In this week's New Yorker is a close, journo-nerd look at the recent successes of the British newspaper the Guardian, most recently with the leaks of Edward Snowden, and previously its work on WikiLeaks and Rupert Murdoch's hacking scandal. And although the liberal paper's editor Alan Rusbridger is the star of Ken Auletta's article, the juiciest parts come courtesy of the activist reporter and blogging provocateur Glenn Greenwald, who brought the Guardian Snowden's haul. It almost didn't pan out, thanks to the threat of government censorship.
"I was getting really frustrated," Greenwald told Auletta about the Guardian's careful and prolonged dealings with the British government in advance of publication. "I was putting a lot of pressure on them and insinuating that I was going to go publish elsewhere." He eventually got his way.
"I wanted people in Washington to have fear in their hearts over how this journalism was going to be done, over the unpredictability of it," said Greenwald of the huge scoops, which started to come out over five straight days this past summer. "Of the fact that we were going to be completely unrestrained by the unwritten rules of American journalism. The only reason we stopped after five days was that even our allies were saying, 'Look, this is too much information. We can't keep up with what you're publishing.'"
But Greenwald also gets scolded by the old guard, in the form of former New York Times editor and current columnist Bill Keller, who said Greenwald should not have been involved in the news stories. "If one of our columnists had come up with a story of that magnitude — something that could not be contained in a column — we would have turned it over to the newsroom reporting staff," said Keller. "And we would say in the story, 'Nick Kristof obtained these documents.' But we would not have Nick Kristof write the story for the front page of the New York Times." (Greenwald "hasn't had a byline in the Times, and I make it a practice of not making decisions based on situations I haven't yet confronted," dodged current editor Jill Abramson.)
To which Greenwald shot back, "That to me is a really good reason why people like Edward Snowden don't want to go to the New York Times. This idea that if you ever express an opinion in your life about the news topic on which you're reporting, that somehow that makes you not a real journalist — that you wouldn't be able to write the story." The only thing that matters, he said, is "if your reporting is reliable." (Greenwald has been tough on Keller before, especially on issues like WikiLeaks and torture, when he called a quote by Keller "one of the more demented and reprehensible statements I've seen from a high-level media executive in some time.")
Greenwald also promised, as he's done for months now, that the Snowden saga is not over. "The majority of what is extremely newsworthy has yet to be published," he said. "There's thousands and thousands of unbelievably revealing and fascinating documents. It's going to take a long time for everything to be reported that should be reported."