Company Paper in a Company Town

The journalistic practices of the Washington Post and Walter Pincus

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Wednesday 10 July 2013 07.24 EDT

Pincus, in lieu of any evidence, spouted all sorts of accusatory innuendo masquerading as questions (“Did Edward Snowden decide on his own to seek out journalists and then a job at Booz Allen Hamilton’s Hawaii facility?” – “Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?” – “Was he encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?”) and invoked classic guilt-by association techniques (“Poitras and Greenwald are well-known free-speech activists, with many prior connections, including as founding members in December of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation” – “Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks”).

Apparently, the Washington Post has decided to weigh in on the ongoing debate over “what is journalism?” with this answer: you fill up articles on topics you don’t know the first thing about with nothing but idle speculation, rank innuendo, and evidence-free accusations, all under the guise of “just asking questions”. You then strongly imply that other journalists who have actually broken a big story are involved in a rampant criminal conspiracy without bothering even to ask them about it first, all while hiding from your readers the fact that they have repeatedly and in great detail addressed the very “questions” you’re posing.

But shoddy journalism from the Washington Post is far too common to be worth noting. What was far worse was that Pincus’ wild conspiracy theorizing was accomplished only by asserting blatant, easily demonstrated falsehoods.

As I documented in an email I sent to Pincus early yesterday morning – one that I instantly posted online and then publicized on Twitter – the article contains three glaring factual errors: 1) Pincus stated that I wrote an article about Poitras “for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog” (I never wrote anything for that blog in my life; the article he referenced was written for Salon); 2) Pincus claimed Assange “previewed” my first NSA scoop in a Democracy Now interview a week earlier by referencing the bulk collection of telephone calls (Assange was expressly talking about a widely reported Bush program from 8 years earlier, not the FISA court order under Obama I reported); 3) Pincus strongly implied that Snowden had worked for the NSA for less than 3 months by the time he showed up in Hong Kong with thousands of documents when, in fact, he had worked at the NSA continuously for 4 years. See the email I sent Pincus for the conclusive evidence of those factual falsehoods and the other distortions peddled by the Post.

The lengths to which some media outlets in this case have gone to assist the US government in trying to criminalize the journalism we’ve done has been remarkably revealing. But the willingness of the Post to aid in this effort by spewing falsehood-based innuendo, which they then permit to remain hour after hour even while knowing it’s false, is a reminder of how ill-advised it is to trust what you read in that establishment venue, and is a vibrant illustration of the reasons such organizations are held in such low esteem.

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple spoke to Pincus about all of this, and Pincus’ comments have to be read to be believed. He says a correction “is in the works.” Wemple’s analysis of his Post colleague’s journalistic practices is, by itself, well worth reading.

Pincus responds to Greenwald blast

By Erik Wemple, Washington Post

Published: July 10, 2013 at 8:25 am

Pincus also cited “close connections” between Greenwald (and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who also got a piece of the leak stories) and Assange/WikiLeaks. Here’s an example of those connections, via Pincus: “On April 10, 2012, Greenwald wrote for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog about Poitras and WikiLeaks being targeted by U.S. government officials.”

That claim was among the many that prompted Greenwald to go public with his concerns about the column. Greenwald: “I have no idea what you’re talking about here, and neither do you. I never wrote anything ‘for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog.’ How you decided to pull that fact out of thin air is a genuine mystery. The April 10, 2012, article of mine you seem to be referencing – about the serial border harassment of the filmmaker Laura Poitras – was written for Salon, where I was a Contributing Writer and daily columnist. Neither it, nor anything else I’ve ever written, was written ‘for the WikiLeaks Press’s blog.’ ”

Pincus now concedes Greenwald’s point. A correction on the point is in the works, he said. As for the rest of the piece, Pincus said it’s “argumentative.”

Maybe so. The suggestion that Greenwald and WikiLeaks are somehow collaborators, however, is a rather dramatic allegation. Absent the claim that Greenwald penned a column especially for WikiLeaks, what’s left of Pincus’s case that there are “close connections” between the journalist and advocacy group? Asked about that, Pincus pointed, again, to the WikiLeaks Web site. Specifically, this page, which directs the public to various experts on matters related to WikiLeaks. It’s divided into various subsections: “WikiLeaks,” for example; “Julian Assange,” “Freedom of the Press.” Under each section, it provides the names and contact information for folks who know about the topics. Greenwald is among them.

The page stipulates that none of the listed people are WikiLeaks officials: “These commentators do not represent WikiLeaks; they are listed because they are knowledgeable about the topics.”

Is Greenwald’s inclusion on such a directory evidence of “close connections” between him and Assange/WikiLeaks? If you need more, said Pincus, consider that Greenwald has written “a lot” about Assange and has “appeared with him.” His story also reported that a nonprofit in which Greenwald and Poitras are founding members strives to assist whistleblowers, “including WikiLeaks.”

The doctrine of “close connections” drew a fiery response from Greenwald, who insisted he’s never “appeared” anywhere with Assange: “I’ve never met Julian Assange in my life,” Greenwald told the Erik Wemple Blog. “I’ve certainly expressed support for WikiLeaks, am on the board of a group that raised money for them, and have communicated with him very periodically via e-mail. I would not describe that as anything approaching ‘close connections,’ but in the scheme of Pincus’s factual errors, that’s low on the list.”

In his brief column, Pincus managed to generate other flashpoints with Greenwald. For instance, he alleged that Assange, in a May 29 interview, “previewed the first Greenwald Guardian story based on Snowden documents that landed a week later. Speaking from Ecuador’s embassy in London, Assange described how NSA had been collecting ‘all the calling records of the United States, every record of everyone calling everyone over years. . . . Those calling records already [are] entered into the national security complex.’ ”

Given that interview, Pincus asked whether Assange knew “ahead of time” about the Greenwald story regarding the NSA’s collection of Verizon phone records.

No way, said Greenwald: “The sentence you quoted from Assange’s May 29 interview about the collection of phone records was preceded by this: ‘The National Security Agency – and this has come out in one court case after another – was involved in a project called Stellar Wind to collect all the calling records of the United States.’ Stellar Wind, as you rather amazingly do not know, is the code name for the 2001-2007 Bush NSA spying program. As part of that program, the NSA (as you also rather amazingly did not know) engaged in the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.”

Pincus is not the first to raise questions about the conduct of Snowden and the journalists that he tapped for his leaks. That said, he insisted he’s not poking at potential wrongdoing by the media. His focus is on Snowden. “Why did he go to Booz Allen? Why did he go to these journalists?” asked Pincus. “What interests me is, did he do this on his own or did someone else tell him to do it?”

The Erik Wemple Blog supports questions. Questions about politicians, celebrities, dogs, journalists – the whole lot. At some point, however, facts and findings about Greenwald & Co. are going to have to catch up with these various curiosities. As we’ve stated before, the public knows more about how these particular leaks dripped from source to recipient than we do about the average national security story, thanks to the disclosures of the reporters involved. Thus far, those disclosures have spelled out a set of captivating, though hardly scandalous, interactions between Snowden and his leakees.

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