The Embarrassment of Michael Grunwald
With journalists like Time magazine’s Michael Grunwald, the Pentagon doesn’t need a social media p.r. team.
Over the weekend, the weekly’s senior national correspondent tweeted: “I can’t wait to write a defense of the drone strike that takes out Julian Assange.”
The bloodthirstiness of the message is as shocking as the spectacle of a journalist fantasizing about celebrating the execution of a whistleblower.
I actually saw Grunwald last September in Orlando give a talk at the Association of Opinion Journalists’ annual convention. He spoke on the themes of his book, “The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise,” and seemed an affable, even somewhat bland, guy. And interestingly, if one goes by his other recent book, a sympathetic account of Obama’s stimulus package called “The New New Deal,” he is far from a rightwinger.
But appearances can be deceiving, and you can be a shrill defender of the national security state while being middle of the road on the conventional spectrum. Grunwald’s reaction following his initial tweet reveals a lot about his mentality.
“Grunwald was unrepentant about such blood lust, saying that he wasn’t sorry for effectively endorsing extrajudicial assassination, but merely for the fact that his tweet ‘gives Assange supporters a nice safe persecution complex to hide in,’ ” David Sirota reports for Salon.
Of course, Grunwald is just the latest to express his eagerness to applaud state vigilantism. David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald on “Meet the Press” why he shouldn’t be charged with a crime. Andrew Ross Sorkin, CNBC host and New York Times columnist, fantasized about arresting Edward Snowden and (almost) doing the same to Greenwald. Grunwald just took it a step further by actually wishing for an end to someone’s life.
“If there were any doubts that Time magazine's Michael Grunwald is a huge fan of a big, activist and somewhat psychopathic government … such skepticism should be dispelled by his tweeted call for a lethal drone strike on Julian Assange of WikiLeaks,” J. D. Tucille wrote on the libertarian publication Reason’s website.
Other journalists condemned him, too, including Blake Hounshell of Politico and Matt Yglesias at Slate. And Time distanced itself, saying that the view was his and not the magazine’s.
Now, Assange is a problematic figure, given his alleged crimes toward women, his arrogance, and megalomania. (I recently finished leafing through the tell-all by Assange’s ex-colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg, and it isn’t a flattering portrayal of Julian.) But Grunwald’s anger doesn’t seem to stem from that.
Instead, Grunwald’s animus seems to be based on the harm—real and supposed—that Assange has caused the U.S. national security state. Chase Madar, the author of a book on Bradley Manning, argues that no actual injury to the United States has been caused by the WikiLeaks cables. “In the three-year span since these leaks came out, there is no evidence of a single civilian or soldier or even spy being harmed by the documents’ release,” he says. Instead, Madar asserts that the real “damage” that WikiLeaks has done is to reveal with clarity a foreign policy fashioned in the interests of the economic elite.
Maybe that’s what got Grunwald’s goat.
Whatever the reason for his animus, Grunwald has surrendered any claim to being a self-respecting journalist.
Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of The Progressive and co-editor of the Progressive Media Project, is the author of “ ‘Islam’ Means Peace: Understanding the Muslim Principle of Nonviolence Today” (Praeger).
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