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Genealogy and Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald aimed for a James Comey sized splash with a resignation from The Intercept over suppression of criticism of Joe Biden. Glenn paints a picture of a media who is entirely ideologically aligned with the Democrats. That’s fine but the far more dangerous thing to do than openly support Biden is to act as if you are above any bias at all. The reason Glenn Greenwald isn’t the first person to cancel Glenn Greenwald is that he is explicitly biased against Democrats while he moralizes about being unbiased.

It’s easy to dump on Glenn Greenwald. But he’s a hero, no matter what people say about him. He has risked his life as a journalist in ways few, if any, can claim. That being said I am having trouble getting the point he is trying to make in his recent resignation.

The thesis just doesn’t hold up. Trump isn’t the underdog and if anything we are seeing how little power the media has in the face of massive dark money going to conservative forces. The corporate media has never been serious about taking down Trump, and they aren’t serious in taking down Biden either. But the truth is that most reasonable people could not support anything about the Republican Party. Any educated or honest person of course would be against an organization with so little claim to truth. The media is educated, not moral. Greenwald seems to get these two things confused.

But the fact that the media is critical of Trump does not really prove anything. Greenwald should know that when it came to Reality Winner’s leak, they didn’t really care. Likewise there is a lot more corruption with Trump than with Biden.

The weird thing about Greenwald’s resignation is that he does quote mainstream liberal media as sources but he also admits as Matt Taibbi does that there isn’t a big story there, just a big act of repression. But what did these two contrarians want to happen here? The story was considered but there wasn’t a whole lot there. Should the media be spending more time on speculation? Perhaps but why not also deal with Republican corruption? If speculation is so great why not Russiagate?

Greenwald and his pal Matt Taibbi seem intent on replaying Russiagate over and over again. The main thrust of both of their recent articles on the Biden laptops wasn’t that there was evidence against Biden but that the questioning of Biden was being suppressed. Much like most people freaking out about cancel culture they create the very ghost that haunts them.

The Intercept did not in fact censor Greenwald writing a piece about Biden but asked for more context in regards to a larger picture of misinformation that largely but not exclusively comes from the right. This was too much for Greenwald and he quit. As dramatic as this may be, some part of me admires it.

Greenwald published the emails from The Intercept reveal that both writer and editors agreed that there wasn’t sufficient evidence in regards to the laptop. What the editors didn’t like was the language by Greenwald implying proof. Greenwald replies with bullet points of where he complies to their demands of truth but leaves out the parts where he makes implications about Biden, which was the very issue The Intercept had with his article.

For Greenwald the conclusion was already made. The liberal media was going to cover for Joe Biden whether Biden made a mistake or not. The beef wasn’t even if Biden did it but more so that The Intercept wasn’t willing to take his story out of context. The emails reveal The Intercept agreed to publish general claims about liberal bias, Russia hysteria, etc. but were more cautious about language implying proof in this specific incident. Both sides agreed more questioning of Biden was needed and that the reason for the failure to do so could be speculated upon. Where Greenwald jumped ship was this idea that the right also had a way of skewing information that should be acknowledged and examined within the story.

Obviously The Intercept is applying a bias to a holistic approach that they might not apply to an anti-Trump piece. But it’s a bias I agree with. Greenwald, Chomsky and others are now also alarmed by free speech taking a back seat to political correctness but this sort of absolutism implies some form of fairness within the defender of free speech that is impossible to obtain.

Foucault always gets the better of Chomsky and it’s worth revisiting his thoughts on genealogy. For Foucault this claim that one could be without bias would be an ignorant one. Greenwald has implied this lack of bias for his buddy Joe Rogan who is just a normal working class guy or whatever even though they’re both rich. The main thing these people like about Rogan is that he’s stupid and that somehow makes him working class. It’s the same dynamic for Trump who is rich and uneducated, like his base. Joe Rogan is a safe space for fascists and Greenwald admires this somehow.

But it goes back to this notion that the media skews liberal and that alienates poor people because poor people aren’t liberal. Any poll would counteract this claim. The media may be unwilling to report on hard truths but that has much more to do with their relation to power than to their bias. I like most of the corporate media’s bias towards Democrats and liberals. This has more to do with them being willing to accept basic truth than anything else. The fact that some powerful people can’t be touched is a separate issue.

For Foucault power and knowledge are very connected. I am not sure he would buy into the anti-intellectualism of Rogan, Krystal Ball, etc. For Foucault doesn’t share the inevitability of Marxism. He sought out genealogy as a more complex archeology where the way we think about things changed over time, not just the materials at our disposal. For Foucault it isn’t just that our opinions change but that the framework in which we order the world changes and that this has to do with power.

Foucault writing on The Order of Things: “Between language and the theory of nature there exists therefore a relation that is of a critical type; to know nature is, in fact, to build upon the basis of language a true language, one that will reveal the conditions in which all language is possible and the limits within which it can have a domain of validity.” (p. 161) This is where Greenwald goes astray. To conceptualize this grand liberal conspiracy against him narrows his world to the very cultural apparatus he is a part of and totally loses sight of the specific systems that govern journalism.

Appearing on Matt Taibbi’s aptly titled Useful Idiots podcast Greenwald complains that liberals care about culture and not about politics. However the politics of destroying culture is real. Reducing human relations to a strictly material archeology while ignoring some of the more sublime elements of life tends to foster this survival of the fittest mentality where there isn’t a social contract or human ingenuity and instead is a grand conspiracy.

Such has become the tendency of the right who sees a clear breakdown of an economic system through the lens of a cultural antagonism. But isn’t this cultural antagonism much more mysterious than a ruling class with a false morality? Greenwald may think he’s channeling Nietzsche as Foucault did. But Nietzsche also has a more complex picture of the ruling class. Just as the idea of good applied to nobility so too did it apply to morality. However the opposite of good nobility (bad) was different than the opposite of morality (evil). What this teaches us is an equivalence in the creation of the word good, not about any equivalency between the bad and the evil who merely stand in opposition to a set of rules outside their control.

Greenwald is a strange man, but a hero by any account. He’ll continue to risk his life for truth. I don’t read Greenwald without knowledge of his bias but far more important than his bias is his willingness to challenge power. This is something we should all admire even as we read critically.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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