In a really worthy read, Bill Keller and Glenn Greenwald debate the future of journalism.
Sadly, however, in his first response to Keller’s self-delusion of belonging to the journalistic tradition of “newspapers that put a premium on aggressive but impartial reporting that expect reporters and editors to keep their opinions to themselves,” Greenwald seemed to cede that such journalism constitutes, “concealing one’s subjective perspectives.” That permitted Keller to continue his self-delusion that his journalism — at both the level of reporter and that reporter’s larger institution — achieved that silence about opinions until they started fighting about the role of national allegiance and national security.
That argument developed this way.
Greenwald: Former Bush D.O.J. lawyer Jack Goldsmith in 2011 praised what he called “the patriotism of the American press,” meaning their allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government. That may (or may not) be a noble thing to do, but it most definitely is not objective: it is quite subjective and classically “activist.”
Keller: If Jack Goldsmith, the former Bush administration lawyer, had praised the American press for, in your words, “their allegiance to protecting the interests and policies of the U.S. government” then I would strongly disagree with him. We have published many stories that challenged the policies and professed interests of the government. But that’s not quite what Goldsmith says. He says that The Times and other major news outlets give serious consideration to arguments that publishing something will endanger national security — that is, might get someone killed.
For what it’s worth, I think Keller is clinging to the first thing Goldsmith said,
Glenn Greenwald complained that “the NYT knew about Davis’ work for the CIA (and Blackwater) but concealed it because the U.S. Government told it to” (my emphasis). That is inaccurate. The government asked the Times not to publish, as it often does, and the Times agreed to the request, which it sometimes does. The final decision rested with the Times, which listens to the government’s claims about national security harm and risk to individual lives, and then makes its own decision. The Timesdoes not, in my opinion, always exercise this discretion wisely.
And ignoring what Goldsmith went on to say,
I interviewed a dozen or so senior American national security journalists to get a sense of when and why they do or don’t publish national security secrets. They gave me different answers, but they all agreed that they tried to avoid publishing information that harms U.S. national security with no corresponding public benefit. Some of them expressly ascribed this attitude to “patriotism” or “jingoism” or to being American citizens or working for American publications. This sense of attachment to country is what leads the American press to worry about the implications for U.S. national security of publication, to seek the government’s input, to weigh these implications in the balance, and sometimes to self-censor. (This is a natural and prudent attitude in a nation with the fewest legal restrictions in the world on the publication of national security secrets, but one abhorred by critics like Greewald.) The Guardian, al Jazeera, and Wikileaks, by contrast, worry much less, if at all, about U.S. national security interests.
That is, Goldsmith noted both that at an institutional level US news outlets entertained the requests of the government, and that at a reportorial level, individuals prioritized US “national security.”
And from there, Keller repeatedly ignored or dismissed the efforts Greenwald, in his Edward Snowden reporting, or WikiLeaks, in its Cablegate publications, made to protect lives of individuals.
It’s not until Greenwald’s response where he gets to the crux of the issue.
As for taking into account dangers posed to innocent life before publishing: nobody disputes that journalists should do this. But I don’t give added weight to the lives of innocent Americans as compared to the lives of innocent non-Americans, nor would I feel any special fealty to the U.S. government as opposed to other governments when deciding what to publish. Continue reading