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The Perfect Epitaph For Establishment Journalism

By       Message Glenn Greenwald     Permalink

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"If MI5 warns that this is not in the public interest who am I to disbelieve them?" says the former editor of The Independent

Top secret stamp
Some journalists view this as an inviolable decree that may not be questioned or defied Photograph: Alamy

Like many people, I've spent years writing and speaking about the lethal power-subservient pathologies plaguing establishment journalism in the west. But this morning, I feel a bit like all of that was wasted time and energy, because this new column by career British journalist Chris Blackhurst -- an executive with and, until a few months ago, the editor of the UK daily calling itself "The Independent" -- contains a headline that says everything that needs to be said about the sickly state of establishment journalism:

independent

In other words, if the government tells me I shouldn't publish something, who am I as a journalist to disobey? Put that on the tombstone of western establishment journalism. It perfectly encapsulates the death spiral of large journalistic outlets.

Lest you think that the headline does not fairly represent the content of the column, Blackhurst, in explaining why he would never have allowed his newspaper to publish any of the documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, actually wrote:

"If the security services insist something is contrary to the public interest, and might harm their operations, who am I (despite my grounding from Watergate onwards) to disbelieve them?"

Most people, let alone journalists, would be far too embarrassed to admit they harbor such subservient, obsequious sentiments. It's one thing to accord some deference or presumption of good will to political officials, but the desire to demonstrate some minimal human dignity, by itself, would preclude most people from publicly confessing that they have willingly sacrificed all of their independent judgment and autonomy to the superior, secret decrees of those who wield the greatest power. 

Chris Blackhurst has obviously liberated himself from these inhibitions, though not entirely, as he infuses insincere caveats like this into his paean to the virtues of obedience: "I'm cynical about officialdom, having seen too many cover-ups and appalling injustices carried out in our name." One would think that most journalists (particularly those who edit a newspaper called "The Independent") would want to maintain at least a pretense of independent thought and thus refrain from acknowledging such cringe-inducing things about themselves.

Still, what Blackhurst is revealing here is indeed a predominant mindset among many in the media class. Journalists should not disobey the dictates of those in power. Once national security state officials decree that what they are doing should be kept concealed from the public -- once they pound their mighty "SECRET" stamp onto their behavior -- it is the supreme duty of all citizens, including journalists, to honor that and never utter in public what they have done. Indeed, it is not only morally wrong, but criminal, to defy these dictates. After all, "who am I to disbelieve them?"

Please go to The Guardian to read the rest of this article.

 

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Glenn Greenwald is one of three co-founding editors of The Intercept. He is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. His most recent book, No Place (more...)
 

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