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The Passion of the Glenn Greenwald


I’m sure that most of you have read Simon van Zuylen-Wood’s  New York profile of Glenn Greenwald’s opposition to the Russia investigation that Paul referenced below.  A lot of what follows has already been covered in that comment thread, but I thought it was worth posting some additional thoughts to the front page. I also strongly recommend Marcy Wheeler’s response to that piece in the New Republic, which riffs on the fact that the original article did not include any female voices, despite the fact that van Zuylen-Wood interviewed several female subject-area experts.

I think that the original piece is strong, and quite damning (although again, I should note that Marcy’s contribution in the accompanying piece are quite good).  Although opinion on this point varies, I think that the original article was intended to make Glenn look like an out of touch, self-righteous fool; it’s certainly how I read it, although I suppose I have pre-existing beliefs on this point.  But passages such as this…

serve, when framed in contrast to the struggle against Trump in the United States, make Glenn seem hilariously disconnected to the actual consequences of political developments over the last year.  And it’s a nice illustration of a thread of criticism against Greenwald for some time, which is that his self-consciously outsider perspective has detached him from any real political stakes.

On more substantive matters, tt should be powerfully obvious that Glenn has been deceptive when he has repeatedly suggested that he is in favor of a full and fair investigation of allegations of Russian influence on the election.  Here:

These are for values of “some Russians” that include “Russian intelligence services,” and values of “certain people connected to the Trump campaign” that include “Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr.” Recall that this is in context of an independent prosecutor’s investigation of the executive branch, under the supervision of a highly partisan Congress that is strongly in support of the President.  To all appearances, Glenn doesn’t care whether the Russians colluded with Trump, no matter how many times he repeats the canard about supporting a full investigation (this has become a bit of an in-joke here at LGM. Moreover, Glenn is deeply contemptuous of his own organization’s reporting on the Russia investigation, if and only if that investigation demonstrates Russian perfidy:

Many of Glenn’s colleagues (current and former) strongly disagree with his position on the Russia investigation.

Glenn is careful not to smear former colleagues like John Cook and Marcy Wheeler (quoted below) as aggressively as he smears Rachel Maddow and many people outside his inner circle, but it’s clear that there are a great number of journalists and investigators who share priors with Glenn, and who know as much or more about the state of the investigation as he, who do not have the same level of contempt regarding the possibility of severe threats to US democracy.  Marcy Wheeler:

On the question of why Glenn is so deeply resistant to the idea that Russia interfered consequentially in the US election, I can only offer a few hypotheses, most of which you’ve seen before:

  1. Glenn is personally incapable of admitting fault and changing his mind after taking a strong stand on a question such as this.
  2. Glenn’s public persona involves doubling down on strongly held positions, such that he would suffer in the eyes of his fans and admirers if he backed down in the face of growing evidence of Russian interference.
  3. Glenn is particularly sensitive to criticisms about the election, because of his longstanding association with Wikileaks (which has involved disagreements from time to time), and because of the role that he and his organization played in amplifying Russian propaganda associated with the leaks.
  4. Glenn is genuinely concerned about the well-being of Edward Snowden if he (or the Intercept) takes a strong public position on Russian hacking.
  5. Glenn is genuinely concerned that his own legacy as a writer and journalist would be endangered by acknowledging that he was wrong about Russian hacking.
  6. Glenn believes that American deserves Trump, and consequently that outside causes for Trump’s rise should be ignored or obscured.
  7. Glenn believes that reforming the Democratic Party is more important than telling the truth about the 2016 election.

I have no idea what combination of the above is true, although I’d bet on a bit from each of 2, 3, 5, and 7.

The history of LGM’s interaction with Glenn is more complicated than is generally believed; our rule of thumb is “laud Glenn when he’s right, and challenge him when he’s wrong” and the fact that there’s been more of the latter than the former over the past 10 years reflects a evolution in Glenn’s political trajectory more than ours.  But the question of Russian intervention in US electoral politics is important, and for reasons that go well beyond the 2016 election (and certainly beyond the 2016 Democratic primary).  Evidence overwhelming demonstrates that a reactionary neo-authoritarian state has the means and the desire to interfere in the US political system, pushing that system in a reactionary direction.  Evidence overwhelmingly indicates that many conservatives in the United States are happy to accept this support, and even to facilitate Russian activity.  This should be extraordinarily troubling to anyone concerned about the integrity of American elections, and especially to those who self-identify as progressives; 2016 is extremely unlikely to be the last time that Russia tries to interfere in US politics in order to elect reactionary policymakers, or the last time that reactionary politicians seek assistance from Russia. Glenn’s performative disbelief of these facts, and his over-the-top denunciation of those who correctly identify Russian interference, have the potential to be deeply destructive to progressive politics in the US. Glenn is not just a little bit wrong about something that’s really not so important; he’s very badly wrong about a serious threat to the future of progressive politics in the United States.

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