If the affair over Edward Snowdon’s flight from Hong Kong to wherever he’s going has shown us anything, it is that the mainstream US media is well down the road to the sort of subservience and spinelessness which characterised so much, if not all the Irish media during the Troubles.
On Sunday’s NBC political show ‘Meet The Press’, host David Gregory threw this question at Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian journalist and commentator who along with Bart Gellman in The Washington Post wrote up most of the stories generated by Snowden’s defection from the National Security Agency, America’s official eavesdropper: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”
Gregory was asking a question that former IRA fellow traveler cum sneaking regarder Congressman Peter King had put into the public arena last week and if he had couched it in those terms, along the lines of: “Peter King thinks you should be prosecuted. How do you react?”, that would have been fine. (Or, when interviewing President Obama which he does from time to time, he had asked: ‘Given that your drones kill without any judicial process and that the victims include innocent civilians and children shouldn’t you, Mr President, be charged with a crime?’ then I would have had no problem. But he hasn’t and he never would.)
But the way he framed the question was designed to subtly show that he agreed with King, an impression that was strengthened when he went on to question Greenwald’s journalistic qualifications. (Incidentally Gregory’s network, NBC employs Chelsea Clinton but no worries about her journalistic credentials!)
I have to admit to a certain bias here. I had spotted David Gregory a long time ago as one of American media’s true reptiles, the sort of ambitious guy to whom access was everything since it brought success, fame and money while the pursuit of truth, and the bravery that is needed to expose it, very secondary. I should add that this required no special skill at all. You just needed to watch him in action.
The parallels between what is happening to American journalism now and what happened to Irish journalism during the Troubles are by no means exact and they cannot be. America is a much larger place and there will always be a healthy audience and market for the non-conventional view. That was not always the case in Ireland, although Vincent Browne’s Sunday Tribune and John Mulcahy’s Hibernia did afford a refuge of sorts.
But with the mainstream American media it is not hard to detect signs of the malaise that downed its Irish equivalent during the Troubles and contributed, I firmly believe, to the conflict lasting longer than it needed to. The malaise, of course, is fear, fear that if you report in a certain way or choose certain subjects to report on you will be accused of harbouring sympathy with the enemy, in our case the IRA, in America’s case Islamic terrorism, and your career will suffer – badly.
That is what was behind Gregory’s question to Greenwald. Implicit in the wording he chose was this statement: ‘I am asking him the question in this way to show everyone in power in Washington that I profoundly disagree with what he has done in publicising Edward Snowden’s leaks and that I, David Gregory, am utterly trustworthy and would never, ever dream of writing such a story myself.’
When I watched Gregory on ‘Meet The Press’, the memories came flooding back from Belfast in the 1980’s of watching or listening to a colleague using code language to say very similar things and knowing exactly what he or she really meant. And knowing also that I just couldn’t be like them.
Mind you in the case of David Gregory, the man has always been a creepy shithead. If you don’t believe me just have a look at him dancing with Bush’s brain, Karl Rove at the Radio and TV Correspondents Annual Dinner in 2007, a year before Gregory was promoted to the top political job in NBC. Gregory is the one to Rove’s immediate right. Watch and ask yourself this: would this man ever speak truth to power? Dance with it maybe but nothing more challenging: