There and Back Again: The Glenn Greenwald Story
I recently finished a longish video about how Glenn Greenwald became a reactionary. But it occurs to me that people might like to simply read the script, so I'm posting that below.
Howdy folks, Ryan here. So I’m a political journalist, and I am ashamed to admit that the first blog I ever read religiously was written by none other than Glenn Greenwald. (Do Zoomers know what blogs were? Those were the good old days.) Anyway, this was about 2005, when I was a sophomore in college, and I discovered his writing online about the time that the Bush administration mass surveillance scandal was reported. He seemed to have a cogent and informed perspective on the threat Bush’s abuses posed to the civil liberties of Americans.
For many years I read Greenwald’s writings as he moved from his own site to Salon, to The Guardian where he published the Snowden stories, and then to the publication he co-founded, The Intercept—though less religiously over time, as he has always been an exhausting read even for a fan. We were mutual followers on Twitter for many years.
Yet now Greenwald is very obviously part of the conservative movement. He is continually on the most popular right-wing cable news show, he is a major presence on a right-wing streaming service funded by a fascist oligarch, and his Substack newsletter is full of right-wing talking points.
So what happened? In this video I’d like to investigate—like my previous video on Matt Taibbi, who has become a close ally of Greenwald, check it out here—how a lefty bombthrower became an eager soldier in the conservative movement. It turns out that Greenwald is not so much abandoning all his prior beliefs as returning to where he started.
Greenwald used to be a lawyer, and his career was quite short. To understand the background we need to talk about can openers for a second. You see, back in the 1950s, a Bircher named Ben Klassen made pots of money off a can opener patent, along with investments in real estate. He plowed that money into Florida politics running against the civil rights movement in the 60s, but quit after one term and founded a white supremacist cult called the Church of the Creator, also known as the Creativity movement. Klassen wrote several books stuffed with barely-literate gutter racism—and I mean really awful shit, as bad as anything you’d find in Mein Kampf—and his acolytes committed various hate crimes, including a number of bombings and shootings, over the years.
By the way, I’m cribbing most of this history from a writeup by Dave Niewart, who has studied right-wing extremism for many years, link in the description.
The terrorist attacks led to lawsuits, Klassen committed suicide in 1993, and the Southern Poverty Law Center then got a judgement against the church that ended it financially.
That spelled opportunity for one Matthew Hale, an Illinois man who was 20 years old at the time. He had previously founded something called the National Socialist White Americans Party, perhaps because the actual acronym of the Nazi party just wasn’t racist enough for his liking, and he took the opportunity to seize Klassen’s brand equity, as it were. Hale changed his neo-Nazi party into a so-called religion called the “World Church of the Creator,” and most of the Creativity movement followed him.
Hale’s fascist thugs kept up their spree of largely minor hate crimes as the 90s progressed, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and Montana. Hale himself went to law school in Illinois, graduated, and passed the bar exam. But a panel of the state bar association denied him entry, on account of him being a Nazi piece of shit. (I’m paraphrasing.)
Hale sued the Illinois bar. He wanted Jewish attorneys, for obvious reasons, and first tried to get Alan Dershowitz. But it turned out that the Dersh was incredibly expensive, and so Hale flipped to the end of the Rolodex and settled on one Glenn Greenwald, who at the time was fresh out of law school.
That’s right. Ole Glenn’s first big case in his legal career was serving as a budget Alan Dershowitz for a Nazi cult leader.
Hale would bring out all of Greenwald’s flaws: his enormous blind spot about, if not veiled sympathy for, right-wing extremism; his towering self-righteousness; his total unwillingness to admit error; his half-baked views about free speech; and last but not least, his appalling prose style.
Greenwald did not just represent Hale in court, he went hog wild in his defense. On June 30th 1999 they lost the original case against the Illinois bar, but that was only the beginning. Two days after losing the case, one of Hale’s closest associates, a man named Benjamin Smith, went on a shooting rampage in Illinois and Indiana, driving around shooting at Jews and any other minorities he could find. He injured ten people and killed two—former basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong, who was shot and killed in front of his children, and Won-Joon Yoon, a Korean grad student. Eventually Smith was cornered by police and killed himself.
In April 2000, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit against Hale’s church, on behalf of a pastor Smith shot, under the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871. This law allows individuals to sue those who violate their civil rights for damages, and the lawsuit alleged that Hale had conspired with Smith to “commit wholesale acts of genocidal violence.”
In response, Glenn worked himself into classic Greenwaldian hysterics. Speaking to American Lawyer in April, he said “It's all just guilt by association … All they can say Matt Hale did is express the view that Jews and blacks are inferior. There's just no question that expressing those views is a core First Amendment activity.” He elaborated: “I find that the people behind these lawsuits are truly so odious and repugnant, that creates its own motivation for me.”
In August, Greenwald spoke to The Los Angeles Times. “Nobody has found a shred of evidence that Matt Hale even knew about the crimes, let alone participated in them,” he said. On the strategy of civil rights groups suing white supremacist organizations into bankruptcy, he said it was “an abuse of the court system.”
It turned out that Hale was a lot closer to Smith than he initially let on. A Chicago Tribune article found it was Hale who had turned Smith onto the path of genocidal white supremacy. Hale had awarded Smith the “Creator of the Year,” his church’s top honor, six months previously. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, police found that the two had talked for 13 hours on the phone in the three weeks leading up to the shooting, including a half-hour chat two days before Smith opened fire. Hale also produced a registered letter from Smith, disavowing his membership of the World Church of the Creator, written one day before the shooting. That’s what us investigative professionals call “suspicious.”
Still Greenwald kept at it. In 2001 he filed another lawsuit attempting to get Hale his law license, where he wrote:
The denial of Matthew Hale's application to practice law in the State of Illinois embodies the most egregious—and most dangerous—constitutional abuses which have, again and again, been resoundingly declared by courts in this Nation to be patently unlawful. In sum, Hale, a well-known and vigorous advocate of racist and anti-Semitic ideas, was barred from the legal profession and denied his livelihood because the individuals sitting on the Committee of Character and Fitness for the State of Illinois happened to disagree—strongly—with Hale's political and religious views. To describe the denial of Hale's application to practice law, then, is to illustrate the profound dangers it poses to the most basic and valued liberties guaranteed to all citizens by the United States Constitution.
This didn’t work either. A couple months later Greenwald was cited by an Illinois district court judge for recording conversations with witnesses in the lawsuit against Hale without their permission—kind of an ironic development given his later anti-surveillance crusade. The plaintiffs asked that the recordings be disclosed and any further recordings be prohibited. The judge agreed, “finding defense counsel's conduct unethical under two separate rules: Local Rule 83.58.4(a)(4), prohibiting 'dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;' and Local Rule 83.54.4, stating 'a lawyer shall not ... use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of [another] person.'”
Hale finally got into serious trouble when he was sued for trademark infringement by a different real church in Oregon and eventually lost. That prompted him to conspire to murder the judge who oversaw the case in front of an FBI informant, a crime for which he was convicted in April 2004.
Even after all that Greenwald continued to represent this guy. In 2005 he told The New York Times that he thought Hale was wrongfully convicted, but it came to nothing. Hale remains in prison to this day.
I’m spending so much time on this story because it’s got all the classic Greenwald tropes we know and love. We’ve got ridiculous, self-aggrandizing hyperbole—blocking a fascist from practicing law embodies the “most egregious and most dangerous constitutional abuses.” Racist bile is not just protected speech, but “core First Amendment activity.” We’ve got shrieking insults of his enemies—a pastor who was shot three times by a Nazi terrorist is “odious” and “repugnant” and attempting to bankrupt hate groups who commit terrorist acts is an “abuse of the court system.”
Finally, we’ve got an extreme case of birdbrained liberal lawyer syndrome. First, to torch your career trying to force the courts to admit a Nazi as a practicing lawyer reveals a faith in the legal system so deluded that only an American lawyer educated at top law schools could possibly believe it. The United States has by far the worst legal system in the rich world—just look at the Supreme Court, or the Fifth Circuit, or the fact that almost every consequential law or regulation is immediately tied up in Kafkaesque legal wrangling for years, if not decades. The last thing this country needs is more Nazis in the courts. From top to bottom, American legal outcomes are blatantly influenced by which party before the court has the most money or political connections, if not literally bought with cash. The oligarch Peter Thiel spent millions in secret, for instance, on pretextual lawsuits to bankrupt the publication Gawker because he didn’t like its coverage. More on Thiel in a minute.
Second, defending Hale to this extent is not far from the Onion article “ACLU Defends Nazis' Right To Burn Down ACLU Headquarters.” This is a guy who straight up says: “It is time to fan the flames of anti-Semitism far and wide. It is time to expose the Jews as being the evil incarnate of the world.” When Hale claimed that he wouldn’t abuse his power as a lawyer to violate the rights of what he called “mud races,” he was what the enlightened few would call “lying through his teeth.” It is actually fine to prevent people like this from practicing law.
Incidentally, a similar realization was a major motivation for the Ku Klux Klan Act itself, which was one of the core structures of the Reconstruction system for a time. In addition to the lawsuit provision, it also temporarily gave the president the power to suspend the right of habeas corpus to deal with terrorist groups like the KKK who were conspiring to steal the civil rights of Black Americans. President Ulysses S. Grant indeed used this power and others to great effect. Together with his attorney general Amos T. Akerman, his administration broke the back of the first KKK with investigations and prosecutions, and the group disappeared for the rest of the century.
The KKK Act was a recognition that liberal freedoms like free speech aren’t the solitary purpose of a small-r republican constitution. The point of a republic is not to enable every racist piece of shit to say whatever they want all the time. The point is to create a system of democratic self-rule. When racist terrorists take advantage of those freedoms in an attempt to infringe the civil rights of other citizens, if not deport or exterminate them—and this is what Hale was publicly saying he was doing—it is perfectly legitimate to fight fire with fire.
And besides, the guy was a goddamn Nazi. To quote a prominent video game critic: "'Hey this guy's a Nazi, would you like to drown him in his own piss?' the game might ask. 'Sorry, did you say something? I was busy drowning a Nazi in his own piss,' we might reply."
Anyway, I’m getting off track here. The Hale business pretty much ended Greenwald’s legal career, and he turned to political writing. There he made a name for himself as a political blogger focusing on civil liberties, first on his own site and then at Salon. For the rest of the Bush administration and the next several years—ironically in light of his favorite term of abuse today—he was basically a normie liberal Democrat. He attacked Bush’s legal abuses on surveillance and the war on terror, pointed out Republican hypocrisies, and clearly favored Barack Obama over John McCain in 2008.
There were just a couple characteristic Greenwald moments in these years. The first was a bilious attack on immigration that he subsequently disavowed, and the second was a prolonged flirtation with Ron Paul, despite Paul’s long associations with conspiracy nuts and racists, and his looney tunes agenda of abolishing Social Security and Medicare. There were clear echos here of the Hale story, but when Paul’s campaign flopped, that was the end of it.
But as the Obama administration steadily embraced or even expanded on the Bush-era security state—including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, constant drone assassination, including of American citizens, dragnet surveillance, and so on—Greenwald became a steadily more bitter critic of the Democratic Party and liberalism.
That helped him get the scoop that made his journalism career. Edward Snowden reportedly came to Greenwald because he liked his takes. Unfortunately, Greenwald was so tech illiterate that he almost missed it entirely. Filmmaker Laura Poitras had to get the ball rolling instead. Peter Maass told the story in an article for The New York Times Magazine:
Poitras was not Snowden’s first choice as the person to whom he wanted to leak thousands of N.S.A. documents. In fact, a month before contacting her, he reached out to Greenwald, who had written extensively and critically about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the erosion of civil liberties in the wake of 9/11. Snowden anonymously sent him an e-mail saying he had documents he wanted to share, and followed that up with a step-by-step guide on how to encrypt communications, which Greenwald ignored. Snowden then sent a link to an encryption video, also to no avail.
“It’s really annoying and complicated, the encryption software,” Greenwald said as we sat on his porch during a tropical drizzle. “He kept harassing me, but at some point he just got frustrated, so he went to Laura.”
Still, the Snowden story made Greenwald one of the most famous journalists in the world, and led eBay oligarch Pierre Omidyar to promise him and Poitras 250 million dollars to found The Intercept. This was going to be a crusading new publication doing the serious investigative reporting mainstream institutions wouldn’t—particularly when it came to classified documents. For Greenwald personally, it was a dream gig—he got to write about whatever he wanted, and paid 6 figures for doing it.
I want to emphasize that despite Greenwald hugely exaggerating his reporting skills then and now, his work from 2005 to about 2016 or so was generally pretty good, and occasionally good through about 2019. Just like Taibbi, there was a period where his head was screwed on straight, more or less. The flip side of his egomania and self-righteousness was that when he did have a good idea, he bird-dogged it for years.
But it didn’t last.
Greenwald’s turn to the right started around 2016, the election that broke a million brains. He favored Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and absolutely despised Hillary Clinton as the inheritor of the Bush-Obama national security state. Almost everyone assumed she would win easily, and so Greenwald (like most of the rest of the media) spent the campaign savagely criticizing Clinton and the Democrats. He along with other similar leftists loudly scoffed at the stories that Russian intelligence had hacked the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, as well as the idea that the hacking was having an effect on the election, because that argument shifted blame away from Clinton and the Democratic Party.
Incidentally, some liberals did use Russian interference as an excuse for Clinton’s dismal performance, but of course both factors mattered. Hillary Clinton was an atrocious candidate—the second-most unpopular nominee in the history of presidential election polling (behind only Trump). But without the landslide of negative coverage creating by the hacked materials being carefully dripped out over months, she probably would have won.
Anyway, when Trump scraped out a victory instead, Greenwald was put in an uncomfortable position. It was easy to attack Clinton when she was the presumptive president. But when she lost, it suggested that Greenwald’s fulminating criticisms during the campaign were misplaced, or maybe even helped Trump in a small way.
And this mattered because Trump was as bad or worse than Clinton on most issues that Greenwald had ever championed—civil liberties, surveillance, foreign policy, and so on—indeed, often worse than his old enemy George W. Bush. Even on issues where Trump broke from Bush Republicans, like the invasion of Iraq, Trump was an unconvincing Johnny-come-lately who lied about opposing the war before it happened. Sure enough, in office, he tore up the Iran nuclear deal, drastically escalated airstrikes, and came within a hair’s breadth of open war with Iran and North Korea.
So there were two options here. Greenwald could admit that he had misjudged the situation and apply the same scrutiny to Trump as he had to Obama, or he could double down on his previous position. No bonus points if you correctly guess where he ended up.
Still, it wasn’t an immediate shift. Greenwald did directly criticize the Trump administration’s war crimes for the first few months of his administration. But after the middle of 2017, that was pretty much it. Instead he focused more and more obsessively on attacking liberals and especially trying to debunk the story that Russian intelligence had helped the Trump campaign. Every time some liberal or centrist reporter said something that turned out to be wrong, he pounced, and conversely held up every piece of news came out that cast doubt on the story.
Greenwald’s constant nitpicking obscured the broader facts of the case. The truth is that even before the 2016 election, there was overwhelming evidence that Russian intelligence had hacked the email accounts of Podesta and the DNC. The private security company CrowdStrike published a detailed explanation of the coding tracks left by the Russian intruders in June 2016, which was subsequently confirmed by Fidelis Cybersecurity and Mandiant that month. Johns Hopkins Professor Thomas Rid wrote an argument summarizing the evidence for Motherboard in July. The entire U.S. intelligence community said the same thing in October, and after the election, two investigations from Robert Mueller and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee did as well.
Now, some liberals did get pretty hysterical about Russia stuff, and I’ll admit the story didn’t shape up quite as I expected it to. But we now know for sure that Russia did the hacking, Trump’s then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort as well as Trump associate Roger Stone were directly involved, and it did materially influence the election. Both Manafort and Stone were convicted of obstructing the investigation into the scandal and both were pardoned by Trump. It was far from the only factor in the outcome of campaign, but it was a big one. And as to whether or not Trump “colluded” with Putin, any spy stuff aside, he did it on live television! Come on.
Greenwald’s reputation, and his stubbornness to admit the bleeding obvious about Trump and Russia, were what inspired an NSA employee named Reality Winner to leak a classified document to The Intercept in 2017. Ben Smith at The New York Times reported:
Ms. Winner, then 25, had been listening to the site’s podcast. She printed out a secret report on Russian cyberattacks on American voting software that seemed to address some of Mr. Greenwald’s doubts about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign and mailed it to The Intercept’s Washington, D.C., post office box in early May.
So not only did Russia hack the Clinton campaign, according to the NSA it actually compromised some voting computer systems in some states in 2016. Though there’s no evidence the hacking changed any vote totals or voter registrations, that was alarming stuff, no question about it.
But The Intercept comprehensively bungled this story. Former television reporters Matthew Cole and Richard Esposito were assigned to report it. Cole revealed to an NSA source that the leak was a physical document, and that it had been postmarked from Fort Gordon, Georgia—thus informing the agency that it had been printed out, and probably at its Cryptologic Center in that city. Then when The Intercept published the story, they also published images of the document itself, which contained special identifying markings.
The Intercept guys might as well have just handed her directly to the police, though Winner was arrested before the story ran. After spending a long time in pre-trial detention, she subsequently was convicted under the Espionage Act and was sentenced to five years and three months in prison—the longest such sentence in American history, even though her act did not compromise any spies, intelligence programs, or anything else. Indeed she probably helped American security by clarifying the extent of Russian hacking. After the Intercept story ran, the Federal Election Assistance Commission sent out an email to state election officials instructing them to improve their email security, prompting many to do just that. Former election officials told 60 Minutes that it had helped secure the 2018 election.
Winner’s ridiculously harsh sentence was clearly a political persecution coming from a Trump administration embarrassed about the contents of her leak.
Greenwald was reportedly furious about the security failures, but he also dismissed Winner’s evidence out of hand, and downplayed any responsibility The Intercept might have had by noting that she had been sloppy with her opsec and so the NSA would have caught her anyway. That may be true, but it’s not guaranteed, and moreover if Greenwald hadn’t been so pathologically muleheaded about the Russia story, Winner probably wouldn’t have felt the need to leak in the first place.
Anyway, Greenwald kept ratcheting up his criticism of liberals, and seizing on any way to downplay the Trump-Russia story. He particularly focused on the Mueller report, claiming that it conclusively disproved the entire thing even though Mueller—a Republican, mind you—said that Russia had indeed hacked Podesta and the DNC. Greenwald’s unwillingness to admit error in his 2016 coverage steadily snowballed and consumed his writing.
Still, that wasn’t yet the end of Greenwald’s journalism. In 2019 Glenn once again struck journalistic pay dirt. A Brazilian whistleblower sent him a huge archive of text messages—just like with Snowden he just got handed the story rather than digging it up himself, and again had extensive technical support—about the Lava Jato scandal. This was a sweeping corruption investigation that spread across much of Latin America, and as part of it, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva had been convicted, disqualified from running for president, and put in jail. Lula almost certainly would have beaten Jair Bolsonaro in the 2018 election, so this court case basically handed the presidency of Brazil to a deranged fascist.
The documents proved that Lula had been the victim of a conspiracy. The chief judge in the Lula trial secretly colluded with the prosecutor to influence the trial and the anti-Lula media effort, as well as the campaign against his party in 2018. As a result, the Brazilian Supreme Vourt annulled the conviction. The Intercept’s reporting, together with the Brazilian publications Folha de S. Paulo and Veja, sprung Lula from jail, cleared his name, and allowed a rematch in the 2022 election against Bolsonaro, which Lula won.
(And by the way, Joe Biden’s CIA’s director William Burns helped to secure Bolsonaro’s defeat by telling Brazilian officials not to mess with Brazil’s democratic institutions. If Trump had been president Bolsonaro almost certainly would have installed himself as dictator, with American backing.)
Just like with Snowden, this was a hugely important scoop and Greenwald deserves credit for helping report it. But curiously, he was reticent about a key part: United States involvement. Greenwald wrote a book about the story called Securing Democracy, and as Sean T. Mitchell pointed out in a review, neither his Intercept reporting nor the book mentions the fact that the U.S. was involved in Lava Jato under both Obama and Trump, nor that the chief prosecutor had called Lula’s prosecution “a gift from the CIA.”
Funny, isn’t it, how a formerly fire-breathing critic of American imperialism under Obama wasn’t more interested in this apparent meddling in Brazilian democracy under Trump.
Wouldn’t you know it, around this time Greenwald started going on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show very frequently. Unlike Bernie Sanders, who occasionally goes on Fox to argue with the hosts and spread his message to conservative audiences, then and now Greenwald serves as an obsequious toady who agrees with just about everything Carlson says.
Journalist Eoin Higgins collected some hilarious data in 2021 showing how as Greenwald started going on Fox News more and more, his tweets about the network also became overwhelmingly positive. Curious how a guy who compulsively feuds even with microscopic Twitter accounts can be such a bootlicker for a frozen food dynast.
Greenwald’s not the first to do this, of course. There’s a long tradition of supposed liberals going on Fox News to serve as convenient punching bags or to validate conservative talking points. An article from 2007 about Susan Estrich captures the dynamic well:
Ever since her stint as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis, Estrich has desperately sought attention by being the "very model of the reasonable liberal"—the one who goes on Fox News and lavishes Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity with praise and gratitude while repudiating the horrible radicals who are ruining the Democratic Party. She writes one article after the next like this one from a couple weeks ago on Fox News, in which she wrote: "The Democrats, especially the Democrats running for president, have a problem, and his name is Petraeus." She asked: "But attacking the General who oozes courage, fortitude and decency?"
Hey, wonder who wrote that? Well I’ll be dipped…
But Glenn sucking up to Carlson is a step beyond previous faux-liberal Fox sellouts. Tucker Carlson is maybe the single most malignant figure in conservative media, and that's saying a lot. He has been an obvious racist and homophobe for his entire life—his college yearbook has a joke about the Harvey Milk assassination—he regularly repeats white supremacist conspiracy theories, he thinks ending South African apartheid was bad, the staffs of his show and website are infested with hardcore racists, and on and on. He’s not as bad as Matt Hale, but his politics aren’t far off.
Greenwald’s steady shift rightward led to increasing tension at The Intercept, culminating in him resigning in a fit of pique when the editors there wouldn’t let him publish a pretty dubious article about Hunter Biden’s laptop in late October 2020. The details of this drama are too complicated and ridiculous to get into in depth, but Greenwald himself published an email exchange between himself and editor Peter Maass, and suffice to say that I have been a journalist for over a decade and this note contains some of the most reasonable editorial requests I have seen in my life. It wasn’t a coincidence that this was late October in an election year, either. As Intercept editor Betsy Reed wrote, “While he accuses us of political bias, it was he who was attempting to recycle the dubious claims of a political campaign — the Trump campaign — and launder them as journalism.”
Moreover, any serious reporter knows that collaborating with an editor is vital to keep one’s arguments within the bounds of evidence. Claiming this is “censorship” worthy of throwing away a six figure paycheck is the biggest pile of bullshit in the history of journalism. Greenwald certainly could have gotten his article published if he had pared down some of the more outlandish and unsupported claims, but instead he decided to throw a tantrum and claim victimhood.
Not coincidentally, this move was enormously profitable. Pretending to be the victim of liberal censorship quickly got him tens of thousands of paying subscribers on his Substack. His good pal Tucker, who gets the best ratings in cable news, now regularly plugs his newsletter when Greenwald comes on.
In March 2021 the Financial Times calculated that he was making 1-2 million dollars per year from the newsletter. Then the next year, he got a mid-six-figure contract from the right-wing video site Rumble. You’ll never guess who is a major investor in Rumble—that’s right, the oligarch Peter Thiel, who not only used the court system to bankrupt a publication he didn’t like, but also is openly against democracy. Now that’s what I call free speech and freedom of the press, baby.
At least this makes the process of analyzing the source of political bias in the media a lot easier. Many years ago, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky wrote a book called Manufacturing Consent, which to simplify a lot, argues that the mainstream media’s ownership by for-profit corporations and its reliance on advertising money pressures it into serving as a subtle form of status quo propaganda.
But to understand the Greenwald-Substack-Fox News dynamic, you don’t need 411 pages of evidence and argumentation. It goes like this: say right-wing things on TV, get paid lots of money.
I think this puts us in a position to understand how Greenwald became a reactionary. The explanation has economic, psychological, and political elements. It’s not like what happened with Taibbi, where he got used to a comfy lifestyle, got Me-Tooed, and had to start pandering to conservatives to make up for it. Glenn was making lots of money and chose to give it up. But he did so in a way where 1) he ended up making a lot more money 2) didn’t have to admit to himself or anyone else that he was wrong after making a huge mistake, and 3) could indulge a latent bias towards a certain kind of populist-branded racism.
That’s not to say it was a clear-eyed cynical calculation. But money tells, some people will do anything to avoid admitting they are wrong, and association breed assimilation, as they say.
It wasn’t easy, though. This move from center left to far right is a major change in perspective, and a more honest person might come clean with articles or books about how they don’t believe in lefty politics anymore. A lot of former communists did that in the 1950 and 60s. But Greenwald is not honest. He almost never admits fault or hypocrisy. Instead of saying conservatism is good, he concocts preposterous arguments that actually, Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon are the real socialists because they hate immigrants.
I also think this is why he has become so inflamed over the last couple years. As the contrast between his previous position as a normie liberal Democrat and his current position as a conservative Fox News talking head has become ever more glaring, he’s had to ratchet up the hysterics to relieve the cognitive dissonance. His typical rhetorical register these days is flipping the fuck out.
For instance, when whistleblower Chelsea Manning—someone Greenwald had defended on multiple occasions for over a decade—tweeted that “im terrified of you and everything you do. you’re greedy, unprincipled, and im embarrassed for ever considering you a friend,” Glenn characteristically torched what remained of his journalism career by publishing a bunch of their private correspondence. He argued that he was debunking her innuendo, but in reality he was misconstruing Manning's words. She wasn’t saying she was frightened of what he might do personally, but of the effects of his new politics. But by pretending she was, Greenwald gave himself permission to cruelly lash out at a credible critic.
The fact that both of Greenwald’s major scoops relied on people trusting him with private communications didn’t seem to faze him. You’d have to be a complete idiot to leak anything to him today, or indeed to talk with him privately at all. Aside from the fact that everyone who has ever leaked to him has been exposed, now you never know when he might fly off the handle and publish your text messages online.
The final proof of Greenwald’s abject submission to the conservative movement, appropriately enough, came with the recent publication of legal filings. Dominion Voting Systems is suing Fox News for defamation over the network’s repeated claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election, and text messages between company anchors and executives have been published as part of the discovery process. Among many other shocking findings—Rupert Murdoch, for instance, apparently passed Biden campaign ads to Jared Kushner before they were public—we see Tucker Carlson attempting to get a Fox reporter canned for correctly fact-checking a Trump tweet.
When Jacqui Heinrich wrote on Twitter that “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.” Carlson texted Hannity: “Please get her fired. Seriously….What the fuck? I’m actually shocked…It needs to stop immediately, like tonight. It’s measurably hurting the company. The stock price is down. Not a joke.” The worry, of course, was that Fox would lose market share to an even more insane network like Newsmax or ONN.
And how did Greenwald respond to this? By defending his paymaster, of course, by pointing to a segment where Carlson had been mildly skeptical of Trump lawyer Sidney Powell’s election fraud claims at the time. But Greenwald ignored the fact that Carlson had privately called Powell an insane liar, and the attempted firing. Nobody does tendentious lawyerly evasions better than this guy.
Just as Greenwald obliterated his legal career by aggressively defending a white supremacist would-be murderer to the extent of violating legal ethics, he’s now obliterated his journalism career by eagerly gulping down wingnut welfare and coming completely unglued at anyone who criticizes him for doing it. He’s 56 years old. Absent some kind of road to Damascus conversion, the rest of his career will be serving as an increasingly less credible leftist useful idiot for conservative media and the vast market of right-wing suckers. Maybe someday he’ll get his own Fox News show. I hope it’s worth it to him, because he certainly ain’t getting any more Pulitzer prizes.