Glenn Greenwald resigns from the Intercept over site's refusal to publish a story about Hunter Biden docs
Here’s a 2020 twist I didn’t see coming. Glenn Greenwald is a co-founder of the Intercept, a progressive news site that leans toward the far left. Today Greenwald announced he had resigned from his own site after editors attempted to force him to remove criticism of Joe Biden from a story before publication. The exact content that offended the editors isn’t spelled out but it certainly sounds as if it’s related to the Hunter Biden documents. Here’s the first part of Greenwald’s explanation on his new substack site:
Today I sent my intention to resign from The Intercept, the news outlet I co-founded in 2013 with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, as well as from its parent company First Look Media.
The final, precipitating cause is that The Intercept’s editors, in violation of my contractual right of editorial freedom, censored an article I wrote this week, refusing to publish it unless I remove all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the candidate vehemently supported by all New-York-based Intercept editors involved in this effort at suppression.
The censored article, based on recently revealed emails and witness testimony, raised critical questions about Biden’s conduct. Not content to simply prevent publication of this article at the media outlet I co-founded, these Intercept editors also demanded that I refrain from exercising a separate contractual right to publish this article with any other publication.
I had no objection to their disagreement with my views of what this Biden evidence shows: as a last-ditch attempt to avoid being censored, I encouraged them to air their disagreements with me by writing their own articles that critique my perspectives and letting readers decide who is right, the way any confident and healthy media outlet would. But modern media outlets do not air dissent; they quash it. So censorship of my article, rather than engagement with it, was the path these Biden-supporting editors chose.
He also had a broader criticism of the Intercept as having problems common to left-leaning media outlets:
The pathologies, illiberalism, and repressive mentality that led to the bizarre spectacle of my being censored by my own media outlet are ones that are by no means unique to The Intercept. These are the viruses that have contaminated virtually every mainstream center-left political organization, academic institution, and newsroom.
This is all part of an introduction. The rest of his piece recounts how he came to co-found the Intercept and how the site was handed over to a group of editors to run so that the founders could continue to focus on journalism. But as Greenwald describes it, that gradually meant working at a site that was happy to capitalize on his name and reputation but which gave him relatively little input into what the site was doing.
The Intercept scrambled to publish a story on the report, ignoring the most basic security precautions. The lead reporter on the story sent a copy of the document, which contained a crease showing it had been printed out, to the N.S.A. media affairs office, all but identifying Ms. Winner as the leaker.
On June 3, about three weeks after Ms. Winner sent her letter, two F.B.I. agents showed up at her home in Georgia to arrest her. They announced the arrest soon after The Intercept’s article was published on June 5.
“They sold her out, and they messed it up so that she would get caught, and they didn’t protect their source,” her mother, Billie Winner-Davis, said in a telephone interview last week. “The best years of her life are being spent in a system where she doesn’t belong.”
Reality Winner wound up being sentenced to five years thanks to the Intercept’s sloppy handling of the documents. Here’s what Greenwald says motivated them:
It was Intercept editors who pressured the story’s reporters to quickly send those documents for authentication to the government — because they was eager to prove to mainstream media outlets and prominent liberals that The Intercept was willing to get on board the Russiagate train. They wanted to counter-act the perception, created by my articles expressing skepticism about the central claims of that scandal, that The Intercept had stepped out of line on a story of high importance to U.S. liberalism and even the left. That craving — to secure the approval of the very mainstream media outlets we set out to counteract — was the root cause for the speed and recklessness with which that document from Winner was handled.
Greenwald also cites the decision to “hang Lee Fang out to dry and even force him to apologize when a colleague tried to destroy his reputation.” The Lee Fang story is another one that I covered here. The very short version is that Fang was called a “racist” by one of his co-workers. What was his crime? He posted a brief video interview with a real person who strayed from progressive orthodoxy:
Asked everyone I spoke with today if there was anything they wanted to get off their chest about the movement. Max from Oakland, a supporter of BLM, had a measured critique he wanted to share. pic.twitter.com/07qMQyCdJ9
— Lee Fang (@lhfang) June 4, 2020
As reporter Matt Taibbi would later say of the situation, “If you’re labeled a racist in this corner of the media you really can’t work.” So Fang had to issue a groveling apology for the shocking act of accurately reporting what a mixed-race person said about Black Lives Matter.
The Intercept has published a response which is not particularly kind to Greenwald. It says in part:
The narrative he presents about his departure is teeming with distortions and inaccuracies—all of them designed to make him appear a victim, rather than a grown person throwing a tantrum. It would take too long to point them all out here, but we intend to correct the record in time. For now, it is important to make clear that our goal in editing his work was to ensure that it would be accurate and fair. While he accuses us of political bias, it was he who was attempting to recycle a political campaign’s—the Trump campaign’s—dubious claims and launder them as journalism.
We have the greatest respect for the journalist that Glenn Greenwald used to be…
Here’s the full response via Erik Wemple:
Intercept EIC Betsy Reed sent me this statement regarding the departure of @ggreenwald, saying there's a "fundamental disagreement over the role of editors in the production of journalism and the nature of censorship." pic.twitter.com/Od2TTKLsyq
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) October 29, 2020
My own view is that Greenwald clearly has the better of this argument. Just looking at what happened to Lee Fang should make it clear what kind of people are running the Intercept. And yeah, it doesn’t hurt that Greenwald has been one of the few people on the left (along with Matt Taibbi) willing to note that the media’s Russia fixation was an epic disaster for journalism, especially for credulous partisans on the left. The country would have been better off if it had more reporters willing to say as much. Ultimately, I think it rankles many on the left that he would say so and even worse that he would go on Fox News and say it.
Update: About an hour after I finished this Greenwald published the story the Intercept refused to publish.
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) October 29, 2020
It’s titled “THE REAL SCANDAL: U.S. MEDIA USES FALSEHOODS TO DEFEND JOE BIDEN FROM HUNTER’S EMAILS” Here’s how it opens:
Publication by the New York Post two weeks ago of emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop, relating to Vice President Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine, and subsequent articles from other outlets concerning the Biden family’s pursuit of business opportunities in China, provoked extraordinary efforts by a de facto union of media outlets, Silicon Valley giants and the intelligence community to suppress these stories.
One outcome is that the Biden campaign concluded, rationally, that there is no need for the front-running presidential candidate to address even the most basic and relevant questions raised by these materials. Rather than condemn Biden for ignoring these questions — the natural instinct of a healthy press when it comes to a presidential election — journalists have instead led the way in concocting excuses to justify his silence.
I guess you can add the Intercept the list of outlets concocting excuses.