Dec 5, 2013
Love It or Leave It?
Posted on Aug 24, 2013
By Scott Tucker
A constitution may be defended on its own merits, or criticized for historical faults. I count Poitras and Greenwald among our pre-eminent civil libertarians. Only such people keep the government honest, and they do so by forcing the usual hidden bad habits of power into the light of day. Only in this way is an imperiled republic called to account in the public realm. Not by the pieties of politicians, and not by the sleepwalking evasions of journalists.
If we entrust our liberty to the National Security Agency, then Orwell’s Big Brother might as well be the bogeyman of 1984. After all, we are much more up to date, greedy for every electronic gadget that might give the state new eyes and new ears. Journalists have been too willing to volunteer as state prosecutors, and are speeding the day when only one question resounds in public: “What have you got to hide?”
Now, even as Chelsea Manning begins a sentence of 35 years in prison, and even as Edward Snowden finds a tenuous refuge in Russia, I have a small selfish motive in defending Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald. If I let this moment pass without adding my protest to the public record, I’ll pay a debt in private shame. There are differences between our worldviews, our temperaments, our paths in life. Are those differences decisive now?
Not now! What counts now is praising their courage and, if possible, offering them some practical help. There is no doubt in my mind that Poitras and Greenwald are saving the honor of journalism at a time when so many journalists are just chasing their own careers. From such careerists I do not need reminders that people such as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Manning, Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras are only human. Yes, but at least they are fighting to remain human!
If the great distinction of a “professional journalist” is the claim to be above all ideology, then that claim is subject to debate among the wide and nonprofessional public. In my view, which I take no pains to hide, the standard claims of “objective journalism” are among the bloodiest and most barbaric weapons in the ideological armory of the ruling class. One of the lowest circles in the hell of journalism, circling the very stinking pit of the Old Deceiver, has to belong to journalists who think they have mastered the universe merely because they have mastered the editorial voice.
Anyone of my age will remember the street rebellions, the protests for peace and the social movements of the 1960s. We also remember the bitter slogan of false patriotism: “Love it or leave it!” Among patriots there are also heartbroken lovers, and if you choose exile then you leave the country you love. There is also the choice (when possible) of working out some kind of binational and part-time expatriation. Greenwald, though born in this country, has chosen to make his home in Rio de Janeiro with his Brazilian partner, David Miranda. The Guardian, a British publication of the civil libertarian left, has welcomed the work of Poitras and Greenwald, and their offices have drawn visits from agents of state security. Readers interested in the more ridiculous details (the destruction of hard drives as though they were magical talismans) can easily refer to The Guardian. Certain episodes, however, are stark and sobering.
The net of the North American “security state” has been wide enough to leave Snowden stranded in Russia for the time being, an irony I will not belabor here. A few brute facts about President Vladimir Putin’s regime are in order. Putin was an officer of the KGB before becoming a politician. The present regime has a marriage of convenience with the Russian Orthodox Church (which has canonized the Romanovs who were executed in a rural basement by the Bolsheviks). Anna Politkovskaya, a brave and independent journalist who opposed Putin and who covered the savage war in Chechnya, was shot dead in 2006. An award for civic work and journalism established in her name was first given in 2007 to one of her friends and colleagues, Natalia Estemirova, who was also shot dead in 2009. The prosecution and imprisonment of members of Pussy Riot, a feminist punk band, drew global attention; and the gang attacks and national laws directed against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people will throw a long shadow over the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi.
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