News organizations like The New York Times and MSNBC are commonly held to be “leftist,” biased in favor of expanding civil liberties and otherwise generally progressive. On the contrary, however, they have degenerated to the point of sycophancy.
Nowhere is this more exposed than in the “left’s” coverage of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program and whistleblower Edward Snowden’s subsequent flight from American retaliation. A recent dialogue between Bill Keller, former executive editor of the Times, and Glenn Greenwald, a former journalist for The Guardian, is particularly revealing.
Further contextualization is useful, though. Keller’s work at the Times is extremely disappointing. In 2004, the Times representatives met with officials from former President George W. Bush’s administration to discuss a massive scoop picked up by the Times reporters: The NSA was wiretapping American citizens without warrants.
While this looks like peanuts compared to more recent revelations of an NSA vacuum consuming Skype calls, emails, phone calls, SMS messages, traffic information and social media profiles, this was groundbreaking news.
At the behest of the Bush administration, the Times waited until 2005 – after the 2004 presidential election, it should be noted – to reveal this story. This disturbing delay at the request of a criminal and, at that point, unelected, administration highlights the servile deference of establishment media.
Meanwhile, Keller, now an op-ed columnist, has found his work assailed by Greenwald and others. Perhaps it was his character assassination of Chelsea Manning, who contacted the Times but after not receiving a call back, went to WikiLeaks to publish the cache of American documents instead.
Or maybe it was the fact that columnists for various allegedly left-wing news organizations have called for Snowden to turn himself in. Despite the fact that he would forfeit his freedom, if not his life, he is told unceasingly to come on home – as if the country that revoked his passport, whose president has decreed a guilty verdict from on high and whose media berate him is still “home.”
In an embarrassingly condescending “open letter” to Snowden, MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry said, “Come on back to the [United States], Ed.”
She blames Snowden for media scrutiny of his actions and said, “By engaging in this Tom Hanks-worthy, border-jumping drama through some of the world’s most totalitarian states, [he is] making [himself] the story.”
I guess the totalitarian states Harris-Perry alluded to were, in chronological order, America, China and Russia.
Keller, in his correspondence with Greenwald, attempted to defend and justify his actions when he said that the Times journalists set their opinions “aside to follow the facts – as a judge in court is supposed to set aside prejudices to follow the law and the evidence – [and they] can often produce results that are more substantial and more credible” than Greenwald’s editorialist style.
This is a smokescreen behind which Keller tries to hide the Times’ undying obedience to executive authority, which includes description of waterboarding as “enhanced interrogation” when the U.S. does it and “torture” if an unfriendly regime does it. This is in addition to uncritically publishing the Bush administration’s assertions that weapons of mass destruction were present in Iraq.
Keller’s purportedly objective journalism merely hides the very real and influential biases of his reporters behind a mask of objectivity.
Greenwald succinctly summed up the current crisis of journalism when he said, “Reporting is reduced to ‘X says Y’ rather than ‘X says Y and that’s false.’”
Blindly and unquestioningly publishing state propaganda is a poor substitute for journalism. Rather, it is a recipe for dictatorship and repression.