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Friday, October 30, 2009

(Updated) Glenn Greenwald & Bill Moyers: Journalists Who Take Sides

Update: Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed Glenn Greenwald today on her show. He expands on some of the issues he raised in the interview with Moyers, and discusses how some "name" progressive blogs, including Daily Kos, seem to have sided with Obama in order to stay on the good side of the President's staff and avoid criticism.
To my mind, Glenn Greenwald, who blogs at Salon.com, is one of our greatest assets in the fight for civil liberties and the battles we wage on behalf of many other progressive/liberal causes. He brings us the best of two worlds in a combination that provides incisive, well-documented, persuasive commentary that both reports on what's happening on the national stage and advocates clear positions on the issues raised by the reporting. He has a point of view. He makes value judgments, but he bases them on careful analysis of the validity of the facts at hand. He avoids the common trap of presenting all sides as equally deserving of our attention and respect. And because he holds himself apart from the DC culture, he can say what he means without worrying about losing his access, offending the powers that be or getting too personally caught up in the action.

That's a rarity in an era of writing and reporting that poses as fair and balanced, neutral or nonpartisan. These fuzzy aims of today's journalism have, in fact, led to a kind of confusing conundrum -- because the default position is that all points of view should be presented as equally correct or valuable. After all, the definition of "balance" is to "make equal." If two viewpoints are balanced, it suggests they're equivalent, and no value judgment is made as to which viewpoint has the most validity given the facts and context of the situation. Too many journalists and reporters today strive to give equal footing to both or all points of view. Therefore, they provide nothing of value to the discussion in terms of comparative analysis of what's being presented. Both "sides" are presented as equally credible, convincing and sound. An additional benefit to "balanced" journalism is that the reporters can preserve their coveted access to insiders of all stripes who might give them a "scoop."  

Greenwald's work, on the other hand, is an excellent example of how a commentator can be both a fact-based reporter-journalist and a voice for reform and change. He uses the information he gathers to come to a conclusion that's valid and forcefully expressed as an argument for a specific action. He's a change agent while obeying the dictates of stringent journalistic standards. And he avoids being part of the reporter pack in order to preserve his distance and thus his ability to critically think about issues without wondering who he's going to offend.

Bill Moyers, another reporter who combines impeccable journalistic credentials with a definite point of view, recently interviewed Greenwald in a web exclusive. In the video above (one segment of a three-part interview) Greenwald talks about the corrosive impact that being inside the Beltway can have on journalists who reside there or become too close to the action and players. Glenn purposely reports on Washington from outside DC. He explains how it's all too easy for a kind of group think to set in among the DC reporters -- along with too much attention being focused on preserving access and friendships. This, of course, weakens their ability to produce clear analysis and reach cogent conclusions, especially those that might rattle the status quo.

According to Greenwald, the Beltway elite journalists have become part of the problem, not part of the solution, through their close interactions within the power bubble. It's hard to be critical of government officials or power players if you're hanging out at the same cocktail parties and restaurants -- and competing with your peers for intimate access to the powerful and their leaks.

Greenwald discusses how Washington-based reporting on health care reform and Afghanistan -- as well as the viewpoints expressed by the regulars on shows like Meet the Press -- all too often demonstrate the biases and spin that permeate the cliquish bubble. The chummy atmosphere doesn't allow much penetrating examination of the issues or study to determine the facts. What's produced instead is a dangerous regurgitation of the conventional wisdom that dominates the Washington culture at any given time, and which almost always favors the powerful, whether inside the government on on K Street. Such reporting ignores dissenting sources from outside the DC hothouse, and dismisses inconvenient truths. Well worth a listen.

There's more worth checking out in two other videos of the Moyers' interview: Part 1, where Greenwald discusses how President Karzai's brother -- believed to be involved in the drug trade -- has been receiving payments from the CIA, and Part 3, where he explains how the Obama Administration has embraced many Bush-era legal justifications for secrecy and indefinite detention . You can watch the entire web-exclusive interview here.

October 30, 2009 at 12:49 PM in Afghanistan, Civil Liberties, Corporatism, Current Affairs, Government, Healthcare, Legal Issues, Media, Military Affairs, National Security, Obama Health Care Reform | Permalink


Great post, Barb. And thanks for the video links.

Posted by: Laura | Oct 30, 2009 2:49:59 PM

Glenn Greenwald and Bill Moyers are two of the most important voices this country has. Journalism students should be studying both of these guys.

The tired notion of interviewing two extremes and presenting it as balanced is finally dying... thankfully.

Great post.

Posted by: benito | Oct 30, 2009 2:53:26 PM