However, the Snowden revelations and their subsequent publication haven’t just had an impact on issues of privacy and national security. They’ve also occasioned a re-awakening of a debate about the role of journalism (and journalists) in a democracy and its relationship to authority. As the lead reporter whom Snowden has entrusted with his massive trove of stolen secrets, former Guardian columnist/ reporter Glenn Greenwald has come to personify this new breed of independent-minded, advocacy journalist. He’s endured some clumsy smear attempts as well as a share of fair criticism of his reporting, but it’s hard to quantify how fully his lightning-rod persona has become fused to the larger discussion of the merits of “objective” versus “advocacy” journalism. On Twitter, as is often the case, these discussions have unfortunately devolved further into competing “teams,” either pro- or anti-Greenwald. Set aside all the hashtag vitriol, though, and you find that the Snowden effect precipitated this bracing debate between Greenwald and former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller that every journalist should read and think about, no matter what side you come down on.In fact, there were many "leigitimate media" members who not only questioned Snowden's revelations (even if they knew better), and tried to bring down Greenwald for allowing Snowden's allegations to be published. And now these same insider types are trying to ignore their role in trying to smear Snowden and Greenwald, which led to this awesome smackdown of the No. 1 weasel of the DC cocktail party circuit- Dancin' Dave Gregory.
To say, as his critics do, Greenwald merely got lucky that Snowden chose him for what might the biggest leak of all time is a mistake, though. Just as it is a mistake for those who might have legitimate critiques of a journalist’s portrayal of intelligence operations to lapse into old-fashioned, insider-y rank-pulling instead of honest engagement. Greenwald’s reputation as someone with an unabashed adversarial approach to covering government no doubt fit the profile Snowden sought for someone who would distill, curate and aggressively report the secrets he’d taken. It was no coincidence, then, that Snowden — and, before him, Pfc. Chelsea Manning — choose to leak everything he had to Greenwald instead of a major U.S. news organization, many of whom have on numerous occasions been too easily talked out of publishing stories by our government.
Richardson points out that the Gregorys of the world are too cozy to the powerful interests they report on, and that by adhering to the lie of "objective" journalism are doing the audience a disservice- because they refuse to act when action and questioning is warranted in order to get the true story out.
These days, the establishment media all too often adopts an indifferent attitude toward how the public connects with what it publishes, content to merely be conveyors of information rather than providers of context, chroniclers of the powerful instead of champions of the powerless. That no doubt contributes to why the public mistrusts the press so much. [Very true- many viewers have a good indication when media members are trying to let bullshit pass, even if the viewers may not know what the truth is.]And this is the failure in Wisconsin's media that allows Scott Walker to maintain an approval rating near 50%, when his administration has been a corrupt failure by pretty much any objective standard. They shrug their shoulders when Walker or Assembly Speaker Robin Vos throw some assertion against the wall instead of looking into the claims and calling "BULLSHIT" on things that are clearly not true or filled with key omissions. And because they (and the corporations they work for) won't be given prime access to doings at the Capitol if they don't nod their heads and print the WisGOP line without question, it allows the lies to fester and become part of the conversation, instead of being laughed out of the building like they should.
Of course, the not-so dirty little secret about objective journalism is that does have agenda, it just won’t admit to having one honestly and transparently. In fact, the mainstream media advocates on behalf of politics and policies all the time. Most of the time it’s in service of the status quo, but not always. Take again, for example, the [Washington] Post’s Dana Priest. In 2007, she produced world-class reporting on the horrid conditions for wounded veterans recovering at Walter Reed hospital. Couched as objective, this was in fact advocacy reporting at its best, uncovering wrongdoing, challenging the status quo and shaming our military into fixing a broken system. Though she won a Pulitzer Prize for her work, what made her journalism stand out was that it applied a steady adversarial pressure to get results. In contrast to the intermittent nature of her “Top Secret America” series, Priest published 10 separate stories on Walter Reed over the course of 10 months.
That, to me, is the higher gear that journalism rarely engages but that our democracy demands. It’s also the primary takeaway from the past few months of the “Snowden effect.” That truly free societies depend upon a free press that does more than just finds the facts and tells the stories and calls it a day. They demand a larger commitment from journalists and journalism, a willingness to make the stories matter. To not just make a sound, but to be heard.
And the inherent conflict of interest between corporate media thriving off of big-money campaign ad buys (as shown by the huge earnings the Journal-Sentinel got during the 2012 recall elections) and any attempt to question the role of money in politics (because doing so could cut off that organization from the ad gravy train) could go a long way toward explaining why Journal-Sentinel writers like Jason Stein, Daniel Bice and Patrick Marley are only allowed to look so deeply into obvious scandals involving Koch and Bradley front groups, and instead we're left to people like Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express and Brendan Fischer at PR Watch to blow the whistle on biased "studies" and "news reports" that are nothing more than right-wing funded propaganda. The Wisconsin corporate media's dereliction of duty leaves the average state voter as the big loser, because they're not being allowed to find out the full story in the most commonly-available outlets.
So instead, alternative outlets have to be the source we rely on to bring truth to power, as we can only count on the corporate, insider media to only go after the story once they believe the worm has turned. With that in mind, watch this discussion with Glenn Greenwald from this June, and especially pay attention to the introduction that starts around 2:30 in. It's done by one of the few Wisconsinites that still do real journalism- my fellow Tosa East grad Jeremy Scahill (of "Dirty Wars" fame and other outstanding works). What Scahill has to say about how too much of our media chooses to be in bed with the subjects they cover is something that rings extremely true to me, stating that "real journalism is under attack." It should be a cautionary tale to all of us, and we have to tell our media "We see through your crap, and we're not buying what you are trying to sell us."