Glenn Greenwald Doth Protest Too Much, Way Too Much
I usually leave the larger issues of media criticism to Professor Vatz, as his mustache can slay a rabid grizzly bear, or at least a Baltimore Sun editorial page editor. However I felt the need to jump in on one issue in particular.
My friend Ron Smith is an admirer of Salon blogger Glenn Greenwald. I am not.
Ron admires Greenwald’s dogged criticism of the “establishment press,” especially their alleged journalistic failure to hold the Bush administration accountable during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. To be fair, some of Greenwald’s criticism is occasionally on point. However, Greenwald’s modis operandi is to gun his engine into the fifth gear of high dudgeon and shriek like a harpy. Case in point his foot stamping over the Washington Post firing Dan Froomkin. Whatever the merits or demerits of canning Froomkin, the case illustrates Greenwald’s schtick: Preen as a paragon of all that is right and good in the world, lather up spittle-flecked rage chock full of charges of mendacity and/or hypocrisy—without explanation—against those he who he disagrees with. In the end, Greenwald’s posts are essentially long worded variations of “Hulk smash.”
Another example of Greenwald’s inanity is in this fleck of spittle from his frothing over Froomkin:
Notably, Froomkin just recently had a somewhat acrimonious exchange with the
oh-so-oppressed Krauthammer over torture, after Froomkin criticized Krauthammer’s explicit endorsement of torture and Krauthammer responded by calling Froomkin’s criticisms “stupid.”
Only, if you read Krauthammer’s rejoinder to Froomkin and not just the one word quoted by Greenwald, you would see that Froomkin’s criticism was, well… stupid. But that’s Greenwald for you: progressive = all good things, conservative = whatever he deems undesirable.
Greenwald’s crapulence doesn’t end there. He is guilty of the very sin of which he incessantly accuses others: hypocrisy. While lobbing ad hominem attacks at “rancid and worthless establishment journalists,” he simultaneously extols the late David Halberstam as the paragon of journalistic virtue. Much like Keith Olbermann misuses history to fashion himself as the second coming of Edward R. Murrow, Greenwald’s emulation of Halberstam suffers from its own fatal flaw:
As I often do, I’ll use this 2005 speech by the great David Halberstam, delivered at the Columbia School of Journalism, to illustrate how rancid and worthless our establishment journalists of today are — especially the TV stars like Gibson and Williams. Halberstam observed that “by and large, the more famous you are, the less of a journalist you are,” and recounted that his proudest moment in his career was when, as a young reporter in Saigon, he stood down a General in Vietnam who was attempting to threaten and intimidate him from independently investigating claims that the Pentagon was making about the war.
The arc of our country and its media: from David Halberstam’s confrontation with a U.S. General in Vietnam over his demands to investigate (rather than mindlessly accept) the Pentagon’s war claims to Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams sitting around giggling on TV with Matt Lauer and muttering about what a great job they did in covering the administration’s march to invade Iraq, when even Bush’s own Press Secretary mocks them for being weak, complicit little mouthpieces for government propaganda.
If only, Halberstam was as critical with a certain stringer he used in Vietnam. As I noted a while back, Halberstam, along with fellow journalists Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow were dupes of North Vietnamese communist agent Pham Xuan An.
Vietnam War historian Mark Moyer says of Halberstam and his wartime colleagues:
When Halberstam strongly objected to someone’s policy decisions or believed that an individual was obstructing his access to information, he unleashed the fury of his typewriter on him. [So does Greenwald] Through articles and bestselling books, Halberstam and his most famous colleagues in Vietnam, Neil Sheehan and Stanley Karnow, horribly tarnished the reputations of some very fine Americans, including Gen. Paul Harkins, who served as head of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and Frederick Nolting, who was U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam. The relatives of the victims were deeply scarred by these false portrayals, as I learned from them after I exposed the falsehoods in my recent history, Triumph Forsaken…
Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow inadvertently caused enormous damage to the American effort in South Vietnam—making them the most harmful journalists in American history. The leading American journalists in Vietnam during 1963, they favored American involvement in Vietnam, in stark contrast to the press corps of the war’s latter years. But they had a low opinion of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem and decided that he would need to be removed if the war was to be won. Brazenly attempting to influence history, Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow gave Diem’s opponents in the U.S. government negative information on Diem in print and in private. Most of the information they passed on was false or misleading, owing in part to their heavy reliance on a Reuters stringer named Pham Xuan An, who was actually a secret Communist agent. The journalists convinced Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to accept their reports in place of much more accurate reports from the CIA and the U.S. military, which led Lodge to urge South Vietnamese generals to stage a coup. Press articles suggesting that Diem had lost his principal ally’s confidence made the South Vietnamese generals receptive to coup plots—the Vietnamese elites generally misinterpreted American news reporters as official spokesmen of the U.S. government….
There was more damage to come, subtler in nature but still very toxic. When the American intelligentsia became disillusioned with Vietnam during the late 1960s, Halberstam and Sheehan abandoned support for the U.S. defense of South Vietnam. Like many journalists today, they avoided reporting on American military heroism in the belief that reports of American valor would increase support for the war in the United States and would put servicemen in a more favorable light than those who did not serve. We have these journalists, as well as historians, to blame for the fact that the pantheon of American military heroes is empty for the period from the end of the Korean War in 1953 onward. Of course, when one type of hero is rejected, another is usually inserted in its place. To the horror of many who served in Vietnam, Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow became heroes, as has been reflected in the obituaries for Halberstam.
While, not a complicit dupe, Halberstam was as Greenwald likes to say a moutpiece for government propaganda. Only in Halberstam’s case he was a mouthpiece for the North Vietnamese enemy. He deserves to be listed a few notches below Walter Duranty and Herbert Matthews in the rankings of New York Times reporters, who aided totalitarian regimes.
The edifice of Greenwald’s shrine to Halberstam—and his own rhetorical schtick—are constructed from a paper mâché myth. Remember that next time Greenwald uncorks his next self righteous, self-glorifying tirade.
Fitting that Greenwald’s latest book is titled Great American Hypocrites. The irony is as they say delicious.