More reviews of Glenn Greenwald’s “No Place to Hide” have hit the web in the week or so since it became available, and they’re not exactly kind, as you’d expect from such a multifaceted and guarded issue like surveillance and its relationship to national security.
In selecting Greenwald as his main media interlocutor, Snowden chose well. Greenwald has pursued the story with passion, ensuring that the documents have achieved the widest possible impact. He has also been a tireless defender of Snowden, even after his recent disastrous appearance on a Vladimir Putin call-in show.
But that single-mindedness, mixed with self-regard, is also Greenwald’s great weakness. He lives in a world of black and white, where all government officials are venal and independent journalists are heroes. “There are, broadly speaking, two choices: obedience to institutional authority or radical dissent from it,” he writes.
Vanity Fair’s Michael Kinsley, writing for the New York Times, took a much harsher angle:
As the news media struggles to expose government secrets and the government struggles to keep them secret, there is no invisible hand to assure that the right balance is struck. So what do we do about leaks of government information? Lock up the perpetrators or give them the Pulitzer Prize? (The Pulitzer people chose the second option.) This is not a straightforward or easy question. But I can’t see how we can have a policy that authorizes newspapers and reporters to chase down and publish any national security leaks they can find. This isn’t Easter and these are not eggs.
After re-reading much of “No Place to Hide” over the past week, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Greenwald’s attempts to shed light on a series of programs that arguably undermine the foundational principles of the United States are couched in conspiratorial language. Greenwald, of course, is the underdog in this, and needs to shout louder to be heard equally. Unfortunately, this makes it far easier to pick holes in his arguments, thereby damaging the potential effectiveness of reform. It is not realistic (nor is it smart) to shut the whole system down, but the lack of nuance in “No Place to Hide” makes it feel as though that’s the only solution.
There are also parts of the book where I considered Greenwald’s position to be indefensible and petulant. As he was working with the Guardian to publish the first of the leaks, the newspaper wished to run it by their legal team and the Pentagon. Greenwald saw this as worrying, and a sign that perhaps the Guardian would back out of publishing the story. I see this as a reasonable position to take to the newspaper could be fully aware of their legal rights, and to allow the Pentagon to comment. That’s journalistic responsibility.
I’m still uncertain about my feelings towards “No Place to Hide”. I stand by my initial judgement that it’s a polemic essay from a singular person, and should be viewed with appropriate levels of skepticism and open-mindedness.