Greenwald’s defense of his Klein piece

Moves the goalposts a bit

Yesterday, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald responded to my criticism of a post he wrote back on May 24, and, well, I’ve got a couple of things to say about that.

In his original post, Greenwald savaged a story Joe Klein had written about the fact that some Sunni tribes in Iraq’s Anbar province are fighting back against Al Qaeda. While the story had been reported for months in other outlets, and it would be surprising to learn that someone in the Pentagon wouldn’t want to tout this sign of progress on the record, Klein made the curious decision to rely exclusively on anonymous government sources who told him things that most people who pay attention to news from Iraq already knew. Greenwald bashed Klein for relying on these anonymous sources, and claimed that Klein had turned himself into little more than a “willing propaganda tool” for the “government line.”

I fully agree that there was no need for Klein to have relied on anonymous sources—and I said as much, a fact that Greenwald conveniently ignores in his response. I should have spelled out that Klein was wrong not to have included any identifying characteristics when he cited the sources, and Greenwald is right to point that out.

But in his self-defense yesterday, Greenwald moves the goalposts a bit. His retort focuses exclusively on Klein’s journalistic methodology, when originally he used Klein’s failure to be upfront about his reporting as an excuse to condemn any shred of positive news that comes out of Iraq as mere propaganda.

Greenwald wrote yesterday that he never suggested that Klein’s reporting was inaccurate, and that:

My argument was confined exclusively to the journalistic methods Klein used to report this item. The notion that a journalist’s methods of reporting ought to be immune from criticism as long as the ultimate conclusion turns out to be accurate—which quite clearly is the claim McLeary [is] advancing—is really rather bizarre.

By this reasoning, if a reporter were to pay a source, or bribe a source, or even write an article by picking pieces of paper with random storylines out of a hat, the reporter’s behavior wouldn’t be improper and would be immune from criticism as long as the ultimate conclusion produced by such methods turned out to be factually accurate.

That’s a nice deflection, and an excellent way to pin a worldview on me that doesn’t have any basis in fact, but it also confuses the issue. I was critical of Klein for using anonymous sources unnecessarily, and at no point do I defend his reporting methods. What I did defend is the fact that, even though Klein was woefully late to the story, and compensated for that by fluffing up his piece anonymous sources, the information he reported was true—not government propaganda, as Greenwald suggested.

So Greenwald’s charge that I’m advancing the idea that anything goes, as long as the facts line up in the end, is not supported by anything I have ever written, and actually flies in the face of what I did say in my post. But it sure makes for good copy.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.