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Glenn Greenwald: U.S. Corporate Media is “Neutered, Impotent and Obsolete”

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In the final part of our extended interview, Glenn Greenwald reflects on the Pulitzer Prize, adversarial journalism and the corporate media’s response to his reporting on Edward Snowden’s leaked National Security Agency documents. “We knew that once we started publishing not one or two stories, but dozens of stories … that not just the government, but even fellow journalists were going to start to look at what we were doing with increasing levels of hostility and to start to say, 'This doesn't actually seem like journalism anymore,’ because it’s not the kind of journalism that they do,” Greenwald says. “It doesn’t abide by these unspoken rules that are designed to protect the government.”

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StoryAug 13, 2014Glenn Greenwald Criticizes NPR for Relying on CIA-Linked Firm in Report on Impact of Snowden Leaks
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to part two of our special, an extended interview with Glenn Greenwald, author of the new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Four weeks ago, Glenn Greenwald returned to the United States for the first time since breaking the Snowden story. He and filmmaker Laura Poitras flew in from Berlin to accept the George Polk Award. Days later, the Pulitzer Prize was given to The Guardian and Washington Post for their coverage of the Snowden leaks. Former NSA director, General Keith Alexander, criticized the Pulitzer Prize committee; he said, quote, “I’m greatly disappointed that we have rewarded those who have put so many lives at risk.” I asked Glenn Greenwald to respond.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, first of all, I mean, as a journalist, I consider it sort of an additional prize that somebody like Keith Alexander is so angry at the journalism I’m doing that he’s willing to make those things up in order to discredit it. I mean, the idea of a journalist is that you ought to be adversarial to people like Keith Alexander. And I would be a lot more worried if he liked the reporting that we did and praised it than I am that he’s saying things like that.

But the thing that I think is so important to realize is, you know, if you go back 40 years and look at what was said about Daniel Ellsberg, who most people across the political spectrum now consider to have been heroic and justified and noble in what he did, the same exact things were said about him. In fact, Nixon officials went before Congress and accused him of being a secret Russian spy. They said that he put lives at risk. They said that people were going to die as a result of these disclosures, that he was a traitor, that he was engaged in treason—all of which have been proven to be utter fabrications.

And every single whistleblowing event that has happened since then, including the 2005 NSA story in which someone in the Justice Department told The New York Times about that program, the blowing the whistle on Abu Ghraib and the torture program and the rendition program, what WikiLeaks and Chelsea Manning did, this same rhetoric is constantly invoked, which is, if you shine a light on what we in political power are doing in a way that we haven’t authorized you to do, you’re going to have blood on your hands. I mean, there’s an obvious irony to being accused by a U.S. general who served in Iraq, of all places, of having blood on your hands or resulting—causing the death of innocent people. Nobody could ever surpass Keith Alexander and his fellow generals in their ability to do that. But the claim is made all the time, reflexively, without any evidence, because in reality the only thing that has been harmed by the disclosures is not the lives of innocent people, it’s the reputation and credibility of people like Keith Alexander. And so you can understand why they are so interested in demeaning it.

AMY GOODMAN: Now I want to ask you about the politics of the Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer Prize for Public Service that went to The Guardian and The Washington Post is perhaps the highest Pulitzer Prize.


AMY GOODMAN: It’s the first one named. And clearly, you and Laura Poitras led these teams. I mean, your—in the articles that are cited in The Guardian, your name is on one after the next after the next.


AMY GOODMAN: And Laura Poitras is on both The Guardian website in bylining pieces, as well as The Washington Post.


AMY GOODMAN: The two newspapers named. But technically, according to the rules of the Pulitzer, you each will have to say you were part of the team that won the Pulitzer, that you can’t be called a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, though, of course, here at Democracy Now! we will call you that.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: But what about the politics of this? Because although the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service usually goes to an institution, it often, even in going to an institution, cites the bravery of a particular reporter in reporting the series of stories. Can you talk about this?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think there’s any secret about the fact that the journalism that I advocate for and engage in is controversial among a large clatch of what I would call establishment journalists. I talked about before there being these unwritten set of rules that govern how you’re supposed to speak and what you’re supposed to do, that I consciously reject and set out to violate because I think they’re corrupting. And I’ve been a very vociferous critic of how the establishment media in the United States conducts itself, and that’s created a lot of animosity even before the Edward Snowden story. And so, the people who compose this committee are the targets of that criticism and also the targets of the reporting and the way I’ve tried to do the journalism. So it’s certainly understandable, and we’ve gotten reports that there was some effort on the committee to make sure that, you know, my name and Laura’s name didn’t sully their wonderful brand, you know.

But at the same time, I mean, the way I really look at it is, it is the prize that I’m glad that that was awarded, in part because I think some of the best reporting that has been done in history, including The Washington Post investigation of Watergate and The New York Times publication of the Pentagon Papers, won that prize, and that I do think, you know, what we tried to do was do the reporting in the public service. There’s certainly been no shortage of individual accolades and honors that Laura and I, and even Edward Snowden, have received. You know, I feel like we’ve gotten our due credit and much, much more. And ultimately, it really is true—and I think this has been a little bit obscured—is that we weren’t actually out there alone. You know, The Guardian did put its 190-year reputation on the line. We didn’t always agree on everything, but for the most part they did the story very fearlessly and very aggressively. There were teams of editors working on all of our stories, there were other reporters who were very brave and who did great reporting, and I think they deserved the award institutionally. And I think it’s obvious that a lot of the reporting that was won was reporting that I did, but they definitely deserve that recognition, as well. And, I mean, I definitely, overall, am thrilled with the way that the prize was awarded, even though I know there were these internal conflicts that I think are to be expected.

AMY GOODMAN: Does it also go to the issue of old media and new media?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. I mean, you know, if you look at, for example, the way The Washington Post did its reporting, not only did they not send anybody to Hong Kong, which created a big rift between them and their source, but they published, I think, one story in the first several weeks, because I think that that—those were the kinds of rules. I mean, Bart Gellman is a great reporter, but the editors at The Washington Post are very much old-style, old-media, pro-government journalists, the kind who have essentially made journalism in the U.S. neutered and impotent and obsolete. And The Guardian is very much, especially in the U.S., this sort of newcomer, this outsider, this mostly web-based publication that has more of an Internet, new-media culture. And the reason I went to The Guardian is because they have a history in the past of deviating from this sort of very conservative, pro-government line and doing reporting that’s in the public interest. And I think that came through in how they stood behind the reporting and really supported it every step of the way.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the website that you are unveiling today, that is the backup information and documents with No Place to Hide?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, one of the things that I insisted upon and that my publishing company agreed to is that whatever new documents were reported on in the book, I wanted to make sure that they weren’t only in the book and available to people who bought the book, but also online for free, because it’s information that ought to be public. And so, simultaneous with the release of the book today, we are publishing online dozens of new documents that are reported on in the book, including some of the ones that we’ve discussed, that I think shine a whole new light on the NSA and various programs that it has adopted.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is happening with The Intercept, your new web outlet that you and Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill have developed, with the support of Pierre Omidyar of eBay?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, you know, the—I think we’ve published 12 or 14 new NSA stories in the three months or so since we’ve existed. And as I said earlier, we’re working on ones that I think are going to be among the biggest, if not the most significant, NSA stories still to come. And the benefit of it is, we have lots of reporters who are working on these with me and lots of editors and lawyers who are helping to make the story right. And we’re also simultaneously expanding, because we really sort of launched earlier than we were ready so we could do the NSA reporting, into the kind of daily news outlet and analysis provider that we intend to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden, what happens to him now? It’s almost the first anniversary of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong with you releasing these documents. He has gotten political asylum, for now, in Russia. Talk about the debate that’s going on in the White House, in this country, about what should happen to him. He clearly wants to come home.

GLENN GREENWALD: He does, but he’s only willing to come home if he’s given a fair opportunity to make his case. And right now that is impossible. You know, there’s this sort of bravado that pervades the Washington political class and media class when they talk about Snowden, which is, “Oh, if he really believes what he did was justified, he should man up and come home and make his case in court.” But the way that they have created the rules that govern Espionage Act cases, which is what this would be, is that a defendant charged with violating the Espionage Act is barred from making the very defense that they’re trying to lure him into making or claiming he could make, which is: “I did what I did because it was justified.” That, a court would never allow. So the entire playing field of how the U.S. judiciary operates in these cases is completely warped and designed to ensure an unfair trial and an inevitable prosecution.

So, you know, he has asylum for a year in Russia. There are strong signs that that is going to be renewed, if not for another year, probably longer. There are also debates in lots of other countries, including powerful and influential ones like Germany and Brazil, about giving him asylum in those countries. So I think his future is relatively bright as far as being able to stay out of a cage in the U.S. prison system for the rest of his life. But where he ends up, I think, is still a question mark. But, you know, for him, I think, as long as he’s able freely to participate in the debate that he wanted to galvanize, and has galvanized, then he will feel very satisfied and happy.

AMY GOODMAN: And the debate that it has opened up in the United States, has it surprised you, who began this journey with Edward Snowden over a year ago?

GLENN GREENWALD: Oh, it’s surprised me greatly. I mean, I’ve been working on surveillance issues for eight years, and I know the difficulty of trying to induce large numbers of people to pay attention and care about them, because it’s a little bit more ethereal and abstract, and even a little bit remote, than, say, your inability to pay bills or to get health insurance for your children. And the ability that we’ve had to take these documents and show them to people, as opposed to just reporting on it and making them rely on what we’re saying, has been indispensable in engaging the public. I think it really shows the value of whistleblowing, not just for exposing specific programs, but for strengthening democracy and for the debate that is necessary to support it.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Glenn Greenwald. Visit our website at democracynow.org for part one of our conversation with Glenn, when he talks about the latest NSA revelations in his new book, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State.

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Glenn Greenwald Criticizes NPR for Relying on CIA-Linked Firm in Report on Impact of Snowden Leaks

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