Welcome to this week’s Journalism Rohrshach Test. The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald appeared on Meet the Press yesterday, where NBC host David Gregory posed a question that has been certainly in the public square over the last few weeks. Should a reporter who aids and abets the dissemination of classified material be criminally liable for those acts? Greenwald blasts Gregory for even asking the question:
DAVID GREGORY: 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?
GLENN GREENWALD: I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies. The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence — the idea that I’ve aided and abetted him in any way.
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 records of AP reporters, accusing a Fox News journalist of the theory that you just embraced, being co-conspirator in felonies for working with sources. 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. It’s why the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer said investigative reporting has come to a standstill — her word — as a result of the theories that you just referenced.
TruthOut delivers a predictable response:
Gregory represents the pablum punditry with a status quo bias. His weekly panel of DC insiders passes for serious discussion of public policy without ever piercing the veil of what’s behind the curtain in the capital. …
Greenwald represents the integrity of journalists before the corporate-state became the arbitrator of what is legal and what is illegal journalism.
Greenwald, in the tradition of Seymour Hersh, Jane Meyer, and so many others, is doing what credible political and investigative journalists used to do, hold the government and other institutions accountable, reporting to achieve transparency.
Now, we have the journalistic lackies like David Gregory and the Washington Post implying – as an echo chamber for the Obama adminstration [sic] – that pursuing such professional responsibilities may be a crime.
I’m no fan of Gregory, but, er … perhaps there’s another explanation for this? Meet the Press is a talk show that debates issues, after all. A journalist who asks a controversial question doesn’t necessarily endorse the view; perhaps the host might just want to give the guest a chance to answer a question, even if it is a “jerk question,” as Dave Weigel says:
C'mon, asking the jerk question that spurs the guest to get outraged is basic TV journalism. You're talking about it, aren't you?
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) June 23, 2013
I found the DoJ’s actions in regard to James Rosen outrageous, and I don’t think journalists should face criminal charges for reporting on government activities, even if their sources often should. But I think it’s a real stretch to accuse Gregory of endorsing the prosecution of journalists just because he plays devil’s advocate with Greenwald on a show that’s supposed to feature some tough questions for the guests. Journalists should be prepared to deal with that, no?
Update: Plus, there’s this:
@EdMorrissey Same reason Gregory wasn't charged with possession of illegal firearm for brandishing weapon on MTP?
— SmilingAssassin27 (@RJCHVZ) June 24, 2013
It’s a bit of irony, but also evidence that Gregory was offering a devil’s-advocate position here.