Journalists react to controversial questions David Gregory asked Glenn Greenwald

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As NSA leaker Edward Snowden evades members of the press trying to figure out where he is and where he’s heading, debate continues Monday over a question host David Gregory asked Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

“To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” he asked.

Greenwald replied: “The scandal that arose in Washington before our stories began was about the fact that the Obama administration is trying to criminalize investigative journalism by going through the emails and phone records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being a co-conspirator with felony, in felonies, for working with sources,” he said. He continued:

If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal. And it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States.

A McClatchy story published last week may provide some valuable context on that last point: The administration’s “Insider Threat Program” not only encourages federal agencies to crack down on leaks of classified information but “to pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information,” Marisa Taylor and Jonathan S. Landay reported.

Documents they saw “also show how millions of federal employees and contractors must watch for ‘high-risk persons or behaviors’ among co-workers and could face penalties, including criminal charges, for failing to report them. Leaks to the media are equated with espionage.”

Anyway, back to Gregory’s question. The obvious defense is that he was merely asking a question that evinced a viewpoint advanced by U.S. Rep. Peter King and Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen — that publishing secrets is law-breaking.


And indeed, Gregory wondered on-air why somebody who claims that he’s a journalist…would object to a journalist raising questions, which is not actually embracing any particular point of view.”

The veiled shot at Greenwald’s professional status aside, Gregory’s question appeared to show he was not aware of “the legal intricacies into which he was wading.” Erik Wemple explains:

In the seminal 2001 case Bartnicki v. Vopper, the Supreme Court considered a set of circumstances in which a media outlet had published a private conversation that had been illegally recorded. Since the news organization hadn’t participated in the illegal recording — it merely received it — and since the conversation was of great public consequence, the court ruled that its publication was protected by the First Amendment.

“I see nothing wrong with the question,” NYU professor Jay Rosen writes. “But Gregory went beyond that.” Greenwald, he notes, “is going to face more and more questions about his motives and methods as the Snowden story divides the country and the press. He might as well prepare for it, and try to accept these encounters with good humor when he can.”

And speaking of humor…


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  • Vigilarus

    To have one’s credibilty questioned by such a Beltway Boot-licker as Gregory is a sure sign of integrity. Access-craving media personalities have contempt for actual journalists like Greenwald.

  • Jezreel

    As Eric Wemple at the Washington Post and others have asserted, David Gregory did not contextualize his “question” as an attempt to solicit a response from Greenwald to a previous (baseless and unwarranted) accusation against him by Rep. Peter King.

    Instead, Gregory’s framing of the statement was accusatory and absent any larger context.

    “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?” he asked.

    Gregory had just finished grilling Greenwald on Snowden’s plans for seeking asylum and his travel itinerary. After failing to get Greenwald to reveal new information on Snowden, Gregory accused Greenwald of “aiding and abetting Snowden, even in his current movements” essentially accusing Greenwald of lying to him about how much he knew about Snowden’s whereabouts and his plans for seeking asylum.
    By questioning whether Greenwald is a legitimate journalist, Gregory displayed his contempt for Greenwald, and by extension, every columnist, journalist, blogger, reporter etc who is not part of the cadre of beltway shills for our government.

  • Ed Moloney

    Gregory’s question to Greenwald would have been acceptable had he framed it like this: ‘Peter King has said that journalists like you should be prosecuted for aiding and abetting Snowden. How do you react to that?’ A perfectacceptable and even necessary question to ask. But instead he framed the question in terms that made it clear that he thought Greenwald should be prosecuted, an impression confirmed by his subsequent questioning of Greenwald’s journalistic credentials (and this on a network which employs Chelsea Clinton!).

    Gregory’s approach smacked of subservience to power and I know where I have seen this before. For some twenty years I covered the Troubles in Northern Ireland (where incidentally the 37 recorded Al Qaeda-type incidents or alleged incidents in the US since 9/11 could be compressed into an average week in any year between 1972 and 1975!) and the very first casualty of the state’s fight against terrorism was journalistic bravery.

    Self-censorship very quickly became the order of the day and it was fueled by journalists’ fears that to question authority, to query the government risked the accusation of harbouring sympathy with the terrorists. Names were coined by politicians and, alas, even by our own colleagues to describe such journalists: ‘sneaking regarders’ or ‘fellow travelers’ were the most common. The fear thus engendered silenced far too many reporters and made liars out of others.

    Unfortunately the same phenomenon is now very visible in the US media, as it was on Gregory’s program on Sunday (Chuck Todd was not far behind the program’s host). I always argued that self-censorship denied the public the full information they needed to judge what was happening in Northern Ireland, what were the causes, how these causes could be addressed and ultimately the conflict ended. I suspect and fear that the same fate now faces this country. There has never been a more urgent need for an open and skeptical media in America than now. Do not make the mistakes that we journalists made in Ireland.

  • Kenneth Conway

    Here’s my question for Mr. Gregory: “How does it feel to be on the wrong side of history?”