Media, politics and culture.
Michael Hastings. (AP Photo/Blue Rider Press/Penguin)
The prolific and courageous journalist Michael Hastings, formerly of Newsweek, more recently of Rolling Stone and Buzzfeed, has died at the age of 33 in an auto accident in Los Angeles, Buzzfeed reported tonight. Via Twitter and other online outlets, hundreds of fellow journalists expressed shock and sadness. Watch Rachel Maddow’s personal tribute tonight.
Piers Morgan on his CNN show asked guests Glenn Greenwald and Dan Ellsberg to comment—they agreed it was “a tremendous loss to journalism,” and then Morgan offered his own tribute. Jay Rosen tweeted: “A glitch in the operating system of the American press allows realism to output as deference. Michael Hastings didn’t have that.” Even novelist Walter Kirn responded: “I am so sad to hear of the death of Michael Hastings, a fine, brave reporter who made a difference and will be missed terribly by all.”
Rolling Stone has just added its own obit. The LA Times speculates on the accident—and carries details and photo of the site—but they’re not sure that’s really it. Local TV covered the same crash and seems more certain.
Much will be written about Hastings in the hours and days to come, and I’ll have more below. But for now, I don’t have much to add, except recalling that we exchanged several e-mails back in the days before he made such a fuss with his Stanley McChrystal scoop.
It was maybe six or seven years ago, and he was just back from Baghdad; I was editing Editor & Publisher and writing almost daily stories on Iraq and the media and my book So Wrong for So Long, and he needed some advice about a projected book. Relatively few know about his first book, about his courtship and life with a woman (who worked for Air America). They both ended up in Iraq, where she lost her life. The book was I Lost My Love in Baghdad, and it was pretty much ignored until his later fame. So that’s a reminder.
Hastings’s final piece for Buzzfeed, I believe, hit Democrats for defending the scope of NSA surveillance. From the obit by Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson:
A contributing editor to Rolling Stone, Hastings leaves behind a remarkable legacy of reporting, including an exposé of America’s drone war, an exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at his hideout in the English countryside, an investigation into the Army’s illicit use of “psychological operations” to influence sitting senators and a profile of Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl, “America’s Last Prisoner of War."
"Great reporters exude a certain kind of electricity,” says Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana, “the sense that there are stories burning inside them, and that there’s no higher calling or greater way to live life than to be always relentlessly trying to find and tell those stories. I’m sad that I’ll never get to publish all the great stories that he was going to write, and sad that he won’t be stopping by my office for any more short visits which would stretch for two or three completely engrossing hours. He will be missed.”
Hard-charging, unabashedly opinionated, Hastings was original and at times abrasive. He had little patience for flacks and spinmeisters and will be remembered for his enthusiastic breaches of the conventions of access journalism. In a memorable exchange with Hillary Clinton aide Philippe Reines in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, Hastings’ aggressive line of questioning angered Reines. “Why do you bother to ask questions you’ve already decided you know the answers to?” Reines asked. “Why don’t you give answers that aren’t bullshit for a change?” Hastings replied.
Marc Ambinder at The Week put it this way: “Michael Hastings was the type of national security reporter I didn’t have the guts to be. A dick? I guess—well, yes. A dick. A dick to those in power. Fearless. Someone who didn’t care what others thought of him.” Democracy Now! linked to its many interviews with Hastings. Dave Weigel offered his own memories at Slate.
Andrew Kaczynski of Buzzfeed posted a photo of Hastings from his high school yearbook, labeled “Most Outspoken,” and recalled that Hastings lost his class president position when he said “shagadelic” over the school’s PA.
Is immigration reform a good reason to scrap the debt ceiling deal? Read George Zornick's take here.
A Syrian rebel soldier. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)
It was heartening to hear President Obama on the Charlie Rose show last night making dovish sounds on Syria, just days after charging the Assad side with using chemical agents against its foes—whoever they are—and promising to finally supply the rebels with US weapons. One has to wonder if he has returned to listening to the American people on this issue after a brief dalliance with key media figures and the many hawks in Congress and within his own administration. I did have to laugh, however, when the president hailed the “dentists” and “blacksmiths” among the rebels, leaving out the “jihadists.”
The media, particularly on TV and cable, have overwhelming featured Democrats backing their president on this issue and hawkish Republicans pushing for even stronger action, with little face time for critics of intervention. This, of course, is malpractice, and a recipe for disaster—if the rebels really face collapse will Obama now resist the accusations that he-lost-Syria? An example of this typical media coverage (with little or no rebuttal) this past weekend, as described at CNN’s site:
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told CNN’s Candy Crowley there is a strong consensus on arming Syrian rebels. “As the Foreign Relations Committee voted nearly a month ago on a strong bipartisan vote of 15-3…we believe the rebels need to be armed, the moderate elements of those rebels,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey.
“Public intelligence sources have said that we’ve come to know who, in fact, we could ultimately arm. And the reality is we need to tip the scales, not simply to nudge them. And the president’s moving in the right direction.”
I noted last Friday that McClatchy was standing alone again (harkening back to the run-up to Iraq) in quesitoning the White House’s evidence on Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
Yesterday new polls appeared (don’t expect them to spark a shift in media coverage, even if maybe the president is listening).
While mainstream pundits and political figures left and right endorsed President Obama’s decision to arm Syrian rebels last week, polls from several weeks back showed that most American opposed such a move. But, aha, the hawks cried—wait till polls come out in light of the “finding” that Assad had used chemical agents. That would be a game changer.
Well, a new Pew survey finds that seven in ten still oppose arming the rebels, mainly because they (60 percent) correctly realize that this ragtag bunch, including many jihadists and Al Qaeda backers, might be no better than the current regime. And, for once, views were little different whether Democrats, Republicans or Indies. Few want another intervention in that region.
And a Gallup poll finds 54 percent oppose arming rebels, with 37 percent backing. The Gallup question framed it more as supporitng or opposing Obama which accounts for more Dems backing the idea.
Bill Keller. (Reuters)
The former top New York Times editor Bill Keller continues his embarrassing run as a weekly pundit today, fully endorsing the laughable column by colleague Thomas Friedman last week, which I critiqued at the time. You remember the Friedman opus—quoting at length TV series creator David Simon’s rant (which Simon had partly retracted already).
A desperate Keller cites the popularlty of Friedman at the Times site as evidence that the columnist’s view was popular—even though, I’d bet (thanks to links from Matt Taibbi and others) most who visited came to laugh and mock.
Keller shows his hand when he declares at the outset he only respects the “vigilant attention to real dangers answering overblown rhetoric about theoretical ones.” Of course, all dangers are only theoretical when we don’t know about them, because of undue secrecy. When that emerges, they become all too “real.” This reflects his beloved Friedman/Simon column, which claimed no known abuses of the NSA surveillance. Again: How would we know (until, maybe, now)?
His piece does go on to raise demands for a “well-regulated” surveillance state—but a surveillance state nonetheless. Of course, it’s good that he’s not turning a blind eye—but from his Friedman endorsement, you know where his real sympathies lie. With the state. And let’s not forget his attacks on Julian Assange and criticism of Bradley Manning (not to mention long support for Judy Miller and lampooning of her critics). Keller has learned so little from the Iraq debacle—which he supported—that he now urges Obama to “get over” that and take strong action vs. Syria.
This comes a day after Margaret Sulllivan, the Times public editor, produced a column revisting the famous incident from 2004 when Keller held, for a year, the first major scoop on NSA spying, by James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, at the behest of the Bush administration. Some have held that this cost John Kerry the presidency in 2004, but putting that aside, the real losers were the American people, the press in the US—and the reputaiton of the Times, and Keller. All you have to do is consider this:
In a 2008 article for Slate, Mr. Lichtblau, who had chafed at the delay, described the surreal scene “as my editors and I waited anxiously in an elegantly appointed sitting room at the White House” to be greeted by officials including the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the White House counsel, Harriet Miers.
Sullivan wasn’t the only one who recalled this embarrassment from years back. Edward Snowden revealed two weeks ago that he didn’t take his NSA leak to the Times specifically because of what happened to Risen and Lichtblau. Instead he went to The Guardian—and the Times’s prime rival, The Washington Post. Now the Times managing editor admits he is sorely disappointed he didn’t get the Snowden leak.
He can thank Keller for that. Bill ought to title his next column on Snowden, “The Spy Who Loathed Me.”
Tom Engelhardt lays out the five uncontrollable urges of today's surveillance state.
A member of a rebel group called the Martyr Al-Abbas throws a handmade weapon in Aleppo June 11, 2013. (Reuters/Muzaffar Salman)
I asked yesterday over at my blog if McClatchy reporters and editors, following their example during the run-up to the Iraq war (actually then with Knight Ridder), would be among the few to raise deep questions about “slam dunk” proof offered by the White House on Assad’s use of chemical agents. Reporters there, especially Jonathan Landay, had done that last month and the month before. But now after the full White House “confirmation”?
The first indication comes in this new piece by Matthew Schofield, which flatly states that experts are skeptical of the new Obama claims.
Chemical weapons experts voiced skepticism Friday about U.S. claims that the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used the nerve agent sarin against rebels on at least four occasions this spring, saying that while the use of such a weapon is always possible, they’ve yet to see the telltale signs of a sarin gas attack, despite months of scrutiny.
“It’s not unlike Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark,” said Jean Pascal Zanders, a leading expert on chemical weapons who until recently was a senior research fellow at the European Union’s Institute for Security Studies. “It’s not just that we can’t prove a sarin attack, it’s that we’re not seeing what we would expect to see from a sarin attack.”
Foremost among those missing items, Zanders said, are cellphone photos and videos of the attacks or the immediate aftermath.
“In a world where even the secret execution of Saddam Hussein was taped by someone, it doesn’t make sense that we don’t see videos, that we don’t see photos, showing bodies of the dead, and the reddened faces and the bluish extremities of the affected,” he said.
Other experts said that while they were willing to give the U.S. intelligence community the benefit of the doubt, the Obama administration has yet to offer details of what evidence it has and how it obtained it.
Other news outlets so far have swallowed the White House evidence whole or in part, with many not even questioning the timing—just as the rebels, once supposedly on the verge of winning, now seem headed for defeat. In fact, the “red line” that seemed to have been crossed was the fate of the rebels heading suddenly downward. For a change, Politico had the strongest suggestion of that this morning.
The New York Times editorial tonight sadly states as fact that the use of sarin “was confirmed by American intelligence.” Well, we’ve been down that road before. But the paper at least warned of the pitfalls ahead: ‘It is irresponsible for critics like Mr. McCain and Mr. Clinton to fault Mr. Obama without explaining how the United States can change the course of that brutal civil war without being dragged too far into it.
“Like most Americans, we are deeply uneasy about getting pulled into yet another war in the Middle East. Those urging stronger action seemed to have learned nothing from the past decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, which has sapped the United States and has produced results that are ambiguous at best.”
And here, the reliable Hannah Allam of McClatchy probes serious concerns about our partners in Syria.
Go here for Patrick Cockburn, Kevin Drum and Fareed Zakaria highlighting the dangers of intervention and/or relying on sketchy evidence.
New editon of my book on the Iraq (and media) debacle, "So Wrong for So Long," here.
"WikiLeaks" graphic is displayed on a laptop. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
The debate in the media, and in political circles, over Edward Snowden—Right or Wrong, often doubles back on references to Bradley Manning (especially since he is now, finally, on trial). Sometimes both are hailed or denounced equally. Other times distinctions are drawn. In any event, too often (that is, most of the time), the value and import of the Manning/WikiLeaks disclosures are ignored or dismissed, much as Snowden’s NSA scoops now derided as “nothing new.”
At this point, I don’t expect much more than this, but it was shocking to see Josh Marshall, the much-respected founder/editor/publisher of Talking Points Memo (years ago I wrote a couple pieces for them and conducted book forums), in endorsing prosecution of Snowden and Manning, also make this claim about the Manning/WikiLeaks docs: they revealed only “a couple clear cases of wrongdoing.”
So for Josh, and so many others, who either suffer from memory loss or ignorance on this particular score, here is a partial accounting of some of the important revelations in the Manning leak, drawn from my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Manning case, Truth and Consequences. The book has just been updated this month but the revelations below all came before March 2011—many others followed.
First, just a very partial list from “Cablegate” (excluding many other bombshells that caused a stir in smaller nations abroad):
* The United States pressured the European Union to accept GM—genetic modification, that is.
* The Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by the United States. All part of giving the United States full rein in country against terrorists.
* The United States tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition.
* Egyptian torturers trained by the FBI—although allegedly to teach the human rights issues.
* State Dept memo: US-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
* Cables on Tunisia appear to help spark revolt in that country. The country’s ruling elite described as “The Family,” with Mafia-like skimming throughout the economy. The country’s first lady may have made massive profits off a private school.
* The United States knew all about massive corruption in Tunisia back in 2006 but went on supporting the government anyway, making it the pillar of its North Africa policy.
* Cables showed the UK promised in 2009 to protect US interests in the official Chilcot inquiry on the start of the Iraq war.
* Washington was misled by our own diplomats on Russia-Georgia showdown.
* Extremely important historical document finally released in full: Ambassador April Glaspie’s cable from Iraq in 1990 on meeting with Saddam Hussein before Kuwait invasion.
* United Kingdom sidestepped a ban on housing cluster bombs. Officials concealed from Parliament how the United States is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil in defiance of treaty.
* New York Times: “From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest man is a distinct outlier.”
* Afghan vice president left country with $52 million “in cash.”
* Shocking levels of US spying at the United Nations (beyond what was commonly assumed) and intense use of diplomats abroad in intelligence-gathering roles.
* Potential environmental disaster kept secret by the United States when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere.
* The United States used threats, spying and more to try to get its way at last year’s crucial climate conference in Copenhagen.
* Details on Vatican hiding big sex abuse cases in Ireland.
* Hundreds of cables detail US use of diplomats as “sales” agents, more than previously thought, centering on jet rivalry of Boeing vs. Airbus. Hints of corruption and bribes.
* Millions in US military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents went to other gov’t uses (or stolen) instead.
* Israel wanted to bring Gaza to the ”brink of collapse.”
* The US secret services used Turkey as a base to transport terrorism suspects as part of its extraordinary rendition program.
* As protests spread in Egypt, cables revealed that strong man Suleiman was at center of government’s torture programs, causing severe backlash for Mubarak after he named Suleiman vice president during the revolt. Other cables revealed or confirmed widespread Mubarak regime corruption, police abuses and torture, and claims of massive Mubarak famiiy fortune, significantly influencing media coverage and US response.
Now, an excerpt from our book on just a small aspect of the Iraq war cables. This doesn’t even include the release of the “Collateral Murder” video earlier.
Al Jazeera suggested that the real bombshell was the US allowing Iraqis to torture detainees. Documents revealed that US soldiers sent 1300 reports to headquarters with graphic accounts, including a few about detainees beaten to death. Some US generals wanted our troops to intervene, but Pentagon chiefs disagreed, saying these assaults should only be reported, not stopped. At a time the US was declaring that no torture was going on, there were 41 reports of such abuse still happening “and yet the US chose to turn its back.”
The New York Times report on the torture angle included this: “The six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.
“And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate….That policy was made official in a report dated May 16, 2005, saying that ‘if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.’ In many cases, the order appeared to allow American soldiers to turn a blind eye to abuse of Iraqis on Iraqis.”
Amnesty International quickly called on the US to investigate how much our commanders knew about Iraqi tortur.
A top story at The Guardian, meanwhile, opened: “Leaked Pentagon files obtained by The Guardian contain details of more than 100,000 people killed in Iraq following the US-led invasion, including more than 15,000 deaths that were previously unrecorded.
“British ministers have repeatedly refused to concede the existence of any official statistics on Iraqi deaths. US General Tommy Franks claimed, ‘We don’t do body counts.’ The mass of leaked documents provides the first detailed tally by the US military of Iraqi fatalities. Troops on the ground filed secret field reports over six years of the occupation, purporting to tote up every casualty, military and civilian.
“Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, told the Guardian: ‘These logs contain a huge amount of entirely new information regarding casualties. Our analysis so far indicates that they will add 15,000 or more previously unrecorded deaths to the current IBC total. This data should never have been withheld from the public”’ The logs recorded a total of 109,032 violent deaths between 2004 and 2009.
Citing a new document, the Times reported: “According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter…. The documents…reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians—at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.”
And now, re the Afghanistan war logs:
The Times highlighted it as “The War Logs” with the subhed, “A six-year archive of classified military documents offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.” Explicitly, or by extension, the release also raised questions about the media coverage of the war to date.
The Guardian carried a tough editorial on its web site, calling the picture “disturbing” and raising doubts about ever winning this war, adding: “These war logs—written in the heat of engagement—show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitized ‘public’ war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.”
Elsewhere, the paper traced the CIA and paramilitary roles in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, many cases hidden until now. In one incident, a US patrol machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing fifteen. David Leigh wrote, “They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as ‘cheap’.”
The paper said the logs also detailed “how the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.” Previously unknown friendly fire incidents also surfaced.
The White House, which knew what was coming, quickly slammed the release of classified reports— most labeled “secret”—and pointed out the documents ended in 2009, just before the president set a new policy in the war; and claimed that the whole episode was suspect because WikiLeaks was against the war. Still, it was hard to dismiss official internal memos such as: “The general view of Afghans is that current gov’t is worse than the Taliban.”
Among the revelations that gained prime real estate from The New York Times: “The documents…suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” The Guardian, however, found no “smoking gun” on this matter. The Times also reported that the US had given Afghans credit for missions carried out by our own Special Ops teams.
Obviously much more in our book.
David Simon, one of many media pundits who have been critical of the response to the NSA leaks. (Courtesy of Flickr user David Kindler)
Talk about biting the hand that feeds you. One would think that newspaper pundits, whose publications benefit most (besides the public) from major leaks—and whose reporters then face possible prosecution by the government—would rise in at least partial defense of an Edward Snowden. But if you thought that, you’d be very wrong this week.
The latest example, today, is Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. Longtime media writer Dan Kennedy, up in Boston, tweets this morning that yesterday everyone was making fun of the anti-Snowden “rant” by TV series creator (and former newspaper reporter) David Simon—and now here’s Friedman highlighting it in the Times.
Friedman uses the argument that he will gladly trade off what he describes as simply data mining to prevent another 9/11, because (wait for it)—if there’s another 9/11 most Americans will call for a truly Orwellian crackdown. That is, Friedman knows he would be one of them.
Friedman, like so many others, cites the threats revealed in the recent Boston Marathon bombing, in quoting Simon at length. In fact, he quotes Simon referring to Boston, without irony, twice. Of course what he and others fail to mention is the obvious fact that we have had this “data mining” in place for years—and it still didn’t come close to preventing the Boston bombing. (I guess Friedman is correct in claiming that Simon “cuts right to the core of the issue”). So, logically, since the current regime did not prevent Boston, folks like Friedman and Simon must favor even more invasive surveillance—of US citizens.
Friedman also quotes Simon’s conclusion and supposed trump card on the NSA programs: “We don’t know of any actual abuse.” Since it’s been top-secret (until now), how would he or anyone know of any?
And Friedman reveals more than he probably realizes by casually tossing off a line like this, then moving on very quickly (to quoting Simon again): “To be sure, secret programs, like the virtually unregulated drone attacks, can lead to real excesses that have to be checked.” This is the standard line all week—from pundits who have rarely if ever criticized any excesses before.
But the high point of the latest from Friedman comes when he—of all people!—raises the threat of other writers “bloviating.” Pot meet kettle! (Friedman also seems to have missed that Simon did walk back part of his original rant, in regards to internet surveillance.)
This follows yesterday’s anti-Snowden columns by, among many others, Jeffrey Toobin at The New Yorker, David Brooks of the Times and Richard Cohen at The Washington Post. Need we remind you that all were pitifully wrong-wrong-wrong on Saddam’s WMD, mocking critics of our invasion of Iraq in particularly vicious fashion. Roger Simon of Politico declared that Snowden had “all the qualifications” of “a grocery bagger.”
And then you have the Gene Lyons of the world, asking what’s the fuss, “the systems appears to be working as designed,” as Lyons puts it. Exactly.
Brooks babbled even more than usual in an all-out assault on Snowden—and young Americans everywhere. Apparently he feels they have betrayed failed institutions rather than failed institutions betraying him. Yet he demands more, not less, fealty to those institutions. And BTW, my 25-year-old son sounds nothing like the younger folks he lacerates: “the apparently growing share of young men in their 20s who are living technological existences in the fuzzy land between their childhood institutions and adult family commitments.” And the idiocy of this is proven in this statement: “Young people in positions like that will no longer be trusted with responsibility.” Right. Let me know when you hear about mass transfers, demotions or firings of the millions in such positions with US agencies and at private contractors.
And Brooks, who declares Snowden an antisocial misfit, is probably the one glued to his computer right now—looking at those revealing photos of Snowden’s girlfriend in Hawaii.
Meanwhile, longtime, alleged “liberal” Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has also weighed in on Edward Snowden. You should read the whole thing but here’s one of several money quotes: “Greenwald said that ‘Snowden will go down in history as one of America’s most consequential whistleblowers.’ I think he’ll go down as a cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.”
Glenn Greenwald plays a pivotal role in my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Bradley Manning case, just published in an updated edition.
Edward Snowden. Courtesy: Guardiannews.com
What a day. Sunday opened with more fallout and media debate over the revelations from the pair of bombshells about NSA data collection and surveillance via The Guardian and The Washington Post. Glenn Greenwald, the main reason for The Guardian scoops, went on ABC from somewhere abroad for a valuable interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. A few hours later he was back—with the shocking news that the source for the leaks had chosen to reveal his identity and location.
Turns out Glenn was in Hong Kong.
The Guardian posted a full, riveting interview, words and video (shot by Laura Poitras of the Post), with the leaker, 29-year-old Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who now works, or worked, for a major NSA contractor. He had fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii hoping to gain asylum there or in another place, such as Iceland, but he seemed to expect the worst.
You probably know all this already but if you need to catch up here’s how I followed news and reaction at my Pressing Issues blog, including an amazing interview with my old friend Dan Ellsberg, who said that even at his advanced age—if he’d been given this material himself this month he would have leaked it and accepted spending the rest of his life in prison. Snowden is being attacked by some for fleeing to repressive China—but others ask, what better options did he have?
But here’s an intriguing media angle. As I noted yesterday, Barton Gellman, the fine Washington Post reporter who had also been the recipient of Snowden’s leakage, followed The Guardian’s account of working with Snowden by writing his own first-person account. This repeated the pattern of the first big leak last week—The Guardian went first, the Post closely behind. On PRISM, the Post beat The Guardian by twenty minutes, according to Mike Calderone of Huffington Post.
Gellman claimed that Snowden actually came to him first last month, then demanded that the Post publish his material within three days (for his own safety) and in full—that is, all forty-one slides from the now-fabled PRISM slide show. Gellman writes that after he told Snowden that the paper doesn’t operate that way and could not make such promises—and they’d have to check it out with government sources in any case—the whistleblower told him he would now go elsewhere with the material. About two weeks later the Post learned that the first Guardian report was about to explode, which prompted the Post to quickly go public. In both cases, with PRISM, the news outlets used only four of forty-one slides.
But is this how it really went down? Greenwald tweets today: “Bart Gellman’s claims about Snowden’s interactions with me—when, how and why—are all false.” And: “The reality is that Laura Poitras and I have been working with him since February, long before anyone spoke to Bart Gellman….I have no idea whether he had any conditions for WP, but he had none for us: we didn’t post all the slides.”
Gellman has not replied to Greenwald on Twitter, but on Sunday he tweeted, “Snowden didn’t bolt when I refused guarantees, just quit going steady. And not because I consulted USG [US government].” Tim Noah, late of Slate, tweeted: “By (rightly) not allowing Snowden to dictate how and when of release, Wash Post lost exclusive.” Gellman did hit back at a WikiLeaks charge that he had informed on the leaker in going to the US government: “Accusing me of ‘informing’ on Snowden to USG is garbage. I told him I’d seek comment and did. Period.” He also told Charlie Savage of The New York Times, via Twitter, that if he saw the still-secret slides he wouldn’t publish them either.
Calderone has just written this valuable untangling, with Poitras, it turns out, playing perhaps THE key role. Snowden, he explains, first approached Greenwald months ago but Glenn was stymied by tech issues and didn't know what the leak entailed. Poitras met Greenwald later and told him that Snowden had told her details and this sparked all that followed. As for Gellman: It appears true that Snowden did go to him first with PRISM, and then to Greenwald. But Greenwald objects to Gellman suggesting that Glenn was the second choice all along, when in fact he had gotten the first leak...first.
Stay tuned for more on this—here’s a new Greenwald interview with NBC—and the numerous other angles on this tremendously important story.
UPDATES Kevin Drum at Mother Jones asks what's on the many slides not published by the two news outlets—and why not published? Though surely not up to Greenwald and Gellman alone. More updates: USA Today and Reuters ID'd Snowden’s hotel, but he had already checked out. Smearing of Snowden begins. The AP declares that Snowden, and Bradley Manning, are "leakers" not "whistle-blowers."
Glenn Greenwald plays a pivotal role in my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Bradley Manning case, just published in an updated edition. Soime of my other books on political campaigns, atomic coverups and more here.
Early last evening, I was quick here to cover the breaking “PRISM” Internet spy scandal, then followed with updates and links. Among the issues I mentioned briefly was a shockingly frank New York Times editorial declaring flatly that the Obama administration had “lost all credibility”—and then the newspaper’s belated editing of that charge (after it drew wide attention) to add “on this issue”; and the likely rise to mainstream media fame for Glenn Greenwald, who had a share in both of the bombshell NSA scoops this week. Indeed, the Times posted a profile of Greenwald late yesterday.
Now the Times is getting hit by critics related to both of these hot topics. And the paper’s rigorous public editor Margaret Sullivan weighed in on both this morning.
Sullivan pretty much accepts editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal’s claim that adding “on this issue” to “lost all credibility” simply made clear what they intended all along—they weren’t making a blanket charge against the White House. She added, however, that he should have at least added a note to the editorial explaining this change. Many online critics still scoffed at the Rosenthal claim.
Separately, in a tweet, Sullivan called the paper’s headline on its Greenwald profile, which simply labeled the attorney and author as a “blogger,” was “dismissive.” Others hit a good deal of the rest of the profile’s tone, such as depicting him as “obsessive”—and the absurd critique from Andrew Sullivan. But the “blogger” charge set off a revealing round of discussion on Twitter from the likes of Jay Rosen on the long-running “journalist” vs “blogger” debate and the continuing mainstream putdowns of the latter.
I’m afraid that I am running around today and can’t write more here at the moment, but let me direct you to my Pressing Issues blog, where I have covered both of issues at some length: the editorial controversy here and the Greenwald profile and backlash here.
Bonus: You might enjoy this classic scene from Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon asks, “Why should I work for the NSA???”
Chris Cioban, manager of the Verzion store in Beachwood, Ohio holds up an Apple iPhone 4G. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)
So how do you top last night’s NSA phone/data collecton bombshell? This evening from the estimable Bart Gellman and Laura Poitras at The Washington Post, who obtained slides for briefings:
The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading US Internet companies, extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time.
The highly classified program, code-named PRISM, has not been disclosed publicly before. Its establishment in 2007 and six years of exponential growth took place beneath the surface of a roiling debate over the boundaries of surveillance and privacy. Even late last year, when critics of the foreign intelligence statute argued for changes, the only members of Congress who know about PRISM were bound by oaths of office to hold their tongues.
While the White House, and allies in Congress (with only a few exceptions), defended the NSA phone program as nececessary, legal, not really snooping on content and kind of old hat, PRISM is quite different, as it collects personal content/material. How is this?
Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.
The Guardian, again partly via Glenn Greenwald, has much the same (even the same slides?) and it’s hard to tell who got what first or joint or what.
The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation—classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies—which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.
Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.
Twitter notable by its absence in the program (refused to cooperate?).
Roger Simon of Politico jokes in a tweet: “Glenn Greenwald is an American working for British publication & living mainly in South America. So how many drones circling him now?” But here’s Greenwald's own tweet: “I wish English language were broader so I could express my simultaneous contempt & mockery for the investigation threats emanating from DC.” Another tweet from him tonight: “The dam has broke—let the water and sunshine flow.”
And now The Wall Street Journal adds: They’ve got our credit card receipts, too.
More to come, but for now consider this: Responding to last night’s NSA , The New York Times published this afternoon an editorial blasting the Obama administration in no uncertain terms. And that was before tonight’s PRISM shocker. What next? Here’s what the paper said already:
The administration has now lost all credibility. Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. That is one reason we have long argued that the Patriot Act, enacted in the heat of fear after the 9/11 attacks by members of Congress who mostly had not even read it, was reckless in its assignment of unnecessary and overbroad surveillance powers.
Ponder that first sentence awhile, coming from The New York Times. And now know that the paper had second thoughts, or drew heat, or…something…because they have now added the words “on this issue” to the end of that sentence, softening it dramatically.
Conservatives have been sniping at MSNBC for weeks over an alleged ratings decline, and the less-than-blockbuster start for Chris Hayes’s new primetime program. Now there are some ratings facts to raise actual concern among fans of the so-called “liberal-leaning” cable news outlet. Bill Carter’s New York Times piece this week finds ratings at the network down 20 percent and instead of running second to Fox it even fell to fourth behind CNN and Headline News (gasp) for the not-so-merry month of May.
Problem: there’s been a lot of major breaking news (real or hyped) lately, which is not exactly the strong suit of the MSNBC evening lineup. I guess this refers to the Boston bombing, the Cleveland kidnap/rape tragedy, maybe Jody Arias. Yes, CNN has soared before in such times and then fallen. Also, MSNBC proclaims itself the “place for politics,” not news, and we’re between election cycles. Ratings this past Monday were a little better: Maddow and O’Donnell took 2nd place, and Hayes third (Fox always wins every night and every slot).
But it may not be that simple. For one thing, elections are hardly the only staple of “politics.” And most periods experience a good deal of hot news.
I could go on. But I thought instead that I would solicit your views on this—whether you like it or not, many of you are viewed as a prime audience for the MSNBC nighttime lineup, from Sharpton to Matthews to Hayes to Maddow to O’Donnell—hell, even most of afternoon and Sunday shows. (We shall not speak of Morning Joe.) And let’s not forget that Hayes, new guy Ari Melber, and Melissa Harris-Perry, have strong Nation ties.
So take a little time to comment below with your own opinion—or an explanation of your own viewing patterns. Are you watcing MSNBC more or less? Why? What do you wish they would cover or discuss more? What do you think of the host and guest lineup? Are you pretty much shutting off TV in any case? Are you interested in the coming Al Jazeera America? If not MSNBC, what shows and news outlets elsewhere are you focusing on?
Plenty to chew on here, so…chew away! And I promise to respond to many of your comments.