I’m going to hold my hands up. It is problematic to write negatively about someone you have once sent a CV to. People may think you are bitter and biased. And I wouldn’t normally do such a thing; prudential-wise and principle-wise alike, there are risks.
However, there are limits to such general principles, after all! And as my loyalty is to satire and to satirists (living and massacred alike), and not to the journalist I am going to talk about in the third person until the very end of this open letter, I am going to stick my neck out. In general, I prefer to take the painfully perilous and even life-endangering path of Charb, and not the safe, quasi-respectable and achingly comfortable path of Glenn Greenwald, a key ‘establishment indymedia’ figure.
‘Establishment indymedia?’ Contradiction in terms?
No, if anyone reading thinks that is an oxymoron, then the problem is undoubtedly with you, and with you alone.
Yeah yeah, I know. There’s a lot more to it, in case you hadn’t noticed!
Now let’s move on. Because, after all, The Intercept is a fairly dynamic media outlet; so I’d better get in the mood.
I will say, firstly, that when I once sent a CV to The Intercept, it was done very naively. My background is not in investigative ‘on the ground journalism,’ but in a (so far) very short background in satire journalism. So that is surely a huge weak point for an application to a massive indymedia outlet like The Intercept.
Aside from the issue of appropriate credentials, I was in the middle of a large research project (which I am still working on), so it would hardly make any sense to hope for any part-time work there. I can’t imagine part-time is normally a viable possibility for a publication like that. So, really shooting the steel breeze and hitting the junkyard with that one.
So, all things considered, my CV was pretty speculative; certainly a throwaway. I’m not under any delusions about that. It probably hit the bottom of the slush pile before I hit the send button; no matter what my talents and achievements so far have been, I can’t complain at all about not hearing from them. It was a naive idea, given what I presume are the very specific credentials required for that kind of journalism; I have no grounds whatsoever for complaint, so I can hardly be bitter. At the very least, even if satire journalism is an acceptable starting point (which at the very least seems highly doubtful to me), I’ve not exactly been ‘in the game’ very long, so that’s fair enough.
This of course is not to say that satire journalism is a less important or valuable form of journalism; but merely that it is quite different from The Intercept. And I expect there’s a lot more to that than just questions of style!
So, now we know that Wallace is in the right and Glenn Greenwald is also in the right (two not uncommon occurrences, let’s be honest!), I must also show a bit of rational self-interest, and take the courage to show where Greenwald is in the wrong. I won’t elaborate on detail here on the career of this prominent journalist. But I will certainly acknowledge, briefly, that Greenwald’s career has been an astonishing one; the man is almost beyond good and evil, in the sense that he is really quite brilliant. He has had great triumphs of moral courage, but his writing also has the capacity to disgust and infuriate, because he does not do things by half measures. The journalistic persona he projects in his writings is either blazingly and authentically heroic, or appallingly mediocre. How far this media profile may or may not reflect Greenwald in some deeper sense, I have no idea.
But yes: like Nick Cohen, you can never merely love him or hate him; it’s hard not to do both. In a sense, he really is the anti-Cohen. Cohen is great on critiquing the regressive left, but appalling on foreign policy. On the other hand, Glenn Greenwald’s writings are key catalysts and fertilisers of reactionary tendencies within ‘the Left,’ but he is much better at critiquing the backward bigotry of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists alike. Of course, one could inquire how far Greenwald has actually been consistent on the latter score. See part two of this open letter and critical commentary, where I briefly allude to Greenwald’s responses to allegations of complicity of regime change. I will say in advance that what concerns me here especially is not the (presumably highly disputable) question of what the facts may be regarding Ukraine and allegations that Omidyar may have given succour to regime-changers. I am more interested in Greenwald’s somewhat disturbing response to these allegations.
But is that really surprising? After all, isn’t liberal interventionism and regime change another kind of ‘regressive left’ tendency anyway? If some writings at The Intercept have strong RegLeft undercurrents, is it surprising that this highbrow online publication has an equivocal stance on another kind of regressive liberalism: the liberal interventionism of regime change?
Then again, one could ask whether liberalism ever fully left the cave. I guess not. Liberal interventionism is not easily dissociable from 19th century Victorian imperialist arrogance and complacency, and even liberals who oppose the illiberalism of liberal interventionism cannot afford to be complacent. So rather as Christianity is the religion of imperfection, liberalism, for better or worse, is the politics of imperfection. Still, it’s hard to think of any kind of liberalism much more ‘imperfect’ than the hyper-regressive victim-blaming of Charlie Hebdo in Greenwald’s writings.
In fairness, Greenwald’s writings don’t tend to crudely and crassly state that the people at Charlie Hebdo Hyper Cacher ‘had it coming.’ He is no Anjem Choudhary, let’s be honest! And yet, his writings on Charlie Hebdo seem to function more by insinuation. You never actually hear him say ‘well, they deserved it!’ His style appears slippery to me. Of course, if Greewald doesn’t mean his writings to insinuate such things, which is of course perfectly plausible, then he needs to be more careful about writing in a manner that could avoid any unfortunate and unwarrantedly negative interpretations of his writings.
So, the victim-blaming of at Greenwald’s ‘alternative establishment’ indymedia web magazine is at least not a matter of actually statement, but more of innuendo. That’s another Greenwald has going for him, other than the shopworn trope of ‘that Intercept Snowden-enabler guy!’ and some perceptive, if somewhat imperfect, critiques of ‘humanitarian interventionism.’
And yet, there is much to be concerned about when you dig deeper into the history both of Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept…