Saturday, March 3, 2018

Risen v. Greenwald

Just watched New York Times reporter, and more recently columnist, Jim Risen debate one of my heroes, Glenn Greenwald. If you’ve got the time, have a listen. And if you don’t have the time, try to find it. It will restore your faith in the ability of Americans to address the flood of nonsense we’re up to our waist in these days. It’s only an hour long.

Glenn Greenwald, Jim Risen
Their issue, in a nutshell, is this. Risen’s perception of Greenwald, shared by most people on the left, I would guess, is that there is a gap between what he wants to communicate and how he is understood. Specifically, he is becoming a darling of the right because he is maintaining that the evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians simply isn’t there. Greenwald’s perception of Risen is that while his heart may be in the right place by worrying aloud that the country is in danger from the right wing, he is making a mistake in the long run by not insisting, as a journalist, that opinions and beliefs, no matter how broadly shared, are not the stuff of good journalism. Information based on evidence is.

It’s perhaps a bit too overly simple to say this, but it is as if Risen writes from the heart, Greenwald from the head, and whichever of the two you find yourself siding with will reveal your own preference for head over heart or vice versa. The two men agreed, kind of, with Risen’s view that his primary goal in writing is the journalistic one - to reveal a good story. A true story, to be sure, but a good story. And Greenwald’s primary goal is an activist one – to achieve political ends. Greenwald suggests it’s not that simple, that he too is a journalist interested in getting at the truth of things.

The moderator of the debate between these two good men is Jeremy Scahill, who dropped out of college to work with the homeless. He later went on to become a senior producer of Democracy Now. Most recently, he founded The Intercept with Glenn Greenwald, which has produced this debate. What the two men are getting at is what serves us better in the long run - the practical advantage of getting the dirt out to the masses quickly so they can act on it, or the ethical one of holding off until you are certain you are getting it right.

If you’re not current on Glenn Greenwald, here’s a summary of this complex man reduced to one paragraph.

And here’s one for Jim Risen, including his highs (Pulitzer Prize?) and his lows (NY Times getting sued for getting the Wen Ho Lee story wrong – the Chinese computer scientist they thought had stolen nuclear secrets for China – but couldn’t prove).  The Wen Ho Lee debacle would seem to make Greenwald's point that you don't publish until you've got the goods.

What you have here are three of the more articulate voices of the left debating the best way to conduct the Resistance. In my view, something to watch closely.

Here's the link again.

photo credit - from The Intercept podcast site - which, if you're interested, also contains a transcript  and a podcast of an extended version of the debate in question.

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