By Matthew Rothschild on May 22, 2014

Michael Kinsley goes after Glenn Greenwald in a nasty review that was just published by the New York Times and that will appear in this Sunday’s Week in Review.

At stake not only is Greenwald’s reputation but the very notion of what constitutes freedom of the press on national security issues.

Kinsley dumps on Greenwald with ad hominem attacks, saying, “Greenwald seems like a self-righteous sourpuss,” and calling him bombastic and comparing him to Robespierre and Trotsky.

More seriously, he takes the side of David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, who asked Greenwald, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden . . . why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”

Gregory properly caught a lot of guff for that question, but Kinsley says it was “a perfectly reasonable question.” In fact, he essentially asks it himself. “What do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question.”

Kinsley doesn’t believe that journalists should be free to publish things the government dubs “secret,” even though reporting on hidden and unlawful or unethical government activities is what good reporters do. “The question is who decides,” he writes. “It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences.”

His answer is that the government should be the ultimate publisher. “That decision must ultimately be made by the government,” he said. Recognizing that this may impede the free flow of news, he added: “No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making—whatever it turns out to be—should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.”

That sounds like Kinsley prefers an Office of Censorship.

He disregards the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1971 Pentagon Papers case that “any system of prior restraints of expression” carries “a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.”

And Kinsley is almost 180 degrees from Hugo Black’s concurring opinion, in which the justice eloquently stated:

“In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. To find that the President has 'inherent power' to halt the publication of news ... would wipe out the First Amendment and destroy the fundamental liberty and security of the very people the Government hopes to make 'secure.' ”

For his part, Kinsley doesn’t believe that journalists or journalism are afforded any special protection. “The Constitution is for everyone,” he writes. “There shouldn’t be a special class of people called ‘journalists’ with privileges like publishing secret government documents.”

But the Constitution expressly commands that Congress (and by implication the President) “shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press.”

As Hugo Black noted, the First Amendment explicitly protects the journalistic profession in unequivocal terms. And it does so for the best of reasons: to serve as a check on the very government that Kinsley wants to give more power to.

 

 

 

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Comments

Whether or not Greenwald is 'self-righteous' is not relevant - and Kinsley knows it. The line of 'aided and abetted Snowden' is classic threat to mute the press - and Greenwald knew it was posed as a condemnation more than a question. Gregory's interview of Greenwald was a joke. People reflecting on Kinsley's comments should watch the Greenwald / Guardian interview of Snowden. I think what Kinsley is missing is context - that Greenwald did work with editors before publishing and they decided that there was a higher social goal of transparency, especially in the darkness of an excessive NSA data collection program without balanced government review. Hell, prior to publishing, Congress wasn't privy to most of what was exposed, the NSA's efforts to mine and analyze all cell phone and email metadata in the U.S. The damage to national security was primarily the broad realization of the NSA program and risks of future leaks by contractors. Kinsley might not like Greenwald, but his comments on Greenwald seem aimed at damage control for the part of the commercial press that simply plays along.
Why have Greenwald, Snowden, Poitras disappeared from the news/internet for the last two weeks? And what about Greenwald's report of names of US citizens, which was due out more than a week ago?

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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