I've been reading Salon's Glenn Greenwald about as long as I've been intently following news and politics commentary on the web, and over the last three plus years, I've become quite a fan of his writing. While not always entirely agreeing with his stance on certain issues, it's tough to argue against his credibility and journalistic ethics, a couple of traits sometimes in short supply these days. However, all of that changed yesterday afternoon when Greenwald posted his third piece on the squashed feud between Keith Olbermann and Bill O'Reilly that had been orchestrated by higher-ups from the parent company of each's network, GE and NewsCorp, respectively. (I guess this is also where I mention that, while I find his shtick to be sometimes tiresome, I watch Olbermann's show a lot.)
Because of the Olbermann-O'Reilly feud-getting-squashed story, I've lost all my respect for Glenn Greenwald. Instead of being a man of ethics and truth, he has shown himself to be a truly petty person, interested only in his own standing and his own stake. Whereas he was once someone I truly respected, especially in disagreement, some of his actions and responses over the last three days have made me question his journalistic integrity and his moral make up. Instead of sticking to the truth of the story, and the pursuit of that truth, Greenwald has chosen to put his personal interests at the forefront and make his reputation the most important thing, to the detriment of not just his integrity, but the truth as well.
If you haven't been following the story, here's a quick recap: on Saturday in the New York Times, reporter Brian Stetler wrote about a deal struck between Jeffrey Immelt and Rupert Murdoch to squash the very public skewering of each other that Olbermann and O'Reilly (had) regularly engaged in. Stelter quoted Olbermann as denying the existence of such a deal, ran the story, and Greenwald picked it up and used it for the basis of a post of his own later that day; he also used the same post to point out some possible conflicts of interest exhibited by Countdown regular Richard Wolffe. Greenwald posted a second column on the subject on Monday, this one specifically about GE protecting its business interests through manipulation of the news. (I guess NewsCorp's manipulations are so self-evident they don't require additional explanation.)
On Monday's edition of Countdown, Olbermann named Stetler the third worst person in the world, while taking the opportunity to deride him for running the story even though Olbermann had denied that there was a deal, although what Olbermann said was "I am party to no deal" which doesn't mean there isn't one at all, and making it awfully clear that he felt Stetler to be unethical. Olbermann noted his own denial (twice) and then said, "he printed it anyway," in that tone he uses for when things are totally flabbergasting, and stuck to his original rationale for "retiring" the "caricature" and "Ted Baxter voice" attributed to O'Reilly for the sake of "quarantining" him and Fox News after the murder of George Tiller. Olbermann then went on to call out O'Reilly and Murdoch and use as proof (this time) for the two of them being the worst and runner-up worst persons in the world evidence of news tampering taken from Stetler's article, calling it "shameful" and that "this is the essence of corporate interference in the marketplace of ideas" and noting Murdoch "could never get away with that here." Something seems a little off here already; Olbermann can't believe the article was published, but what's in it (if not about him) is worth quoting while at the same time he makes sure to note that he just proved the article wrong by reinserting both O'Reilly and Murdoch into his show.
Greenwald, in his post on Tuesday, noted that he had been "inundated by email, in comments, and elsewhere with suggestions that what I wrote was false." He obviously does not agree with that sentiment, and offers that Olbermann agrees with him. Greenwald quotes Olbermann from a statement seemingly sent directly to Greenwald, and also about him (note the third person usage), thusly:
I honor Mr. Greenwald's insight into the coverage of GE/NewsCorp talks, and have found nothing materially factually inaccurate about it. Fox and NewsCorp have continued a strategy of threat and blackmail by Rupert Murdoch, Roger Ailes, and Bill O'Reilly since at least 2004. But no matter what might have been reported by others besides Mr. Greenwald, and no matter what might have been thought around this industry, there's no "deal." I would never consent, and, fortunately, MSNBC and NBC News would never ask me to.
The emphasis there was added by Greenwald, he likes to do that.
Here's where things start to get sticky. If what Greenwald wrote had nothing "factually innaccurate about it," then obviously Olbermann has contradicted himself, though you won't hear that from Greenwald. Also, one wonders why Stetler got such a raw deal. It should be noted that, in his Saturday post, Greenwald, while also writing generally about corporate tampering in news, totally backs up Stetler's claim that Olbermann's choice to stop harping on O'Reilly was mandated by his bosses:
Though Olbermann denies he was part of any deal, the NYT says that there has been virtually no criticism of Fox by Olbermman, or MSNBC by O'Reilly, since June 1 when the deal took effect. That's mostly but not entirely true...
But a review of all of Olbermann's post-June 1 shows does reveal that he has not ever criticized (or even mentioned) Bill O'Reilly since then and barely ever mentions Fox News any longer. And on June 1 -- the last time Olbermann mentioned O'Reilly -- Olbermann claimed at the end of his broadcast that he would cease referring to O'Reilly in the future because ignoring him (and "quarantining" Fox) would supposedly help get O'Reilly off the air ("So as of this show‘s end, I will retire the name, the photograph, and the caricature").
So here we have yet another example -- perhaps the most glaring yet -- of the corporations that own our largest media outlets controlling and censoring the content of their news organizations based on the unrelated interests of the parent corporation.
It seems pretty clear that Greenwald is echoing what Stetler wrote, while conveniently getting let off any potential hooks by Olbermann. Here's where I get stuck. If Greenwald is so interested in the truth of the matter, why didn't he ask Olbermann what made his columns so different from Stetler's such that Stetler was required to be derided on a national television news show and Greenwald gets liberal media's resident cool kid to back him up? Why does he not hold Olbermann's feet to the fire about the apparent hypocrisy in his claims on the issue? How can Stetler be the worst person in the world while Greenwald, who wrote the exact same thing, basks in the affirmation of Olbermann and "appreciate[s] that Olbermann is now confirming that nothing I wrote about this matter was inaccurate." There's something wrong here.
Is it possible that all Greenwald needed was the ability to say, essentially, "I told you so" to all the people who "inundated" him with calls for him to recant what he wrote? That's what it seems like to me. There's something incredibly prideful in all of this, especially the way Greenwald responded to some critics in the comments section of his piece, wherein he wrote many self-defenses of a piece that he theoretically should have believed would be strong enough to stand on its own but obviously didn't. To one frequent critical commenter, Greenwald restated the "nothing factually inaccurate" quote and then wrote, "try closing your eyes and clicking your ruby slippers three times -- it will still be there," an incredibly condescending and arrogant remark, in my opinion. It seems obvious that Greenwald is particularly insecure about this issue, or maybe he's a rabid dog on the topic. That particular column on Tuesday required a myriad of similarly derisive responses in the comments section from Greenwald.
There's something deeply saddening here. Instead of sticking up for the reporter whose work he has based his material on (in large part) or keeping a close eye on what really is going on, Greenwald has diverted his attention to his own vindication. He's put his personal interests far out in front of the story and has clearly chosen to make sure he comes out of this situation looking like the winner. Once Olbermann backed him up, he let go of Olbermann's obviously contradictory statements. Once there was a line drawn between what Greenwald did and what Stetler did, Greenwald never stopped to wonder about the legitimacy of that line. Just as Olbermann lets Greenwald off the hook, Greenwald does the same for Olbermann. By referencing the "logical point" Olbermann makes between agreeing to the deal and having it mandated to him, Greenwald lets Olbermann get away with still substantially changing the content of his show, and never asks him to explain the lie that he maintains it was his own choice based on the Tiller murder.
As well, Greenwald then goes on to praise Olbermann for removing Wolffe from the show, as result of Greenwald's reporting, and doesn't bother to wonder how it is possible that Olbermann wouldn't have known about Wolffe's other jobs. Greenwald blithely accepts Olbermann's "caught flat-footed" (see below) explanation without a moment's pause, and maybe that's because Olbermann had been kind enough to complement Greenwald so now no one is gonna fire any shots at anyone. He also randomly doesn't question Olbermann's excuse of "dealing with other things" for the "last two months" even though Greenwald himself reported that Wolffe took his new job in mid-April, meaning Olbermann must have been busy for the last four months, and if there's ever been a more cliched bullshit politician-esque non-excuse I've never heard it. This is exactly the sort of thing Greenwald used to not tolerate. And, are we really supposed to believe that Olbermann didn't know about Wolffe's new job? How could Greenwald not even bring up the shadiness of Olbermann's response to that point?
On top of that, Greenwald doesn't blink at the inordinate weight that he is giving to Olbermann's statement to him, even though it seems a cut-and-paste job from what Olbermann wrote on the Daily Kos Monday afternoon:
As to Richard Wolffe I can offer far less insight. I honor Mr. Greenwald's insight into the coverage of GE/NewsCorp talks, and his reporting on Richard's other jobs. I must confess I was caught flat-footed. I do not know what the truth is; my executive producer and I have spent the last two months dealing with other things (see above) but what appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job.
The construction of that second sentence seems awfully familiar, doesn't it? No emphasis necessary.
Come on, Eldrick.