Mainstream Media Outlets Need to Earn Respect

Glenn Greenwald - Mainstream Media Outlets Need to Earn RespectLast week, we published documents that definitively debunked and disproved a claim that numerous media outlets had circulated and affirmed for years: that Edward Snowden lied about where he was during his first 11 days in Hong Kong. Contrary to the fable these outlets dispensed to their readers — that Snowden did not check in to the Mira Hotel on May 21 as he claimed but only did so on June 1, 11 days later — these new documents, obtained from the Mira, prove that Snowden arrived there exactly when he always said, rendering their published stories factually false. …

Even the best and most careful journalists get things wrong sometimes. But the minimal requirement for journalistic credibility and integrity is acknowledging and fixing mistakes. When the debate over Fake News first emerged, advocates of the term insisted that it was this attribute — a willingness to admit and correct errors — that distinguishes credible news outlets that sometimes err from fakes and frauds.

Yet in this case, only one of the media outlets that published what is now a significant and documented falsehood — Brazil’s Folha — has even acknowledged these new documents. In Folha‘s case, they did so lamely and grudgingly: Rather than add an editor’s note or correction to their original story by reporter Igor Gielow (which still stands uncorrected), they published a short news article about these new hotel documents, which merely noted that I claim that these new documents “resolve a mystery” about Snowden. The Folha article also neglects to note that they were one of the outlets originally publishing the false story. But at least they said something.

That stands in stark contrast to all the US outlets that published this falsehood and yet, 10 days later, have said literally nothing, continuing to allow what they now know is a factually false story to remain online uncorrected. They have simply refused even to address or acknowledge this new evidence. That includes the newspaper that first printed this falsehood and then re-published it most frequently — The Wall Street Journal — but also outlets such as Business Insider, Yahoo! News, and Slate… …

If you publish serious claims without any basis that mislead readers, and then refuse to acknowledge new evidence that disproves your original claims — all because you dislike the people you originally smeared with falsehoods too much to correct your error or because you hope the embarrassment will disappear faster if just you ignore it — why should anyone view you as being different than Macedonian teenagers or “alt-right” conspiracy sites? What are the cognizable differences?

A vibrant and powerful fact-checking media is supposed to be one of the great safeguards against demagoguing authoritarians and assaults on democratic institutions. That only works if they earn the trust that they need to fulfill that function.

–Glenn Greenwald
Why Has Trust in Media Collapsed? Look at Actions of WSJ, Yahoo, Business Insider and Slate.


Greenwald noted in an update that the media outlets Slate and Business Insider have added corrections. I don’t think the Slate correction is nearly good enough. Business Insider did it right: in bold at the beginning of the article. But apparently, they haven’t done it on all the articles.

16 thoughts on “Mainstream Media Outlets Need to Earn Respect

  1. Pret-ty ironic that GG is dishing the MSM when he’s been carrying water for the GRU since the whole Trumpski allegations came out. Frankly, who the fuck cares when Snowdon checked in to Hong Kong? His behavior since than has made it pretty clear that if he wasn’t hobnobbing with Russian intelligence at the time he’s certainly become fine with them since then. This “fake news” is hardly why “trust in media has collapsed”; things like newspapers and cable news reporting Republican lies on issue like climate change as “opinions differ on the shape of the earth” has a hell of a lot more to do with it.

    Greenwald is one of these people who seems to be stopped-clock right on one issue – surveillance – and pretty much out there in some sort of libertarian la-la land on most everything else. He’s been objectively pro-Trump all the way, presumably because if his ire at Obama and Hillary for not being anti-surveillance enough.

    No argument that the news media need to be better. But not on meaningless details on how pro-Putin Ed Snowdon is.

    • I did hesitate before posting this because I don’t think Greenwald has come clean about being pwned by WikiLeaks during the general election. What’s more, I don’t think he ever will because I think he has a genuine blind spot about it. Just the same, I thought the quote was still worthy of highlighting. I think this story is very big and I think that the treatment that far too many liberals have given Snowden has been totally unacceptable. When it comes to this kind of stuff, I’m very much in the libertarian camp. If 1% of material marked classified is justified, I’d be shocked. It’s all about keeping the American people in the dark about things the government is doing that the people wouldn’t support.

      But when it came to Julian Assange’s partisan leak schedule, it’s another thing altogether. The Intercept should not have been useful fools in his campaign, and this is a major stain on Greenwald’s reputation. Just the same, Greenwald has done so much good that I’m willing to give him a a pass on this. After all: it wasn’t The Intercept that kept Mr and Mrs American thinking about the Clinton email “scandal”; it was The New York Times and other major news outlets. But I expect better from The Intercept.

      FYI: your comment got held for moderation because there was a typo in your email address.

      • Do you have a link, or article of your own, that criticizes Greenwald from this point of view? What is meant by the claim he was ‘pwned’ by Wikileaks? As always, I’m nobody’s fanboi; if dude did something really wrong I’d like to see a detailed articulation of it.

        I’m not impressed by phrases like ‘objectively pro-Trump’, just as I was not impressed by the silly claims from the ‘decent’ left that those against Iraq war were ‘objectively pro-fascist’. Whatever he did wrong, it simply is not true that Greenwald focuses obsessively on surveillance issues; he regularly expresses standard-issue leftist sentiments.

        And of course, our personal feelings about Snowdon and Assange are completely irrelevant to the issue under discussion. This blog and a minority of others have insisted on grown-up conversation in which policy and culture, not zingers or our regard for individuals, is the correct object of discussion.

      • First, I think it’s a huge mistake to assume that Greenwald is “leftist” or even particularly liberal. He gets street cred for that because he came to prominence opposing Dubya’s expansion of the surveillance state. But if you read him he’s pretty much a bog-standard libertarian economically and politically which, as you’ve pointed out yourself, Frank, is pretty much “a conservative that wants to smoke weed”. Greenwald has:

        – ties to the Koch-funded Cato Institute including having written pieces for them.
        – been a keynote speaker at a Cato Benefit Sponsors Event.
        – been Ron Paul-curious, at least, suggesting that he has little more “liberal” interest than Paul himself.
        – spoken to college libertarian groups where he pimped for Johnson as a progressive-Paulite coalition candidate.
        – defended the Citizens United decision.

        Sacond, and worse IMO he has been a vituperative “both siderist” for years. Say what you want about the Democratic embrace of drone wars and the surveillance state during Obama’s tenure, that doesn’t make the Democratic Party anything near as blindly high on the Reagan Plutocracy Supply as the middle-of-the-road Republican (let alone the truly rabid wingnuts and teabaggers…)

        In 2016 Greenwald was one of the many enablers that tried to make Trump into a “populist”. Hell, I just had a nasty exchange with a commentor over at a milblog site, a fairly standard left-leaning type who insisted that Trump our chance for peace in the Middle East, and end to drone wars and surveillance, and, more important – was the only thing that saved us from a Clintonist nuclear exchange with Russia!!!

        Greenwald’s “Both Siderism” was immensely useful in helping to blunt leftist enthusiasm for defeating Trump. His DolchstoB of the Democratic Party for the unpardonable sin of nominating Clinton helped defeat his nominal ally. That’s a Hitler-Stalin level of betrayal, and if that’s not objectively pro-Trump I don’t know what is.

        Again; I’m good with his fight against the Surveillance State. A military career, if it does nothing else, teaches you that “security” is usually 1) 85% nonsensical theatre and 2) thrown like a blanket over everything without real thought. Most spooks would rather classify everything than risk leaking marginal secrets by inattention.

        But that doesn’t let Greenwald off the hook for The Intercept’s own partisan agenda and his journalistic failures. He pursued his Clinton vendetta with the same vigor the outlets he castigates pursued their Snowdon one, so has a pretty glassy house to be throwing stones.

        • I don’t know if you read Greenwald’s interview with Naomi Klein. (Who, of course, is definitely a leftist, and who “The Intercept” announced two months ago as a staff writer. She’s written one article. I dunno what’s up with that.)

          It was an interesting interview. Klein was much more focused on the emails that actually mattered, like Clinton’s disregard for climate advocates. Greenwald was stuck on his moral high horse about “all whistleblowing and leaking is noble.”

          I didn’t know about Greenwald’s Cato ties. I will certainly read him with more dubiousness in the future. There are some people you just don’t take money from, even if they want you to talk on a subject you like talking about. Donald Trump couldn’t buy me to speak at one of his rallies, not even if the subject was Minnesota Twins baseball. I think Cato Institute goes into the same category.

          I agree that Greenwald’s criticisms of the M/I complex are good and useful. I just wish he wasn’t so holier-than-thou about it.

        • I’ve heard this before. No, Clinton and the establishment Democrats are not leftists. I don’t care about GG’s crypto-libertarian ties of which I already have heard many times.

          I thought I was very clear. I’m not GG’s fanboi and I’m not interested in whether he is a Net Asset to the World (not in this context anyway). I asked what was meant by his being actionable ‘pwnd’ by Wikileaks, what he did wrong there. Does someone have a link to a good treatment of this? I’m interested and consider this important.

          Finally, I’ll note that FDChief’s posting is a series of unargued, unevidenced assertions (though some it it I already know to be true). Even if his conclusions are correct he has not given any good reasons for me to believe them. I continue to read this blog because I often have observed a higher standard of argumentation and been able to talk to people who understand that our regard for individuals is politically irrelevant.

  2. Correct me if I misread the argument Greenwald makes: trust in media is gone because the press incorrectly reported when Edward Snowden checked into a hotel, and then neglected to issue a correction when that fact was proven wrong. And they did so with malicious intent, and not out of simple carelessness. And when Snowden checks into a hotel is obviously the most important thing you need to know about him. And if you are only doing C+ grade work as a reporter you are no better, or materially different, from propagandists who knowingly spread lies. And this, if not this specific instance then this sort of C+ journalism, is the most important factor in declining trust in the press. More important than Republican efforts to discredit the press that date back to Nixon. More important than the Republicans, having extracted the concession of more favorable treatment from the press, deciding to create their own media. More important than Fox news and talk radio spending twenty years training their audience to believe nothing that was reported elsewhere, even as the mainstream press bent ever more towards stenography instead of journalism. Have I been unfair to Greenwald’s argument thus far?

    This is typical of his recent work. It is not the voice of the man who wrote And Justice For Some. He decided he likes attacking the left, even though he’s no real friend to the right. At the end of the day he’s a white guy with money, so none of it is really his problem.

    • The one thing I think you got wrong is that the press reports on Snowden’s hotel stuff was indeed malicious. Part of the ongoing willingness of our media to smear whomever the US government considers an official enemy.

      Aside from that, I agree with you. We all know Greenwald’s a bit of a sanctimonious ass; he considers himself the Last True Journalist. It rarely means he’s wrong in substance, but he’s often annoyingly self-righteous. The recent Russia/Trump stuff is a perfect example. It’s fine to call out factual reporting that jumps to conclusions without 100% proof; Greenwald’s waged holy war even on opinion writers who suspect something fishy with Trump. I mean, he’s gotten into it with Charles Pierce! Agree or disagree with Pierce, he’s one of the good guys. If Pierce thinks Trump/Russia smells shady, he’s entitled to that opinion. He’s covered a lot of shady characters in his day. I think the whole thing smells shady, and I’m not exactly a cheerleader for the DLC.

      I still enjoy Greenwald’s good solid reporting. I just think I’d find him very irritating in person. Imagine a party with Greenwald, Chris Hedges, Jeremy Scahill, and Ralph Nader. All folks who do great work … but I doubt they’re a lot of fun. I’d rather drink with Pierce and Taibbi.

  3. The Machiavellian side of me asks “In 2015 or early 2016, why didn’t Obama either assassinate Snowden or pardon him in exchange for Snowden releasing dirty on Republicans?” One way or another you have to deal with a guy who has all sorts of dirty on you, who is isolated, exiled and still alive and breathing. In addition, it was very likely that Putin’s protection was conditional upon Snowden selectively releasing information that would harm Clinton.

    Snowden and Assange and Greenwald were, collectively, a huge loose end that never got wrapped up and it contributed to Clinton’s lose in November.

    I do think that this whole “Demographic Firewall” created over confidence among the senior DNC officials. In the big picture, the demographics favor us but DNC leaders acted like they were invincible. America still does not look like California. Whites are still more than 70% of the electorate and Latinos and Asians are not banging down the door to live in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania (aside from Philadelphia metro). Chicanos hate Trump ( that tends to happen when you call all of them rapists) but these Mexican-Americans live in deep blue States or deep red States and had no impact on the electoral college in 2016 (they may do so in the future and they are already flipping State and local seats from California to Texas).

    This demographic lead over confidence allowed Democrats to tolerate a series of small errors and combined with Comey and Russian help and the general difficulty of one political party winning three straight Presidential elections, all cost us in the end. In the future, I just hope that the Democratic Party does not take another election for granted again.

    • I honestly don’t think the Russia hacks of Podesta’s e-mails mattered much. It was mostly insider campaign banter. The FBI stuff hurt more; that and the decades-old media stereotype of Hillary as some kind of Iron Bitch. Once the media gets a shorthand version of how to present a celebrity, they’re too lazy to change it. NBC put hard money dollars into transforming Trump from 80’s hair joke into 10’s “straight-talking corporate wizard,” and the media ran with that new shorthand.

      I also doubt Snowden has helped Russia in any serious way. I imagine he’s very careful about not openly criticizing the Putin regime, for self-protection reasons, but I’d be surprised if he was collaborating with the regime.

      • I agree the Podesta emails didn’t matter much, because there really wasn’t anything damaging in them. The hacked DNC emails that Wikileaks put out in July may have, though. They were enough to force out Debbie Wasserman Schulz as party chair, and get some other resignations too. They may have persuaded some Sanders supporters that the party machine would always be against them, and they then may not have voted in the general election.

        Since it was a few months before the election, the effect may have been muted. But the margins Trump won by in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania were so small (and they were states where Sanders had plenty of support) that it could be a significant factor.

        • Excellent points. I thought the Podesta stuff and DNC stuff were one and the same thing. Wrong! Lord, following politics is maddening.

  4. Another point to consider here is that, despite Greenwald’s insistence, I don’t see any real evidence that these supposedly horrifically wrong Snowdon stories materially affected the way Snowdon is viewed by the bulk of the U.S. public. Obviously the security establishment loathes him and he is an anathema to the core of both political parties whose bible are the Washington Rules.

    But I think he’s still seen by most Americans as a whistleblower whose intent was to expose NSA skulduggery rather than a “spy”. If there has been a public problem with the media it’s not because the public thinks the NYT was unfair to Snowdon, and I frankly have no idea why Greenwald would actually think this…and I don’t think he does. I think he’s doing just what Lawrence says he is; slashing away at the press and the left as he’s been doing steadily since 2008.

    As for the International Man of Luggage…I’d argue that Snowdon’s moronic choice to go on TV with Putin in 2014 and, worse, toss him a softball question about surveillance did more harm to his public image than any amount of press misdirection about when he checked into what hotel.

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