Just because you are mean doesn’t make you wrong: A defense of Glenn Greenwald
I don’t know Glenn Greenwald personally. He could be the world’s kindest, most pleasant, incredibly generous individual in real life, with smiles for all passers-by and 25+ percent tips for every server. He could whistle happy tunes while feeding the city’s homeless, be the understanding shoulder on which all his close friends and family members cry, and even nurse abandoned animals back to health and find them good homes in between 2,000-word articles and argumentative tweets.
Why does that seem so unlikely to some of you? You’ve never met someone who’s nicer in real life than on the Internet? Bullsh*t.
I have “met” Greenwald on the Internet. It was, to put it mildly, not exactly a pleasant experience. Insults and straw man arguments mixed wildly with what might otherwise have come across as legitimate critiques, complaints were lodged, high dudgeon was evinced, grudges were held, distance was kept (and much of this was mutual). Anyone who has mixed it up with Greenwald online — and this is a vast universe of people, let us be clear — would likely agree that their interactions follow much the same pattern (after which one can expect a wave of Greenwaldian fan boys to descend on one’s Twitter account like L. Frank Baum’s flying monkeys, all bared-teeth and vicious insults brandished on behalf of the supposed honor of their idol). But this doesn’t mean I know what kind of person the real-life Greenwald is — or that my knowledge of that or lack thereof even matters, when it comes to his reporting or his opinion work.
But I get it. People don’t like Greenwald (or at least the Internet Greenwald). And I get that it is hard to not hold a grudge after being flamed by someone, and it’s hard not to let one’s negative personal opinion of someone impact one’s impression of their work (and, Glenn, if you’re reading, this goes for you, too). And, I see quite clearly the potential for professional jealousy to be evinced by some reporters’ reporters over a “mere blogger” getting what is likely one of the biggest scoops of 2013 (but anyone who has a bigger one can email me) or those people who see his (and his allies’) criticism of the Obama Administration as the major threat to this President’s legacy (which it is and rightly should be).
But my friend — and Glenn’s new colleague at The Guardian — Spencer Ackerman summed up how I feel in a few words yesterday after the story about Greenwald’s partner being detained by UK officials under their terrorism law broke.
I get that @ggreenwald makes some of you feel a type of way. He used to be mean to me too. We got over it, because adults. This = big deal.
— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) August 18, 2013
Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda — like far too many people of color passing through countries like the U.S. and the UK, let’s be clear — was held without charges for 9 hours under that UK’s terrorism law. He was carrying documents for Greenwald on behalf of The Guardian — in other words, he was acting as an employee of a newspaper that has been reporting on potentially unconstitutional violations of Americans’ rights justified under the guise of protecting us from terrorism, and was thus held as a terrorist himself. And the government confiscated all of Miranda’s electronic property (which, you may recall, some people applauding the UK’s actions against Miranda were pretty upset last week about law enforcement’s use of civil forfeiture against people who face no charges and may have done no wrong) even though they arguably didn’t need to keep all of it and were probably confiscating the work product of a journalist’s researcher and a large, journalistic enterprise.
But, yes everyone, let’s argue about how Greenwald is an a**hole.
Yes, we should’ve had a debate about the Patriot Act at the time. We should have more clarity on the FISA courts, and more oversight of what the Administration is doing with and has done with them. I’m not comfortable knowing that loopholes let the government read my email, even occasionally, and I’m not comfortable with traveling to or even through the UK if the risk is getting stopped for nine hours and having my electronics searched and confiscated because this website has also published stories about the Snowden investigation. Is that really so outré? Are there people who think that the government and the national security apparatus we’ve woven post-9/11 have never overstepped the bounds of what is legal and/or appropriate? Do you not think that someone needs to point that out? Do you not think that the person who does is likely to be a whistleblower type who is probably no saint him- or herself? Or that the reporter(s) who publish that information and lay bare that overreaching might not be the world’s most pleasant people?
Do we really need them to be the types of people we want to have a beer with?
If I’m being generous, I’d suggest that Greenwald is pugnacious to a fault, thin-skinned about his own life and faults (but who among us isn’t?), prone to turning every argument into a comment section (or Twitter) jury trial with a self-selected jury of fans — and really, really, fundamentally unhappy with how much liberty the government is taking (or borrowing), much of it without our knowledge, to supposedly insure our security. Maybe the former bits make him unlikeable to many, but they don’t make his work or reporting on the latter any less valid.