The Adversarial Journalist
Playboy Australia|September 2018

Five years after he broke the Edward Snowden story, reporter Glenn Greenwald is speaking truth to power again — whether you want to hear it or not

John Meroney

Just before President Donald J. Trump met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in July, Glenn Greenwald flew to Moscow. The investigative journalist and former lawyer, in town to participate in a cybersecurity conference, was on his own audacious mission: to challenge the Trump-era tendency among politicians and mainstream media outlets to characterize anyone who engages with Russians — let alone visits the country — as suspicious, if not downright treacherous.

“The panel itself didn’t generate controversy,” says Greenwald, speaking from his adoptive home of Rio de Janeiro. (In this context at least, he projects unflappable calm whether he’s talking about tennis or Trump.) “That started afterward, when I gave an interview to RT,” Russia’s 24-hour Englishlanguage news channel. Greenwald told RT that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are obsessed with “viewing Russia not just as an adversary but as an actual enemy.” He added: “There’s actually talk a lot now about how what they regard as the interference in the 2016 election is similar to Pearl Harbor…or Al Qaeda and 9/11.” Greenwald continued: “Despite all the claims that… Trump is a puppet of Russia, in many ways Obama was more cooperative with the Russian government than Trump was.”

On the same trip, Greenwald met with Edward Snowden, the former CIA analyst and NSA contractor who leaked top-secret documents exposing mass surveillance of U.S. citizens — and whose whistle-blowing Greenwald helped facilitate via The Guardian, launching both men onto the global stage. Greenwald posted multiple smiling selfies of the two on Instagram.

Soon after the RT interview, retired naval intelligence officer and MSNBC analyst Malcolm Nance suggested to his 420,000-plus Twitter followers that Greenwald was “an agent of Trump & Moscow” who “helped Snowden defect.” Nance later added, “#KissPutinforUs.”

“I’ve been attacked since I began writing about politics,” Greenwald says, “but this is different.”

Nance’s assertions are “outright lies.” When a serious fabrication is made by “somebody who’s presented as part of a journalistic organization, that becomes grave,” he says. Greenwald has thought of suing Nance, but, he says, “I don’t want to be one of those people who go around using lawsuits to prevent or suppress criticism. On the other hand, there are limits on what you can say about people.” (Nance did not return calls for comment.)

Greenwald got a preview of this kind of attention a few years ago when prominent Democrats began to suggest that Trump was conspiring with Putin during the presidential campaign. Greenwald doubted this claim because, he says, there was no evidence. When Hillary Clinton began losing primaries to Senator Bernie Sanders, her operatives and allies used the same “smear tactic,” as Greenwald calls it, to try to align Sanders with Russia. This approach also surfaced in TV news. “You honeymooned in the Soviet Union,” said CNN’s Anderson Cooper, addressing Sanders during the primaries.

Greenwald’s position, summed up in his 2016 headline democrats’ tactic of accusing critics of kremlin allegiance has long, ugly history in u.s., drew loud denunciations. Former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004, tweeted about the news site Greenwald co-founded: “Would be interesting to find out if the intercept gets money from Russia or Iran.” Robert Shrum, Democratic campaign operative and chief strategist for John Kerry’s failed 2004 campaign, tweeted,“You are a criminal agent of Putin conspiracy.”

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