Glenn Greenwald, Other Useful Idiots and Cancel Culture: A Short Introduction to a Weeklong Series

Noam Chomsky on Greenwald: "He's a friend, has done wonderful things, I don't understand what is happening now...I hope it will pass."


“We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up.” — Janet Malcolm, Iphigenia in Forest Hills: Anatomy of a Murder Trial

Demolishing the unwarranted reputation of Glenn Greenwald — great reporter, Pulitzer Prize winner, brave outsider, independent journalist, truth-teller, he and his fans believe — is, happily, a lot easier than it sounds, especially as I worked with him for a stretch at The Intercept and have followed his work for many years. But it also requires some time, which is why I’ll be writing a series of stories about him and publishing more by other writers all week long. This introduction and today’s two other stories, one about the broader, toxic ecosphere in which he operates and the other a Q&A with a journalist from Brazil about his work in that country — is just the start.

More and more people have become disgusted with Greenwald as he’s become a fixture on Fox News, especially with Tucker Carlson, a man so disgusting that he openly promotes White Supremacy, including the flat out racist white “replacement” theory. His fan base is huge, but if you read the commenters on his social media posts it’s clear that the lion’s share of it is comprised of die-hard Trump supporters and other Flat Earthers.

Let me make clear that I know many Trump supporters and respect their views, but I am referring here to the rancid 20 percent-plus who backed the January 6 Capitol insurrection, which, however clownish, was very dangerous. Many in Greenwald’s ecosphere — including Greenwald, the ringleader — have downplayed the threat posed by the insurrectionists. (See the next story in this series for more on this.)

However, while it’s clear that the freaks and mentally ill rioters at the core of the attack had no chance of overthrowing the US government, it’s equally clear that they were quite capable of harming police officers — who they claim to love — and lawmakers they despise. Anyone who thinks otherwise need only think about what these cretins would have done to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had they found her that day. (Or Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence. I’m not a fan of either, indeed I detest their politics, but I would not have liked to see them strung up or killed at the hands of a mob that might not have all been Nazis, but who, like the Nazi leadership, were largely deranged misfits who belong in mental institutions where they could possibly be treated.)

Fair Use.

But Greenwald and many of his acolytes dismissed the threat posed by the rioters, with the repellent Michael Tracey even proposing that AOC had no reason for fear that day.

However, many people still insist that Greenwald, despite his flaws, is a great journalist, citing his work of the Edward Snowden leaks and his work in Brazil with leaked material, which led to the release of the country’s great political leader and former president, Luiz Inácio da Silva (better known as Lula and a man I deeply admire, though he and his Workers’ Party (PT) are not without flaws). But Greenwald’s work on Snowden and Lula — and I’ll of course acknowledge it’s huge significance — does not make him a great reporter. Indeed, as I’ll show a little later in this story (and throughout the week), it exposes his weaknesses as a reporter. Indeed, Greenwald cannot accurately be described as a reporter. He is a lawyer by training and a lawyer he remains. He’s great at building a case, but in doing so he eliminates all evidence pointing to his clients’ — or while practicing “journalism,” the people he admires — guilt.

The end result is a black and white world. This is not journalism, it’s advocacy. And, in another sign that he is not a journalist, he’s incapable of admitting error or questioning his own assumptions. If you disagree with him you’re an idiot and a liar.

Before going further, it’s worth noting that amongst real journalists, and I’ll include myself here, having practiced the profession for more than three decades and not having been a lawyer first, a major impediment — Greenwald is widely loathed. This is not because people are jealous of him (who would want to be an arrogant, pathological narcissist like Glenn Greenwald?), it’s because they know he’s a fraud, and that real journalists invariably struggle to make a living because they refuse, for example but more to follow, to opportunistically pretend to be left-wing in Brazil and right-wing in the US. (See more on this in a Q&A with a Brazilian journalist that I’ll post later today.) Real journalists also don’t get rich thanks to receiving a huge salary from tech oligarch Pierre Omidyar, which Greenwald did for years at The Intercept, and hypocritically pose as an enemy of the tech oligarchy.

Here’s what the great reporter Tim Shorrock has to say about Greenwald:

He is the ultimate political coward. I find it astonishing that he picks this critical moment in American history to 1) repudiate the fascist threat from the white nationalist right and 2) argue the Jan 6 assault on the Capitol by that white nationalist right was no threat to a city that is majority black. By trying to appease his fake left friends with his shrill critique of Biden and expanding his right-wing audience by going on Fox, he has shown he has no core beliefs but money. Anyone on the left who thinks he is a principled fighter for justice should have their head examined.

Of course, Greenwald will write off criticism from people like Tim and I, who are longtime critics. But even Greenwald’s allies and former allies despair at what he’s turned into. I’ll cite here Noam Chomsky, who I asked for his opinion on Greenwald. I’m going to publish most of our exchange, because I know for a fact that some people will challenge the context or accuracy of what he said. Which was: “He’s a friend, has done wonderful things, I don’t understand what is happening now…I hope it will pass.”

Chomsky’s first comment is pretty devastating, especially coming from a man who many, including myself, believe to be this country’s greatest modern intellectual. (There are many other candidates, but his 1967 essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” alone makes Chomsky a clear top contender.) So let me repeat it: “He’s a friend, has done wonderful things, I don’t understand what is happening now… I hope it will pass.”

Will Greenwald dismiss Chomsky as he will critics like Shorrock and me? It’s a lot harder trick to pull, because he’s a longtime fan of Noam’s. In 2013, long before he became a Tucker Carlson groupie, he wrote:

Nobody has been subjected to these vapid discrediting techniques more than Noam Chomsky. The book on which I’m currently working explores how establishment media systems restrict the range of acceptable debate in US political discourse, and I’m using Chomsky’s treatment by (and ultimate exclusion from) establishment US media outlets as a window for understanding how that works.

By the way, in my email to Noam where I asked him to go on the record, I mentioned a former Washington Post reporter. That was Jon Jeter, who more specifically is a former Post bureau chief and two time Pulitzer Prize finalist, who currently works as a senior editor at TeleSur, so he’s not exactly a “lamestream media” hack.

Here’s what Jeter had to say about Greenwald, and especially his reporting from Brazil, in messages sent to me at Facebook:

Greenwald, I believe, exemplifies all that is wrong with the Fifth Estate today. While he is an awful writer, it’s his reporting –or lack thereof –that is truly appalling. His coverage of Brazilian politics makes my blood boil. I have NEVER seen him interview an ordinary Brazilian, nor does he seem cognizant of the fact that Brazil imported more slaves than any country in the New World and all of their problems today must be viewed in that context. If the cops and vigilantes in Brazil murdered the same number of unarmed citizens as the cops in the U.S., black Brazilians would be dancing in the streets. In the prison interview he did with Lula, Lula tells him that it is this racism, and the afterlife of slavery, that got him locked up for doing even the most minimal things for Brazil’s blacks. Greenwald looked at him like he was explaining Einstein’s theory of relativity in Japanese and launched into a broadside about crime in Brazil, i.e. what the country’s white elites talk about.

Back to Chomsky. I should note that I don’t always agree him, though I usually do and certainly do in the case of his current assessment of Greenwald. However, I disagree in part with his saying that Greenwald has “done wonderful things.” That’s technically accurate, but — and I’ll keep this short because I’ll be expanding on all the points below and others made in this introduction during the week — Greenwald blundered his way into the Snowden leaks story because he initially thought it might be too much work, and ended up screwing it up. For example, and this is one of many, I would not consider it a “wonderful thing,” to cite Chomsky, that only a tiny fraction of the Snowden leaks were ever made public and are now the personal property of tech oligarch Pierre Omidyar, facts I’m sure the NSA is quite pleased with.

Greenwald also screwed up, though that is a kind way of putting what he did (which will be explained more fully in an interview that will run here at at 11:11 am), the leaks provided to him in Brazil. While his work led to Lula’s release from prison — and that is huge! — he played a dirty political game that shows he is an advocate and not a journalist.

The bottom line is that, in the words of my colleague here at Washington Babylon, Andrew Stewart (click that link to follow him on Twitter):

Glenn Greenwald is not a journalist, and he never has been. This isn’t a case of bad journalism, he never was a journalist and his pretensions to the contrary are a fraud. When Snowden dropped the leaks on him and [Laura] Poitras they had no idea what they were doing, what they had, or what to do with the material. They had to call in Ken Silverstein and other reporters to help them understand the material. THIS IS PROOF HE ISN’T A JOURNALIST.

GG had no way of verifying or vetting the Hunter Biden laptop issue because he was in Brazil. He was obviously plotting for months with [Matt] Taibbi to jump to Substack, it was written all over their faces in the Katie Halper [podcast] interviews, and his “censorship” was a useful excuse. His refusal to do any journalism PROVES HE ISN’T A JOURNALIST.

His antics with Laura Ingraham, getting the rabid hyenas into a feeding frenzy and doxxing Intercept journalists, is absolutely outside of the professional boundaries and ethics of journalism BECAUSE HE NEVER HAS BEEN A JOURNALIST. (Bloggers, on the other hand, do this shit all the time.)

As I keep noting, I’ll expand on this and other points during the week. After that, I’m done with Greenwald, and I hope you are too.

But what else should I briefly mention here? Well, there was his impassioned legal defense of Matthew Hale, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi leader. I do believe every person is entitled to a lawyer, but I don’t believe every criminal defendant is entitled to having his or her lawyer fall in love with them, as Greenwald did (metaphorically) with Hale, to the point that he savaged Hale’s critics, including amazing organizations like the Center for Constitutional Rights.

I’d also emphasize Greenwald’s pathological narcissism, a trait that makes it impossible to be a great journalist. My Facebook friend Sayres Rudy said of Greenwald and other useful idiots:

GG reminds me a lot of Christopher Hitchens. Eventually the core narcissistic desire trounces the performance of principle and then requisite abstractions are invoked to justify the new views needed for relevance. Libertarianism, anti-fascism, muckraking, gadflying, etc all sound nice but ultimately are there only to justify whatever noises get these blowhards noticed, discussed, wealthy, & debated over. “LOOK AT ME!!!” shouts the narcissist, in desperation.

What else? There’s the story of Reality Winner, who The Intercept put in prison, a story in which Greenwald plays a role, even though he vociferously denies it and blames anyone and everyone else at the publication — sometimes but not always correctly, and always to obscure his own guilt. There’s also his support for the 2003 Iraq War, which is the greatest journalistic crime of modern times, even worse than Russiagate scam, which Greenwald is largely, but not entirely, right about. Greenwald also lies about having once been a war supporter, though evidence is strewn about everywhere, as in this story, titled, “Glenn Greenwald’s Hilarious Denial About His Support for Iraq War.”

But for now, I’ll close with Scott Horton, a lawyer, like Greenwald coincidentally, but also a journalist — a far better one than Greenwald — and contributing editor at Harper’s. (Horton’s attorney side sometimes causes him to be a little black and white in my view. Forgive me Scott, you’re a friend, but that’s true in my view.) He wrote about Greenwald’s possible future:

We have GG in the Unclaimed Territory phase, then GG in the Salon phase, then GG in the Guardian phase, followed by GG in the Intercept phase. What’s on the horizon? The highest best use of GG, which is the Rupert Murdoch/Tucker Carlson phase, in which GG realizes his destiny as a wing nut news anchor.

Oh yeah, this is sort of like the end of Pulp Fiction, but remember that quote by Janey Malcolm at the top of this story. I put that there for a reason. Here it is again because it’s so important, and now you won’t have to scroll up to find it.

“We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up.”

A great journalist does not mishear and mis-see and misunderstand the world so his or her stories “add up.” A terrible journalist — like Greenwald — does that. For that reason, and many more noted here and that will be further discussed during the week — Greenwald really cannot be considered a journalist, and certainly not a reporter. He is better understood as an op-ed writer or cable news host, like Rachel Maddow, the horrific MSNBC personality who I loathe like Greenwald does, or Tucker Carlson, his pal and a man he laughably describes as a socialist. And in true Greenwaldian fashion, he lies about that, too.

Stay tuned, there’s a lot more coming.

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