I know, I know you’re tired of hearing about Snowden and Greenwald and Omidyar and First Look and I feel your pain, I really do. I want an end to this as much as you do, but see we’re in the final, definitive stages of this most historic event, the country’s first neoliberal whistleblowing. Yes, that’s right! I mean, look, here we have a public resource in the form of government documents affecting everyone on earth and paid for by the good people of the United States, the only complete cache of which has been effectively privatized by a bunch of rich white people, mostly dudes, who are also touting the private sector as the vessel of our deliverance from state surveillance evil. Yay Apple! Yay Google! Yay Whisper Systems! All of it wrapped in a tightly controlled, corporate mediated, relentlessly commodified narrative that is as much, if not more, about the self-actualization of the whistleblower and members of his inner circle as the global violation of human rights by the United States government. If that’s not neoliberal, I’m Augusto Pinochet! To make matters even more disquieting, this is being presented as a grand act of disobedience, a leftist act of disobedience. Can you believe it?
Yes, apparently many of you can!
But sorry, I can’t. You know me! Purist. I expect words to mean things. Words like “left”, for instance. In my world, left presupposes a politics that is at least a little communal and doesn’t extol oligarchs, corporations and Magic Dads. This ain’t that. This is the opposite of that. To be honest, I don’t think I have seen anything defended as ardently by the anglophonic internet Left this year as Mr. Glenn Greenwald’s right to squeeze every last dime and every last ounce of social capital out of these leaks, unimpeded by questions or criticism. Nevertheless, as grimly interesting as I find this ingenius neoliberal colonizing of left imaginations, I would happily quit blogging about it if something remotely like journalism were happening on the left in regard to it.
But of course, that is the great paradox of this renaissance in transparency and investigatish journalistics we are so lucky to be witnessing: its own exemption from transparency and near-complete immunity from investigative journalism!!! Even Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting can’t be bothered to raise any questions, let alone hard ones. Hell, FAIR’s Peter Hart even applauded Ryan Devereaux’s awful hit piece on Gary Webb. So as long as Team Omidyar keeps inadvertently trolling me with newsworthy bullshit, and people like Peter Hart still aren’t taking it up, I will struggle somewhat unsuccessfully to ignore it.
Which brings me around to the inspiration for this post. You will recall that the recent New York Magazine piece on Omidyar’s “insurgency”, contained this enticing detail:
Greenwald says [The Intercept] also plans to share [the leaks] with outside reporters and is building a secure “reading room” in its Fifth Avenue headquarters building, where it is currently renovating three floors.
How exciting, for those who still give a shit what’s in the leaks anyway. (Hint: Not me) But as I mentioned at the time and I’ll mention again — over a year ago I asked Greenwald why he didn’t make the leaks available to other journalists, while publicly observing — much to the Greenwald crew’s apparently eternal chagrin — that the fewer people had the leaks, certainly the higher their value. In the foamy, intentionally fallacious comment that launched a thousand trolls, this was Greenwald’s response:
As for why we don’t just hand out the documents like lolipops [sic] around the world, the answer is simple: we can’t legally. If we were to do that, we’d become distributors or sources, not journalists. We can only publish the documents journalistically, which means we have to work in partnership with those media outlets as journalists.
At the time I felt this explanation didn’t square with The Guardian providing a copy of their trove to The New York Times which, in turn, gave access to Pro Publica. This planned Intercept reading room seems to contradict Greenwald’s prior explanation in the same way. So my question is, what’s changed? Why couldn’t this arrangement or something similar have been made before, especially since Snowden himself seemingly intended wider distribution early on:
If I have time to go through this information, I would like to make it available to journalists in each country to make their own assessment, independent of my bias, as to whether or not the knowledge of US network operations against their people should be published.
In the absence of an explanation, I’m going to assume Greenwald lied, as he often does, and assume that my original inference — that he was hoarding leaks to keep their value high or and/or temper their impact — was possibly correct. I was going to let this pass when it first came up in New York Magazine, but it came up again today, when Jillian York asked Greenwald about who would get to use the repository:
This really seems to make it clear who owns these leaks –indefinitely — and who will continue to shape the narrative. The irony is that as the grip on the leaks is about be loosened, if only slightly, I’ve stopped caring myself about what’s in them. I think we’re getting diminishing returns. But it looks like we were lied to, and I think it’s reasonable to seek an explanation. I also think that further privatization of the leaks should be resisted on principle.
@ggreenwald @bbhorne How does this room square with your previous statement that “distributing” documents would legally make you a source?
— George Bell (@gbelljnr) (locked account)