Last week, I wrote, Lord Michael Kinsley. It was based upon his “review” of Glenn Greenwald’s new book, No Place to Hide. The article is not really about what Greenwald wrote, but about what Kinsley always writes. He is an apologist for the power elite. I want to revisit this topic, because today, the Public Editor of The New York Times, Margaret Sullivan, wrote, Kinsley, Greenwald and Government Secrets. She is reasonably critical of Kinsley.
She makes two points. First, is that the “sneering tone” that Kinsley takes toward Greenwald is unworthy of the Book Review. Second, is that, “Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance.” She goes on to note the importance of journalism in the founding and the history of this country. I’d like to address both of these in a little more depth than Sullivan could in her very political editorial.
The very fact of the “sneering tone” should have made it unpublishable. It is clear that Kinsley doesn’t like Greenwald. And he’s hardly alone. Many journalists (Ones I like!) have a problem with him. He is notably harsh, seemingly without a sense of humor, and has no problem criticizing people who are on his own side. He rather reminds me of myself when I was twenty years old. But I really don’t understand what is wrong with this country. Somehow we have gotten to the point where it is more important that our presidents and journalists be good drinking companions than that they do their jobs well.
Now I can’t prove that Kinsley hated Greenwald before writing the article, other than quoting from the review itself, “Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss, convinced that every issue is ‘straightforward,’ and if you don’t agree with him, you’re part of something he calls ‘the authorities,’ who control everything for their own nefarious but never explained purposes.” I will note that this is the standard line on Greenwald. A couple of years ago, Jonathan Chait sarcastically referred to him as, “Brave Radical Truth Teller Glenn Greenwald.” And then said, “Greenwald’s penchant for telling bold truths that the corrupted partisans are too blind to see, in a manner that in no way is sanctimonious, is an inspiring example for us all.” Chait has said many similar things about Greenwald, even when he is agreeing with him.
But I can’t say what Kinsley has said about Greenwald or surveillance in the past, because of all the automatic content that web pages create. So even after searching for hours, I came back to the same current discussion. When I searched for articles from 2012, they include auto-links to, “Read about Michael Kinsley’s attack on Glenn Greenwald’s new book.” But it seems pretty clear that Kinsley is with Chait in long thinking that Greenwald is sanctimonious and in need of a good slap. And that is really all that Kinsley’s “review” is. So despite what Book Review editor Pamela Paul thinks, Kinsley was a lousy choice to review a book by Greenwald.
The second issue is even more of a head-scratcher. This is why I keep putting “review” in scare quotes. I don’t mind negative reviews. In fact, they are often some of the most useful reviews. But they need to engage in the material. Greenwald may be extreme, but he is also an expert—a successful civil rights attorney and very knowledge about this specific subject. He deserves a hearing. And based upon Kinsley’s “review” he got no hearing. Kinsley simply thinks that the government has the right to keep secrets and it should be up to the government to decide what secrets should be revealed. No Place to Hide is almost 300 pages long and I got absolutely no idea of what arguments he was making from Kinsley’s “review.”
Pamela Paul may think that Kinsley is a serious person who writes good book reviews, but it seems to me that there are many good writers with backgrounds in these issues that could have been hired to write a review. Whether those reviews were positive or negative, the reader would have been given some insights into the issues involved. Kinsley’s review was little more than, “So’s your ol’ man!” And although that is more or less what I expect from Kinsley, I generally expect more from The New York Times.