Historian Rick Perlstein Uses the Nation to Whine About My Tweet

I have to admit, I was surprised to be notified that Historian Rick Perlstein of Nixonland fame, devoted an entire column in the Nation to two tweets replying to him; one from myself and one from another commentator on twitter. It’s also surprising, because I have been a fan of some of what Perlstein has written in the past, and I have cited him before. However, after this, I and certainly a lot of other people surprised at this lack of professionalism from an established writer, won’t do it again.

After all, one doesn’t normally read columns by established historians devoting entire pieces to complaints about tweets they received or people on twitter. Especially, one tweet that was merely a question about a widely cited article at CNET. I certainly don’t know why Rick Perlstein was so offended by that to devote an entire piece in the Nation to mine and one other tweet he received. I have to wonder if he realizes how unprofessional he looks by doing so. The excellent responses to Perlstein’s shoddy piece in the comments section certainly speak to that.

On Glenn Greenwald and His Fans

Read another tweet:

“NSA admits listening to U.S. phone calls without warrants cnet.co/1agOFCy via @CNET What say you, @RickPerlstein ?”

I think we can detect here an accusatory tone, especially given the way the tweeter, “therealpriceman,” fawns over Glenn Greenwald generally. (Though you can never be sure on the Internet, and besides, why do people pursue political arguments on Twitter anyway? I’ll never understand how, for instance, “When u talk gun violence lk in mirror PA here we cling to guns-apologz to PRES O”-another tweet directed my way, apparently somehow meant to respond to this-could possibly contribute anything useful to our common political life.) I detect in this message: even the NSA says you’re wrong about Glenn Greenwald, so when are you going to apologize? And if I’m reading right, that’s some really smelly stupidity. Because the whole point of my original post was that there was plenty Greenwald had “nailed dead to rights” in his reporting. What I had in mind when I wrote that (I should have specified this, I think) was the stuff on Verizon turning over metadata to the NSA. And yet what therealpriceman links to is an article suggesting something that Greenwald has not (yet?) claimed, and which still remains controversial and undetermined: that the NSA has acknowledged that it does not need court authorization to listen to domestic phone calls, a claim sourced to Representative Jerrold Nadler, which Nadler based on a classified briefing he and other Congressmen received, but which it has since been established Nadler probably just misunderstood.


And given that perspective, I would love to know why Glenn Greenwald thinks the establishment cannot do to him, a relative flyspeck in the grand scheme of things, what they did to Dan Rather, a towering giant of Washington reporting going back to Watergate. Which is: consign him to the outer darkness, where the only people who care about what he has to say are the likes of my good friends @therealpriceman and @runtodaylight.

He starts out by assuring the audience that he has thick skin, but then goes on to prove just how thin it really is.  By whining for 13 paragraphs or so about criticism, criticism from a couple of tweets he received days ago, it really doesn’t show the maturity he was initially hoping to espouse. So since I apparently hurt his fee fees so bad, in 140 characters or less, I’ll go ahead and put his suppositions to the test.

First of all, Rick Perlstein’s portrayal of my supposed “fawning over Glenn Greenwald” is uninformed, inaccurate, lazy, and amateurish. I have even criticized some of what Glenn Greenwald has written before on substantive matters regarding Citizens United and his interpretation of the 1st Amendment. However, I still respect Glenn Greenwald and agree with him most of the time on civil liberties matters despite any disagreements on substance. That being said, people that are familiar with my work know that I have written mostly about economic policy and in a Modern Monetary Theory framework. That certainly doesn’t fit Perlstein’s narrative about me.

It wouldn’t be hard for Perlstein to research this on twitter if he were going to make a real effort to research or describe my work, but we now know that wasn’t the point of this childish temper tantrum posted in the Nation. This behavior sounds eerily familiar, and from a writer I wouldn’t normally expect it from. It reminds me of the cottage industry dedicated to personal attacks on Glenn Greenwald, usually from unconditional supporters of whatever President Obama does or does not do. They are the ones that consistently exhibit the fawning behavior Perlstein falsely attributes to me.

And on that note, I would say it’s rather revealing that Rick Perlstein is now getting personal with Greenwald in this exact same way. For instance, if you read his closing paragraph, it’s just a petty statement about Glenn Greenwald supposedly losing all his friends which is just lazy ad hominem. I thought Rick Perlstein was at least better than this.

I mean, this issue is about the 4th amendment and the Constitution. It’s not about Glenn Greenwald, his friends, or any other person for that matter. It should be about substance, and protecting the Bill of rights for future generations. That’s another reason, out of many, that Rick Perlstein’s childishly uninformed account of what I do or who I am, leaves a lot to be desired. If I were Rick, I would take this advice from Greenwald to heart.

If Perlstein wanted to be offended over a question or tweet, I would have preferred that he answered my multiple other inquires instead, but for whatever reason he didn’t. For instance, the main thrust of his response to Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian’s revelations about Edward Snowden was one that involved appealing to an authority thus referencing the work of Karl Fogel whom Perlstein considered the end all to be all on this matter. Now apparently he took his confirmation bias elsewhere while refusing to go into this at all.

I thought this inquiry was appropriate given Karl Fogel is a Fellow at the New America Foundation according to his website. The New America Foundation has been given million dollar donations by Eric and Wendy Schmidt and Bill and Melinda Gates. The husbands of each party have obvious interests in preserving their reputations and the brands of the companies they used to fully control.

And second of of all, come on, Rick? Rathergate? His strange 2004 election Rather-gate metaphor is rather bizarre and off base considering that election didn’t hinge on such matters. Not to mention that the destruction of the 4th amendment is just a little more pressing. I know, this is probably meant to couch the obvious lack of strength in Perlstein’s last few pieces in the Nation by journeying into the realm of professional concern trolling. However, I don’t find it to have any credibility whatsoever.

Rick Perlstein claims to respect what Greenwald and Edward Snowden have revealed, but then claims that the kind of blatant flawed speculation he exhibits on this story is “so powerful” that this story could completely fall apart without it. He also claims to be doing this for the benefit of Greenwald and those concerned about warrant-less surveillance in general. How “thoughtful” of him. I would say that more actual thought is needed with regard to combating the continued enhanced violations of the 4th amendment by the NSA, the White House, and Congress as a whole.

This mission, if those that claim to still care choose to accept it, is just a bit more important than Perlstein’s inside politics take on how it might be perceived. I mean, I really hate to break it to Mr. Perlstein, but all the inside political opinion based MSNBC gigs are taken. Sorry.

Even if Perlstein’s stated motivations were sincere, I still don’t find them very convincing for a number of reasons. For one, the fact that the FISA court basically rubber stamps whatever secret request that comes from the NSA doesn’t seem to be much a concern to Mr. Perlstein. The sad thing is, is that there actually are other angles to this story not covered by Greenwald’s pieces in the Guardian one could bring up that would be beneficial. One could point out, as Jesselyn Radack has, that the PRISM program is a relatively small part of a much broader, even more intrusive domestic surveillance effort.

So why does Perlstein have to make it all about him? Why does it have to be about how flawless his friend’s interpretation of what PRISM direct server access is, instead of covering all important angles of this story like a real reporter would? I mean “if” one is so “concerned” that is. I would say that this lack of focus puts Perlstein’s petty piece in the Nation in perspective; for if he truly cared about this issue, or how it would be perceived as he says, his focus wouldn’t be so myopic while lacking any real sure-fire merit.

One has to wonder if this is more about his ego – the motivations behind his recent quarrel with Noam Chomsky come to mind – this  really should be a real debate about the 4th amendment and the abuse of the Bill of Rights by the national security state. The same national security state that was initially tamed by the original FISA and FISC regulations recommended by the Church committee and passed in Congress after Watergate. That is, before they were slowly subverted by the Drug War, and then, by the Patriot Act after 9/11.

I find it ironic that the author of Nixonland is so out of focus on these matters as we are heading back there or what former Nixon lawyer John Dean would call Worse than Watergate. If Rick Perlstein still wants to help as he claims, he should focus on these aspects, instead of going after Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian in this fashion. Like I said, the whole debate on the definition of what direct server access “is” is secondary to the fact that if the Kangaroo FISA court rubber stamps a request from the NSA as they usually do, they will get direct access to that real data and meta data about that data, regardless. And if in the event of an extremely rare case where this secret court happens to find that a request from the NSA violates the 4th amendment, as they have, the not so transparent White House will then work to keep that finding secret as well.

And although Rep. Jerold Nadler’s  spokesman initially walked back Nadler’s statement recently(only in the formula “the Administration has reiterated that…”), remember that Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence committee, said the same thing. I think it’s disingenuous to claim Rep. Jerrold Nadler was the only source for these NSA revelations that have come to light regarding the direct access to the content of phone calls. For instance, despite the utter speculation Perlstein relies on to show how he hopes PRISM operates or might operate (what direct server access “is” in the original PRISM slides) we now know the GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians’ direct communications and their content at two G20 summits using the United states NSA’s own PRISM program.

This is partly why many tech experts, some with many more years of expertise on the NSA, have completely disagreed with Perlstein and friends on this matter. Take Wired’s James Bamford, The author of “The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America.” Bamford has covered the National Security Agency for the last thirty years, after helping expose its existence in the 1980s. This really happened, despite the fact that the Obama administration, members of Congress, and most beltway pundits told us on Sunday that the only thing our massive surveillance apparatus is used for is counterterrorism.

These revelations reveal capabilities of the surveillance apparatus that might also be used against us. We know this now. This isn’t speculation with regard to how PRISM might have worked according to this tech expert or that tech expert; this is what actually happened. Besides, many telecoms had to walk some of these claims back, specifically when it comes to their supposedly knowing nothing about PRISM. That being said, Perlstein and friends have still tried to make this nitpicking “server” narrative the dominant one rather than what Snowden and the Guardian have revealed, but have ultimately failed. We have seen these tactics before.

Techies’ Efforts to Own #Snowden/NSA Surveillance Narrative = #Fail

Or as Lambert has said, “Shorter tech dudes on Greenwald: The NSA slides show the servers weren’t built my way, so the slides are wrong. Also, my boss would never lie to me.”*

This front of the PR war against Greenwald, the Guardian, and Snowden is using a tactic familiar to anyone who remembers the financial crisis: that the story is a technology story, ergo, only technologists are qualified to opine on it. But that rhetorical approach (“it’s all too complicated, you just need to believe what we tell you”) was seldom used by people who were acting in good faith to unravel what had happened. It was instead used mainly by incumbents and people who wanted to preserve their relationship with them to circle the wagons.

There was at least some underlying logic for this position during the market meltdown. It was, after all, a financial crisis. By contrast, the NSA scandal is not a technology story. It is at its heart a story about surveillance, the Constitution, and whether we really have any rule of law left in the US. Technology is only an enabler, folks, although, as we will discuss, this story does have important implications for major US technology players.

The comparison to “the experts” telling us we had to trust them in the financial crisis is extremely apt, and as Yves Smith says, it’s even more egregious in this case because the underlying logic doesn’t hold up. Technology is mainly an enabler to take away our rights by people in power who want to do it. The people that want to do it are enabled by people who make excuses for them doing so because Barack Obama is President. This is in direct contrast to when they were rabid about this during the Bush administration.

Another problem is so called journalists who care about their own ego and the influence of their inner circle more than the overall significance of this story. They are also ultimately enablers of a Bush like national security state which is now set to be our fate; a road to hell from four score and seven years ago to an Orwellian 1984 we will all soon know all too well.