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September 18, 2013

Glenn Greenwald and the Failures of Mainstream Journalism

By Cyril Mychalejko

The real danger facing the nation is the continuing sheepish and uncritical reporting by many mainstream "professional" journalists and journalism educators and their delusions of grandeur and self-righteousness. Journalism students across the country should learn from journalists like Glenn Greenwald-journalists who unapologetically and tirelessly challenge those in power and the status quo.

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Immediately after Glenn Greenwald published his first story in The Guardian about the NSA's massive spying and data mining programs targeting US citizens many mainstream journalists attacked Greenwald.

For example, David Gregory, host of NBC's Meet the Press and Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial columnist for The New York Times and commentator for CNBC, both suggested that the Guardian journalist should possibly face prison (so much for journalists defending freedom of the press).

In a Philadelphia suburb, the head of the journalism department at Bucks County Community College (BCCC) recently entered the fray. Tony Rogers, who has more than 25 years of experience reporting and editing for mainstream newspapers and wires services, recently offered his take on Greenwald on his journalism blog at www.journalism.about.com (Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and the Dangers of Activist Journalism 08/02/13).

First, Rogers starts off the column with a question that he heard a caller ask Greenwald during a radio interview with WNYC: "If terrorists use the Internet to plan their attacks, doesn't the government need to monitor the web in order to thwart such attacks?"

However, Greenwald's criticisms of the program aren't about the use of the internet, but rather about the government's decision to spy on US citizens and the glaring lack of oversight and accountability. Rogers then zeroes in on Greenwald's response to the caller, when Greenwald talking about surveillance from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism noted that despite past constraints "we were able to defend ourselves perfectly fine." Rogers was indignant that Greenwald overlooked the attacks on 9/11, something he called an "astonishing oversight," and posed the question, "Were we able to defend ourselves then?".

However, one major attack on US soil by foreign terrorists over the last 60 years should be considered successful defense. Furthermore, we actually did have intelligence prior to the attacks ("Two Months Before 9/11, an Urgent Warning to Rice", The Washington Post 10/01/06) that if it had been taken seriously by the Bush Administration and acted on we possibly could have defended ourselves.

Rogers later in his article then unfairly suggests that Greenwald doesn't think that the 9/11 attacks were important. He uses a quote from Greeenwald about 9/11 where he notes that the attacks were "very minimal in scope compared to the level of violence that we (the U.S.) bring to the world and have been bringing to the world for decades..."

Greenwald's point is accurate. If you just use the unnecessary Iraq war as an example, more than 1 million Iraqis have been killed--about 333 times more people killed than on 9/11. However, Greenwald pointing out this disparity is not the same as not caring about or believing that the September 11 attacks were tragic.

Rogers also questions Greenwald's ability as an "activist journalist" to self-critique. According to Rogers, "reporters...should at least periodically question their own assumptions, especially those that involve the beats they cover. On the other hand, activists - by definition people whose strong convictions drive them to action - aren't known for this kind of introspection." Rogers must not know any activists because most activists whom I know throughout the hemisphere through my work as an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org and through my own activism are very self-critical--not only about beliefs and politics, but also about the processes they use and practice within their organizations and communities.

On the other hand, the same can't be said about mainstream journalists. The 10 th anniversary of the war in Iraq serves as a perfect example. The Washington Post used the anniversary to kill a commissioned piece by Greg Mitchell, former editor of Editor & Publisher, which was very critical of the media's coverage of the the war, instead deciding to publish a fluff piece by staff writer Paul Farhi which argued the media "didn't fail".

Finally, Rogers attempts to disparage Greenwald by asserting that his reporting on the NSA is a "crusade." Maybe if his colleagues in the mainstream press had reported with a similar tenacity and relentless skepticism of those in power the war in Iraq could have been prevented, a war Rogers himself coincidentally supported.

The real danger facing the nation is the continuing sheepish and uncritical reporting by many mainstream "professional" journalists and their delusions of grandeur and self-righteousness. Journalism students at Bucks County Community College and across the country should learn from journalists like Glenn Greenwald - journalists who unapologetically and tirelessly challenge those in power and the status quo.

Submitters Bio:

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at www.UpsideDownWorld.org, an online magazine covering politics and activism in Latin America.

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