Award-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, known for his civil libertarian writings on free speech and national security issues, announced on Thursday his resignation from The Intercept, the progressive news website he co-founded in 2014.
In his resignation letter, Greenwald—a recipient of Reason's Lanny Friedlander Prize for helping to bring to light Edward Snowden's documentation of the National Security Agency's illegal surveillance of Americans—said the last straw was Intercept editors' stipulation that he must remove "all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden" from an article he sought to publish.
"Not content to simply prevent publication of this article at the media outlet I co-founded, these Intercept editors also demanded that I refrain from exercising a separate contractual right to publish this article with any other publication," writes Greenwald, adding that Biden is "the candidate vehemently supported by all New-York-based Intercept editors involved in this effort at suppression."
The Intercept released a statement accusing Greenwald of "distortions and inaccuracies—all of them designed to make him appear as a victim, rather than a grown person throwing a tantrum." Editors said they would release a full accounting of what happened with his article in due time, and that "it is Glenn who has strayed from his original journalistic roots, not The Intercept." On Twitter, former colleagues have taken various positions.
Greenwald has yet to publish the article on his own—he has recently joined Substack—so it's not yet possible to say whether editors' concerns were reasonable, or even accurately described. The Intercept has certainly not been shy about criticizing Biden in the past, though its anti-Biden slant was stronger back when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.), a progressive more in line with the publication's outlook, was still a viable contender for the nomination.
Greenwald has a number of other concerns about The Intercept's trajectory, and these will be familiar to readers who have followed the woke takeover (for lack of a better term) of various newsrooms, including The New York Times and The Atlantic. From Greenwald's resignation post:
The pathologies, illiberalism, and repressive mentality that led to the bizarre spectacle of my being censored by my own media outlet are ones that are by no means unique to The Intercept. These are the viruses that have contaminated virtually every mainstream center-left political organization, academic institution, and newsroom. I began writing about politics fifteen years ago with the goal of combatting media propaganda and repression, and—regardless of the risks involved—simply cannot accept any situation, no matter how secure or lucrative, that forces me to submit my journalism and right of free expression to its suffocating constraints and dogmatic dictates….
Courage is required to step out of line, to question and poke at those pieties most sacred in one's own milieu, but fear of alienating the guardians of liberal orthodoxy, especially on Twitter, is the predominant attribute of The Intercept's New-York based editorial leadership team. As a result, The Intercept has all but abandoned its core mission of challenging and poking at, rather than appeasing and comforting, the institutions and guardians most powerful in its cultural and political circles.
Greenwald cites The Intercept's mistreatment of staff reporter Lee Fang, who was denounced as a racist for spotlighting a black man who expressed disagreement with violent protest tactics. Whether Greenwald has endured a similar thing is not quite knowable, but it certainly was true in Fang's case—where the drama unfolded in public—that a willingness to question progressive orthodoxies got him in trouble.
Greenwald and Fang belong to a group of left-leaning writers who find themselves out of step with the modern progressive movement's emphasis on elite cultural issues and trendy activism and who often agree with libertarian-leaning critics of performative social justice excess. Greenwald has also carved out a niche for himself as a leftist skeptic of the liberal mainstream's reporting on Russian election influence, and he frequently appears on Fox News to deride other networks' handling of these issues.
It should go without saying that this is not a First Amendment issue. Legally speaking, whether The Intercept is required to publish Greenwald's article with minimally invasive editing is at best a contractual dispute. In any case, people will still be able to read Greenwald's frequently excellent work.
But the broader issue raised in Greenwald's resignation letter is one that should provoke plenty of concern—especially as Biden's victory in the 2020 election looks likely. A mainstream press that looks at anti-Biden stories with suspicion, staffed by young progressives who think dissenting viewpoints should be squelched for fears of offending their own ranks, would be a danger to investigative journalism. And if The New York Post's Hunter Biden expose was an experiment in how such a thing will be handled by mainstream outlets and social media companies in the future, we are in for a rough four years.