Steven Rattner, a former member of Barack Obama's Treasury Department, appeared on the news show Morning Joe on Monday offering an opinion about The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who broke the story about NSA spying. Rattner's opinion? Greenwald isn't a journalist. This is apparently because Rattner may not have seen how Greenwald's reporting has shifted public opinion and moved public policy. Rattner may actually be unaware of what journalists do. Perhaps this blind spot is because the journalists he hangs out with work for Morning Joe.
Rattner's comments came as the show's panel was discussing how to hide from the NSA. Host Mika Brzezinski suggested that the story of NSA surveillance isn't a black-and-white one — though Greenwald, she said, thinks it is. Cue Rattner.
That's exactly the point. First of all, Glenn Greenwald is not a journalist, he's an activist portraying himself as a journalist. That's maybe another conversation than what we're having. But you're right, it's not a black-and-white story.
The argument is ridiculous, of course. Even conservative Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tacitly acknowledges Greenwald is a journalist, if the media shield law he introduced with New York's Chuck Schumer is any indicator.
But more importantly: the best journalism is about seeking reform, as New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen notes. That's the the sort of journalism that wins Pulitzer Prizes.
Just reminding you that one of the things Pulitzer entries are encouraged to include is changes that followed after the facts were exposed.— Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) July 29, 2013
And in that sense, Greenwald is a tremendously successful journalist. As he himself noted Monday morning, a new poll from Pew Research released late Friday reinforces one from ABC last week: more people than ever before see the government's surveillance efforts as unwarranted invasions of privacy.
Pew summarizes its findings:
A majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts. An even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism. …
Overall, 47% say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person’s civil liberties, while 35% say they are more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country. This is the first time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004.
Granted, Americans still feel as though the NSA programs are a net positive — by a margin of 50 to 44 percent — but perceptions are changing.
As The New York Times reported Monday morning, the percentage of people on Capitol Hill who oppose the programs is significantly lower than 44 percent, but it's growing. The paper outlines some of the policy proposals we've reviewed in the past, but suggests that there's been a tidal shift in attitudes.
[W]hat began on the political fringes only a week ago has built a momentum that even critics say may be unstoppable, drawing support from Republican and Democratic leaders, attracting moderates in both parties and pulling in some of the most respected voices on national security in the House. …
“There is a growing sense that things have really gone a-kilter here,” [California Rep. Zoe] Lofgren said.
Greenwald has been unabashed in pushing for the shifts in public perception and changes to public policy that are currently under consideration. That doesn't detract from the journalistic value of his reporting on the NSA. A core tenet of journalism is that it should "afflict the powerful and comfort the powerless." Rattner, hardly among the powerless, clearly feels a bit afflicted.