Culture Wars/Current Controversies

How To End Up Serving The Right

Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi are known for exposing the crimes of the police, the military, and Wall Street. But they also spout dangerous conservative hyperbole about The Left. What’s going on?

Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi have a long track record of work that exposes the crimes of the powerful. Both were early intellectual heroes of mine; Taibbi was one of the first writers to see through Barack Obama’s hollow rhetoric, and his reporting around the financial crisis was unmatched. His book on the killing of Eric Garner by the NYPD, I Can’t Breathe, is a superbly-written indictment of modern policing. Greenwald’s exposes on the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations were essential reading, carefully documenting both presidents’ abuses of basic civil liberties and debunking their lies. His reporting on the corruption of the Brazilian government has been personally brave and truly important. There is a good case to be made that for his role in freeing Lula da Silva from prison and exposing the reach of the U.S. surveillance state, Glenn Greenwald is one of the most consequential reporters in the world. He has also been personally supportive of my work in a way I have appreciated deeply.

I have long respected these two writers’ intelligence. I do not think they are sinister people. But something strange has happened with them both lately, and it’s worth looking at closely, because I think it shows (1) how bad right-wing arguments successfully pose as “common sense” and can easily persuade certain people, especially those who think of themselves as logical and reasonable, and (2) how excessive disgust for liberals can create deficiencies in one’s political analysis which in turn can give rise to a fuzzy understanding of the way the world works. (A bit more uncharitably, I might say it shows how Twitter turns smart people stupid.)

Let me start with a few quotes from these two journalists that I think show the places where they have begun to diverge sharply from what I consider sensible analysis:

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