David Gregory, Glenn Greenwald and the First Amendment

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FILE - In this June 11, 2013, file photo Britain's The Guardian newspaper reporter Glenn Greenwald talks to The Associated Press in Hong Kong. Greenwald first reported former NSA contractor Edward Snowden's disclosure of NSA's government surveillance programs. On the Sunday talk show "Meet the Press", June 23, 2013, host David Gregory asked Greenwald why he shouldn't be charged with a crime for having "aided and abetted" Snowden. Greenwald replied that it was "pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies."  (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)
Glenn Greenwald talks to The Associated Press in Hong Kong. On Sunday's Meet the Press, host David Gregory asked Greenwald why he shouldn't be charged with a crime for having aided and abetted Snowden. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu, File)

David Gregory ignited further controversy on Meet the Press this weekend when he asked Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first broke the story of Edward Snowden’s leaked NSA documents, this question:

GREGORY: 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?

Greenwald fired back:

GREENWALD: I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in any way. The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the e-mails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator in felonies, for working with sources.

If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States. It’s why The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said, “Investigative reporting has come to a standstill,” her word, as a result of the theories that you just referenced.

GREGORY: Well, the question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regards to what you’re doing. And of course anybody who’s watching this understands I was asking a question; that question has been raised by lawmakers, as well. I’m not embracing anything. But obviously, I take your point.

Watch the full exchange.

After going off-air, Greenwald continued the conversation via Twitter:

In response to Greenwald’s accusation, Gregory said:

“I want to directly take that on. This is the problem from somebody who claims that he’s a journalist, who would object to a journalist raising questions, which is not actually embracing any particular point of view. And that’s part of the tactics of the debate here when, in fact, lawmakers have questioned him. There’s a question about his role in this, The Guardian’s role in all of this. It is actually part of the debate, rather than going after the questioner, he could take on the issues. And he had an opportunity to do that here on Meet the Press.”

The idea that Greenwald should be prosecuted was originally put forward by lawmaker Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, who falsely told Fox News that Greenwald was threatening to disclose the identities of CIA officers. And as The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple points out, Gregory’s question was a loaded one, “very much in the tradition of ‘how long have you been beating your wife.'” Journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen agrees:

Gregory’s words: To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden… renders the situation in a threatening way. His premise packs a punch. For the criminalization of journalism is most likely to happen when normal relationships with sources get called “aiding and abetting” by the state. That’s why so many journalists flipped out when similar language was used in a government affidavit about James Rosen, the Fox News reporter who was investigated in a separate leak case.

The most troubling part of the interview, however, may be something else Gregory said to Greenwald at the very end of the interview: “…The question of who’s a journalist may be up to a debate with regards to what you’re doing.” There’s a line, Gregory appears to be saying. He’s on one side of it, and Greenwald — a constitutional lawyer, blogger and columnist who, for the Snowden leaks, stepped into the role of “reporter” — may be on the other. Perhaps Gregory believes Greenwald — who at one point Gregory called a polemicist — should not get the same protections under the First Amendment that journalists like David Gregory receive.

But Greenwald’s role in the Snowden NSA story has been that of a journalist, part of a long tradition of reporters who uncover information by talking to those who have it, then analyzing and presenting what they’ve found out to the public. Attempts by big media journalists like Gregory to establish who is worthy of the constitutional protection afforded to the press lie on the edge of a slippery slope.

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  • Anonymous

    How often does Gregory ask Washington politicians if their questionably legal actions deserve prosecution?

  • David Dunn

    Snowden was not a government employee. He worked for a company that the NSA had hired. Why was the NSA hiring private contractors? Shouldn’t this work have been done by public employees? But then Republicans think that the private sector can do no wrong and that government can do nothing right. Republicans are drinking their own kool-aide.

  • Anonymous

    Given that it’s Snowden and Greenwald and not the Orwellian, constitution violating NSA who are getting almost all the press, they may be fighting a lost cause. It’s up to those countries that are understandably upset to hear Obama say that “foreigners” are the real targets to start that “debate” that Obama says he would welcome. Because it’s sure not gonna happen in the US.

  • Phil

    Oh, but public employees would have had to be accountable to the public. They can’t buy themselves immunity from the law like corporations do.

  • Burr Deming

    The Gregory response strikes me as nothing more than a spontaneous retort. Greenwald seems to hold to the standard that anything a journalist may do is lawful by definition, an observation that escapes the notice of many of us who reject that standard for Presidents. He further believes that anyone who “would publicly muse” any disagreement is disqualified from journalism at all. In context, I suggest we refrain from stretching Gregory’s response too far from his obvious intent.

  • Rob Conrad

    The journalism tribunal that Gregory apparently wants to establish may one day ask him to appear before it. That’s how these things devolve over time.

  • Raymond Tokareff

    There is a large brown stain on David Gregory’s nose it’s in the shape of the White House.

  • Anonymous

    Journalism died when Dan Rather was thrown under the bus and should have been buried with wikileaks

  • Anonymous

    this is Bigger than the W H, blame the Boss, not “O”

  • atheistass

    His ‘obvious intent’ was shown when he asked the follow up and inferred that Greenwald wasn’t a real journalist nor what he was doing to be considered journalism. The information that was leaked by Snowden is shaking the very core of our government and they’re trying to get the media to spin it into a non-scandal. This type of questioning reveals that they don’t want to know the truth, they want to know the truth Washington D.C. gives them in a neat package. You join this fold when you infer that Greenwald is asserting blanket coverage for journalists’ actions instead of taking it at face value, which you assert we should do with the original comment. The intent of Greenwald’s comment is to say that anything that goes against the government could be deemed ‘illegal’ journalism and to have the entity that will try and sentence the criminal also decide what is and isn’t illegal is dangerous. An administration that has knowingly violated the Constitution can’t be trusted to uphold the same document with carte blanche authority. Just to clarify, journalists don’t ask a fully loaded question like Gregory’s if they’re seeking the truth.

  • michael

    Greenwald is certainly entitled to say and write what he wants without fear of criminal prosecution, period. But he’s hardly a journalist (then again, neither is Gregory).

  • Mike McCarthy

    He works for a newspaper. How is he not a journalist? You may not like him but that doesn’t change the fact that he does the work of a journalist.

  • Bea Leary

    What does Bruce Springsteen have to do with all this?

  • Michael Gillespie

    “Attempts by big media journalists like Gregory to establish who is worthy of the constitutional protection afforded to the press lie on the edge of a slippery slope.”

    That’s putting the best face on it. Attempts by Big Media journalists like Gregory to de-legitimize investigative journalism generally and to smear as criminals reporters who dare to report facts inconvenient to government bureaucrats and corporate officials are evidence of Big Media antipathy toward unbiased reporting, journalism that dares to embarrass and offend the wealthy and powerful who prefer to operate in secret that their crimes and excesses might go unnoticed by the public. Years ago Big Business used punitive litigation to silence reporters, editors, and producers. Today, the wealthy and powerful who own Big Media news organizations use operatives like Gregory who are happy to function as gatekeepers and who routinely attempt to silence anyone who seems to represent a threat to the revenue streams of big corporations, such as Booz Allen.

    Whenever I see Gregory I always remember that it was him and David Brooks who shut down the public discussion about the role of violent media product in gun massacres before it began. Less than 48 hours after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, here is what Gregory and Brooks did: http://www.mediaite.com/tv/david-brooks-shuts-down-former-gop-governor-after-he-blames-video-games-for-ct-massacre/

    And here is an example of what journalists reported about the role of violent media product in gun massacres: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2249854/Sandy-Hook-school-shooting-Adam-Lanza-spent-hours-playing-Call-Duty.html

    Gregory and Brooks are gatekeepers paid to keep large audiences ignorant of corporate and government crimes and excesses. They are propagandists who serve wealth and power.

  • strongone

    A lot of this is driven by Obama loyalists who leap into action whenever anything damaging affects the prez. From the left, those who actually try to convince audiences that 1)we asked for a bigger, better surveillance program and 2)that we embrace mass surveillance sound ridiculous. They also argue that this is not intrusive in that it only collects metadata and not content. They don’t know what they are talking about.

    And they do citizens a disservice. Ask any black person who has been stopped and frisked whether they embrace govt surveillance because it’ll keep them safe.

    But this smearing is right out of the whistleblower smackdown playbook. But I’m dismayed that so-called liberals would engage in it.

  • Anonymous

    Investigative reporting has come to a standstill,” because corporate interests have transcended all else, and rest a scapegoat for avoiding this very uncomfortable reality.

  • Dennis Perry

    Gregory has been an apologist “reporter” for whomever is in power for as long as I’ve seen him on TV. I stopped watching anything he is a part of years ago because of his being a mouthpiece for the government in power. It’s sad that he should impugn the motives or the reporting of someone who actually acts as a real journalist and be given time and space on the public airwaves to do so. He may be a pretty boy news reader, but he’s no reporter in any sense of the word.

  • Anonymous

    Gregory is a corporate tool; nothing more, nothing less. He seems to be of the ilk that has attained one of the coveted perfumed positions and is loathe to do anything (like his job)- or ask any question- that would risk his access and his position (and salary). To refer to him as a journalist because he is on a “news” show, is like referring to Anita Bryant as a feminist because she happened to be female.

  • Anonymous

    You’re right. Gregory’s question was that of a prosecutor trying to trip up a witness during cross-examination (i.e., “do you still beat your wife?”), not the question of a journalist.

  • Montaigne Lover

    a-freakin’-men my man. I am soooo disappointed in my fellow ‘liberals’, who seem thrilled to support a criminal, obtrusive government when a corporate hor with a (D) next to his name resides at 1600 pennsylvania.

  • Anonymous

    Moyers is being more than kind in his treatment of the celebrity. Tv man David Gregory, who is certainly no journalist. Gregory is an entertainer posing as a journalist who resents people like Greenwald whose work reveals the failure of people like Gregory to do their jobs.

  • marvin steiner

    Obama is hardly a liberal.Bruce Bennett recently interviewed by Bill characterized Obama as an”Eisenhower Republican”.I don’t believe he’s that liberal.More like a lamb in sheeps clothing.

  • Anonymous

    He is of course a journalist. I’d love to hear your definition. And please don’t use the old canards like “objectivity”, “advocacy”. We are too sophisticated for that. All journalism is advocacy journalism. There is no such thing as objectivity, period. It is a continuum.

  • Anonymous

    Greenwald gets it right, Gregory is the farthest thing from a journalist, he is a bought and paid for government/corporate shill and a mere extension of the office of White House Press Secretary. The only traitor to the American People and the United States Constitution in this conversation is David Gregory.

  • Julian Fernandez

    David Gregory is all shoulder pads and no substance. What a sad replacement for Tim Russert.

  • Anonymous

    “We live in a political world,
    Wisdom is thrown into jail..” Dylan

    Yeah, they want the package, and they’d put truth there too whenever they could.

    As Bill Moyers has remarked to Lawrence Lessig, any new tool winding up in the White House tool box has always ended up used. The usage now is canabalistic enough (in terms of America the nation); but with the new Supreme Court ruling and all the recent gerrymandering prior, who couldn’t imagine worse usage further down the road?

    The evidence I see so far causes me to believe all this capability is 1)An effort to create jobs 2)The latter but polluted enough to turn it into creating a more conservative meritocracy, and/or 3)An Orwellian political surveillance/purge “tool”

    As far as the evidence I’ve come across, there are two bottom lines. The first is kind of a stumper.

    1. Find it hard to believe it’s always the case “danger lurks” as in the last paragraph of this top-of-page breakdown of a Snowden answer http://weirderweb.com/2013/06/18/edward-snowden-encryption-works-but-the-nsa-can-find-ways-around-it/

    Of course, if our gov can read a message the moment it’s unscrambled, if say it’s a terrorist plot…then actually the “danger” is lessened (for us). Maybe I have no earthly idea how encryption programs work, but (going on my relatively uninformed perspective) how terrorists could find a way around this “check” (chess sense) comes to mind in a about a minute. And that thing that comes to mind brings other quotes right back into play that mention “billions of years” required to decrypt stuff created by custom/unique programs. [anyone who skips or writes such matters off as minutia…in my humble and granted rather ignorant opinion…must be repressing the stuff they’ve read re how gangs/mafias/organizations manage to get directives from inside prisons these days] Therefore, if a plot were to be orchestrated by encrypted messages…all the kings horses and all the king’s analysts likely wouldn’t make a dern bit of difference…leaving the following tried & true means of stemming the blowback tide (#2) more viable…

    2. ‘”If we want to be safe in the world, we should end the economic, diplomatic, and military policies that give people around the world ample reasons to resent our misuse of power.’ https://www.commondreams.org/view/2013/06/24-7

  • Ronny Lee

    Most realist knew that 911 changed our country. Our leaders were strong enough to lead. Leadership doesn’t come in our country any more without a price. Our leadership knew that eventually someone like Mr Greenwald would come along. Sometimes you have to suck it up and do things that make you throw up. It’s not pretty.

  • Anonymous

    Give me a break! Dan Rather may have done a bit of real reporting on Bush’s military service, but he then retracted the story under pressure. In general he was a TV personality who arrived at newsworthy scene or disaster (e.g. the collapse of the Cypress Freeway in Oakland in the ’89 quake) in a limousine and, after having his make-up applied, talked to a couple of people, then returned to the corporate media bubble!

  • Joseph A. Mungai

    99% SIGNATURE STRIKE: http://act.rootsaction.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=8161

    Dear President Obama: The metadata you collected before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on what we already knew about the NSA spying on us could have been used to protect innocent civilians from terrorist attacks around the world. It wasn’t, and that is Egregious and Outrageous Neglect. DON’T blame Mr. Snowden for the severe inadequacies of your administration. Allow President Rafael Vicente Correa Delgado to protect his 4th & 5th Amendment rights and universal Human Rights.

  • fadista

    Utter nonsense! You have no idea what you’re talking about. When you make such claims you should back them up with evidence. The “Left” is not a monolith. While it may be true that corporate-backed liberal MSNBC is sometimes guilty of your charge, Greenwald, and no progressives I know, are apologists for Obama. You’re simply blathering nonsense you pick up on Fox. People like you are indicative of why the bubble-encased RIght is fledgling and incapable of offering anything but platitudes and misinformation. Tea Party clowns!

  • fadista

    Rather had his moments but I would like to know about his role, if any, in CBS’s cover up of the TWA Flight 800 controversy.

  • Barbara stein

    I’m a bit baffled by the press’ response to Gregory’s question. I’m not a particular Gregory fan, but it seems like the press is saying journalists should be allowed to ask any hard hitting questions swirling around a topic, unless the interviewee is a journalist.

  • Anonymous

    It wasn’t really a question. It was an accusation. (The “question” conveyed is, “You should be in jail, shouldn’t you?” (Can you imagine David Gregory asking such a “question” to Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, or indeed Bob Woordward?))

    And in case you missed the point of his accusation, Gregory then doubled down on it with a follow-up remark asking himself a “question” about whether Greenwald practices _his_ kind of “journalism.”.

  • Anonymous

    Russert was just as pathetic. Remember when he testified that it wasn’t his job to ask questions, or that everything politicians told him was “off the record” until they gave him tacit approval (and then usually only anonymously)? Tim Russert was the War Party’s Useful Village Idiot.

  • Anonymous

    Obama is a Dick Cheney Made Man. Very difficult to consider him a liberal or progressive on anything these days.

  • Barbara stein

    I agree with you 1/2 way. The reason I’m not all that fond of David Gregory is because he too often isn’t adequately hard hitting or incisive in his interviews. He should be posing questions like that to the likes of Cheney and/or Rumsfeld. ( I don’t know why anyone would even want to bother interviewing Woodward) Journalists constantly frame questions in the conditional accusatory tone Gregory applied. Are you suggesting that kind of questioning is always inappropriate, or the appropriateness varies based on who’s being interviewed? I just can’t recall journalists ever so enraged over another journalist being too harsh in interviewing a subject, so it is curious that the one time they are the interviewee is one of them.

  • Zeke

    Mostly because it is a stupid, banal question. Anyone with a shred of understanding of the law in this area would know Greenwald cannot be prosecuted. Pentagon Papers, check and mate. Therefore, Gregory asking that question either comes across being ignorant or having an ulterior motive. My guess is he was trying to discredit Greenwald’s arguments as that of a criminal. That is not journalism.

  • Peter Hans Frohwein

    Thank you Bill. Very well stated !

  • michael

    I’ve worked for newspapers, but that didn’t make me a journalist. I’ve published facts I discovered through my own research, but that was not journalism either. It’s not a matter of “objectivity;” it’s a matter of his role at the Guardian and in the public sphere. And why is advocacy a canard? All reporting entails a point of view insofar as it requires selection and framing, but that is not the same thing as advocacy. People can differ about how issues are framed, but they can also differ in their views of an issue while agreeing on the frame. For example, we can agree that the question of whether NSA surveillance is legitimate is of central importance (that’s our frame) but disagree in our assessment of it. Greenwald sets out from a pre-constituted political position (often one I fully endorse) and then seeks out evidence for his view. What’s worse is that some of his views are rooted in sheer prejudice, which blinds him in his search for relevant facts. If you think you already know who the bad actors are, it’s not hard to find evidence indicting them. But that’s not journalism.

  • Anonymous

    I disagree with your characterization of Greenwald’s reporting. You are confusing the fact that he covers civil liberties as his main beat with “set[ting] out from a pre-constituted political position.” In order for your assessment to be substantive you would have to show where he has omitted key information that would cut against his narrative in order to push an agenda. I do not see that with him, and he in fact goes out of his way to address criticism of his work in a substantive and comprehensive way. He may not always achieve perfection in that regard, but how many journalists even bother to rebut the criticism levied against them?

    And his work at the Guardian, which includes communicating with sources, verifying their authenticity, verifying the authenticity of their information, editing that information for publication and writing up a detailed report of that information is most certainly journalism. He does write opinion pieces also, and in his more traditional “reporting” often mixes his view of information with his presentation of that information. I would argue that his style is more honest than most “objective” reporting that manages to leave out substantial pieces of a story while “sounding” objective in order to manipulate the readership.

    But even if I didn’t disagree with your characterization, that doesn’t mean Greenwald is not a journalist. As a writer that challenges the powerful and informs the public he is a journalist. Even someone like David Gregory is a journalist, though he is a hack journalist. Gregory certainly starts out from a pre-constituted position on almost every subject, and that position is subservience to power.

    It is in the interest of the public to have a very wide definition of journalism. Its a very dangerous thing to start down that path.

  • Anonymous

    David Gregory is proving himself to be nothing more than a lapdog for corrupt corporatists and war profiteers. He should be ashamed of himself and apologize not only to Glenn Greenwald, but to the American public as well.

    David, you’re on the wrong side of history. You’ll be remembered as someone who crumbled as a weak coward and apologist in the face of massive government overreach. You could have been somebody, but you choose to be a bum instead.

  • Nicksaint

    That entire show/episode took on a surreal quality, after Greenwald called Gregory out for his lap-dog journalism. Greggory claimed that “I’m not
    embracing anything,” and then proceeded to hold faux debate between 4 senators who all agree with each other, where he asks them leading questions to help solidify and legitimize the government’s position. Yeah, that’s objective…

    This episode would be an interesting case study for Herman’s Propaganda Model.