There has been an understandable collective wince at David Gregory’s asking a fellow-journalist whether he should go to jail (I speak of Glenn Greenwald) for helping a whistle-blower. Now, as readers know, I’m somewhat skeptical about the large claims made by Glenn and Snowden as to PRISM but, equally, I emphatically do believe that these revelations were clearly released to further what Snowden felt in good faith was the public interest. In a piece that would be close to perfect if it had any acknowledgment of the other side of the equation – that plenty of fanatical Jihadist extremists are trying to kill us every day – Glenn explains:
In what conceivable sense are Snowden’s actions “espionage”? He could have – but chose not – sold the information he had to a foreign intelligence service for vast sums of money, or covertly passed it to one of America’s enemies, or worked at the direction of a foreign government. That is espionage. He did none of those things.
What he did instead was give up his life of career stability and economic prosperity, living with his long-time girlfriend in Hawaii, in order to inform his fellow citizens (both in America and around the world) of what the US government and its allies are doing to them and their privacy. He did that by very carefully selecting which documents he thought should be disclosed and concealed, then gave them to a newspaper with a team of editors and journalists and repeatedly insisted that journalistic judgments be exercised about which of those documents should be published in the public interest and which should be withheld.
That’s what every single whistleblower and source for investigative journalism, in every case, does – by definition.
More to the point, Glenn’s role in this was at first passive. Snowden contacted him, not the other way round. He then did what any non-co-opted journalist would do – and examined the data independently, with other independent journalists and published the truth. He’s a role model, not a target.
So why would a journalist like Gregory ask such a question?
Second: ask yourself if David Gregory ever asked a similar question of people in government with real power, e.g. Dick Cheney et al. Did he ever ask them why they shouldn’t go to jail for committing documented war crimes under the Geneva Conventions? Nah. Here’s a question Gregory asked of Petraeus during the Obama administration:
Presumably, US forces and Pakistani officials are doing the interrogations, do you wish you had the interrogation methods that were available to you under the Bush administration to get intelligence from a figure like this?
Notice the refusal to use the word “torture”. Note the assumption of the premise that torture actually provides reliable intel. Note also Petraeus’ polite dismissal of the neocon question. Gregory has asked this question before:
Can you address my question? Did harsh interrogation help in the hunt for bin Laden?
Again, note the refusal to use the word torture. That would be awkward because Gregory is a social friend of Liz Cheney (Gregory’s wife worked with Cheney’s husband at the law firm Latham & Watkins). Who wants to call their social friend a war criminal? Notice also this classic Washington discussion by Gregory on torture. It’s entirely about process. There is no substantive position on something even as profound as war crimes. The toughest sentence: “This is a debate that’s going to continue.” Gregory is obviously pro-torture, hides behind neutrality, and beats up opponents with one-sided questions.
It just hasn’t occurred to him that the only place for Dick Cheney right now is jail.
But an actual journalist, Glenn Greenwald, not part of the Village, who has made more news this past fortnight than the entire coterie Gregory lives among and for? The gloves are off. I’m not going to attack Gregory for asking a sharp question of another journalist, however odd? I am merely going to note that he has been far tougher on this journalist for doing his job than on Dick Cheney for abdicating his.
At some point the entire career structure of Washington journalism – the kind of thing that makes David Gregory this prominent – needs to be scrapped and started over. And then you realize that it already has.
And the change is accelerating.