The seemingly overnight morphing from investigative journalist to partisan P.R. practitioner may be the underlying journalism ‘back story’ behind the headline-grabbing National Security Agency ‘leak’ … or, as some prefer, ‘whistle blowing.’
Best anyone can tell, the headline-demanding story of the release of National Security Agency materials by consultant Edward Snowden has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with climate change.
And that’s a good thing. Thank goodness for small favors.
Which is what makes it all worth commenting on.
Along with the 24/7 international publicity — fame and infamy — given the alleged wrongdoing by the former Booz Allen Hamilton employee, one other name increasingly familiar to those in the climate change arena stood in the spotlight, or at least on the fringes. This was the name not of an individual, but rather of an institution … The Guardian newspaper. And of its erstwhile reporter-seemingly-now-PR-flack Glenn Greenwald.
Greenwald’s convenient “scoop” on the NSA security leak had made him an overnight star, with more than a few admirers in the journalism community notwithstanding their possibly conflicting attitudes toward the alleged leaker. Greenwald clearly appeared to be enjoying his sudden fame or, again, infamy.
Over the course of just a week, however, Greenwald appeared to have morphed from enterprising, even investigative, journalist … to public relations man, perhaps even advance man of sorts for the accused (but clearly not convicted) Snowden.
By Saturday morning, June 22, Greenwald in an early morning CNN news interview clearly appeared to have become not the detached and impartial observer and reporter, but rather a principal participant in, even architect of, the news story he was reporting. Far from the journalistic observer and story-teller, Greenwald came across as advising and counseling the accused, and bluntly scolding the U.S. for its real, perceived, and alleged wrongdoings.
So what’s the climate connection here? Only this: A colleague recently asked, prior to the whole Snowden/NSA fiasco, “Why is it always The Guardian?” Prompted by the increasingly visible and often admirable news and editorial coverage and commentary on climate change matters, the colleague noted, fairly, both the quantity and the quality of the British paper’s climate coverage. And that in the midst of shrinking coverage by many or most U.S. news outlets. Much of that coverage is bylined by its Washington, D.C.-based reporter Suzanne Goldenberg. (She likely wears the “warmist” label given her by climate contrarians as a badge of honor.)
The Goldenberg and Greenwald coverage are, best to emphasize, unrelated … other than that they both are published by The Guardian.
So, what’s the issue here? The question is whether the American public will come to see Greenwald’s increasingly unjournalistic Snowden coverage, commentary, and personal involvement as typical of reporting and reporters overall. If so, public attitudes toward the media and of journalists — never high — could only suffer further.
Aha, one might inject. It’s clearly an example of the differences between traditional journalistic American news protocols compared with the far more personal and more opinionated coverage representative of many news outlets in western Europe and in the U.K.
Maybe American news audiences will make that distinction. But maybe — and in particular as some in the U.S. news media continue to interview and treat Greenwald as a “news reporter” and not as a veritable public relations practitioner — they won’t.
It’s stunning to note that within just one week — and entirely separate from ones attitudes on the alleged “leak” or “whistle blowing” alleged by the U.S. and admitted to by Snowden — the lead reporter in the whole affair had morphed from journalist to publicist. It’s interesting to note here too that the secondary media organization initially “favored” by the Snowden leaks — that is, The Washington Post — followed no such similar trajectory.
Support it or deplore the data dump involving Snowden (by his own admission), the NSA, the Obama administration, and far more, it increasingly appears the whole experience will redound to the continuing discredit of the news media at a time when few might have thought their standing could shrink much further.
It could well end up a sad day for Snowden and his family; for the nation’s security efforts; for legitimate privacy and “right to know” interests; for the Guardian and its standing as a reputable news organization; and for public attitudes toward media conduct generally.
It’s that last matter that might be most painful to those looking at the whole dismal swamp through a journalism prism.
In the end, it’s not the initial reporting by the Guardian’s Greenwald that galls from the perspective — however anachronistic it might seem — of traditional American journalism values. Instead, it’s the subsequent, deliberate and seemingly gleeful self-promoting insertion of the reporter himself as a central figure in the whole tawdry drama.
Sometimes, good things happen when a reporter’s ego and self-importance come to exceed his journalistic principles. But that’s seldom the case, and unlikely the outcome here. Among the many important democratic principles and institutions at risk in all this is, let’s not forget, the media and its still-important role in a democracy.
It’s true that it’s no longer our grandparents’ or even our parents’ journalism we get nowadays.
The question is, just whose is it? And who would even want it at this point?