Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Smear Artists Think We're Stupid. Are They Right?

The smear campaign against Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald is interesting for at least several reasons.

First, because whatever dirt might exist about a journalist, it's orthogonal to the facts of what he or she uncovers.  Based on the revelations of NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Greenwald has reported on a massive, secret, unconstitutional domestic spying operation with potentially dire ramifications for democracy and freedom in America.  The government has denied none of what Greenwald has reported and has confirmed much of it.  Even if Greenwald were an axe murderer whose favorite hobby were bludgeoning baby seals, it would have nothing to do with the accuracy, relevance, or importance of what he's reported.

(For some pretty hilarious perspective on the nature of the revelations from Darah Gregorian (the person whose name appears on the New York Daily News hit piece), check out the hashtag #ggscandals on Twitter.)

Second, what would be logically relevant is some examination of where Dareh Gregorian got his information.  Who provided the information to Gregorian?  Why?  Was there any quid pro quo?  For anyone inclined to complain that I'm asking for the kind of information about Gregorian that Gregorian is passing on about Greenwald, I'm not.  Admittedly, there would be a form of karmic satisfaction in watching the Gregorians of the world wind up on the wrong end of their own slimy tactics, but learning anything salacious about Gregorian would be no more relevant than it is when we learn it about anyone else.  But when someone puts his name on a logically irrelevant hit piece like Gregorian's, knowing who fed him his dirt and why would be hugely educational for people manipulated by establishment servants posing as journalists.

I have to emphasize that point for the Joy Reids of the world.  What matters is relevance.  As I noted above, Glenn Greenwald could be an axe murderer whose favorite hobby is bludgeoning baby seals -- and it would have zero bearing on the accuracy, relevance, or importance of what he's reported.  But learning that someone like Darah Gregorian is being spoon-fed decade-old dirt (and not even particularly dirty dirt -- again, see #ggscandals) that has no logical relevance at all to the existence and ramifications of a metastasized domestic spying operation would go a long way toward helping consumers of media understand how the powers that be try to manipulate them.

In this regard, it's good to remember that the tactic of smearing whistleblowers and anyone else who challenges America's oligarchy isn't new.  The Nixon administration broke into the office of Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist to try to uncover salacious material about Ellsberg.  And Bank of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, and various other appendages of the ruling class have long been revealed to be engaging in similar, COINTELPRO-like tactics against Greenwald himself.

This matters a lot.  Smear tactics aren't intended only to discredit current whistleblowers and journalists; they are also intended to deter anyone who might consider opposing the establishment in the future.  If we let the tactics work by refusing to recognize them for what they are, we help discourage future whistleblowers, just as the smear artists intend.  That is, "Why should I bother?  The government and its henchmen will smear me, people will talk about nothing but the smear, and I'll wind up suffering for nothing."  The one thing Snowden himself acknowledged fearing (beyond retaliation against his family) was something very much like this:  that in the face of his bombshell revelations about an insidious internal threat to American democracy, Americans wouldn't care.

Third:  Snowden isn't the last whisteblower who will be subjected to a smear campaign, nor Greenwald the last journalist.  In fact, I'll be stunned if the Gregorians of the world haven't already been cued up with more spoon-fed "revelations."  It would be good for the health of our society and the productivity of our discourse if people could recognize these tactics and evaluate them accordingly.

Consider:  despite the logical irrelevance of salacious revelations and other such dirt (real, invented, exaggerated, distorted, whatever) about a reporter to what he or she has reported and that has subsequently been confirmed, the government and its courtiers continue to engage in attempted smears as a way of distracting from and discrediting what's been reported.  If such tactics have no hope of success, then the people who coordinate and engage in them are stupid.  But on the assumption that the people behind these smears aren't stupid, they must have some basis for believing the tactics are sound -- that is, they must have some basis for believing the tactics will work.

Are they right?  It's really up to us.  If you put your personal feelings for or opinions about a journalist ahead of your citizen's concern for what the journalist has revealed, you're being a tool (I'm talking to you, Joy Reid, and to countless others like you).  And I mean "tool" both in its derogatory sense and its more customary dictionary meaning.

Or, to put it another way, either the people behind these smear tactics are stupid… or we are.  Which would you prefer?


  1. Yes, unfortunately, they're right, to a great extent. Look at the periodical the story appears in. The other burning issues reported are "Chinese woman's breast implant explodes" (could be a story about testing a new WMD), "Supermarket cart kills Chinese woman" (doesn't pay to be a Chinese women, I guess), and that blisteringly hot story; "Gorilla gets even with taunting kids" (although why they let young goats taunt gorillas is beyond me). All I can say about the story in question is what one of the comments said: "and?"

    You know, though, I think this is the same Dareh Gregorian who used to work for the Post. What's up with that? He decide writing for fish wrappers is less stressful? Bet his mom is proud of him.

    What worries me about this (and the other articles) is that ANYONE reads this tripe. Geez, we are hosed.

  2. Barry,

    I've been a fan of your fiction since I first found a Rain novel at my library a few years ago. I sincerely hope you continue to produce quality thrillers, which I will surely read.

    However, your blog posts and short essays are now even more important than your entertainments. You are performing an important public service combining your ability to structure a lucid and logical argument with your dedication to democratic principals, sharpened no doubt from your years inside-the-tent learning about how power is abused in America.

    Wish there were more Barry Eislers, bravo!

  3. "Are we that stupid?" - define 'we'.

    Here's the scary thing: only a very small sliver of the adult population can read to a level sufficient to 'glean' information from anything of even moderate complexity. If the 'Adult Literacy and Life Skills' surveys are to be believed, it's only about 5%. (Worse still - over 45% of adults in the West can't read to a level sufficient to comprehend the instructions on a bottle of prescription medicine).

    What that means, is that the majority (and certainly well past the median individual) can NOT get their world view from any mechanism other than 'some guy on TV'.

    It's no indictment on the 'bottom 90%' of the ALLS surveys: they are the victims of 10-12 years of indoctrination and State-mandated oversight by uninterested under-achievers (the top grads do NOT become teachers in State schools).

    Source for the "5% can read at 9th grade level": The most recent data on this is from OECD and Statistics Canada (2011) Literacy for Life: Further Results from the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey: Table 2.3 [p 61] gives the level 4/5 (grouped) breakdown by country.

    The decomposition of the grouped level 4/5 data will be the same (broadly) as in Table 1.3 on p21 of US Department of Education, National Centre for Educational Statistics Working Paper No. 97-33 "Adult Literacy: An International Perspective" (1997).