NEW YORK -- For years, Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald has argued that journalists in Washington often seem too cozy with the political figures they’re supposed to hold accountable and too quick to amplify the government’s perspective on national security.
"Meet the Press" host David Gregory’s suggestion Sunday that Greenwald “aided and abetted” NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, his source for a series of bombshell stories, only seemed to validate that viewpoint.
“At some level, I feel like it's Christmas and I’ve been given the greatest, best gift that I could wish for,” Greenwald told HuffPost Monday by phone from Rio de Janeiro. “My critique of the D.C. media has long been that instead of being adversaries to government power -- to the government and political power -- they’re servants to it and mouthpieces for it.”
Greenwald said that Gregory was doing the work of the Justice Department by putting "together a theory in public about why I, as a journalist, should be prosecuted," along with or "call[ing] into question that I’m a journalist at all." That interview, he said, exemplified the "critique that they’re so in bed with the circles of political power over which they’re supposed to acting as watchdogs -- that they really have become nothing more than just appendages."
Gregory could have asked Greenwald to respond to criticism from Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who has said The Guardian columnist should be prosecuted. But Gregory didn't cite critics, thereby seeming to endorse the idea that Greenwald's actions may be criminal.
"To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?" Gregory asked.
Such phrasing comes amid the Obama administration's unprecedented crackdown on leaks and follows McClatchy's blockbuster Thursday report revealing how government "leaks to the media are equated with espionage." Gregory's use of "aided and abetted" also echoed wording in a Department of Justice warrant for accessing Fox News reporter James Rosen’s email account, a move that was widely condemned by members of the media and seen as criminalizing journalism itself.
Later on "Meet the Press," Gregory said he was only asking a question and "not actually embracing any particular point of view." That clarification, however, didn't satisfy numerous critics since Sunday's broadcast.
Gregory, through a spokeswoman, declined to speak to The Huffington Post.
During Sunday's broadcast, Greenwald expressed surprise that “anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.” Gregory responded that the "question of who's a journalist may be up to a debate with regard to what you're doing.”
That debate quickly spilled onto Twitter. John Harwood, a correspondent for The New York Times and CNBC, told this reporter Sunday that Greenwald seems more like an “activist” and perhaps similar to Grover Norquist, an anti-tax crusader who pens occasional op-eds.
Greenwald is not an objective reporter and wouldn't claim to be one. But unlike Norquist, he works for a news organization. A former constitutional lawyer, Greenwald writes opinion columns and blog posts for The Guardian, and previously, Salon. Similar to columnists who express opinions -- whether for foreign intervention, raising taxes or which way Congress should vote on a specific issue -- Greenwald may advocate positions, most notably concerning civil liberties.
Some columnists, like the late Robert Novak, combine original reporting with opinion. With regards to the NSA stories, Greenwald has done original reporting. After obtaining documents from Snowden, Greenwald –- along with several Guardian journalists –- have reported on them and produced several major scoops on the extent of U.S. surveillance.
While Greenwald came to the media world with an activist background, his recent actions concerning the NSA coverage –- reporting, expressing a point of view, maintaining a source relationship –- would fall under journalism.
In a Monday post, NYU professor Jay Rosen wrote that Gregory had tried to bully Greenwald "out of the journalism club." Rosen pointed out that The Guardian has appeared to “have handled their source in a way that is fundamentally similar to the Washington Post’s handling of Snowden,” a reference to Barton Gellman’s reporting on documents provided by Snowden.
“And on ‘activity protected by the First Amendment’ grounds, I see no difference between Greenwald’s Snowden-derived journalism and Gellman’s Snowden-derived journalism,” Rosen continued. “David Gregory didn’t present any evidence for such a difference. In fact he said nothing about Gellman and the Post ‘aiding and abetting.’ Why?”
Greenwald said he had no objection to being asked about whether he should be arrested, given that some political and media figures have suggested it. The problem, Greenwald said, is that Gregory seemed to endorse the idea himself, and “embedded into his question this completely baseless, reckless assumption that I had aided and abetted him.”
“It’s like saying, to the extent that you molested children, should you be arrested as a pedophile?” he continued. “It assumes that I’ve done something that he has no evidence to suggest I’ve actually done. It’s an accusatory question. It’s not just a question; it’s an accusation.”
Greenwald said that his being outside the “D.C.-New York media axis,” and having criticized a number of top journalists over the years, contributes to why some high-profile journalists are questioning his NSA coverage.
“[I] just don’t accept or abide by the conventions and pieties that govern how they think journalists should behave,” Greenwald said. “I don’t pretend that I have no opinions. I don’t pretend that I want to be a part of what it is they’re doing or have respect for it. I don’t. I think that actually establishment media circles have been pretty corrupted. It isn’t just that I’m expressing opinions, but it's specifically the kind of opinions I’m expressing have placed me outside their incestuous circle.”
Greenwald said that his convention-breaking, combined with breaking “some of the biggest and most important national security scoops of the last several years,” has led to this “very deeply felt, personalized anger.”
“Bart Gellman has opinions,” he said. “He’s expressed opinions about surveillance. He’s reported some of the same stories and yet there’s none of the same hostility toward him.”