In a column on Wednesday preempting a New York Daily News story about some legal troubles in his past, Glenn Greenwald invoked Daniel Ellsberg, who told him to expect personal attacks as standard fare in response to his reporting on secrets the government didn't want public. He also cited in his lede a quote from a Guardian editorial: "Those who leak official information will often be denounced, prosecuted or smeared. The more serious the leak, the fiercer the pursuit and the greater the punishment." So what does it say about the seriousness of Greenwald's NSA spying scoop that the first "smear" to target him uses, as ammunition, his dispute with a condo board over the size of his dog?
Okay, obviously Greenwald's scoop is still a big one. And there's plenty more to the Daily News story than just the dog thing: Reporter Dareh Gregorian presents a slew of lawsuits with Greenwald's name on them: There's the dispute over payment with a business partner in a porn distribution company, which included some nasty e-mails allegedly from Greenwald. Greenwald wrote in his column that those were fabricated by the person he was suing, who he says settled once he threatened to hire a forensic expert to prove they were fakes. There's also the matter of some back taxes Greenwald owes, for which he said he was negotiating a payment plan with the IRS.
But the dog detail is what makes the whole thing pretty ridiculous:
Court filings also show different challenges Greenwald has faced over the years.
In a 2003 lawsuit, he and his then partner, Werner Achetz, were sued by their West Side condo for having a dog that was bigger than building by-laws allowed.
The couple countered that they and their dog Uli were being singled out because they were gay, a charge the building denied. The case eventually settled.
“The co-op board said the dog could stay,” he said.
That a writer who wanted to do a smear or a hit piece would include this anecdote to cast shade on his subject's character, well, it sort of calls into question whether the story even is a hit piece. It feels more like a wholesale information dump.
The thing that makes the story seem kind of smear-y is that it's peppered with insinuating phrases. "The reporter who broke the story about the NSA’s secret wiretaps has a little secret of his own," reads the lede. "Now he’s facing off against the Obama administration and the U.S. government while he does so," reads a line about Greenwald's negotiations with the IRS. But there's nothing in the story that really detracts from Greenwald's character: The former lawyer has tangled with people legally in the past, he's willing to fight for his dog, he once had a stake in a business that made pornography, and he owes taxes.
"When you can't say 'this matters because...' it means it probably doesn't matter," tweeted Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo of the Daily News story. What it does do is provide more detail about the oft-profiled Greenwald, who BuzzFeed called "a major supporting player in the new century’s definitive spy thriller." The value of that information is still up for debate.