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Politico Magazine National Editor Snarks at Greenwald & Helps Former NSA Chief Spread Fear

Michael Hirsh (Screen shot from his appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal”)

Ever since revelations from National Security Agency documents began to be published by journalists, much has been learned about how the NSA has transformed the world into a massive surveillance state. Quite a bit has also been learned about journalism in the United States too.

A number of individuals in media have demonstrated that they detest the kind of muckraking journalism, which has earned reporters involved prestigious awards. One of those journalists happens to be a national editor for POLITICO Magazine named Michael Hirsh.

In the most recent issue of POLITICO Magazine, Hirsh uses an opportunity to highlight the impact of journalist Glenn Greenwald to instead snark at his effort to promote aggressive investigative journalism through First Look Media, his new media organization. An interview, where Hirsh provides former NSA chief Keith Alexander a platform to make his case for how “bad guys will benefit” from NSA revelations being published, is featured as well.

It is all a part of “The POLITICO 50,” which is the media organization’s effort to spotlight individuals who are committed to “changing American politics through the power of ideas.” These are people, who want to “move on” and refuse to tolerate gridlock.

Greenwald and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made the list. A fair and reasonable summary indicating they were on the list for “exposing Big Brother” was attached to their names. That would have been good enough but the media organization decided to put out another article, “Has Greenwald, Inc. Peaked?”, on how Greenwald’s “stock may be dropping fast.”

The story by Hirsh is filled with smug expressions. For example, First Look Media is “the global enterprise you might call Glenn Greenwald, Inc.” Greenwald is a “47-year-old lawyer-cum-activist,” not a journalist. And, after a less-than-sincere recap of the past year and a half, Hirsh cracks, “The rest is history. Or journalism. Or treason. Or something.”

Then, there’s this:

Asked whether it bothered him that he had helped to damage America’s brand — considering that the successor to claimant of sole superpower someday could be China or some even less freedom-loving country than the United States—Greenwald suggested that he has a higher calling than mere patriotism. “I look at the work I do and the effect it has on world, not as an American citizen,” he said.

It is quite revealing of Hirsh’s view, that one should have a corporate mindset focused on the country’s image when reporting and writing stories. Any piece of journalism exposing something that will enable criticism must be balanced against the risk of giving a rival country the upper hand.

Hirsh goes on to note Greenwald’s views on what is termed “activist journalism.” He is unable to refute the fact that future whistleblowers will go to journalists like Greenwald before others because they will have no doubts about whether his organization will be sympathetic to them. It also would seem he ran out of patronizing comments when he got to the end of his piece so he inadvertently gives Greenwald the fair treatment he deserved from the outset.

The problem is the final paragraph of his story completely blows up the entire premise of his story. The framing may influence readers’ perceptions of Greenwald, which is obviously what Hirsh wants, but he barely begins to prove that First Look Media’s “stock may be dropping fast.”

Now, in his interview with Alexander, Hirsh asks one acquiescent question after another:

“As the longest-serving NSA director, is there anything you would have done differently, looking back on it now?”

“Are the most controversial NSA programs, like the telephone metadata collection, otherwise known as Section 215, still needed in today’s world?”

“How do you counter the argument that reforms to the NSA—which the president himself says are necessary—would not have been possible without Snowden’s disclosures?”

“What do you think about the statements from Rick Ledgett, the NSA deputy director who at first said that an amnesty deal for Snowden might be considered but recently changed his mind, saying that Snowden’s cooperation was no longer as necessary?”

“Has the distraction from the Snowden disclosures and the time spent on revamping NSA programs detracted from the mission?”

Only once in the published interview does Hirsh ask a followup question and that’s when he suggests that the NSA’s phone records collection under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has not stopped 54 plots like he previously claimed.

Hirsh let Alexander invoke the case of Najibullah Zazi, who was involved in a plot to blow up New York subways. Alexander claimed PRISM, an NSA spying program used to collect the content of Internet communications, was critical to stopping Zazi because it intercepted an email. But the truth is that the FBI already had the authority to target Zazi’s emails. This scarcely justifies NSA’s vast collection of data.

Alexander told Hirsh, “I’m really concerned about the terrorists learning from what’s going on. They’re not dummies. They’re going to come after us. I believe a year from now, we’re going to be having a discussion about what more could have been done to stop whatever is coming.” And, on that fearful note, Hirsh ended his published interview.

Perhaps, this kind of state-identified journalism was to be expected from Hirsh.

When he was with the National Journal, he wrote a piece titled, “How Edward Snowden Turned Unwitting Journalists Into Activists,” in which he argued:

So the question is, what purpose does this endless and seemingly indiscriminate exposure of American national-security secrets serve? This is most definitely not the Pentagon Papers, when the Post and the New York Times exposed the truth about a war already largely gone by. This is, if not quite a war, then at least a genuine present danger to Americans — a threat that is, according to some officials, only growing more dangerous.

Hirsh linked to a piece called “The Next Bin Laden,” where he argued that opponents of the NSA are enabling future terrorist attacks by advocating that the agency’s powers be restrained. A lot of the fear pushed by Hirsh was anonymously sourced to “an intelligence expert who works on contract with the Pentagon” and was leaking information from “classified reports” to Hirsh to help him argue against Greenwald publishing more leaks from Snowden.

While that may seem hypocritical, it is not to journalists like Hirsh. Hirsh, Kurt Eichenwald, Eli Lake, Doyle McManus, etc., all believe they recognize what is best for the country to remain safe and secure and that is what sets them apart from journalists like Greenwald. Therefore, they can be trusted to handle leaked classified information in their reporting appropriately. Unlike Greenwald, they believe in the goodness of America’s national security state.

That is why someone like Hirsh responds in a way that displays a level of contempt for journalism and a lack of understanding for press freedom. Giving platforms to former spy chiefs and anonymously repeating the worst fears of so-called intelligence experts doesn’t keep the First Amendment alive. It is Greenwald’s reporting, which tests the boundaries of what Americans have the right to publish, which does—and as a result helps to preserve a freedom all Americans are supposed to enjoy.

Like Michael Kinsley’s review of Greenwald’s book, No Place to Hide, which sparked a lot of outrage, the fact that people seem to appreciate Greenwald’s journalism makes him feel insecure.

So, did anyone else featured in “The POLITICO 50” issue receive this kind of treatment? No.

But Hirsh and others at POLITICO could not risk readers having a unqualified appreciative view of Greenwald. It might threaten the kind of inside-the-Beltway access journalism they practice, particularly the kind that makes it possible to phone former officials like Keith Alexander for comment whenever they need to do so.

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Politico Magazine National Editor Snarks at Greenwald & Helps Former NSA Chief Spread Fear

Michael Hirsh (Screen shot from his appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal”)

Ever since revelations from National Security Agency documents began to be published by journalists, much has been learned about how the NSA has transformed the world into a massive surveillance state. Quite a bit has also been learned about journalism in the United States too.

A number of individuals in media have demonstrated that they detest the kind of muckraking journalism, which has earned reporters involved prestigious awards. One of those journalists happens to be a national editor for POLITICO Magazine named Michael Hirsh.

In the most recent issue of POLITICO Magazine, Hirsh uses an opportunity to highlight the impact of journalist Glenn Greenwald to instead snark at his effort to promote aggressive investigative journalism through First Look Media, his new media organization. An interview, where Hirsh provides former NSA chief Keith Alexander a platform to make his case for how “bad guys will benefit” from NSA revelations being published, is featured as well.

It is all a part of “The POLITICO 50,” which is the media organization’s effort to spotlight individuals who are committed to “changing American politics through the power of ideas.” These are people, who want to “move on” and refuse to tolerate gridlock.

Greenwald and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden made the list. A fair and reasonable summary indicating they were on the list for “exposing Big Brother” was attached to their names. That would have been good enough but the media organization decided to put out another article, “Has Greenwald, Inc. Peaked?”, on how Greenwald’s “stock may be dropping fast.”

The story by Hirsh is filled with smug expressions. For example, First Look Media is “the global enterprise you might call Glenn Greenwald, Inc.” Greenwald is a “47-year-old lawyer-cum-activist,” not a journalist. And, after a less-than-sincere recap of the past year and a half, Hirsh cracks, “The rest is history. Or journalism. Or treason. Or something.”

Then, there’s this:

Asked whether it bothered him that he had helped to damage America’s brand — considering that the successor to claimant of sole superpower someday could be China or some even less freedom-loving country than the United States—Greenwald suggested that he has a higher calling than mere patriotism. “I look at the work I do and the effect it has on world, not as an American citizen,” he said.

It is quite revealing of Hirsh’s view, that one should have a corporate mindset focused on the country’s image when reporting and writing stories. Any piece of journalism exposing something that will enable criticism must be balanced against the risk of giving a rival country the upper hand.

Hirsh goes on to note Greenwald’s views on what is termed “activist journalism.” He is unable to refute the fact that future whistleblowers will go to journalists like Greenwald before others because they will have no doubts about whether his organization will be sympathetic to them. It also would seem he ran out of patronizing comments when he got to the end of his piece so he inadvertently gives Greenwald the fair treatment he deserved from the outset.

The problem is the final paragraph of his story completely blows up the entire premise of his story. The framing may influence readers’ perceptions of Greenwald, which is obviously what Hirsh wants, but he barely begins to prove that First Look Media’s “stock may be dropping fast.”

Now, in his interview with Alexander, Hirsh asks one acquiescent question after another: (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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