Glenn Greenwald Didn’t Resign Because He Was No Longer Willing To Be Edited At The Intercept
Journalist Glenn Greenwald, a co-founder of The Intercept, accused editors at the media organization of censorship and resigned. It involved a story he drafted on Joe Biden and allegations of corruption stemming from his son’s laptop that was purportedly given to the New York Post.
He shared a piece about ending his involvement, announced he was launching a newsletter at Substack, posted the article he claimed was censored, and later posted emails reflecting the sharp disagreement with Intercept editors.
What quickly became the focus was a statement he made about a clause in his contract that prohibited the editing of his articles unless it involved “complex original reporting” or there was a “possibility of legal liability.”
Intercept editor-in-chief Betsy Reed told the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple the resignation stemmed “from a fundamental disagreement over the role of editors in the production of journalism and the nature of censorship. Glenn demands the absolute right to determine what he will publish, and anyone who presumes to edit his words is a censor.”
Journalist Naomi Klein, a senior correspondent at The Intercept, declared, “Glenn was not ‘censored’ — he was edited and edited well. Crying censorship is a marketing ploy to gin up subscribers for his new Substack. Are people really going to fall for it?”
A day after, Jacob Silverman, a writer for The New Republic, insisted the “real problem” is “that Greenwald seems to think he is beyond editing or critique.”
“There’s no need to exalt editing as a rarefied practice to argue for its importance. A good editor is a useful collaborator who, among other things, corrects inaccuracies and saves a writer from his worst tendencies,” Silverman argued. “Among Greenwald’s is an utter certitude in whatever he does, no matter the klaxons blaring, from colleagues and the evidence right in front of him, that perhaps he might be wrong. Humility and a tolerance of ambiguity have never been hallmarks of his work.”
Intercept management, as well as journalists who Greenwald implicates in his analysis, benefit from making this about his personality. It de-politicizes the resignation and makes it easier for the media organization to limit the damage to their reputation, which is inevitable because he helped launch the outlet.
Furthermore, the perception of Greenwald as someone unwilling to tolerate anyone who disagrees with him is firmly embedded in the establishment media’s coverage of his award-winning work on the disclosures from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. It does not take much for Reed to convince people he was bullheaded.
But Greenwald’s resignation exposed deep problems within the establishment media as well as progressive media that have only intensified under President Donald Trump. (Matt Taibbi deals with several of them here.)
‘The Draft’s Core Problem’
The article Greenwald drafted explored whether the Hunter Biden emails revealed wrongdoing on the part of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and outlined the lengths to which many in the news media in the United States ignored or even suppressed the story a few weeks before Election Day.
Because Facebook and Twitter engaged in censorship when the New York Post published its first article on the emails, and Rudy Giuliani was apparently involved in handing over the laptop to the newspaper, it immediately was toxic for any self-respecting journalist in the business to treat the emails as anything other than the product of a Russia information operation supported by Trump’s 2020 campaign.
The vast majority of outlets in U.S. media have emphasized that anything about Burisma and the Biden family is largely a fabrication of Republican political operatives. Greenwald could not merely offer a critique of media coverage without being seen as a right-wing partisan or Trump supporter. So, to give his readers a clear sense that alleged corruption was inappropriately disregarded, he outlined allegations involving the Ukrainian energy holding company.
This is what journalists should do when confronting media malpractice. If it is evident that news editors and media producers are wildly incorrect, one has to make some effort to provide the information that was glossed over or erased entirely. That is the only way to alter the learned opinion of media consumers, who already will come to the article with a skewed viewpoint.
As the emails Greenwald posted show, Reed and Peter Maass, a senior editor of The Intercept, objected to the content of the article.
“The draft’s core problem is the connection it often asserts or assumes between the Hunter Biden emails and corruption by Joe Biden,” Maass wrote. “There are many places in which the explicit or implied position is a) the emails expose corruption by Joe Biden and b) news organizations are suppressing their reporting on it.”
“Those positions strike me as foundations to this draft, and they also strike me as inaccurate, and that inaccuracy undercuts narrower points that are sound,” Maass added.
Notably, on October 24, an article on this exact matter by Maass was published at The Intercept that insisted the mass media needed to focus on Rupert Murdoch and his family’s role in promoting disinformation like the Hunter Biden emails story. And Maass tried to shape Greenwald’s article to fit his view.
“I think it’s totally right to point out the haste with which some journalists and experts are talking about Russia’s hand,” Maass contended. “But the argument that some people make about disinformation, and that I think you should address, is the way the materials are being used by Giuliani, the rightwing media, and Trump, to support an exaggerated and false narrative — a narrative that is not supported by the materials themselves.”
“Some people” was Maass himself. It was already addressed at The Intercept. Plus, in an already 6,000-word article, why was it Greenwald’s responsibility to cover?
‘You Never Present Any Evidence’ To Support Questioning Biden’s Motives
Within another part of Maass’ critique of Greenwald’s article, he maintained it was inappropriate to question Biden’s motives:
…[T]here are many places in the piece where you say that the material raises serious questions about Biden’s motives, yet you never present any evidence that supports such questions. You can certainly note that Shokin’s successor let Burisma off the hook, but that’s not evidence he was installed by Biden in order to achieve that end (indeed, it appears from the quote [Matt] Taibbi cites that Biden initially had no idea who Shokin’s proposed successor was). Despite years of reporting by a lot of journalists, American as well as Ukrainian, as well as an exhaustive GOP-led U.S. Senate investigation, no evidence has surfaced of Biden acting corruptly with respect to the replacement of Shokin. (Taibbi’s findings are equivocal, I believe.) The reasonable conclusion, by now, would be that it most likely didn’t happen…
I believe I was quite careful not to say that the emails prove Biden had a corrupt motive. In fact, as you note, I explicitly say that the emails do not prove that. But if Biden caused the firing of a prosecutor which — intended or not — ended up benefiting a company paying his son, then to me it seems obvious that these new materials (including ones suggesting Biden was going to meet with Burisma executives) along with other previously reported facts raise questions about Biden’s motives (Taibbi’s reporting cites conversations where Biden was asked if Lutsenko would be an acceptable replacement, and Biden said yes; in any event, he released the $1 billion only after the replacement was named).
There was no discussion about how to condense for length. Reducing the article to 2,000 words was raised by Maass, but it was in the context of his objections with the core of Greenwald’s analysis.
After Greenwald explicitly accused Intercept editors of censorship, and argued he was being subject to a rigorous editorial process because of his view, Reed shut down any further discussion. She maintained he was “unwilling to engage in a productive editorial process.”
Reed said his comments about colleagues were “offensive and unacceptable.” He called out what he perceived as a double standard when it came to applying a rigorous editorial process to articles.
…It was The Intercept that took the lead in falsely claiming that publication by the NY Post was part of a campaign of “Russian disinformation” — and did so by (a) uncritically citing the allegations of ex-CIA officials as truth, and (b) so much worse: omitting the sentence in the letter from the ex-CIA officials admitting they had no evidence for that claim…
There were no insults, smears, or attempts at character assassination in his emails. He specifically objected to the Intercept editors’ handling of the article on the Hunter Biden emails that was authored by James Risen.
A Broader Schism Brewing For Some Time
Greenwald recognized the article he wanted to write would never be allowed by Intercept editors. He indicated he would publish it elsewhere, and Reed recoiled, noting it would be “unfortunate and detrimental to The Intercept for the story to be published elsewhere.”
Reed’s reaction to his intent to publish elsewhere was evidence of the fracture between Greenwald and Intercept editors. As Greenwald said on “Rising,” this was part of a broader schism that’s been brewing for some time.
It stemmed from their mishandling of the document provided to them by NSA whistleblower Reality Winner and the organization’s lack of transparency when accounting for what went wrong. There were disagreements about how to responsibly cover Trump-Russia allegations.
From his announcement:
…the decision to hang Lee Fang out to dry and even force him to apologize when a colleague tried to destroy his reputation by publicly, baselessly and repeatedly branding him a racist; its refusal to report on the daily proceedings of the Assange extradition hearing because the freelance reporter doing an outstanding job was politically distasteful…
“Repeatedly over the past several months, I’ve brought to Betsy’s attention false claims that were published by The Intercept in articles that were designed to protect Biden and malign Trump. Some have been corrected or quietly deleted, while others were just left standing,” Greenwald claimed in his second email.
The Intercept editor-in-chief’s response, as well as the scorn heaped on Greenwald by those standing with the editor-in-chief, sidesteps the reality that they all have access to the media organization’s website, which receives millions of views every day. They could publish a rebuttal to Greenwald’s analysis on the same day, and it would foster a debate that should be had.
Greenwald noted the kind of post-Trump stress disorder at the Intercept. They and many other outlets wanted the Hunter Biden emails to leave the news cycle quickly because they saw it as a potential repeat of the 2016 election, where Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails were reported on by The Intercept and they were crudely blamed for Trump’s election.
Anyone who makes this about a media personality believing they are above being edited is obviously shying away from contentious issues in media culture that are raw and intense.
Remarkably, what has played out around the Hunter Biden emails is similar to how progressive media treats any coverage or discussion of what is known as third party politics. It is orthodoxy in a general election not to give space to the Green Party, Libertarian, or any socialist party candidates because they are likely to “spoil” the election.
The Intercept produced several reports during the 2020 primary on Joe Biden’s campaign, and they were highly critical as Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren presented a potential alternative to supporting a neoliberal Democrat. But as Greenwald pointed out, in the context of the general election, that adversarial journalism has largely been paused until Trump loses and it is “safe” to criticize Democrats again.
Every person working in media, who has ever ideologically aligned themselves with progressivism or the left, has dealt with this pressure. One is compelled to add a disclaimer to each comment about Biden for fear they will be accused of being some closeted MAGA troll.
In the throes of election madness, one is not supposed to attempt to grapple with this mess and confront the illusion of choice, particularly in presidential elections. Tribalism is necessary so divisions are not exploited by the right-wing against Democrats. So, anti-democratic impulses drive the discourse.
Biden will owe any election victory to a coalition of neoliberal Democrats and disaffected neoconservative Republicans, many of them former military and intelligence officials. They have funded shady projects to attack on Trump relentlessly. But it is preferred that one disengages and allows the contradictions and dilemmas to play out until the anxiety dissipates and the cycle begins all over again.
This is the orthodoxy Greenwald bumped up against, and why he is now on to the next chapter in his journalism career.