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NSA fallout: A CNN pundit’s war on Glenn Greenwald

August 23, 2013

By Howard Kurtz

Aug. 6, 2013: Glenn Greenwald testifies before a Brazilian Congressional committee on the NSA's surveillance programs, in Brasilia.Reuters Read more:

Aug. 6, 2013: Glenn Greenwald testifies before a Brazilian Congressional committee on the NSA’s surveillance programs, in Brasilia.Reuters
Read more:

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin is a former prosecutor and very smart guy whose judgment is really clouded when it comes to Glenn Greenwald.

 So clouded, in fact, that he has no problem with the fact that British authorities on Sunday detained Greenwald’s partner at Heathrow, interrogated him for nine hours and threatened him with jail.

In fact, Toobin likened David Miranda to a “drug mule” because he was bringing Greenwald documents as part of the Guardian columnist’s pursuit of NSA leaks.

“I don’t want to be unkind, but he was a mule,” Toobin told Anderson Cooper. “He was given something, he didn’t know what it was, from one person to pass to another at the other end of an airport. Our prisons are full of drug mules.” It was left to Cooper to point out that the British agents knew who Miranda was and that “he wasn’t connected to some terrorist group.”

Time for a little perspective.

Greenwald is a crusader on national security issues, to be sure, but he is also a journalist. A lot of people don’t like the guy, but his reporting on the documents he obtained from Ed Snowden was a worldwide bombshell and its accuracy has not been seriously challenged.

Toobin’s relentless criticism of Greenwald-and now the man he lives with in Brazil-seems to treat both of them as potential criminals. And here, in my view, he has a blind spot. Journalists obtain classified documents all the time. It may be illegal to leak secret stuff, but do we really want to put reporters in jeopardy for obtaining it?

What’s more, the British agents seized from Miranda a laptop, cell phone, hard drive, memory sticks, a smart watch and a games console (that last one undoubtedly being a grave threat to national security). Why isn’t Toobin outraged about that? He noted dismissively that Miranda wasn’t “sent to the gulag.”

Miranda and Greenwald have now filed a lawsuit about the detention. Miranda is not a journalist, but he was acting in a journalistic capacity in this instance, and the Guardian paid for his trip.

Greenwald, in his Guardian column, was apoplectic:

“This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism. It’s bad enough to prosecute and imprison sources. It’s worse still to imprison journalists who report the truth. But to start detaining the family members and loved ones of journalists is simply despotic. Even the Mafia had ethical rules against targeting the family members of people they felt threatened by.” Greenwald’s vow to make Britain pay a price was a bit over the top, but one can understand how aggrieved he must feel.

Toobin and Greenwald clashed in a CNN debate three weeks ago over the conviction of Bradley Manning, with Toobin saying the Army private deserved to be behind bars and Greenwald calling it “bizarre” that anyone who “call[s] themselves a journalist … would call for the prosecution and imprisonment for decades of a source like Bradley Manning.” I tend to side with Toobin in that Manning knowingly broke the law; he got 35 years yesterday. Read more at Fox News.


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