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Since journalist Glenn Greenwald revealed the existence of the National Security Agency's PRISM domestic surveillance program, he and his source, the whistleblower Edward Snowden, have come in for a series of ugly attacks. On June 26, the day that the New York Daily News published a straightforward smear piece on Greenwald, the website Buzzfeed rolled out a remarkably similar article, a lengthy profile that focused on Greenwald's personal life and supposed eccentricities.
Both outlets attempted to make hay out of Greenwald's involvement over a decade ago on the business end of a porn distribution company, an arcane detail that had little, if any, bearing on the domestic spying scandal he sparked. The coordinated nature of the smears prompted Reuters media columnist Jack Shafer to ask if an opposition research firm was behind them. "I wonder who commissioned the file," he mused on Twitter.
A day before the Greenwald attacks appeared, Buzzfeed published an anonymously sourced story about the government of Ecuador, which had reportedly offered asylum to Snowden (Ecuador has just revoked a temporary travel document issued to Snowden). Written by Rosie Gray and Adrian Carasquillo, the article relied on documents marked as "secret" that were passed to Buzzfeed by sources described as "activists who wished to call attention to the [Ecuadorian] government's spying practices in the context of its new international role" as the possible future sanctuary of Snowden.
Gray and Carasquillo reported that Ecuador's intelligence service had attempted to procure surveillance technology from two Israeli firms. Without firm proof that the system was ever put into use, the authors claimed the documents "suggest a commitment to domestic surveillance that rivals the practices by the United States' National Security Agency." (Buzzfeed has never published a critical report on the $3 billion in aid the US provides to Israel each year, which is used to buy equipment explicitly designed for repressing, spying on and killing occupied Palestinians).
Buzzfeed's Ecuador expose supported a theme increasingly advanced by Snowden's critics -- that the hero of civil libertarians and government transparency activists was, in fact, a self-interested hypocrite content to seek sanctuary from undemocratic regimes. Curiously, those who seized on the story had no problem with Buzzfeed's reporters relying on leaked government documents marked as classified. For some Snowden detractors, the issue was apparently not his leaking, but which government his leaks embarrassed.
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