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Scoundrel Time: Lessons in Patriotism and Journalism From a Master

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I had a short exchange on Twitter last night with a national journalist of some note: Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek. In this brief encounter, I learned a remarkable fact: no one can criticize the CIA in any way — unless you actually work for the CIA! And here I thought the purpose of journalism was to, you know, serve as watchdog on government, “speak truth to power,” question, probe, dig for facts and that kind of thing. But nope, that’s not it at all.

It turns out only those in power have the right to question, uh, those in power. Everyone else should “go crawl off and watch cartoons” and let the “adults” in power do their work. I have been in journalism, directly and tangentially, for 39 years, but I must admit that I never learned this secret until now. No wonder I never made it to Newsweek!

It began when I replied to a tweet by Eichenwald, questioning his use of the word “misinformation” for information that was actually true, whatever the source of the information might be. I also sought to ascertain the degree of credence he will give to the CIA in the interesting new political arrangement we are about to experience after Jan. 20. I thought I spoke — as is always my wont — with sweet reason. But Mr. Eichenwald seemed to suffer some sort of deep emotional wound from my comments and responded accordingly. Here is the exchange:

Kurt Eichenwald ‏@kurteichenwald

As a reporter, I say this: If reporters say they were not responsible for aiding a Russian disinformation campaign, they are ignorant fools.

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald Whatever their provenance, the emails revealed actual facts. They weren’t ‘misinformation.’

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald And if the emails had revealed a straightforward campaign working honestly for its candidate? No scandal, no story.

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald Instead they revealed collusion between ‘Brooklyn’ and the DNC to skew the nominating process. That was the story.

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald By the way; when the CIA comes to terms w/Trump, which will certainly happen, will you still take their word as gospel?

Cameth swiftly the reply — or replies — from the man his own self:

Kurt Eichenwald ‏@kurteichenwald

@empireburlesque CIA analysts? Yes. Politicians who present the analysis, including those at top? No.

Kurt Eichenwald ‏@kurteichenwald

@empireburlesque Analysts could get a lot more money and a lot more freedom elsewhere. They sacrifice it for belief in duty. And then …

Kurt Eichenwald ‏@kurteichenwald

@empireburlesque …ppl like u who have never met one sneers in contempt at people who have more patriotism in their pinky than u do in body

Kurt Eichenwald ‏@kurteichenwald

@empireburlesque …so when u work in a building that has scores of stars in the front for all of the ppl who anonymously lost their lives..

Kurt Eichenwald ‏@kurteichenwald

@empireburlesque …in service of this country, u can come back & talk. Until then, go crawl off to watch cartoons. Adults have work to do

To which I replied:

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald You are a funny little fellow. I make a point on the authenticity of the emails & their contents, not their provenance, and

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald you respond with a raging twittersputter full of personal insults and chest-beating holier-than-thou ‘patriotism.’ That’s

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald not a reply, that’s a hissy fit. And I’m the one who’s supposed to grow up. Again: a fact that’s true isn’t “misinformation”

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald however dodgy its provenance might be. I’m sorry if pointing this out makes me unworthy of the protection of the CIA.

Chris Floyd ‏@empireburlesque

@kurteichenwald But then, facts are stupid things, as another great super-duper patriot once said. Personal insults are always better.

I decided to end the conversation at that point. I suppose I could have made more hay of his astonishing view that the CIA cannot be criticized by any outsider, because we are all pathetic, worthless, cartoon-watching children compared to the heroes of Langley. I could have queried his bold riposte that while he would never question the work of CIA analysts, he would always suspect the politicians who present the analysis. Does this include, er, the politicians who are at this moment presenting the CIA analysis? I might also have recalled Samuel Johnson’s old saw about patriotism being the last refuge of a scoundrel. But I figured the reply, if any, would have been along the same bellicose, belittling, non-responsive lines.

But the important thing is that I learned a lesson in the art of Higher Journalism from one of its noted practitioners. I also learned the true meaning of patriotism: keep your stupid mouth shut and swallow whatever you’re told by your betters. And that’s a lesson for us all, isn’t it? Something we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Thanks, Kurt!

Chris Floyd is a columnist for CounterPunch Magazine. His blog, Empire Burlesque, can be found at www.chris-floyd.com.

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