Washington Post Puzzled by Strange New Category of Opinionated Journalist, Despite Employing Many of Them



In today's Washington Post Style section, media reporter Paul Farhi has an illogical and historically illiterate article with the appropriately odd headline of "On NSA disclosures, has Glenn Greenwald become something other than a reporter?" Here's how the piece begins:

Glenn Greenwald isn't your typical journalist. Actually, he's not your typical anything. A lawyer, columnist, reporter and constitutional liberties advocate, Greenwald blurs a number of lines in an age in which anyone can report the news.

But has Greenwald — one of two reporters who broke the story of the National Security Agency's classified Internet surveillance program — become something other than a journalist in the activist role he has taken in the wake of the NSA disclosures?

Skip over the pejorative-by-association stuff ("an age in which anyone can report the news") and focus on the bizarro construction—Glenn Greenwald isn't a typical journalist to begin with, and in the wake of his new NSA scoops, maybe, uh, Glenn Greenwald isn't a typical journalist? What?

Farhi then drills into a distinction without a difference:

If ANYONE gets to decide who is and isn't a journalist, it should be this guy. |||

Defining who is and who isn't a journalist isn't just an academic exercise when it comes to revealing matters of top-secret national security. Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.), the former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, suggested earlier this month that Greenwald had stepped beyond typical journalistic boundaries and should be prosecuted for revealing state secrets. (King didn't make the same claim about Barton Gellman, the reporter who broke the story about the NSA's PRISM program in The Washington Post.)

Wait, did Peter King (a true congressional blowhard who does not get to define law in this case) really single out Greenwald while giving Gellman a hall pass? No he did not. In the link Farhi provides, King casts a net wide enough to include Gellman too. He just didn't utter the Post reporter's name:

"If they willingly knew that this was classified information, I think actions should be taken, especially something of this magnitude," King said. "I think, with something of this magnitude, there is an obligation — both moral, but also legal — against a reporter disclosing something which would so severely compromise national security."

King then responded directly to the question about punishing journalists: "The answer is yes, to your question."

What other evidence is there of Greenwald suddenly crossing some new line? Here it is in full: 

So you're telling me that Mr. Greenwald DEFENDS HIS WHISTLE-BLOWING SOURCES? On TELEVISION? |||

Greenwald has appeared frequently on TV to plead Snowden's case as a whistleblower — an advocacy role many mainstream journalists would be uncomfortable with 

While it's true that "many mainstream journalists would be uncomfortable" defending a whistleblower on TV—if for no other reason than that many mainstream journalists do not enjoy speaking on television—it does not require a deep archival search to note that one of mainstream journalism's most dogged audiovisual defenders of high-profile whistleblowers works at Farhi's own newspaper. This is how leaks to journalists work: The higher-profile the leak (and especially in Bob Woodward's case, the more anonymous said high-profile leaker is), the more that journalists of whatever ideological inclination will be incentivized to defend their source on television. 

After a quoting a Berkeley journalism school professor (who sees nothing wrong with Greenwald's recent work, but counsels skepticism toward ideological reporting), Fahri falls back on the old blurring-lines saw:

Still, the line between journalism — traditionally, the dispassionate reporting of facts — and outright involvement in the news seems blurrier than ever. Greenwald, for one, has left no doubt about where he stands.

Greenwald blurs line between dispassionate reporting and outright involvement in the news! |||

The notion that journalism is traditionally equivalent to "the dispassionate reporting of facts" is particularly odd coming from a newspaper that profitably employs an entire mini-division headed up by Ezra Klein, an opinionated former volunteer for the Howard Dean campaign who once described himself as "an activist walking the halls of power." While Klein is a different writer than he was in his early 20s, his Wonkblog is—and rightly so—no mere "dispassionate reporting of facts."

Opinionated, line-blurring reporters have been breaking big news stories for as long as there have been outlets to print them. We know about a lot of JFK/LBJ/Nixon CIA/FBI skullduggery through the work of the leftist bomb-throwing magazine Ramparts. Why, we even have a word to describe this phenomenon, and it's more than a century old!

Yes, Greenwald is a different cat than your average newspaper reporter (and no, he is not above either criticism or unfriendly questioning, IMO). But aside perhaps from the Brazil address, he is not some exotic, unprecedented new category in American journalism. A media reporter from the Washington Post should understand that more than most.

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  1. The NSA scandal has really culled the herd. We now know for sure which reporters are just ordinary liberals out plying their trade in support of the cause and which ones are outright fascists who will do or say anything in support of the total state.

    I have to admit watching various leftists go after fellow leftist Greenwald the way they have has left me speechless. There is not a single belief they will not throw over board in defense of Obama. We have reached the point where they are advocating for the criminalization of their own profession in defense of Obama.

    1. It’s like bizarro 2006 (BOOOSH!) or something equally strange.

      1. It is really strange. I really thought that after he could no longer run for re-election all but the worst of them would come out of their stuper and start at least trying to be honest again if for no other reason than to make it easier for them to deny all of the stupid shit they said in did in support of Obama.

        But for most of them, they have gotten more not less committed to Obama. It is like they have passed some kind of point of no return or something.

        1. You just defined a cult.

    2. “We have reached the point where they are advocating for the criminalization of their own profession in defense of Obama.”

      Stunning, but yes, that is the point we have reached. I would say it is some kind of tipping point, and not a good one.

    3. I think they really fear a massive backlash this time, with a totally Republican government in 2016. And if the scandals and the economy keep going the way they have been, they may be right. Thing is, I don’t think they’ll do themselves any good pretending otherwise.

      This idea that there is some sort of defined box which contains “journalism” is totally contrary to the true situation. Pretty much any person speaking to others gets all of the legal protections and has all of the rights of the “press.” This is particularly true when the communication is broadcast some way–by paper, Internet, TV, whatever.

      If the profession of journalism had a code of ethics that actually was followed, they might be able to attack other journalists that way.

      1. The thing is, the way to avoid the backlash is to jump on the Bama-hatin bandwagon (that looks like Alabama hating, but Im okay with that too).

        1. (that looks like Alabama hating, but Im okay with that too

          It is meet and fitting to hate Alabama and the state’s official Univerisity.

      2. IMO, “the press” and “journalists” are two different things. Journalists are a subset of people protected under “freedom of the press”. Maybe Greenwald isnt a journalist, but he is absolutely a member of the press.

      3. I don’t know. I’m at the “pox on all their houses” point. Also, I find the Simpsons portrayal of the news anchor voiced by Phil Hartman as both stupid and completely without loyalty to anyone but his own comfort more accurate and cutting every day.

        This idea that there is some sort of defined box which contains “journalism” is totally contrary to the true situation. Pretty much any person speaking to others gets all of the legal protections and has all of the rights of the “press.” This is particularly true when the communication is broadcast some way–by paper, Internet, TV, whatever.

        For fun, let’s play the game with the 1A rights of the press that the press played with the 2A and see whether the WaPo or urkobold.blogspot.com is more of a 1776 style “member of the press”.

        1. “One thing is for certain: there is no stopping them; the ants will soon be here. And I for one welcome our new insect overlords. I’d like to remind them that as a trusted TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.”

          Not Phil Hartman, though. Harry Shearer.

          1. Hmm. I guess I just attribute all of the awesomeness of the early-mid Simpsons to Phil Hartman guest voices.

            1. Certainly a good way to go.

            2. Works on contingency? No, money down!

          2. That Simpsons quote is second only to “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos” in its dead-on satire of American political/media culture.

            Mark Twain would be proud.

            1. Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!

              We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling toward freedom!

              1. You can concretely sum up our current political milieu just by showing that 22 minute Simpsons episode.

                I am curious if that was still the Conan O’Brien era for the Simpsons.

                1. TANSTaaFL: I think that was actually a Treehouse of Horrors episode, so it’s not even 22 minutes. All of that awesomeness is crammed into less than a third of that.

                  And it would have been in 1996 (Clinton v Dole), so O’Brien was long gone.

                  1. Ah, thanks for the clarification!

    4. I went to MediaMatters for just a minute yesterday, but that was all it took to gather that they aren’t giving much priority at all to the NSA thing.

      I guess if their mission statement calls for countering misreporting by conservative media, then they can disregard the abuses of others.

      1. Media Mutters are basically fascists funded by a former Nazi and run by a paranoid lunatic.

    5. The WaPo aren’t primarily leftists – they’re the Establishment press corps. They may lean more toward the left hand side of the Establishment than the right hand side, but they’re still the Establishment news.

      And any time the press quotes Rep. Peter King without referring to his past as a terrorist fundraiser, they’re displaying bias.

  2. The sooner the NY Times, Newsweek, Washington Post, NPR et al can be discarded into the dustbin of history – and the land they once stood on be sown with salt – the better.

  3. “many mainstream journalists would be uncomfortable” defending a whistleblower on t.v.- I guess they don’t want their phones tapped or computers hacked.

  4. “A media reporter from the Washington Post should understand that more than most.”

    Oh, he understands it perfectly well, but he has his marching orders. Didnt David Gregory over at the Ministry of Truth vomit up some similar bullshit?

  5. Defining who is and who isn’t a journalist isn’t just an academic exercise when it comes to revealing matters of top-secret national security.


  6. Fucking pathetic. Today’s liberal media has moved so far away from legitimate journalism that when they see a legitimate journalist they almost piss their pants and write articles containing arguments that a god damn 3rd grader would deem idiotic.

    Oh and by the way Peter King, I know this has been said many times before, but fuck you. Greenwald’s the bad guy but it’s all good and well for Centimeter Peter to directly support one of the biggest terrorist organizations of the 20th century? Hypocritical ass.

  7. I’m surprised the usual suspects have not jumped on Greenwald’s Brazil address as proof he is a foreign spy, and shipped Seal Team Seven out to croak him.

  8. “in an age in which anyone can report the news.”

    I can see we are headed for an age where “journalists” are government licensed and parceled out like NYC cabs.

    1. That happens, good-bye freedom of the press.

      1. Yup. Look at how they have been able to choke off academic freedom. They didn’t even need the government to help. They just took over the profession and accreditation and used that power to determine what was acceptable thought.

        Oh you have ideas we don’t like, you won’t be getting your thesis approved and even if you did, no one will hire you. Only those with approved views get hired.

        1. They didn’t even need the government to help

          Government funding of tuition was the big step to making it happen, so they did need government help.

          1. Government funding of tuition was the big step to making it happen,

            I don’t see how. That made it a lot more lucrative to control academia. It certainly made it artificially large and made for a ton of jobs to be handed out as spoils. But it didn’t help them take it over. They took it over by being the fascists that they are and eliminating anyone who disagreed with them. They could have and would have done that without government support for tuition.

            If you have enough people who are dedicated enough, you can take over and subvert any institution. No government help needed.

            1. Maybe not a big step in making in happen, but certainly a giant roadblock in trying to undo it.

            2. Maybe not needed but it’s still a basic economic axiom that if you subsidize something you get more of it. Now go sit in on some journalism classes and see what you are subsidizing.

            3. Compare and contrast with the schools that dont accept federal funding.

              Okay, the sample size is small (two?), but its the data we have to work with.

          2. Not just tuition, research grants as well. Many departments live or die based upon how well they can nab research dollars from various government agencies.

        2. Look if just anybody could put their thoughts out there, what sort of system would that be?
          And the airwaves are public property so they must serve the public good.
          We have to think about the children growing up in a world where anybody can think anything-too horrible to contemplate.

        3. They didn’t even need the government to help

          The government provided the entire backdrop for the left academic revolution: Vietnam. Without the twin incentives of a shitty, pointless war and academic deferments for that shitty, pointless war, the over-credentialed modern academic would never have had the fertile ground to plant itself in.

          1. Maybe. But that assumes that a bunch of people who wouldn’t have gone to college did so because of Vietnam. If that were true, college admissions would have returned to normal after the draft ended. But they kept rising.

            1. The war deferment boost lasted until Federal loan program got really geared up in 1972.

      2. Ah, but you see, they’re clearly Top. Men. So, OF COURSE their credentials will be secure and in order. It will only be those nutcases who promote icky dangerous thoughts and stories.

    2. Beat me to it, Tim.

      “How can the people know you’re reporting the real news unless you’ve been vetted?”

      1. People might mistake traitors for whistleblowers.

    3. All the President’s Stenographers.

    4. I think that’s the point. WaPo, NYT, etc. want to be seen as the “true” media who deserve constitutional protections. But everyone else can be screwed over by the feds.

      1. Of course, like all fascists, they don’t really think much beyond the immediate. It doesn’t occur to them that, at some point, it’s possible that it’ll be a President Gingrich or a President Santorum doling out the credentials.

        1. If it were a liberal media, I might agree with you. But the media is statist authoritarian, not liberal.

          They will slobber the knob of any president that comes their way.

  9. Hacks gonna hack

  10. Excellent piece, Matt. The dickishness of the W Post is hard to exaggerate.

  11. Journalists protecting a source, all the while printing and promoting the information they got from the source?

    Hmmmm, this all sounds strangely familiar.

  12. Don’t you get it?

    When the waPo, or NYT, or WSJ (you know, legitimate news organizations) editorial boards advocate broad expansion of government power and authority, that’s good. Some crackpot trying to limit the scope of government action is tantamount to sedition.

  13. It’s not exactly breaking news that the Washington Post turns into a government transcription service whenever the Democrats are in power. However, it is disturbing how far they are now willing to go to defend the indefensible. Big Media is beginning to resemble State Media more than a little.

    1. Remember a few weeks ago when Holder held ‘off-the-record’ talks with suplicant press orgs?
      “Washington Post: The Justice Department has allowed us to say AG Holder supports press freedom”

      I hope the chains lie lightly on them.

      1. “I hope the chains lie lightly on them.”

        I don’t. I hope they choke on them. But, I’m not so generous a soul as Sam Adams.

    2. Big Media is beginning to resemble State Media more than a little.

      It’s worse than that. They’re willingly carrying Obama’s water. The only thing worse than compelled media coverage that glorifies the state is that which is given freely.

  14. The amazing thing about a piece like this was not that it was written but that it was published. You mean none of the editors/reviewers/ombudsman/whatever said “Get your head out of your ass Paul”?

  15. It’s a lot better than journalists at print and television news agencies unconvincingly pretending they don’t have a strong bias. Greenwald’s cutting push back against NBC’s David Gregory should go a long way to shutting a fair amount of would-be NSA hack talking hairdos from the kind of musings we see in this embarrasing WaPo piece.

    1. Gregory, the guy who broke DC gun laws on national TV has the nerve to ask Greenwald if he is a criminal for reporting the news. I don’t feel sorry for him. But Gregory is really a sad figure. Talk about giving away your dignity.

      I wonder if the GE people are leaning on the NBC employees to tow the lion on this. It just amazes me how craven and pathetic someone like Gregory is on this. It would be one thing if he defended the program. But to go after Greenwald for reporting on it is a level of hackery I didn’t even think Gregory was capable of.

      1. GE? You’re slippin’. GE cut bait in February.

        1. Whoever is running NBC these days then.

      2. “…a level of hackery I didn’t even think Gregory was capable of.”

        Now, there’s where you messed up. To estimate David Gregory’s hackery, take the greatest level of hackery you can imagine. Now multiply it by ten.


  17. If “real journalists” were seriously concerned about advocacy they would examine the total crap they teach them in school. They should call it a B.S. in Spin, being that they actually teach a course called “spin” in college. When my ex-girlfriend took it I asked her “Isn’t that just a course in lying.” She immediately started to spin it. “You construct descriptions that are favorable and positive to your point of view.” blah, blah, blah.

  18. There is also a deep sense of shame that is at the core of these attacks on Showden and Greenwald. Every reporter grew up wanting to speak truth to power, to investigate, expose and topple. But the realities of advancing in the field–or even working at all–depends on picking a side and going all in for an ideological point of view. The left journalists long for a juicy story, but ideology says it has to be the right kind of story, so a conflict is created. They know they are partisan hacks and they are ashamed, so they lash out at Greenwald instead of facing that crusading investigative journalist inside them, who is disgusted at their compromises.

    1. Or they’re just utter douchebags without the tiniest sense of integrity. Shills gonna shill.

      1. Some of them are, but the ones that operate in complete bad faith, like Klein, seem untroubled. It’s the angry ones calling Greenwald a traitor and trying to strip him of the journalist title that are shame driven.

        1. It’s not shame. Shame was abandoned long ago. It’s anger. How dare Greenwald betray the unspoken agreement to shill with all their might for statism! He’s betraying the cause, betraying collectivism!

          1. If Greenwald were a righty, they could dismiss him. But because he has always been such a good soldier of the left, his refusal to cave on this is very damaging. If he were a conservative or a Libertarian they would right him off. But since he is a leftist, Greenwald must be destroyed. They will never forgive him for this and they will never stop until his career is destroyed.

    2. That is a pretty good explanation. Every lefty journalist grew up wanting to speak truth to power and be the new Woodward and Bernstein. But the problem is, you can’t do that if you are a lefty partisan and the left is in power. If McCain or Romney had won and this story had come out they would be falling all over themselves to investigate it. They would have the thrill of bringing an entire administration down. But since Obama is in office, they are just paid mouth pieces for the government.

      At some level they have to know that and feel very sad about it and very jealous of Greenwald for getting to do what they always dreamed of doing.

  19. If this Greenwald guy don’t get back in line pretty soon, his car could crash into a tree at high speed and burst into flames.

  20. Opinionated, line-blurring reporters have been breaking big news stories for as long as there have been outlets to print them.

    This isn’t your father’s Pentagon Papers.

    1. Ever see Three Days of the Condor? If so, remember the ending?

  21. I had a revelation this morning. David Gregory had to go full bootlicker and try as hard as he could to nail Greenwald, because if he didn’t, he’d get charged on the high capacity magazine fiasco.

    Now they’ve got that over him, they can make him say whatever they want.

    (tongue mostly in cheek, I know he’d be a bootlicker even without that)

    1. That or maybe the execs at GM, who own NBC and depend on Obama for a lot of business, made it clear that he needed to go full boot liker if he wanted to keep his job. There are few professions more precarious than network news hack. NBS has hundreds of people who would give both their nuts to have Gregory’s job. He can be replaced at a moment’s notice.

      1. They don’t own NBC anymore… it was sold to Kabletown, I mean Comcast.

  22. They hated Greenwald before this.

    Forget advocacy. They hated him because he demonstrated memory.

    And memory is the one thing that the modern press hates most of all.

    Memory makes it impossible for the New York Times to claim they always opposed the Patriot Act.

    Memory makes it impossible for David Brooks to pretend to be a conservative.

    Memory makes it impossible for the Washington Post to say they aren’t cheerleaders of war and torture.

    The day Obama was inaugurated, everyone was supposed to “look forward and not back”. That was what Obama wanted, and the establishment press went along. Greenwald didn’t go along. He would happily destroy Obama at this point, because every word he has written in the last 5 years seethes with rage at the fact that Obama demanded that we extinguish memory.

    I don’t doubt for a second that Greenwald, a grudge keeper par excellence, is duly noting down in the sword book and the dagger book every statement defending the NSA and attacking Snowden that these guys are coming up with now. I hope these guys like getting their columns pinned to their livers for the next two decades.

    1. I doubt they are worried about Greenwald. He is just another heretic. They will run him out of the profession. He was already banished to writing in a British newspaper few people read. After this, he will be lucky to get that.

      Greenwald will always be writing and no doubt writing stuff that is very damaging to them. They will just make sure he never has much of a forum and is generally ignored. These people sadly still have a lot of power over who gets heard and who doesn’t.

      Where is Greenwald going to go? Sure the right has its own parallel media establishment, but they won’t have Greenwald either.

  23. maybe the execs at GM

    GE, not GM, but yeah.

  24. They hated Greenwald before this.

    Greenwald went to the DNC convention in ’08 and reported on all the corporate sponsor in-crowd special access bullshit, making it glaringly obvious then and there that “Hope and Change” was bullshit.

  25. “While it’s true that “many mainstream journalists would be uncomfortable” defending a whistleblower on TV”

    But not, apparently, in print:


  26. As we are all “journalists” here, I was wondering if anyone could get access to Greenwald’s browsing habits (NSA leak) so we could see if he has visited any porn sights and such. And Gregory also.

  27. I didn’t expect the noose to tighten so soon.

  28. Apparently “real” journalists simply repeat whatever lies the government wants them to. At least while there’s a coll hip black democrat in the white house. *facepalm* Jesus titty fucking Christ, I feel like I’ve been taking crazy pills or maybe slipped into an alternate bizzaro world universe.

  29. Journalists are the WaPo are uncomfortable with “advocacy role[s]”?

    Go on, pull the other one!

    One of the journalists unapologetically (if anonymously) told the Post’s ombudsman that journalists are out-and-proud advocates of gay rights:

    “The reason that legitimate media outlets routinely cover gays is because it is the civil rights issue of our time. Journalism, at its core, is about justice and fairness, and that’s the ‘view of the world’ that we espouse; therefore, journalists are going to cover the segment of society that is still not treated equally under the law….

    “…should the media make room for racists, i.e. those people who believe that black people shouldn’t marry white people? Any story on African-Americans wouldn’t be wholly accurate without the opinion of a racist, right?

    “Of course I have a bias. I have a bias toward fairness,” etc.


    Greenwald [who is gay] probably shares that view of “fairness,” but he goes a step further: He thinks that, because journalism is about justice and fairness, journalists *qua journalists* should expose violations of the rights of the citizen. That is, since journalism is *about* justice and fairness, they would be *betraying their calling* if they were neutral between spying on the citizens and criticizing that spying.

    1. “One of the journalists” should be “one of the WaPo journalists”

    2. Greenwald just didn’t get the memo that your commitment to your principles ends when it conflicts with the needs of the party. All of the WAPO reporters in theory object to NSA spying. But when that objection hurts Obama, it has to go. If support of gay rights hurt Obama, I can guarantee you that WAPO would be calling for the re-criminalization of sodomy.

  30. We know about a lot of JFK/LBJ/Nixon CIA/FBI skullduggery through the work of the leftist bomb-throwing magazine Ramparts.

    But that was entirely different. That was Nixon, this is Obama. See the difference?

    1. “But that was entirely different. That was Nixon, this is Obama. See the difference?”

      Increasingly, no. No, I don’t.

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