.

              I’ve written book reviews too. I think the part where you talk about how the author argues his or her case is the most important part. The part where you give your opinion about the issues the book addresses — that’s just wankery. I didn’t give it a lot of thought.

          • Murc says:

            … you’ve been in the thread all day defending Kinsley and you admit you screened out the only parts with any substance?

            • FlipYrWhig says:

              Silly me, I figured that the part of the book review that reviewed the book was the substantial part.

              • Col Bat Guano says:

                You don’t really believe that a book review about one of the hottest political topics of the day was just about how well the book was written do you?

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  The part I thought was interesting was the part where Kinsley, to my mind accurately, discusses Greenwald’s style of arguing and case-building. Everyone else thought a different part was interesting. Oh well.

        • Random says:

          Except that’s not actually Kinsley’s argument.

          • Murc says:

            That is precisely and exactly Kinsley’s argument.

            It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

            And in case you missed the money quote:

            that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

            Kinsley’s argument is completely explicit: you should never be able to print something the government doesn’t want you to print.

            • Aimai says:

              Yup. The purpose of the personal attacks on GG is to make this more palatable.

            • Manny Kant says:

              Something relating to government secrets that the government doesn’t want you to print, surely?

            • Random says:

              It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences.

              !=

              you should never be able to print something the government doesn’t want you to print.

              Your reading comprehension skills, they need to be worked on a little here.

              • Hogan says:

                Then substitute “allowed” for “able.”

              • Murc says:

                You are correct, that one specific section you pulled does not mean that Kinsley is arguing you should never be able to print something the government doesn’t want you to print.

                This, however:

                that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

                Does. If the government is the one deciding what constitutes a secret, and is the one deciding what secrets you may or may not print, then the you are not able to print anything the government doesn’t want you to print.

                That is Kinsley’s argument.

                • Random says:

                  Now apply that same reasoning to literally anything else that a human being can do.

                  We quickly see that you believe that all governments are absolutely totalitarian and control every single aspect of human life down to the minute.

                • Murc says:

                  I… what?

                  I don’t understand your response. That’s not me being clever or snarky, it just… seems like an utter non-sequitur.

                  Let me try this again: the essence of Kinsley’s argument seems to boil down to him believing that when it comes to press time, is is desirable, as a matter of public policy, for the government to look over everything you want to print, decide what counts as a secret or not, and then decide what secrets you can and cannot print.

                  Functionally speaking, this equates to the government deciding what you cannot print as a general matter, not just a specific one. There’s even a fancy term for it: ‘prior restraint.’

                • Aimai says:

                  I have to agree with Murc. I don’t understand Random’s point. Kinsley is, in fact, arguing with no qualifications that the government is the only arbiter, should be the only arbiter, of what gets released to the public.

                • Manny Kant says:

                  No, he’s saying that the government should be the arbiter of what state secrets should be allowed to be printed. I don’t really think that’s right, and I’m not sure even Kinsley would actually defend the strong version of that argument (I seriously doubt that Kinsley thinks the New York Times was wrong to print the Pentagon Papers, for instance)

                  But it’s absolutely not the same thing as saying that nobody can ever disagree with the government.

                  The problem here is that it’s lazy and badly worded and that Kinsley isn’t saying what he actually thinks, and that perhaps he hasn’t actually worked through the implications of what he’s saying. I don’t think the issue is that he’s in favor of a totalitarian police state where the government gets to approve all speech.

                • Hogan says:

                  I’m happy to stipulate that if Kinsley somehow got a juicy leak about misconduct in TSA or something, his first move would not be to call Jay Carney and ask if it was OK to run it, and that if he’d thought about it in such terms he wouldn’t have said what he actually said.

                  But as defenses go, it kinda sucks. It’s like the claim that the ’86 Cardinals lost the World Series because of Don Denkinger, and not because getting a bad call in Game 6 caused them to lose their shit and play horribly in Game 7. The least I expect from people paid lots of money to play baseball is that they don’t lose their shit when one bad thing happens, and the least we should expect from someone in Kinsley’s position is that he doesn’t lose his shit because Glenn Greenwald happens. Even more so because it’s well established that if you disagree with Greenwald he’ll accuse you of losing you shit even if you don’t, and actually losing it means he’s won.

                  He has the right to revise and extend his remarks, as they say. We’ll see.

                • Murc says:

                  No, he’s saying that the government should be the arbiter of what state secrets should be allowed to be printed.

                  The only way to make that work is, in fact, for print organizations to submit all their work for publication prior to going to press.

                  And who decides what is a state secret or not? Why… the government! In fact, courts will presumptively accept a simple declaration of “state secrets” as an ironclad end-run around both the sixth and fourteenth amendments. You think they’d behave any better around the first?

                • The only way to make that work is, in fact, for print organizations to submit all their work for publication prior to going to press.

                  No, it also fits with Kinsley’s framing that journalists could be prosecuted after the fact — which is essentially the model that has existed in the US since the Pentagon Papers.

                  If it is legitimate for the state to have secrets, it becomes necessary for the state to have legal measures at hand to maintain those secrets. Prosecution after the fact is by far the weakest possible mechanism available for that need (versus prior restraint/censorship, assassination of dissidents, etc.).

                  The supposed counterbalance in this model is that if the leaked secrets reveal wrongdoing, there will be no public support for prosecuting the leakers. I don’t think that’s consistently true (see Chelsea Manning) but it has been true from time to time.

            • JTR says:

              So essentially its a call for prior restraint. In the New York Times of all places.

              • JTR says:

                There shouldn’t be a special class of people called ‘journalists’ with privileges like publishing secret government documents

                Take that, Hugo Black.

        • Manny Kant says:

          I don’t think that this is at all Kinsey’s position, although he’s certainly sloppy enough to leave that as a reasonable interpretation of what he said.

          • Hogan says:

            It’s possible his position is more along the lines of “Glenn Greenwald shouldn’t be allowed to print anything the government doesn’t want printed,” but that doesn’t improve it.

            • Random says:

              It’s possible his position is more along the lines of “Glenn Greenwald shouldn’t be allowed to print anything the government doesn’t want printed,” but that doesn’t improve it.

              Tell me more about this new policy you’ve come up with under which anyone can set up a web page in the US and then publicize the GPS locations of US troops and undisclosed NOC’s in real-time, publish blueprints and security codes for all of our nuclear facilities, and give rolling tip-offs on secret military operations planned in Afghanistan.

              • Hogan says:

                Oh, did Kinsley set some kind of conditions on what sort of information should be published regardless of permission? I must have missed that passage. Do please point it out to me, because it sounds like you’re saying “What Kinsley said is so unreasonable he can’t possibly have meant it, so it’s not fair to take what he said seriously.”

              • Aimai says:

                I don’t understand the argument that what Kinsley says only applies to GG and Snowden and therefore refers specifically only to them. The nature and scope of official secrets has been an ongoing focus of journalistic debate for a really, really, long time. Even if you think (and I do) that Snowden overstepped the boundaries of citizenship and prudence in what he did and that GG is a pretty evil troll who incompetently exploited him and who is rolling out this crap in order to hurt the US, not to improve things, no self respecting journalist should come down unequivocally on the side of the government.

              • Murc says:

                Tell me more about this new policy you’ve come up with under which anyone can set up a web page in the US and then publicize the GPS locations of US troops and undisclosed NOC’s in real-time, publish blueprints and security codes for all of our nuclear facilities, and give rolling tip-offs on secret military operations planned in Afghanistan.

                I’m not at all convinced any of that would be illegal coming from a journalist. It would, clearly, be illegal on the part of the person leaking them all that information (and this hypothetical journalist would have to have some crazy sources in order to do it) but I honestly don’t know there’d be a legal argument against doing it.

                It maybe -should- be, but I’m not sure that it actually -is-. Although most jury pools in a potential court case would probably not be all that sympathetic.

              • DocAmazing says:

                Are you going to echo Kinsley’s absurd argument that democracy means that we, as voters, have already agreed that we shouldn’t have access to whatever information we’re told we shouldn’t have so that we can make informed decisions?

                • Aimai says:

                  Yes. I agree with Peggy Noonan that some things are so scary we should just avert our eyes and walk on by. And when that fails me and I start to try to peek out from under my blindfold I remember the wise words of Mitt Romney when he advised us that these conversations should take place in “quiet rooms.” Then I fall back to sleep.

                • J R in WV says:

                  Aimai,

                  Very well done! You’ve found the only way to use Noonan to the profit of the society!

                  And then Rmoney to boot!

                  Sweetly done, you win the innertubez for the day!

                  JR

                • Doc, do you think that there is any legitimate reason for the government to have secrets?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  There are very, very few legitimate reasons for the government to have secrets, and the voters deserve to know at least the broad outlines of what is being done under their authority.

          • Random says:

            Kinsley’s wording here is just as bad as his other work. But you still have to start from a position of extreme Libertarianism to interpret what he is saying as an argument for the negation of all journalism independent from the state.

  9. Isquith’s “But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here” makes a lot of sense if you take into account the history, Kinsley’s, Greenwald’s, their respective history with the kind of points of view the other represents. I’m not sure Isquith actually described all that in the linked piece fully enough to be convincing if you don’t see all that background (and see it the same way he does). But his piece makes Greenwald’s book sound more interesting than anything else I’ve read about it yet.

  10. MG says:

    Hate Kingsley His forte seems to be beautifully crafted arguments in service of comforting the comfortable for yet more afflictions on the already afflicted. Also, he is a Hollywood stereotype of a “clever” person – Ivy+nerdy+glasses+male.

    Love Greenwald! Loved his criticisms of Bush and I agree with his same criticisms of Obama. I am a fan of actual values and core beliefs which go beyond “Vote (D)”.

    • Aimai says:

      I am a fan of actual values and core beliefs which go beyond “Vote (D)”.

      Well, bully for you, cupcake. I am a fan of actual politics–trying to harness the immense, untapped, energy of the voters to seize control of the state and to try to change things for the better. Actual values and core beliefs, if they are owned by a small and inactive minority of purists, don’t even enter into the discussion. Its like being the kind of person who admires a sparkly diamond they keep locked in a safe, while people around them are starving to death.

    • Gator90 says:

      @MG – It is fine, even admirable, to have “actual values and beliefs” that “go beyond Vote D” as long as you do, in fact, vote D when given the opportunity. Otherwise, you’re just throwing elections to R’s, whose actions will, unless you’re a rightwing jerkwad, be antithetical to the values and beliefs you claim to have. That’s something GG, for all his brilliance, sometimes seems not to grok.

    • Random says:

      Loved his criticisms of Bush

      As I pointed out above, it must have taken a lot of courage to wait until after Katrina to start criticizing Bush for doing the things that Greenwald supported him doing in the first place.

      • Ronan says:

        Even if this is true, that it was Katrina that turned GG against Bush (though it seems too simple a story to me), why does that matter ? People are allowed reconsider past mistaken positions .. and it contradicts that general perception that all Greenwald cares about are civil liberties issues.
        Here he is turning against a Rep President for not managing a domestic catastrophe properly (something a libertarian could be deeply indifferent to)

        • Hogan says:

          People are allowed reconsider past mistaken positions .. and it contradicts that general perception that all Greenwald cares about are civil liberties issues.

          Yes, they are, and such reflection often makes them at least a bit more humble about their positions in the future, and more charitable toward people with different positions. But not Greenwald.

          • Manny Kant says:

            Yeah, I mean, the basic issue here is that Greenwald acts as though he’s an Olympian deity who can never err, even though, by his own account, he was wrong about all kinds of things quite recently.

            It’s also instructive in that he used to be wrong in basically the same way he’s wrong now, with some key differences. He used to think, supposedly (and I think there’s some reason to think that his self-description of his past beliefs is a bogus rhetorical stance), that there was no real difference between the two parties because basically everything is fine. But now he has come to the great truth that there’s no real difference in the two parties because they are both committed to overthrowing American democracy with DRONES and NSA SURVEILLANCE.

  11. Crunchy Frog says:

    Unless there was someone else with a very similar name, Kinsley was *the* go-to columnist during the first two years of the Reagan administration. He was the first to expose the degree of control Heritage was exercising over Reagan and very clearly pointed out some of the really nasty shit Reagan’s team was doing out of the limelight.

    Unfortunately, his career since then can probably be summed up with the cliche “if you can’t beat them, join them”.

  12. Book says:

    Also worth noting that Chait gave the article two thumbs up.

  13. J R in WV says:

    I neither like nor dislike GG, I’ve never met the man, and I may disagree with much that he writes. But Kinsley’s opinion about government power to decide which speech is free and which is not is despicable and antithetical to everything America is supposed assumed to stand for.

    Now if we don’t stand for freedom of speech, press and the right to assemble, OK, but you should let us know that in civics class so we know to shut the F up already. [ Not really OK, just working to make a point here! ]

    The previous analysis by Murk:

    And in case you missed the money quote:

    that decision must ultimately be made by the government.

    Kinsley’s argument is completely explicit: you should never be able to print something the government doesn’t want you to print.

    I agree with in principle, but would go further: He (Kinsley, to be specific) believes that we can’t talk about things the government doesn’t want us to… which implies pretty strongly that we shouldn’t even think about things the government wants to keep secret.

    I think this is wrong-headed to the point where I almost wish I thought the government could legitimately stop Kinsley from writing.

  14. Brad DeLong says:

    Kinsley had a fastball? He had two contrarian change ups: (i) liberals are right on the policy for counterintuitive contrarian reasons they don’t understand; and (ii) liberals are wrong because conservative policies turn out to be liberal than liberal policies for counterintuitive contrarian reasons. But people learned to hit those two pitches…

    Can you give me an example of the fastball in action?

  15. Heliopause says:

    Greenwald is irrelevant to this episode. The important point is that in the course of a book review Kinsley adopted an explicitly authoritarian position. And that’s important because he operates as a kind of Official Liberal in the realm of mainstream discourse.

  16. jkay says:

    I’ve never made it through ANY of EITHER one’s articles… GG’s way too long and wrong. Kinsley’s way too boring. Though at least Kinsley has good excuse of a mental disability.

    Snowden’s news isn’t actually NEW, but it’s clearly the kind of thing that’s vital to repeat for our democracy. The news started during SHrub Admin, from an ACLU or EFF lawsuit against NSA that got quashed with the excuse that it was too secret.

  17. hero action camera

    Should Journalists Do Journalism? A Debate – Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

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