The Unreliable Glenn Greenwald

Someone sent me a link to Glenn Greenwald’s latest batch of complaints about the Obama administration. Three things stood out to me.

First, there’s this:

Virtually every major newspaper account of the killing of Osama bin Laden consists of faithful copying of White House claims. That’s not surprising: it’s the White House which is in exclusive possession of the facts, but what’s also not surprising is that many of the claims that were disseminated yesterday turned out to be utterly false. And no matter how many times this happens — from Jessica Lynch’s heroic firefight against Iraqi captors to Pat Tillman’s death at the hands of Evil Al Qaeda fighters — it never changes: the narrative is set forever by first-day government falsehoods uncritically amplified by establishment media outlets, which endure no matter how definitively they are disproven in subsequent days.

To compare the bin Laden operation to the Lynch and Tillman stories is dishonest nitwittery. The scale of Lynch’s rescue was unnecessary, she herself eventually denied the Bush administration’s claims that she had resisted her captors–she was too busted up to fight back–and it wasn’t until weeks and months later that, despite no cooperation from the Bush administration, it became clear the story didn’t just contain an exaggeration or two, but that the Iraqi civilians caring for her wanted to turn her over to the military but the Bush Pentagon instead filmed the raid and used it as propaganda.  With Tillman, it again wasn’t an exaggeration or two, it was an outright lie by the Bush administration that he died a hero in combat against the Taliban. The Bush administration concealed the truth, which only came out through a Congressional investigation years later: Pat Tillman was killed by friendly fire.

Yeah, Glenn, that’s exactly like one Obama administration official exaggerating or stating as fact details that hadn’t yet been confirmed, to be followed a few hours later by Obama administration officials, with no external pressure forcing their hand, correcting those details of the story. Nothing was “disproven” or “debunked,” the incorrect details were simply retracted and corrected by the administration itself.

Second is Greenwald’s characterization of bin Laden being killed–contrary to statements made by Obama administration officials yesterday–with no gun in his hand.

Whether bin Laden actually resisted his capture may not matter to many people; the White House also claimed that they would have captured him if they had the chance, and this fact seems to negate that claim as well.

No, it doesn’t. Not having a gun in his hand does NOT mean bin Laden wasn’t resisting. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t reaching for a gun, or a grenade, or some other weapon. It does not mean he was surrendering. Of course it does not mean the shooting was justified. But unlike what Greenwald apparently wants his readers to believe, it doesn’t mean–based upon what we currently know and what Greenwald himself conveys–that the shooting wasn’t justified. With the facts we currently have, we can’t make any such conclusion.

Finally, and most revealingly since it’s at the end of a piece complaining about the media regurgitating false claims–a point on which I’m obviously in general agreement–Greenwald doesn’t regurgitate a false claim, he makes one:

Speaking of “frat boy reactions,” Leon Panetta is excitingly speculating about which actors should portray him in the movie about the Hunt for bin Laden, helpfully suggesting Al Pacino. It’s been a long time since Americans felt this good and strong about themselves — nothing like putting bullets in someone’s skull and dumping their corpse into an ocean to rejuvenate that can-do American sense of optimism.

It would be at best really tacky for Panetta to be running around idly speculating on who should portray him in a movie about OBL’s apprehension. If it were true, Greenwald would have a point. But the record suggests it’s false, and that it was Greenwald who invented the falsehood. If you follow Greenwald’s link to Politico, you’ll find nothing to support Greenwald’s claim that Panetta is “excitingly speculating” about anything:

On Monday, Panetta fielded questions from 25 congressional freshmen during a long-planned and, as it turned out, well-timed tour of CIA headquarters.

Rep. Billy Long tweeted from the tour, “Panetta ‘watching it unfold live I thought- this is like watching a Harrison Ford Movie’ when asked who should play him- he said ‘Al Pacino.’”

Long tweeted that the tour was arranged “some time ago,” adding “what a day to tour CIA Headquarters and have a Q & A with Director Leon Panetta- incredible- riveting recap of events.”

Note there’s nothing about Panetta being “excited,” and the Pacino line was in response to a question asked by someone else. rootless_e–who gets credit for tracking down this bit of deception from Greenwald–has this observation:

This is a small example, but Greenwald is a tireless and effective expert with this technique of shading and stepping to produce a deceptive but strong emotionally evocative story from sources that say something superficially similar.

I’d add two more points: First, Greenwald’s piece criticizes the media for being incredulous dupes who believe and disseminate whatever they’re told by the government. Now Greenwald can tell them they’re wrong…because he read in the media…reports of the Obama administration correcting itself.

And now that he has “set the narrative” of Panetta “excitedly speculating” in the absence of any support for his claim, will Greenwald make a correction? Or will he just let the falsehoods, as he put it, “endure no matter how definitively they are disproven in subsequent days?”

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28 Responses to The Unreliable Glenn Greenwald

  1. nhuixnhuix says:

    On the Greenwald beat, did you also notice that Gary Johnson came out forcefully against closing Gitmo?
    Which means that not only Greenwald is “interested” by someone whose record on social and economic issues stand against everything progressive but that is not even as good as Obama (who wants to close it but cannot bcoz of Congress) on one of the main civil liberties issues he obsesses about.
    Now, Glenn gave his interview before this came out but this is a reminder that, in the kindest telling, he has absolutely TERRIBLE political instincts and understanding of politics.

  2. Dana Houle says:

    I had not seen that, but it’s not surprising, and illustrates the point I made here, that thinking someone is “right” on an issue but not realizing they’re right for the wrong reason is foolish and dangerous. Gary Johnson is “right” on drugs because he hates the government doing anything. But that’s not to say he really cares about how the US treats non-citizens who are doing something other than supplying compliant low-wage labor of the type loved by the US Chamber of Commerce and the Koch Brothers.

  3. Tom Hilton says:

    I’ve seen some people float the “zealous advocate” defense, but there’s no way in hell Greenwald would be able to get away with this kind of crap in any real world court. This is strictly amateur hour.

    Maybe that’s the tragedy of Greenwald: he practiced law too long to understand any approach other than pure advocacy, and he’s been away from it too long to have any standards.

    • Dana Houle says:

      I wonder how good an attorney he really was. He went to a very good law school, and he got a job out of law school with a top NY corporate law firm that specializes in mergers and acquisitions and fighting off takeovers and shareholder activism. But according to the Wiki article, he was only there a year before opening his own firm. An attorney one year out of law school seldom has much business, so I can’t imagine he had many good clients. But hey, maybe he’s just steadfastly committed to those issues, and that’s why he didn’t stay at the corporate firm. And from what I know most firms that do a lot of civil rights and constitutional stuff tend to be small. Maybe he had an impressive career and was a good lawyer, I dunno; the only thing a cursory search shows is that he represented the guy who later ordered the hit that killed the husband and mother of Chicago-area judge Joan Lefko. But even if he was a outstanding attorney, the stuff he says on his blog would often get him laughed at by a good litigator and a sentient judge.

  4. Great work Dana. Greenwald has let his cult’s adoration go to his head. I’m glad there are others out there working tirelessly to uncover his incessant and often dishonest bashing of the President. I know several people who have decided to detox. Get the Glenn out! It’s good for the soul and clears the brain for actual critical thinking.

    • Dana Houle says:

      I think Greenwald serves some useful purposes, or at least once did, and I’m not going to defend the Obama administration on some of their policies regarding secrecy, detentions and executive powers. But yeah, it’s obvious that I think he’s engaging in some fairly regular sophistry.

  5. Dorothy Rissman says:

    Dana, I was lead to your site when rootless was writing about GG. He has been getting a lot of attention on The People’s View–not the kind of comments that would make him twitter with joy.

    Anyway, another fine piece. thank you for your work. I understand from rootless that you were a DK person.

  6. Tom Hilton says:

    By the way, you know what word is missing from Greenwald’s screed?


    Greenwald is more interested in attacking the supposed false memes he thinks the Administration is propagating than the far more destructive meme (torture gave us bin Laden) that is actually being propagated on the right.

  7. Mimi Stratton says:

    But, the overall thrust of Greenwald’s post was that though the killing of bin Laden was justified and right, we should curb our cowboy enthusiasms over the retelling, in print and video, and with that, I have to agree.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Mimi, I think we read two different posts, and even if that was the “overall thrust,” there’s still no justification for him making things up about Panetta.

  8. Lawnguylander says:

    How is the Greenwald method, as shown by his pushing that Panetta nonsense, any different than the “Al Gore says he invented the internet” bullshit the right wing is expert at putting into circulation? Gore did say something “superficially similar,” after all and all these years later it’s still with us. People will go to their graves believing Gore really made that claim and while Panetta is of course not as significant a figure as Gore, a liar is a liar. I’m tired of people pretending that he’s not full of shit. I saw John Cole on twitter pretending that he thinks he can engage him in an honest debate on this issue. Blogger please. Stop treating us all like we’re a bunch of morons. I haven’t read Bob Somerby in a while. Does anyone know if he’s still obsessed with Rachel Maddow’s Rhodes scholarship, or is he ready to party like it’s 1999 again and critique our new media pundits?

  9. txvoodoo says:

    This piece exemplifies what I feel every time I read one of Glenn’s articles: something is off, something niggling. I don’t have the time or energy to fact check all of his asserts on a daily (or more than daily) basis. The narratives he creates, sometimes out of thin air, sometimes picking a fact from here, one from there, and stringing them together in ways that aren’t logical or truthful always leaves me wondering “is it fact or fiction?”

    I do know that he writes to satisfy one audience, and sway another to a certain worldview. Granted, all writers do that, but if you have to be so slippery when you do, surely it means that your basic premises don’t hold much water?

    Thank you, Dana.

    • Whoami? Whoareu? says:

      Congratulations: that nagging feeling your describing is your bullshit detector working properly.

      What mystifies me is why some people get that nagging feeling and think “bullshit,” whereas for others the more BS you lay on the more powerful the spell.

  10. Walter Glass says:

    Uh yeah, I wouldn’t hold your breath for that “correction,” because, uh, there’s nothing to correct. Maybe you disagree with Greenwald’s interpretation, but it was Panetta who started the fun movie discussion with his Harrison Ford comparison. Maybe you don’t agree that he sounded “excited,” but that’s a matter for interpretation, not for the factual record (the way issues like the human shield and Osama being armed when he was shot actually are).

    Sometimes I can’t tell if y’all are being serious or not. In your desperation to discredit and marginalize Obama critics before next year’s election, do you ever stop to reflect on whether the smoking guns you keep digging up are actually substantive? Or is this just about throwing everything you’ve got up against the wall to see what sticks?

    • Dana Houle says:

      Why, when you’re speculating, are you so excited?

    • Whoami? Whoareu? says:

      So, in other words, Greenwald is merely doing the same things he’s accusing the White House and the rest of the press of doing?

      • Walter Glass says:

        Good point. Whether or not bin Laden was armed, whether or not he used his wife as a human shield, and whether or not he was actually captured before being killed* are totally matters of interpretation and depend on which adverb one uses. Hung by his own petard!

        *obviously still disputed by CIA, I don’t pretend to know the answer, so don’t bother yelling at me about it

  11. Dana Houle says:

    Shorter Walter: I’ll believe the things from Greenwald that comport with what I’m inclined to believe, and I won’t entertain the possibility that he’s a questionable source because of the carelessness or worse with which he characterizes sources and information, because, you know, as long as he’s saying what I want him to say, it’s not important if he’s wrong or his arguments are shoddy or possibly even that he’s dishonest.

    BTW, people only shade the truth or make stuff up on trivial things; that’s never a reason to doubt whether they’re shading the truth on more substantive matters!

    • Whoami? Whoareu? says:

      That’s not really shorter, is it?

    • txvoodoo says:

      Touche! I think Glenn often practices “big lie, little lie” as well. And of course, strawmen.

    • Walter Glass says:

      Shorter Dana: I can’t find any examples of where someone saying something I don’t like is being substantively dishonest, but I know he’a a douche, so I’ll seize on his overzealous use of an adverb and call him a hypocrite. I’ll then try to start a meme that he refuses to correct the use of the adverb, in the hopes that people will hear of the meme and think “wow, the douche is a liar.” Anyone who examines my charge and finds it lacking in substance is probably just saying that because they agree with the douche on substantive points, God, how close-minded.

      • Dana Houle says:

        Ha, well, if someone “examines my charge and finds it lacking in substance,” it follows logically, the charge is therefore lacking in substance!

        Newsflash: logic and the soundness of an argument aren’t determined by whether it can be recognized (or acknowledged) by you. They’re inherent in the structure of the argument, whether you want to accept it or not.

        It’s been fun playing.

      • Diable4 says:

        Sweetie, I hate to break this to you and the rest of the Greenbeck asperger army, but your value system and worldview isn’t the gold standard, ‘kay?

  12. Walter Glass says:

    Incredible rhetorical strategy – “my argument is inviolate, thanks for playing.”

    You win.

  13. kim bastian says:

    yeah, yeah, yeah. Greenwald is bad because he doesn’t follow the party line. is evil because they aren’t Democrats. Anybody who doesn’t lick Barack Obama’s balls is rotten. You are a party hack with no brain

  14. dicksmokerdana says:

    Hey Dana, remember when you spent all those years lying to people about election fraud, hiding under a pseudonym, but failed to reveal that you worked for a lawmaker who was again voter reform bills? Remember when you were exposed as a deceitful liar by Brad Friedman and everyone laughed at you? Yeah me too. I remember it well. You’re a fraud, Dana and thankfully no one takes you seriously.

    • Dana Houle says:

      Huh, I’d managed to miss this when it was posted.

      Well, yeah, Friedman outed me, but only several months after I’d “outed” myself and put my name on the blog. So, yes, Freidman has loathsome ethics AND is an idiot. Thanks for reminding me of that.

      As for the other stuff, like with most fraudster statements, I don’t know wtf you’re talking about. Which is probably because you don’t either.

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