NYT Public Editor Slams Review of Greenwald Book on Snowden

Tuesday, 27 May 2014 07:46 PM

By Jason Devaney

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The New York Times' public editor Margaret Sullivan has called a review of Glenn Greenwald's book about Edward Snowden "unworthy" in a story posted to the paper's website.

Sullivan slams Michael Kinsley’s review of "No Place to Hide," a book that described Greenwald's role in exposing the secret NSA documents stolen by Snowden, who worked for the agency as a contractor. Kinsley’s review appeared in the Times last week.

"Book reviews are opinion pieces and — thanks to the principles of the First Amendment — Mr. Kinsley is certainly entitled to freely air his views," Sullivan writes. "But there’s a lot about this piece that is unworthy of the Book Review's high standards, the sneering tone about Mr. Greenwald, for example; he is called a 'go-between' instead of a journalist and is described as a 'self-righteous sourpuss.'"

In his review, Kinsley takes a hard stance against Greenwald, whom Snowden contacted beginning in 2012. The ex-government worker eventually began feeding documents related to the NSA's surveillance program to both Greenwald and fellow journalist Laura Poitras, and Greenwald penned a series of revealing stories in The Guardian about the matter.

Greenwald has since left the Guardian and runs his own website, The Intercept.

Kinsley, a columnist for Vanity Fair, is critical of Greenwald in his review, asking if his role in the leaking of the documents makes him an accomplice.

"There are laws against government eavesdropping on American citizens, and there are laws against leaking official government documents," Kinsley writes. "You can’t just choose the laws you like and ignore the ones you don’t like. Or perhaps you can, but you can’t then claim that it’s all very straightforward.

"Through all the bombast, Greenwald makes no serious effort to defend as a matter of law the leaking of official secrets to reporters. He merely asserts that 'there are both formal and unwritten legal protections offered to journalists that are unavailable to anyone else. While it is considered generally legitimate for a journalist to publish government secrets, for example, that’s not the case for someone acting in any other capacity.'"

Kinsley's argument is that Greenwald overstepped his boundaries as a journalist by publishing classified information. The way Kinsley writes it, Snowden was the supplier and Greenwald was the voice.

"The Snowden leaks were important — a legitimate scoop — and we might never have known about the NSA's lawbreaking if it hadn’t been for them," Kinsley writes. "Most leaks from large bureaucracies are 'good' leaks: no danger to national security, no harm to innocent people, information the public ought to have.

"So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs."

Sullivan feels Kinsley’s review was biased, one-sided, and based around a false argument.

"Mr. Kinsley’s central argument ignores important tenets of American governance," Sullivan writes. "There clearly is a special role for the press in America’s democracy; the Founders explicitly intended the press to be a crucial check on the power of the federal government, and the United States courts have consistently backed up that role. It’s wrong to deny that role, and editors should not have allowed such a denial to stand.

"Mr. Kinsley’s argument is particularly strange to see advanced in the paper that heroically published the Pentagon Papers, and many of the Snowden revelations as well. … A Times review ought to be a fair, accurate and well-argued consideration of the merits of a book. Mr. Kinsley's piece didn’t meet that bar."

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