Kirsten Powers: Glenn Greenwald vs. fellow journalists
Thank, don't criticize, the man who exposed NSA spying.
Since breaking the National Security Agency spying story for The (London) Guardianlast year, Glenn Greenwald has been the target of attacks fromfellow journalists who seem to labor under the delusion that it's their job to protect the government.
Soon after he reported revelations of government malfeasance provided by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, NBC's David Gregoryasked Greenwald, "To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden ... why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?"
This accusation, dressed up as a question, was nonsensical. That it came from a fellow journalist was bizarre. How could reporting news be "aiding and abetting"? What crime could Greenwald possibly have committed? Most important, which government minion tricked the host of Meet the Press into thinking that reporters can't — and don't — publish government secrets?
Now we have Michael Kinsley doubling down on the chilling notion that certain types of investigative journalism should be criminalized. In his New York Times review of Greenwald's new book, No Place to Hide, Kinsley argues, "There shouldn't be a special class of people called 'journalists' with privileges like publishing secret government documents."
Actually, there should be, and there is. Without that protection, The Times could not have published the Pentagon Papers. Take that protection away, and we have zero oversight of the government from outside forces.
Kinsley writes that the decision of which official secrets can be made public "must ultimately be made by the government." If a reporter violates this norm, there should be "legal consequences."
Kinsley is too smart to believe this. Perhaps he can't see past his contempt for Greenwald, who he complains is "unpleasant" and a "self-righteous sourpuss."
Last year, The Times media writer David Carr drilled down on the strange fury Greenwald inspires in other journalists. Carr discovered that there was a general "distaste" of Greenwald and his ilk because, said one journo, "they are ... not like us."
That Greenwald is not a member of the Washington insider club seems to be the real problem here. Instead, he views himself as an outsider and adversary of the powerful, traits once commonplace among journalists.
Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg noted that the friendly fire against Greenwald is unusual. Ellsberg told an interviewer last year that though he himself was an enemy of the government for leaking secrets during the Vietnam War, "journalists were not turning on journalists."
Political philosopher Hannah Arendt once noted, "To think critically is to always be hostile." This should be the mantra of all journalists. As for Greenwald's critics, perhaps they could turn their hostile gaze from him to a more worthwhile target: the government they've been charged with holding accountable.
Kirsten Powers writes weekly for USA TODAY.