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October 28, 2013

Comments

I would not have a problem with Glen Greenwald if he would make an honest attempt to approach the core of what he himself calls the value of good journalism. To quote Glenb "But no journalism — from the most stylistically “objective” to the most brazenly opinionated — has any real value unless it is grounded in facts, evidence, and verifiable data." Which he almost never does. In fact he has practically invented a new usage of the word "could". The Greenwaldian could, used generally in the hypothetical sense of what some random fact "could" imply which is yet practically instantly verifiable as not physically possible in this neck of the universe. Hence the fact that a low orbit spy satellite can effectively read a license plate "could" mean that the same satellite is reading everyone's license plate and tracking their movements. Which, of course, it could not. The Greenwaldian could has enormous power to tar reputations and distort reality without ever having the slightest consequences to the person who uses it. As Mr Greenwald well knows.

If you think Glenn Greenwald doesn't utilize facts you must not be familiar with his writing. The dude used to be a lawyer and thus peppers his work with links to reports, studies, news articles, legal documents and other "fact-y" materials. It's true that he marshalls these facts into a narrative that is forcefully opinionated, but it doesn't change the fact that virtually every paragraph he writes is sourced to (multiple) documents and records.

Also, see NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen's take for how Greenwald's vision for journalism (What he dubs "Politics:Some") and Keller's vision ("Politics: None") are not mutually exclusive and can often complement each other in ways that make up for their individual weaknesses: http://pressthink.org/2013/06/politics-some-politics-none-two-ways-to-excel-in-political-journalism-neither-dominates/

If you think Mr Greenwald properly uses facts you must have read only him. Searching only within your own bubble for the verification of facts is the very definition of confirmatory bias. And that is Glen's specialty. Facty is not factual.

Doesn't this boil down to a simple question: Whether there's an objective "truth?" Ironically, it's the Greenwalds of the world who would say "yes," because of the conviction that their view of events and the world is correct. It's the Kellers who would say that there is no truth, so the best thing to do is present facts as accurately as possible, and let the reader make assumptions of what's "true."

Best hoomans can do is a consensus of observers aware of
our species fallibility in general and their own self-serving biases in particular, what the boys at Sonoma State used to call "Critical Thinking."

Greenwald uses facts, but he because he journalists like he lawyers, he uses those facts to support endless inferences and suggestions which may or may not be true and serve his own end goal.

He's useful for those facts, but critique the arguments those facts are buried in.

@Peter: What? How is citing legal documents, studies and news articles "only searching within your own bubble"? And far from creating a bubble, Greenwald takes his critics head on in many cases and specifically addresses their arguments in updates at the end of his posts.

I'd be very interested in some examples of how Greenwald "improperly" uses facts, as I don't think its possible to rebut your statement unless you can show an instance or two of him misrepresenting a document or source.

@David: I would argue that Keller's vision of journalism is closer to what my college journalism professor called "the six fingered argument" than a dispassionate examination of the facts. The argument goes like this: Human beings have five fingers on their hand, and a fact based journalist would almost always affirm this to be the case in his/her writing. But what if there was substantial group of people who insisted that humans actually had six fingers on their hand. Do you as the reporter say they are wrong, or do you say that one group claims humans have five fingers while others say they may have six? I can think of a concrete example of Keller doing this (utilizing "enhanced interrogation techniques" language for waterboarding and other measures that were widely and uncontroversially described as torture techniques before 2001). In this case Keller's paper saw that a sizable enough group of people (including the President) were insisting that humans had six fingers and to describe that position as false would be unfair and biased. This is one of the "blind spots" of so-called objective journalism that Hunter S. Thompson talked about often.

Greenwald's moralism can be a bit off-putting, but he puts his facts and opinions out there, warts and all, and willingly engages with those who critize.
Glenn Beck invents facts and only debates in his own bubble.
Keller pretends that he is the grown up in the room, and so should be trusted over Beck and Greenwald. But, as Greenwald shows, the NYT has own bias, such as deference to power and conventional thinking, but pretends otherwise. This is truly dangerous.

This is not just the realm of gadflys and activists: Nate Silver showed that the conventional wisdom was completely wrong. Krugman is somewhat similar, being quite accurate on a lot of economic stories. Both caused a lot of headaches for the NYT. Silver left because the NYT culture could not handle someone who did not follow convention, but was right all the time.

So, I still read the big newspapers. But most of the biggest stories and opinion makers come through the blogosphere.

Greenwald might be a bit off-putting, I'm a bit annoyed that events of the past year have repeatedly called for me to take his side of various arguments, but I agree that there's an objective "truth" and the "X says Y, A says B and I won't give you any of the facts to help you decide who's telling the truth" model to bug the hell out of me. The conservatives long ago learned that they could lie their asses off without being seriously called out by most media for exactly this reason.

I also agree with Keller that opinionated "journalism" - of the Glenn Beck, Fox News, Keith Olbermann style- is a major reason for the decline in trust of the media. But the answer is not for the media to be more timid, or to be dishonest about biases. Fact-driven journalism which is honest about opinions and unafraid to say "X says Y, but here's why that's baloney", is what we desperately need more of.

It's amazing to me how many times I see people criticizing Greenwald's accuracy without links. Peter G asserts this:

Hence the fact that a low orbit spy satellite can effectively read a license plate "could" mean that the same satellite is reading everyone's license plate and tracking their movements. Which, of course, it could not.

I'd like to see where Greenwald asserted that. Now if you change the word "everyone's" in the quote above to "anyone's," that sounds more like Greenwald, and is, of course, the truth. But I have no link either. What did Greenwald actually say?

When it comes to ascertaining actuality - allegedly the entire purpose of Keller's craft - I trust Greenwald much more than Greenwald's critics, including Keller.

But prove me wrong! I genuinely am interested in the actuality of this. What did Greenwald say?

I think PM Carpenter - like Keller - gets this part wrong:

"Greenwald righteously protests that he presents journalism for the greater good and with an informed partiality and in a deeper search for "the truth," and for all I know he protests authentically. Yet Glenn Beck protests the same. And absent underlying sources of unopinionated knowledge and facts--such as Keller's--I can't possibly know whose ideological story--i.e., politics reduced to personal morality--to buy."

I think this misunderstands Greenwald, who argues that if the facts lead you to a particular place, you can't ignore that just because you are "objective."

The discussion of torture is instructive, as would be a similar discussion of WMD in Iraq. Keller's outfit was obligated by its "impartiality" to adopt the government line in those cases.

Sure, "objective" journalism has its place, but journalistic practice needs to change so that false information can't be presented as being "objectively" plausible.

And if you really can't tell the difference between Greenwald and Beck, then the NYT isn't going to be much help. The idea that the two have something important in common is both "objectively" correct and preposterous.

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