Glenn Greenwald is not one known for pulling punches, and in this excellent interview with GQ Magazine titled, The Man Who Knows Too Much, he is in particularly rare form. Credit must be given to the interviewer, who asked a wide range of very interesting questions that allowed Greenwald the opportunity to discuss a lot more than merely his Pulitzer Prize winning journalism on the Edward Snowden documents. From the fact that the biggest NSA stories have yet to be published, to thoughts on the 2016 elections, this interview really has it all.
Here are some of what I thought were the most interesting and informative excerpts. From GQ:
How much more is there to release—and what burden do you feel to get it out there?
We published the first article [about the NSA collecting Verizon phone records] while I was in Hong Kong last June and won’t stop until we’re done. I think we will end the big stories in about three months or so [June or July 2014]. I like to think of it as a fireworks show: You want to save your best for last. There’s a story that from the beginning I thought would be our biggest, and I’m saving that. The last one is the one where the sky is all covered in spectacular multicolored hues. This will be the finale, a big missing piece. Snowden knows about it and is excited about it.
What do you think would happen if Snowden were to fly from, say, Moscow to New York today?
I think it would be a huge media circus, and then he would be instantly arrested and probably rendered incommunicado for the entire duration of his judicial proceeding on the grounds that he has classified information that could damage the United States. The prosecutors would say he would have to be kept away from media. He would just be disappeared. Rendered completely invisible and mute.
When Daniel Ellsberg was on trial [for leaking the Pentagon Papers], he was allowed to speak out and defend himself.Which is why Ellsberg wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post last July saying Snowden was absolutely right to flee, because America has changed so drastically. Snowden would never be released on bail and would never get a fair trial.
Yeah, like the incident you quote in the book about Bill Keller [former executive editor of The New York Times] on the BBC…
Yeah, where he’s boasting about the fact that they don’t publish things without the government being happy with what they’re doing. And it obviously has resulted in the suppression of all kinds of important stories, which is the most inexcusable thing that can happen in journalism. And that has happened repeatedly at the Times. I think they’ve essentially become this mouthpiece for those in power, perhaps not consciously. When I make this critique, people at The New York Times are offended, because they actually don’t believe that it’s happening. And they’re not lying. It’s a more subtle dynamic than the government marching in and issuing memos to the Timesabout what they should and shouldn’t publish. It’s just a cultural approach to the news that basically says that the parameters of what can be discussed and viewed as reasonable are the ones that are endorsed by the most powerful financial and political factions in New York and Washington. They’re reflecting the mind-set of those elite groups rather than challenging them or confronting them. Obviously there are exceptions. There’s some good journalists there; they do some good journalism; they’ve done some adversarial journalism. It’s not an absolute, pure, constant, all-consuming formula. But in general, that’s become the posture of the Times.
So that goes with your concept of adversarial journalism—and the fact that you’re sitting here on your porch in Rio, not having lunch with anybody in D.C. right now, not having lunch with anybody in Manhattan.
And I don’t want to be, either! This is why I’m so optimistic about the future of journalism, based on what the Internet has permitted. I do think it is a huge change that the journalists who have been at the center of what everybody already knows is the biggest story of the year, if not the decade—meaning myself and Laura—didn’t go to journalism school. We didn’t intern at The New York Times or The Washington Post. We didn’t go to work for one of the five or six big media corporations that impose the standard set of orthodoxies about how you write and think. And we didn’t attach ourselves to those institutions. We didn’t make ourselves dependent upon the standard range of sources. And then, once I was in the position where people wanted to hire, basically, my blog, I was able to negotiate full editorial independence. So I’ve been able to forge my career, not only without depending on any of those processes and those people, but staying as far away from them as I can. I have zero incentive to avoid alienating them.
What’s the Platonic ideal for a journalist? If you can just close your eyes and imagine this thing you’re doing, what does it look like twenty years from now?
The thing is, I don’t actually think there is one Platonic, pure way of doing journalism. I think the public and the political culture benefits from different forms of journalism that expose different kinds of things. But for me, the core of journalism is that it provides a check on people who we empower, by making certain that they can’t hide the corrupt and abusive things they do with that power. People wield power in all sorts of different ways. It can be local police officers. It can be the CIA. It can be school administrators. It can be corrupt corporations. All forms of human power are susceptible to abuse and likely to be abused, and transparency—shining a light on that which they’re trying to hide and that shouldn’t be hidden—is one critical way of evening the playing field. And that, to me, is what journalism in its purest essence is about.
Can you talk about the difference between fear and fearlessness?
To me, fear is like the most corrosive state of mind there is. And usually fears are about things that don’t actually exist and that aren’t real. And so I think fearlessness, meaning not allowing yourself to be limited by fears of things that aren’t real, is the most important state of being you can have. That’s the most empowering thing there is.
Now for my favorite part of the entire interview, where he just skewers the sham that is the American political process…
How do you feel about the early presidential jockeying?
Hillary is banal, corrupted, drained of vibrancy and passion. I mean, she’s been around forever, the Clinton circle. She’s a fucking hawk and like a neocon, practically. She’s surrounded by all these sleazy money types who are just corrupting everything everywhere. But she’s going to be the first female president, and women in America are going to be completely invested in her candidacy. Opposition to her is going to be depicted as misogynistic, like opposition to Obama has been depicted as racist. It’s going to be this completely symbolic messaging that’s going to overshadow the fact that she’ll do nothing but continue everything in pursuit of her own power. They’ll probably have a gay person after Hillary who’s just going to do the same thing.
The best part of the above statement is that, because he himself is openly gay, he can make such commentary without being labeled “homophobic.”
I hope this happens so badly, because I think it’ll be so instructive in that regard. It’ll prove the point. Americans love to mock the idea of monarchy, and yet we have our own de facto monarchy. I think what these leaks did is, they demonstrated that there really is this government that just is the kind of permanent government that doesn’t get affected by election choices and that isn’t in any way accountable to any sort of democratic transparency and just creates its own world off on its own.
As I and many others have pointed out before, there is a good chance 2016 will see Jeb Bush vs. Hilary Clinton. Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush, Obama, Obama and then…well yep, Bush or Clinton.
Read the full interview here.