Monday, July 5, 2010

Glennzilla Keeps Glaven Sane. Sort Of.

Noam Chomsky, by far my favorite political writer, will be 82 in December of this year. Obviously, he is not going to live forever; and for a long time I wondered if anyone with political insight, acumen and, most important, honesty akin to Chomsky's would emerge for progressives to read. I kind of doubted it, because Chomsky, I thought, was unique.

And Noam is, of course, unique.

But I have recently come to the conclusion that Glenn Greenwald (aka, Glennzilla to his fans) comes pretty close to Chomsky in terms of fearless honesty. And there is a certain irony to this because those who attempt to refute Greenwald's arguments seem constitutionally incapable of stating them honestly first - which is a phenomenon that should be familiar to anyone who has read "refutations" of Chomsky's political writings. As Chomsky's political opponents did (and do) to Chomsky, so Greenwald's do to him: They construct straw man versions of the arguments Greenwald makes and then "refute" them — a relatively easy thing to do — deliberately drawing attention away from the actual argument Greenwald makes and hoping thereby to make the issues he brings up disappear by using the classic prestidigitator's trick of simple misdirection. This happens to Greenwald again and again, to the point that he routinely includes pro forma disclaimers in his blog posts explicitly stating what he is not saying so that anyone taking issue with his arguments will be forced to stick to his actual argument.

Sadly, though predictably, this tactic rarely works.

Glenn's latest series of posts, and the risible and truly dishonest responses to them by the Serious and Responsible Representatives of The Corporate Media, serve as a perfect illustration:

On June 27, Greenwald posted on the topic of Dave Weigel's resignation from the Washington Post. Specifically, Greenwald's post dealt with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg's post gloating about Weigel's forced resignation. It is worth quoting the first paragraph of Greenwald's post in full (in fact, it would be time well-spent reading the whole thing):
In a stunning display of self-unawareness, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg pointed to last week's forced "resignation" by Dave Weigel from The Washington Post as evidence that the Post, "in its general desperation for page views, now hires people who came up in journalism without much adult supervision, and without the proper amount of toilet-training."  Goldberg then solemnly expressed hope that "this episode will lead to the reimposition of some level of standards."  Numerous commentators immediately noted the supreme and obvious irony that Goldberg, of all people, would anoint himself condescending arbiter of journalistic standards, given that, as one of the leading media cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq, he compiled a record of humiliating falsehood-dissemination in the run-up to the war that rivaled Judy Miller's both in terms of recklessness and destructive impact.
Goldberg is, as Greenwald rightly points out, one of the many Village Sages who parroted the Bush administration's party line on the Iraq invasion and, like the Bush people, was unquestionably and categorically wrong in virtually every pro-war assertion he made1; Goldberg, like many other corporate media stenographers, helped put this country on a path to a war that has cost thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives (at least; the real number is probably over a million); and not only has he not been called to account for this — he has, instead, been rewarded. He has not lost his standing as "pundit expert" ... to the other Villagers, at least.

And it is, as Greenwald points out, the height of "self-unawareness" for an unrepentant Village Idiot like Goldberg to lecture anyone on the issue of "journalistic integrity" when Goldberg himself gladly acted as stenographer for every claim the Bush administration adduced as reason to start their criminal war of aggression against Iraq; Goldberg, like his stenographer colleagues, did not blink an eye when each of these "reasons" turned out to be objectively false; and he compliantly refused to notice as the Reason For the War changed from "Saddam was behind 9/11" to "He has WMDs" to "Al Qaeda Trains in Iraq" to "We're Freeing The Iraqi People" to "We're Bringing Democracy to the Middle East" — even though most of these "reasons" for starting the war were not even adduced until after the war had already begun and the earlier, now-debunked, justifications had proved to be not merely false, but to have been known to be false (or at least of highly dubious probity) before the war was even started.

Greenwald's point, which he backs up (as always) with copious factual evidence, is that Goldberg is not an aberration, but rather typical of the corporate media's slavish devotion to propagating the lies and deceptions of the powerful; and moreover that, in the Village, being consistently factually wrong doesn't matter, as long as the lies you spread serve the interests of the powerful. Goldberg is still gainfully employed, as are Thomas Friedman2, and Joe Klein (or, as the people in the comment section of his own blog frequently refer to him, "JokeLine").

Jokeline himself eventually got to play a significant role in this drama. When Goldberg disingenuously defended himself against Greenwald's justified charges of journalistic hackery and self-delusion by claiming the invasion of Iraq helped the Kurds, Greenwald responded:
Goldberg apparently thinks that if you can find some citizens in an invaded country who are happy about the invasion, then it demonstrates the aggression was justifiable or at least morally supportable [...].  I'm not interested in an overly personalized exchange with Goldberg, but there is one aspect of his response worth highlighting:  the universality of the war propaganda he proffers.  Those who perpetrate wars of aggression invariably invent moral justifications to allow themselves and the citizens of the aggressor state to feel good and noble about themselves.  Hence, even an unprovoked attack which literally destroys a country and ruins the lives of millions of innocent people -- as the U.S. invasion of Iraq did -- is scripted as a morality play with the invaders cast in the role of magnanimous heroes.

It's difficult to find an invasion in history that wasn't supported by at least some faction of the invaded population and where that same self-justifying script wasn't used.  That's true even of the most heinous aggressors. Many Czech and Austrian citizens of Germanic descent, viewing themselves as a repressed minority, welcomed Hitler's invasion of their countries, while leaders of the independence-seeking Sudeten parties in those countries actively conspired to bring it about.  Did that make those German invasions justifiable?  As Arnold Suppan of the University of Vienna's Institute for Modern History wrote of the German invasion of Czechoslovakia (click on image to enlarge): And, of course, German citizens were told those invasions were necessary and just in order to liberate the repressed German minorities.  To be a bit less Godwin about it, many Ossetians wanted independence from Georgia and thus despised the government in Tbilisi, and many identified far more with the invading Russians than their own government; did that make the 2008 Russian assault on Georgia moral and noble?  Pravda routinely cast the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as one of protection of the populace from extremists.  I have no doubt that one could easily find Iraqi Sunnis today who would welcome an invasion from Hamas or Saudi Arabia to liberate them from what they perceive (not unreasonably) as their repressive Shiite overlords; would Goldberg therefore recognize the moral ambiguity of that military action?  If, tomorrow, China invaded Israel and changed the regime, there would certainly be many, many Palestinians who would celebrate; would that, in Goldberg's view, make it morally supportable?
There are quite a few examples in Greenwald's response post of population segments that were happy to have had their homeland invaded. Guess which example both Goldberg and Jokeline singled out and keyed on?

Greenwald -- who, so far as I can tell, only regards the United States as a force for evil in the world -- has laid out the incredible notion that the liberation of the Kurds, which Jeff celebrates (and so do I, and so do civilized people everywhere) as a happy byproduct of George W. Bush's dreadful war in Iraq, can be compared to the Nazi seizure of the Sudetenland . . . .This is obscene.

You would be hard-pressed to find more blatant examples of willful the mischaracterization of an opponent's argument (outside of Faux News, obviously, where this type of thing is done routinely).

But it gets kind of really interesting here; because if you read the comments at Jokeline's blog, you see that not only are Klein's own readers not fooled by Jokeline's tactics — they consider it somewhat pathetic of him to have used them. Some of the comments are really quite brutal ... and funny:
Go back to your vacation JokeLine, and when you get back you can continue your slide into irrelevance to all but your fellow villagers...
Jesus, Klein, what are you, three years old? "MOM! GREENWALD SAID MEAN THINGS ABOUT JEFFREY!"
Get a grip, dude.
Quite a fan club you have here, Joe. They seem to understand you quite well.
I've got a suggestion for you. Those old media smear techniques you employ here don't work so well on the internet, because Glenn's column is only a click or two away and we can read it for ourselves. So it's no longer enough to call him an America-hating lefty and then lie about what he said. That might have worked for you in the past, but now it just makes you look not only dishonest, but stupid.
You are either unbelievably stupid or purposefully ignoring the obvious meaning of what Greenwald wrote. The fact that a segment of an invaded population welcomes the invasion is not evidence of the invasion's merit. Incredibly simple. Just like you.
I'm sure you have neither the time nor the reading comprehension expertise to get to the bottom of what Greenwald wrote. You saw the word "Nazi" in a column he wrote and in your eager stupidity thought you had an opportunity to scalp someone that has publicly embarrassed you God only knows how many times.
Greenwald's column is smarter, better researched, more meticulous, more relevant and most of all shows a much greater understanding of and respect for the rule of law. You are an irrelevant, unprincipled, confused old man. Go back to your vacation and stay there.
Joe, sounds like you are nursing an anger that has pushed you over the edge. Did Glenn knock you down and take your lunch money one too many times? Your primary colors are showing.
And, as for these quotes:
"used the opportunity to launch another of his litigious, ambulance-chasing foray"
"He can't plead ignorance, can't get away with a litigator's trick"
You're right. Glenn is one of the most qualified legal minds in American journalism, has practiced law at the nation's most prestigious firm, and has likely forgotten more about law than you'll ever know. Hence the Rovian mode of attacking his strength?
On the merits of whether Goldberg is mendacious or merely incompetent, I think you've already had several of your hats handed to you by previous commenters.
As to the third-grade level "neener neener" quality of this post: carry on; it's your tattered reputation, not mine.
And yeah, the sample comments above? Those are all just from the first page of comments. The comments go on like that for quite a few pages.

So to recap: Goldberg, whose propaganda helped the Bush administration launch an illegal war and who got just about every fact wrong while playing journalistic stenographer, feels he is perfectly within his rights to upload a post gloating about the firing of Dave Weigel, whom Goldberg basically calls a hack because Weigel, in Goldberg's estimation, fails to live up to the Journalistic Gold Standard exemplified by people like himself and Jokeline; but when Greenwald calls Goldberg out on this, and backs up his accusations with facts, both Goldberg and Klein cry foul and accuse Greenwald of being somehow beyond the pale.

Got that? That's the state of Corporate "Journalism" in this country these days.

Reading Greenwald is my palliative, my antidote for that attitude.
I should mention here that the reason I find Greenwald to be just the tonic for a disillusioned political soul is not so much because he goes after the previous (Bush) administration for their myriad sins; but because he also goes after the present administration — the Obama administration — and their acolytes for their many misdeeds, which, frankly, rival those of the Bush administration.

Those of us who opposed, e.g., Bush's suspension of habeas corpus didn't do so merely because we thought Bush didn't have that authority and had no right to claim he did; we opposed it because we thought no president had that authority and that any president who claimed he did should be fiercely resisted. Few other than Greenwald have pointed out that Obama has continued this Bush era atrocity and expanded it. Many who support Obama seem to believe O, if my guy does it, it's okay. They, like Obama himself, lack any discernible principles.

I have little time or sympathy for people who try to sell their warped political ideologies as ethical or moral stances. Their Aren't these terrorists horrible, morally bankrupt people? laments seem false and meretricious.

Which terrorists are we talking about? Because the bare minimum that any system of beliefs that wants to call itself ethical has to meet is one of universality: If it is wrong for you to kill innocent people, then it must also be wrong for me to do so. If my stance is it is wrong of you (or those you agree with politically) to do that but okay for me (or those I agree with politically) to do that, then what I have is an authoritarian political ideology (and a pretty odious one), not an ethical or moral belief system. I have absolutely no moral basis upon which to condemn someone else's odious behavior because I have made it clear that I have no problem when I or people I like commit those acts.

And so all of those people who worked themselves into high dudgeon and used morally charged language to condemn Bush and Cheney when they decided it was okay for "our side" to use torture, renditions, kidnapping, disappearances, illegal detention, etc. ... and who now give Obama a pass when he has adopted and, in many cases, expanded those very same tactics ... I have no patience for them. They are moral cowards, hypocrites and, in my view, are just as bad as the Bushites— possibly worse.

Greenwald doesn't merely point out and condemn Obama's adopting some of the worst policies of the Bush era — he also exposes how the Obama administration has gone beyond those policies. Even Bush didn't claim he had the right to assassinate American citizens — but Obama has claimed that right. The man who campaigned on restoring the rule of laws says he has the right to order outright murders.

Browse through the recent archives of Greenwald's blog and you'll find he's written plenty on the sins of the current administration. And we should all be glad he is, because Jokeline isn't; Goldberg isn't; the Democrats aren't protesting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan now that Obama is running them. The Democrats are trying to restore habeas corpus now that it's their guy who is locking people away without charge and fighting tooth-and-nail in the courts to be able to continue to do so.

And since the corporate media take their cues from the two major parties, they aren't talking much about these things either.

Greenwald is not nearly as fluid a writer as Chomsky — he tends to repeat himself and can occasionally become a bit overly impassioned — but he has the same fierce integrity and willingness to risk saying what needs to be said even if it opens him up to attack4.

In short, Greenwald is loyal to principle, not party or personality. That's rare and, to my mind, not just necessary, but comforting.
1 It is worth quoting extensively from the 2006 Ken Silverstein-authored Harper's Magazine article, "Goldberg's War", that Greenwald links to in his post to see just how aggressively wrong and irresponsible Village Expert Goldberg was:
Goldberg and his friends predicted that events would unfold smoothly in Iraq ... .
Prior to the American-led invasion of Iraq, Goldberg wrote two lengthy articles in the New Yorker which argued that there were extensive ties between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Much of what he wrote in a mammoth March 2002 story was based on the testimony of Mohammed Mansour Shahab, a prisoner in a Kurdish-controlled town in northern Iraq. Jason Burke of the London Observer later demolished Goldberg's story when he spoke to the same prisoner and found that he couldn't even describe the city of Kandahar, where Shahab had claimed that he'd traveled on Al Qaeda-related business. “Shahab is a liar,” Burke concluded. “[S]ubstantial chunks of his story simply are not true.” Goldberg also peddled the Iraq–Al Qaeda connection during a February 2003 interview on All Things Considered, delivering the grim news that Saddam's agents had some years earlier helped Al Qaeda “in the teaching of the use of poison gas.”
Goldberg's hysteria peaked when it came to his claims regarding Saddam's “weaponization” of a biological agent called aflatoxin. Aflatoxin, he wrote on October 3, 2002 in Slate, “does only one thing well: It causes liver cancer. In fact, it induces it particularly well in children.” (In this same Slate item Goldberg attacked Slate contributors who opposed the war, saying the critics had “limited experience in the Middle East” and that this led them to “reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected.”) Within an hour of President Bush signing a congressional resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq, Goldberg was on CNN and again claimed that Saddam had “weaponized aflatoxin, which is a weapon that has no military value. Its only value is to cause liver cancer, primarily in children.”
Saddam, to state the obvious, was indeed an evil man, and any experimenting his regime was doing with aflatoxin would have been cause for concern. But the September 2004 report from Charles Duelfer, the Bush Administration's chief weapons inspector in Iraq, stated that Iraqi scientists conducted experiments with aflatoxin, possibly as a means to “eliminate or debilitate the Regime's opponents,” but concluded that there was “no evidence to link these tests with the development of BW [biological weapons] agents for military use.”

Whatever Saddam's regime intended to do with aflatoxin—and Duelfer's report reached no conclusion on that subject—it did not involve wholesale tot-slaughter. But it seems to me that Goldberg was out to prove that Saddam was singularly evil—a man who would kill kids with cancer, no doubt cackling with glee as he watched them expire—because the American public might be less willing to support war if he was merely an evil dictator, which are a dime a dozen.

What's truly astonishing is that neither the New Yorker nor Goldberg have ever been held accountable for the egregious propaganda that was published prior to the invasion.
The New Yorker has published investigative reporting, particularly that of Seymour Hersh and Jane Mayer, that has exposed the war as both a tactical and moral failure. But Goldberg himself has never, as far as I can tell, acknowledged that he may have been mistaken in some of his earlier assessments, or questioned his own reporting. Back in late 2003, at a panel discussion hosted by the New School for Social Research, the topic of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction came up. “Did the CIA simply mess up?” Goldberg asked Paul Wolfowitz. “Did I?” is the question he should have asked.
This is the "journalistic" record of accuracy of the man who blithely accuses others of not being sufficiently "toilet-trained"to be allowed into the Village's Journalistic Stenographers Club. It simply does not occur to Goldberg that, before he makes such judgments, he should at the very least clean the shit off of himself.

2 Friedman is beyond a joke. Duncan Black, at the blog Eschaton, came up with the concept of The Friedman Unit:
The term is in reference to a May 16, 2006 article by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) detailing journalist Thomas Friedman's repeated use [...] of "the next six months" as the period in which, according to Friedman, "we're going to find out...whether a decent outcome is possible" in the Iraq War. As documented by FAIR, Friedman had been making such six-month predictions for a period of two and a half years, on at least fourteen different occasions, starting with a column in the November 30, 2003 edition of The New York Times, in which he stated: "The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in U.S. foreign policy in a long, long time."
Friedman is yet another hawk who propagandized in favor of this criminal war and has, like the other Corporate Stenographers, practically never been right and, not coincidentally, never been called to account for his role in this travesty. He is still gainfully employed at the "liberal" New York Times and still appears as an "expert" pundit on any talking heads show that will have him on.

And they all still do.

3 Jokeline was evidently on vacation when Greenwald's post about Goldberg hit the blogosphere, and so Klein titled his mendaciously disingenuous response to/attack on Greenwald "Vacation Interruptus". It is truly amusing to see how many commenters on Jokeline's post came up with a variant on "If this dishonest tripe is what you intend to publish when you come back, why don't just stay on vacation?"
More sympathetic voices expressed a hope that Jokeline's response had been published from the bar of the hotel he was vacationing at because they hoped they could attributes its twisting of Greenwald's argument to alcohol rather than  dishonesty.

My point is that even Jokeline's own followers found his deliberate misreading of Greenwald's argument to be inexcusable and manifestly dishonest.

4 Chomsky has learned, over the years, pretty much to ignore his critics' more extreme attacks because they tend to be so over-the-top and dishonest that there is little point in responding. Greenwald still tends to respond, but his responses are pretty instructive, too: They usually include a "See what I mean about the dishonesty of these people?" aspect. And it really is true that Greenwald's critics always do use the very same dishonest tactics he says they use and it's always interesting to see him point that out. His critics kind of make his point for him.


  1. Holy shit, I can't figure out if I'm smarter or dumber for reading this... As a 11:00 news watcher in Kanada, I just feel like taking a nap now.

  2. I don't pretend to fully understand the political arena nor the recent or past history of my own government, but here are my two, possibly pollyanna and juvenile, cents that somewhat relate to at least part of your point in this post.

    I believe that it is wrong to kill people. That is not to say that if my [insert loved one] was murdered/maimed/tortured I would not want to kill, or have killed the person that did that to [said loved one]. That is the nature of the Id. But if it is wrong to kill people, then it is wrong to kill people, regardless of the reason. In the instance of self defense and killing someone, is it less wrong? Again, in my opinion, no, it is not less wrong, but in that case or in the case of protecting a loved one, I guess I am personally willing to be selfish and wrong.

    The individual has desires that drive their choices that are 100% based on self satisfaction (which is why I also believe there is no such thing as altruism, but that is another colossal comment for another time...) but that does not mean what means my desires is what is best for all humanity. That is where a governing body for communities of people that coexist comes in.

    The purpose of government, in my opinion, is to eliminate the power of a human's innate selfishness in creating order for groups of humans to coexist. Therefore, if it is believed by people to be wrong to kill other people, then I believe it is wrong for a government to sanction, order, or support by apathy the killing of people. I won't even put a qualifier like "innocent" on it.

    A government is supposed to work on the principle of what is fair and best for all people that are ruled, sorry "governed" (we Americans hate words like "ruled") by it. Thereby creating a group conscience of sorts. Of course, a utopic land where the needs and desires of all community members are met is impossible, but is in essence like the mathematical limit of government.

    So to sum up, both Republicans and Democrats (and any other single political ideology) are fucktards and what passes for journalism is (and always has been) truly governed by what will sell more Michelob Light and iPad advertising time.

    The way that we approach our limit is to not allow our wagon to be hitched one horse and blindly pulled along.

  3. What RBR wrote actually proves that I am dumber now... I think I always knew it, it's just good to know. I can go in life with much lower expectations of myself now!

  4. One last thing, (I know you are thinking, what could I have possibly left out of that monumental comment above?) we may have a new RBR favorite...


    I am not sure it can replace 'churlish', but it is a really cool one.

  5. This is a comment on a comment on a comment on a comment at this point - time for me to try and have an original thought.

  6. I tend to fall into the defending Obama camp most of the time, although I probably shouldn't. You're right. He's done a lot of things I don't agree with. In my defense, most of the political conversation in my parts involve saying ignorant hateful things about the things he's done that I do agree with and often involve the n word, so I feel a little overprotective. I think that the dems are just so happy that Bush isn't in power that they overlook these things. I'm glad that people are watching out and criticizing him appropriately though instead of the Fox News way. I'll have to start reading Greenwald to keep up. The sunday morning shows have been lacking and I just can't bring myself to watch cspan.