The Lengthy Historical past of Glenn Greenwald’s Kissing As much as the Kremlin – The Bulwark

By | June 10, 2022

Within the months since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, maverick journalist Glenn Greenwald has emerged as one of many loudest anti-Ukraine voices within the American media, with all the standard themes: clear gloating over Russia’s obvious conflict beneficial properties in Jap Ukraine; alarmism over United States help for Ukraine resulting in World Warfare III; even the flogging of “American biolabs in Ukraine” conspiracies in his Substack publication and in movies. Whereas Greenwald has made overwrought claims concerning the “neo-Nazi menace” of the Azov Regiment, his solely response to studies of Russian atrocities in Bucha has been to warn concerning the risks of falling for “conflict propaganda” and “social media’s manipulations.”
This stance from Greenwald, a former lawyer who has been extensively lauded for his investigative journalism and civil liberties advocacy, specifically, for his function in serving to former Nationwide Safety Company subcontractor Edward Snowden expose illicit NSA surveillance and his Pulitzer Prize-winning protection of that story—has been met with bafflement and disappointment from a lot of his erstwhile admirers, who lament that “Glenn misplaced his approach.”
However Greenwald has been baffling and disappointing legions of his progressive admirers for years together with his cozy relationship with the MAGA proper. And a have a look at his profession reveals that his pro-Kremlin affinity goes approach again—as a part of a extra basic tendency to sympathize with foes of the U.S.-led “neoliberal” (or “neoconservative”) worldwide order.
I first locked horns with Greenwald, then a columnist for Salon, within the fall of 2008 over Russia’s conflict in Georgia—which, on reflection, could be seen as the primary trial run for the present conflict in Ukraine. In October, on the peak of the McCain/Obama presidential race, Greenwald wrote a column blasting each candidates for peddling the “blatant falsehood” that Russia had attacked Georgia with out provocation in August of that yr:
Since the entire main candidates settle for the deceitful premise about what occurred—that Russia’s “aggression” in opposition to Georgia was “unprovoked”—no one refutes it. . . . The propaganda is simply asserted to be true by the political institution and thus accepted by many of the citizenry, after which turns into the unchallenged basis of all kinds of harmful, militaristic coverage orthodoxies.
It’s true that Russia’s August 8, 2008 invasion of Georgia was not “unprovoked”: it was preceded by Georgia’s August 7 shelling of Tskhinvali, the capital of the disputed area of South Ossetia, through which a number of Russian peacekeepers have been killed. After all, even apart from the query of whether or not the Russian troops in South Ossetia have been actually performing as “peacekeepers,” the Georgian assault itself got here in response to ongoing and quite a few provocations by pro-Russia separatist rebels, together with the shelling of Georgian villages and different ceasefire violations. Russian troop actions within the area might have additionally contributed to escalating tensions. And there was the extra elementary provocation of flooding South Ossetia with Russian passports in a concerted effort to create an enclave inside Georgia the place Moscow may declare a nationwide curiosity by buying Russian residents to guard.
However right here’s the factor: neither Obama nor McCain had used the phrase “unprovoked” in describing the Russian assault on Georgia. Obama used “unacceptable” and “unwarranted”; McCain got here nearer to the substance of Greenwald’s declare by referring to Russia’s “bare aggression.” The one main political determine to accuse Russia of “unprovoked” invasion was Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, in an ABC Information interview—and he or she was not solely challenged by the interviewer, Charles Gibson, however criticized in mainstream media retailers, together with the New York Instances and the Los Angeles Instances.
In actuality, Georgia’s function in beginning the battle was extensively acknowledged—not solely by the media, however (as an example) by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a hawk and a robust critic of the Kremlin, who famous in a speech on the German Marshall Fund in September 2008 that “all sides made errors and miscalculations.” Nonetheless, Rice famous some indeniable information absent from Greenwald’s narrative: that the Kremlin “launched a full-scale invasion throughout an internationally acknowledged border,” “established a army occupation that stretched deep into Georgian territory,” and “try[ed] to dismember a sovereign nation by recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.”
Clearly, Greenwald’s concern was not that Russia’s invasion of Georgia was being wrongly handled as unprovoked, however that it was being rightly handled as unjustified. We went for an additional spherical of debate through which he once more conflated the 2—and argued that the Russians have been solid because the baddies solely as a result of they’d “misplaced the propaganda conflict” to Georgia and the American spin medical doctors. In actuality, the Kremlin had misplaced that conflict for a easy motive: the bald-faced lies, significantly a few Georgian “genocide” in South Ossetia which had supposedly claimed 1,500 to 2,000 lives. (In a while, Russia quietly revised the civilian loss of life toll down to about 150; an investigation by the Parliamentary Meeting of the Council of Europe concluded that a lot of these casualties might have been insurgent combatants. Russian allegations of Georgian military atrocities equivalent to execution-style shootings, rapes and focused killings of kids additionally proved unfounded.)
Rereading these exchanges immediately, the extent to which Greenwald’s arguments in 2008 parallel his arguments in 2022 is kind of putting. Georgia’s struggling democracy, and its quest to free itself from the diktat of the authoritarian leviathan subsequent door, is sneeringly dismissed as a “neocon undertaking.” Shortcomings in Georgia’s democratic governance, such because the short-term shutdown of an opposition tv station throughout a state of emergency in 2007, are touted as proof that it’s too simplistic to distinction Georgia’s democratic aspirations to Russian authoritarianism. By no means thoughts that in January 2008, Georgia held a presidential election acknowledged as free, aggressive, and customarily clear by the Group for Safety and Co-operation in Europe—whereas Russia’s election of Vladimir Putin’s handpicked inheritor Dmitry Medvedev in March of that yr was a nasty farce.
In a Guardian column 4 years later, in 2012, Greenwald took up the problem of human rights abuses in Russia—to sentence the supposed hypocrisy of People who condemn these abuses. There’s the basic after all political repression in Russia is unhealthy, however trope: Greenwald permits that the imprisonment of three ladies from the Pussy Riot feminist punk band for an anti-Putin protest in a Moscow cathedral is “clearly repellent,” however then shortly switches to indicting the “opportunism” of “western denunciations of Russia’s disregard at no cost speech.” Quoting Russian journalist Vadim Nikitin, Greenwald accuses Pussy Riot’s Western supporters of ignoring different incidents that may be punishable even in a liberal democracy—e.g., one of many ladies’s “participation, bare and closely pregnant, in a public orgy at a Moscow museum in 2008,” organized by an anarchist artwork group that “beforehand set hearth to a police automotive and drew obscene pictures on a St. Petersburg drawbridge.”
One might quibble over particulars: as an example, the museum “orgy,” meant as a weird satirical protest in opposition to the Medvedev succession, was not fairly public for the reason that individuals apparently made positive no guests or staffers have been current; “obscene pictures” refers to a crude chalk drawing of a big phallus that rose to face the home windows of town’s FSB headquarters when the drawbridge was raised. However in any case, the relevance of those incidents to Pussy Riot’s 2012 protest appears doubtful, particularly since not one of the ladies have been concerned within the arson or the drawbridge graffiti. What’s the purpose, apart from to counsel that whereas the trio might have been wrongly jailed, they have been no angels?
In equity, Greenwald makes a legitimate level concerning the inadequate consideration by the American media to Warfare on Terror-related instances through which U.S. authorities held Muslim journalists on doubtful proof and with troubling due course of violations. However certainly that time may have been made with out utilizing it to whatabout Russian human rights abuses. And wouldn’t it shock anybody to be taught that since then, Greenwald has had nothing in anyway to say concerning the systematic persecution—together with homicide—of Muslim journalists, bloggers, and activists from the Tatar minority in Crimea after its 2014 annexation by Russia?
In actual fact, Greenwald’s see-no-evil-on-the-Russian-side stance through the occasions of 2014—the Crimea seize and Russia’s first, restricted invasion of Ukraine—grew to become flagrant sufficient to rankle a few of his fellow leftists. Writing within the Huffington Put up in March 2014, New York-based journalist Nikolas Kozloff praised Greenwald’s function within the Snowden scoop but additionally blasted him for soft-pedaling repression in locations like Russia, Syria, and Belarus, just because these regimes are “on the receiving finish of U.S. international coverage.” And in Overseas Coverage, two-time Pulitzer winner Thomas E. Ricks ripped into Greenwald for “ethical posturing” and discovering excuse after excuse to not touch upon Vladimir Putin’s actions.
Across the identical time, Greenwald’s penchant for Russia-friendly spin was on significantly blatant show in one in every of his first articles for the Intercept, the net journal he had simply cofounded, skewering the notion that America’s free press stands in distinction to the subservient Russian media. The event was a 60-second on-air assertion by RT (previously Russia In the present day) host Abby Martin forcefully criticizing Russia’s actions in Ukraine. This, Greenwald claimed, confirmed much more “journalistic independence” than may very well be discovered within the ranks of “American media elites” who “like to mock Russian media” as automobiles for “shameless pro-Putin propaganda.”
However the comparability is unnecessary.  RT is a Kremlin-controlled community for international consumption with just about no viewers in Russia. Inside Russia, tv had been underneath strict authorities management for the reason that early 2000s; on the time of Greenwald’s article, the nation’s final impartial TV information station, the cable channel Dozhd TV or “TV Rain,” was going through a government-orchestrated harassment marketing campaign that triggered most main cable suppliers to drop it and relegated it primarily to webcasting. (Dozhd was shut down utterly in 2022 shortly after the beginning of the present conflict in Ukraine.)
Maybe most hilariously, Greenwald up to date the article to notice:
The official RT account on Twitter appears completely pleased with Martin’s statements, as they re-tweeted my commentary about her monologue condemning Russia’s actions.
Why, sure, RT was comfortable to make use of Martin’s statements and Greenwald’s commentary as proof that freedom of expression thrives within the Russian media. It takes a particular model of cluelessness to quote this as an train in pluralism, not propaganda.
Unsurprisingly, Greenwald’s 2014 piece endorsed the narrative that the “Revolution of Dignity” in Ukraine was the results of the USA and the EU “blatantly conspiring” (within the phrases of a author Greenwald quoted) “in opposition to Russian pursuits there.” That is nonetheless Greenwald’s place in 2022; amongst different issues, he has promoted the canard that then-U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland “picked [Ukraine’s] chief” after the removing of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. (As I confirmed in a current Bulwark article, the intercepted dialog on which that conspiracy concept relies happened practically a month earlier than Yanukovych’s ouster; it involved the make-up of the brand new cupboard to be shaped in a deal between Yanukovych and the pro-Western opposition, which the EU was serving to negotiate.)
“None of that justifies the Russia invasion,” says Greenwald in one in every of his compulsory disclaimers. However the implication, clearly, is that it’s a “either side” scenario.
In my 2008 critique of Greenwald’s stance on Georgia, I wrote that his loathing of the Bush administration’s international coverage had “become a knee-jerk tendency to be in opposition to regardless of the ‘neocons’ are for, and consequently into a really actual ethical blind spot.” Within the years since, the loathing has expanded to what Greenwald perceives as bipartisan U.S. imperialism; change “neocons” to “neocons/neolibs,” and that’s nonetheless the driving pressure behind Greenwald’s views. (A complete different article may very well be written about in Greenwald’s “anti-anti-” stance with regard to radical Islamism, which reached its nadir in 2015 with a marketing campaign vilifying the slain journalists of Charlie Hebdo as anti-Muslim bigots for his or her equal-opportunity mocking of all religions.)
Greenwald’s coziness with the MAGA proper is a component and parcel of the identical worldview: Trumpism is, in spite of everything, a riot in opposition to the neocon/neolib institution he so despises. (This “enemy of my enemy” quasi-alliance appears to have muted Greenwald’s early criticism of Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim insurance policies, which he decried as “uniquely shameful” in January 2017.) On the query of Trump’s ties to Russia, the place Greenwald was one of many early voices of skepticism, his core view is just not a lot that claims of Russian interference within the 2016 election are a “hoax”—although he has actually implied as a lot; it’s that, as he informed the New Yorker’s Ian Parker in 2018, hacking Democratic Nationwide Committee emails and utilizing them to torpedo Hillary Clinton’s marketing campaign is “the form of factor that Russia does to the U.S., and that the U.S. has accomplished to Russia, and to all people else on this planet—and much worse—for many years.” Based on Parker:
He added that, even when Putin himself had ordered the hacking, “and labored with WikiLeaks and Michael Cohen and Jared Kushner to distribute the e-mails,” then this was nonetheless simply “commonplace shit.”
Right here too, Greenwald’s ideological slant doesn’t imply that his critiques of American mainstream media are fully nugatory. It’s fairly true that many media retailers overplayed the “Trump/Russia collusion” angle, and individuals who ought to have identified higher ran with the concept Donald Trump was truly Putin’s puppet. However Greenwald’s criticisms are sometimes undercut by an inclination to cherry-pick, take issues out of context, and omit salient particulars. Within the case of “Russiagate,” these omissions embody robust proof that, even when Trump and his minions didn’t conspire with Russian brokers to hack the Democratic Nationwide Committee and Hillary Clinton’s marketing campaign to steal supposed dust on Clinton, they have been nonetheless keen and desirous to get and use the hacked supplies.
Or take the 2014 article holding up RT as a greater mannequin of impartial journalism than the “elite media” in the USA. Greenwald rhetorically asks whether or not there was “a single U.S. tv host” who forcefully criticized the invasion of Iraq within the lead-up to, or the early phases of, the conflict—forgetting Oprah Winfrey, who did a five-part sequence on her present questioning the conflict. (The primary installment was accused of giving an excessive amount of time to pro-war voices, however the subsequent 4 earned reward from antiwar activists.) He additionally presents the cancelation of Phil Donahue’s MSNBC present in 2003 as due fully to studio jitters over Donahue’s antiwar stance, despite the fact that even crucial studies on the time famous that rankings and prices have been additionally a difficulty. (Sure, Donahue’s present was, as Greenwald says, “the community’s highest-rated program,” however it lagged woefully behind rivals, had been anticipated to do a lot better, and was unusually costly to supply due to a dwell studio viewers.)
Extra just lately, Greenwald’s therapy of the January sixth Capitol riot provides one other instructive instance. In April 2021, after studies that Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer mentioned earlier to have died from accidents sustained in clashes with rioters, had truly died of a stroke, Greenwald went on the Tucker Carlson present (and posted on his Substack publication) to proclaim his vindication and accuse the media of exploiting Sicknick’s loss of life.
Provided that Greenwald had taken a drubbing over “Sicknick trutherism” for questioning claims that the officer died because of being hit within the head with a hearth extinguisher, he was entitled to an I-told-you-so. However his critique considerably bent the information to indict the media. Thus, he asserted that studies of Sicknick’s loss of life by the hands of the rioters relied fully on hypothesis and nameless regulation enforcement sources—despite the fact that official statements from the U.S. Capitol Police on January 7 and from the Trump Justice Division on January 8 said unambiguously that Sicknick had died from accidents sustained within the conflict with the rioters. (The one declare drawn from nameless sources was that he was struck within the head with a hearth extinguisher—maybe based mostly on video footage of a special Capitol Hill cop being hit with one.) Greenwald additionally claimed that the New York Instances reported on January 8 that “Officer Sicknick’s cranium was savagely bashed in with a hearth extinguisher by a pro-Trump mob till he died.” However here’s what the Instances story truly mentioned:
The circumstances surrounding Mr. Sicknick’s loss of life weren’t instantly clear, and the Capitol Police mentioned solely that he had “handed away because of accidents sustained whereas on responsibility.” Sooner or later within the chaos . . . he was struck with a hearth extinguisher, in accordance with two regulation enforcement officers.
Contemplating the story talked about Sicknick “return[ing] to his division workplace” earlier than his collapse, it appears unlikely that the Instances was selling the notion that his cranium had been “savagely bashed in.” True, Instances columnist Nicholas Kristoff tweeted on January 9 that Sicknick was “clubbed to loss of life” by pro-Trump rioters (he later deleted the tweet); however an overwrought Kristoff tweet is just not as a Instances information report.
(In the meantime, Greenwald additionally praised a far-right web site referred to as Revolver Information for being the primary media outlet to query the usual Sicknick narrative—with out bothering to say that the Revolver Information article provided an absurdly sanitized description of the mob as, mainly, a bunch of confused and peaceable vacationers.)
Now, Greenwald’s therapy of Ukraine follows the identical sample. As an illustration: after chiding the media for uncritically utilizing “context-and-evidence-free images and movies” from Bucha provided by Ukrainian officers, he utterly ignored subsequent verified, firsthand protection of the Russian military’s horrific atrocities.
Once shortly, somebody taunts Greenwald with an outdated quote from his weblog, from when he was once a pro-Iraq Warfare Republican earlier than changing to the antiwar trigger:
I’m an enormous fan of what 2005 Greenwald needed to say about you
— Velvet Kenny Rogers (@WesProtich) Could 25, 2022

And certainly, that 2005 quote is an uncannily correct description of the brand new Glenn Greenwald from three years later and onward:
“The paramount need to seek out fault and evil with the U.S.” as “the primary and solely actual precept.”
“Selectively and endlessly highlighting and exaggerating America’s faults and downplaying, ignoring and even defending far worse flaws in others.”
“Making widespread trigger with essentially the most abusive and genuinely evil regimes and actions world wide, whose solely advantage . . . is that they’re opposed by the U.S.”
Test, examine, examine.
Add to this making widespread trigger with essentially the most noxious political forces inside the U.S. whose solely advantage is that they’re opposed by the neocon/neolib Blob.
One may debate to what extent Greenwald’s campaign in opposition to something he sees as related to American and Western imperialism undercuts the deserves of his journalism (which has included genuinely courageous protection of political corruption in Brazil, the place has lived for the previous 17 years). One may additionally debate the extent to which the NSA surveillance revelations have been part of the identical campaign—and to which this unquestionably vital story was morally compromised by Snowden’s flight to Russia. What’s not in query is that, no matter good factors he might make right here and there about media groupthink or different points, Greenwald views Western liberal democracy and its enemies via a horrifyingly distorted lens.
Who’s at all times proper? Sarah? JVL? Or do you Beg to Differ? Present your help with Bulwark merchandise. Whichever facet you select, we’ll be again tomorrow, and we’ll do that over again.


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