I’m not going to go over what’s happening because there’s been a lot of good coverage of it (see links below). But Michael Kinsley wrote what was supposedly a review of Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide. But it wasn’t a review. You get no idea what’s in the book. Kinsley’s article is little more than an apologia for the mainstream press and its general adherence to keeping the government’s secrets.
The part of the article that isn’t an apologia is nothing more than a childish personal attack on Greenwald. It reminded me of nothing so much as Robert Greene’s deathbed bitch session about the young Shakespeare in Groats-Worth of Wit, “[T]here is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger’s heart wrapped in a Player’s hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.” Kinsley really seems annoyed that there are actual journalists out there and not just power apologists who might occasionally disagree about exactly the right amount of power for the government to abuse.
Greenwald, of course, does a fine job of defending himself, A Response to Michael Kinsley. Kevin Gosztola takes Kinsley apart, In NYT Review of Greenwald’s Book, Vanity Fair Editor Endorses Criminalizing Journalists Who Publish Leaks. Erik Wemple provides a more evenhanded demolition, Michael Kinsley on Glenn Greenwald: He “cannot” Decide What Secrets Get Published. And Digby does an admirable job providing a bit of history of Kinsley’s career, Michael Kinsley Once Again Takes the Plebes to Task for Failing to Understand That They Don’t Matter. It is on this broader issue that I want to talk. But there is one thing in Kinsley’s “review” that is worth noting as a preface, “In a democracy… that decision [of what information is made available to the public] must ultimately be made by the government.”
That’s a fascinating claim. By that way of thinking, any government is a democracy. After all, every government claims to be doing what is best for the people. If the government won’t let the people know what it is doing, how can the people make an informed decision? It’s a Catch-22. If the people are voting without knowledge, they are voting randomly. And if they are voting randomly, they might as well not be voting.
Kinsley wants to have it both ways. He wants to say that the government should be allowed to keep some things that are important secret. And other things should be released to the public. And who gets to decide what information is fit for dissemination and what is not? Why Michael Kinsley, of course! Well, not exactly: Michael Kinsley’s class. The Serious People. That’s how Kinsley can say that America is a democracy: people in his class are actually listened to by our elected officials. People in my class are not. And that is not what we call a democracy today; that is what we call an oligarchy.
This is what Kinsley is. This is why he writes for The New York Times and Vanity Fair and The New Republic. Last year, almost to the day, I quoted him as saying, “I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be.” I responded, Morality, Economics, and Car Repair:
And that’s where we are. We don’t have a House of Lords in name. But we have a House of Lords in practice—an invisible House of Lords. And it is far more powerful than the House over there in England. Kinsley is a big part of its power. His toolbox consists of one thing: the ability to define debate so thinly that there is no debate at all. He is far more dangerous than a thousand Koch brothers.