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Greenwald writes: "As intended, Jonathan Chait's denunciation of the 'PC language police' - a trite note of self-victimization he's been sounding for decades - provoked intense reaction: much criticism from liberals and praise from conservatives (with plenty of exceptions both ways)."

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: AP)
Glenn Greenwald. (photo: AP)



ALSO SEE: On Jonathan Chait, ‘Politically Correct’ Speech and the Social Media Left

ALSO SEE: Jessica Valenti | PC Culture' Isn't About Your Freedom of Speech. It's About Our Freedom to Be Offended

ALSO SEE: Jonathan Chait | Not a Very PC Thing to Say


The Petulant Entitlement Syndrome of Journalists

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

29 January 15

 

s intended, Jonathan Chait’s denunciation of the “PC language police” – a trite note of self-victimization he’s been sounding for decades – provoked intense reaction: much criticism from liberals and praise from conservatives (with plenty of exceptions both ways). I have all sorts of points I could make about his argument – beginning with how he tellingly focuses on the pseudo-oppression of still-influential people like himself and his journalist-friends while steadfastly ignoring the much more serious ways that people with views Chait dislikes are penalized and repressed – but I’ll instead point to commentary from Alex Pareene, Amanda Marcotte and Jessica Valenti as worthwhile responses. In sum, I fundamentally agree with Jill Filipovic’s reaction: “There is a good and thoughtful piece to be written about language policing & ‘PC’ culture online and in academia. That was not it.” I instead want to focus on one specific point about the depressingly abundant genre of journalists writing grievances about how they’re victimized by online hordes, of which Chait’s article is a very representative sample:

When political blogs first emerged as a force in the early post-9/11 era, one of their primary targets was celebrity journalists. A whole slew of famous, multi-millionaire, prize-decorated TV hosts and newspaper reporters and columnists – Tom Friedman, Tim Russert, Maureen Dowd, John Burns, Chris Matthews – were frequently the subject of vocal and vituperative criticisms, read by tens of thousands of people.

It is hard to overstate what a major (and desperately needed) change this was for how journalists like them functioned. Prior to the advent of blogs, establishment journalists were largely immunized even from hearing criticisms. If a life-tenured New York Times columnist wrote something stupid or vapid, or a Sunday TV news host conducted a sycophantic interview with a government official, there was no real mechanism for the average non-journalist citizen to voice critiques. At best, aggrieved readers could write a Letter to the Editor, which few journalists cared about. Establishment journalists spoke only to one another, and careerist concerns combined with an incestuous chumminess ensured that the most influential among them heard little beyond flowery praise.

Blogs, and online political activism generally, changed all of that. Though they tried – hard – these journalists simply could not ignore the endless stream of criticisms directed at them. Everywhere they turned – their email inboxes, the comment sections to their columns, Q-and-A sessions at their public appearances, Google searches of their names, email campaigns to their editors – they were confronted for the first time with aggressive critiques, with evidence that not everyone adored them and some even held them in contempt (Chait’s bizarre belief that “PC” culture thrived in the early 1990s and then disappeared until recently is, like his whole grievance, explained by his personal experience: he heard these critiques while a student at the University of Michigan, then was shielded from all of it during most of the years he wrote at The New Republic, and now hears it again due to blogs and social media).

What made the indignity so much worse was that the attacks came from people these journalists regard as nobodies: just average people, non-journalists, sometimes even anonymous ones. What right did they have even to form an opinion, let alone express one? As NBC News star Brian Williams revealingly put it in 2007:

You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.

That sort of sneering from establishment journalists was commonplace once they realized that they had critics and that ignoring them was no longer an option. Seemingly every week, a new column appeared in the NYT, Washington Post, or Time lamenting the threat to journalism and democracy and All Things Decent posed by the hordes of unhinged, uncredentialed losers who now had undeserved platforms to say mean things about honored journalists.

It was pure petulance and entitlement: they elevated a trivial feeling of personal offense (some unknown, uncredentialed person online said something mean to me) into something of great societal significance (this is a huge threat to all things Good). This grievance became so pervasive that pejorative journalistic caricatures of bloggers as nameless, angry losers became a cliché (and it continues now even when many of them have been forced by commercial realities to become bloggers themselves).

Social media – in particular Twitter – has greatly exacerbated this syndrome. Twitter by its nature is a confrontational medium. Its design ensures that anyone can force anyone else – no matter how prominent or established – to hear unrestrained criticisms about them from those with no established platform. It’s theoretically possible to use Twitter so as to avoid most such attacks, but one has to make a concerted and disciplined effort to do so, and it is usually much easier said than done. If one uses Twitter – as journalists are all but forced these days to do – then one will inevitably hear some aggressive and even vicious attacks.

Beyond being confrontational, Twitter is also distortive: it can make a small handful of loud, persistent people seem like an army, converting a fringe view into one that appears pervasive (my favorite example: MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki felt compelled to gravely address the Twitter complaint that a journalist must always use the title “President” when referring to Obama lest one be guilty of disrespect, even racism). That, in turn, can cause journalists to feel besieged – like the whole world is railing against them – when, in reality, it’s just several malcontents or, at most, a couple dozen people voicing a criticism that most of the world will never hear, let alone care about.

But this dynamic has made many journalists – and other prominent, powerful people – feel very unfairly maligned. And that, in turn, causes many of them to denounce the hordes and sound the alarm bell about the dangers created by all of this opinion-anarchy. It’s so common to read some new column or post by some writer or other luminary lamenting the dangers of online abuse aimed at them. It’s all grounded in self-absorbed grievance and entitlement (someone like me does not deserve this and should not have to put up with it) masquerading as something more consequential (free speech, journalism, democracy are imperiled!).

Let’s acknowledge some valid points among this strain of commentary, including Chait’s article. Certain groups of writers – racial and religious minorities, women, LGBT commentators – are subjected to a particularly noxious form of abuse, even when they have prominent platforms. The use of social media to bully kids or other powerless people is a serious menace. Online vigilante mobs can be as blindly authoritarian and bloodthirsty as the real-world version. Some journalists, pundits, party operatives and online activists frivolously exploit (and thus trivialize) serious accusations of bias, racism, and gender discrimination for rank partisan gain or cheap point-scoring against adversaries in much the same way that some Israel defenders routinely exploit anti-Semitism accusations against critics to delegitimize substantive critiques (thus dangerously draining the accusation of its potency as a weapon against actual anti-Semitism). All of that, I’d venture, is what Filipovic meant when she said: “There is a good and thoughtful piece to be written about language policing & ‘PC’ culture online and in academia.”

But the general journalistic complaint about uppity online hordes – and certainly Chait’s epic whine – is grounded in a much more pedestrian and self-regarding concern: anger over being criticized in less than civil and respectful tones by people who lack any credentials (and thus entitlement) to do so. This genre of journalistic grievance, in most cases, is nothing more than unhappiness over the realization that many people dislike what you say, or even dislike you, for reasons you regard as invalid. There’s just nothing more to it than that, no matter how much they try to dress it up as something lofty and profound.

I empathize with the experience (though not with the grievance). Literally every day, I come across online attacks on me that are either based on outright fabrications or critiques I perceive to be fundamentally unfair or inaccurate. Not infrequently, the abuse aimed at me contains anti-gay venom. I’ve watched as my Brazilian partner was attacked by a popular online Democrat (and plenty of others) in the most blatantly racist ways. As is true for everyone, it’s easy to predict that criticizing certain targets – President Obama, Israel, “New Atheists” – will guarantee particularly vitriolic and sustained attacks. Way more times than I can count, I’ve been called a racist for voicing criticisms of Obama that I also voiced of Bush, and an anti-Semite for criticizing militarism and aggression by Israel. All of that can create a disincentive for engaging on those topics: the purpose of it is to impose a psychic cost for doing so, and one is instinctively tempted to avoid that.

Of course, all of that can be unpleasant or – if one allows it to be – worse than unpleasant. Like everyone, I’m human and hold some of my critics in contempt and view some attacks as malicious if not formally defamatory. I’m not exempt from any of those reactions.

But that’s the price one pays for having a platform. And, on balance, it’s good that this price has to be paid. In fact, the larger and more influential platform one has, the more important it is that the person be subjected to aggressive, even harsh, criticisms. Few things are more dangerous than having someone with influence or power hear only praise or agreement. Having people devoted to attacking you – even in unfair, invalid or personal ways – is actually valuable for keeping one honest and self-reflective.

It would be wonderful on one level if all criticisms were expressed in the soft and respectful tones formalized in the U.S. Senate, but it’s good and necessary when people who wield power or influence are treated exactly like everyone else, which means that sometimes people say mean and unfair things about you in not-nice tones. Between erring on the side of people with power being treated with excess deference or excess criticisms, the latter is vastly preferable. The key enabling role of the government, media and other elites in the disasters and crimes of the post-9/11 era, by itself, leaves no doubt about this. It also proves that one of the best aspects of the internet is that it gives voice to people who are not credentialed – meaning not molded through the homogenizing grinder of establishment media outlets.

There are definitely people – most of them unknown and powerless – whose ability to speak and participate in civic affairs are unfairly limited by these sorts of abusive tactics. But whatever else is true, Jon Chait of New York Magazine, long of The New Republic, is not one of them. Neither is his friend Hanna Rosin of Slate. Neither is Andrew Sullivan – published by TimeThe AtlanticThe New York Times, major book publishing companies, and pretty much everyone else and featured on countless TV shows – despite his predictably giddy standing and cheering for Chait’s victimization manifesto. Nor is torture advocate Condoleezza Rice of Stanford or HBO host Bill Maher. Nor, despite attacks at least as serious and personal, am I. Nor are most of the prominent journalists and other influential luminaries who churn out self-pitying screeds about the terrible online masses and all the ways they are unfairly criticized and attacked.

Being aggressively, even unfairly, criticized isn’t remotely tantamount to being silenced. People with large and influential platforms have a particular need for aggressive scrutiny and vibrant critique. The world would be vastly improved if we were never again subjected to the self-victimizing whining of highly compensated and empowered journalists about how upset they are that people say mean things online about them and their lovely and talented friends.

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-6 # pgolay 2015-01-29 15:02
Mr. Greenwald seems to me to making a good enough case, but it is not dealing the Chait piece as I read it, if that was the intent.
 
 
+6 # lfeuille 2015-01-29 23:41
Quoting pgolay:
Mr. Greenwald seems to me to making a good enough case, but it is not dealing the Chait piece as I read it, if that was the intent.


He was making a larger point apparently inspired by the Chait piece. I think he nail it. He was not trying to respond directly. He link to a few other that he thought did that well.
 
 
+15 # babalu 2015-01-29 15:16
Many of the individuals Glenn highlighted are simply lazy and reprinting the latest GOP press releases and other lies. Others tell a misleading part of the story. They need to be called on this to maintain any freedom we have left.
 
 
-9 # brux 2015-01-29 16:13
Freedom is in your mind. take it or leave it but don't think you get it from the words of talking heads.
 
 
+10 # Merlin 2015-01-29 19:41
If you seriously believe that freedom is only something in your mind and also not imposed upon you from societies forces, you are delusional. It may or may not be yours to take or leave. Just ask the people who have been wrongly imprisoned and recently released.
 
 
-7 # brux 2015-01-29 23:55
>> people who have been wrongly imprisoned and recently released.

Clearly I'm not talking about them,

Most of the invocations of freedom here on RSN are people's ideas. They think they cannot be free of the NSA has access to read their email or listen to their phone calls or check their phone records if they ever need to. That is completely perception.

Can any of you people make a point without calling people names or calling them delusional?
 
 
-3 # tedrey 2015-01-29 15:17
I agree. Greenwald, (whom I otherwise admire greatly) here gives just one paragraph -- "Let’s acknowledge some valid points . . ." -- to what to me appears the whole thrust of Chait's article, and devotes all the rest of his attack to a relatively small portion of Chait's presentation. That confuses me.
 
 
-25 # brux 2015-01-29 16:13
Greenwald is being a "catty" little bea-otch here! ;-)
 
 
+1 # dickbd 2015-01-30 16:27
That was sort of funny, and I'm sorry you got all the red marks.

However, you were just complaining about name calling, and now you are induging in a little gay bashing here. Again, I thought it was funny even though I'm a defender of gays and an admirer of Greenwald's--bu t you're being a little hypocritical, aren't you?
 
 
-5 # brux 2015-01-31 20:08
Name calling as in telling people they and their posts are stupid.

Greenwald is not present, and bea-otch is not really a name, and not homo-perjorativ e, certainly not gay bashing. There is a lot of effeminate cattiness goes in on the Left, that's just the way it is. Doesn't have anything to do with gays or swearing.

I defend gays too, but this has nothing to do with that, and it's not hypocritical. Sometimes I will swear at someone here who insults me or makes a particularly asinine comment to me, because it is appropriate. It would be wrong to continue to reply civilly to someone when they have shown they are not able to converse that way. That is nothing like what I am complaining about.

Have you ever made a comment where someone say - you are an idiot and then goes on to talk at length at their whatever theory as if they had not just insulted you. That is name calling. No sense to converse with someone like that.

The world is just too complicated for some people, every incident or event needs a well thought out reply. I used to like Greenwald until I learned more about him.

I don't think he's a bad guy he is just a mediocre guy trying to grandstand and make a name for himself .., and he might not be what he says he is at all.
 
 
+13 # lfeuille 2015-01-29 17:19
Quoting tedrey:
I agree. Greenwald, (whom I otherwise admire greatly) here gives just one paragraph -- "Let’s acknowledge some valid points . . ." -- to what to me appears the whole thrust of Chait's article, and devotes all the rest of his attack to a relatively small portion of Chait's presentation. That confuses me.


He is making a larger point, one he was apparently inspired to write about by reading the Chait piece. I think he nailed it.
 
 
-8 # brux 2015-01-29 23:56
Greenwald is CIA ... he is doing a great job of getting your fools to argue for stupid things and then bicker at each other.
 
 
+5 # dickbd 2015-01-30 16:29
Again, name calling that you were complaining about.

What is your evidence that Greenwald is CIA?
 
 
-5 # brux 2015-01-31 19:59
He sure has hell has not been doing anything with Snowden's data? I think he is too stupid to read it or understand it.
 
 
0 # John S. Browne 2015-02-02 00:43
#

He's FAR MORE intelligent and well-educated than you are, willful-moron and shill-troll. You wouldn't know true intelligence and understanding if they bit you on the ass in broad daylight, because you're MUCH too willfully- stupid and blind to do so.

#
 
 
0 # brux 2015-02-18 23:36
when someone bats back a comment like that they cannot possibly know about or back up, and is just like a kid saying my dad can beat up your dad ... you know they are full of shit ... and your last name is brown too ... how about that?
 
 
+17 # John S. Browne 2015-01-29 15:35
#

I read this on The Intercept yesterday; and, yet again, another article of Glenn Greenwald's is so totally right-on. Greenwald has such a clearcut, efficient, accurate and demonstrably-tr ue way of cutting to the chase in telling it like it is, as in this case. He's so right that these peacocks who call themselves "journalists" are so full of themselves, and far too often falsely think that they are "better than" and/or "superior" to the rest of us. It reminds me of the great scenes in the wonderful movie, "V for Vendetta", where the state mouthpiece TV news show host makes so clear what a brainwashed, cowardly supplicant of, and false-propagand ist for, the totalitarian militarized police state he is, ruled over by that movie's version of "Big Brother", so masterfully acted and played by John Hurt (as was his role as well in the movie version of Orwell's "1984").

(Continued)
 
 
+2 # John S. Browne 2015-01-29 15:57
#

If you haven't seen "V for Vendetta", you really should watch it at least once; since it, like "1984" does also, so astutely represents what is happening right now in the U.S. and the West. The movie has its problems, as almost all Hollywood and related fare does; such as the hero of the movie, "V", torturing the lead female character of the story in order to "wake her up to what's really going on". That, of course, is entirely unconscionable and inexcusable (leave it to the British version of Hollywood, Pinewood, to seek to further get us to accept torture, as Hollywood did with "24", etc.); but, otherwise, the movie is quite good.

#
 
 
0 # Billsy 2015-01-29 16:33
My recollection of the film was that she could have walked out free at any time from her cell. The point of the torture scenes was to warn against succumbing to fear.
 
 
0 # John S. Browne 2015-01-29 16:49
#

I wish that you were right, but she was not allowed to walk out until the end of her ordeal of torture. Before that, her cell was kept locked except when she was taken to her torture sessions. How can one not succumb to fear when being tortured? Almost all torture victims "break", at least eventually. But they don't come out of their fear, particularly the fear that they're going to die. Very few torture victims are unafraid to die. So, they break because of their fear, as well as their desire for the pain and their being in constant shock to stop, etc.

#
 
 
+1 # dickbd 2015-01-30 16:31
Wow! You really make good points, and you are always worth reading.
 
 
-18 # brux 2015-01-29 15:53
Whenever an article gets overly long and rambling like this it is a waste of time to read and discuss. The mark of a good writer is winnowing down what they have to say and saying it with style, force and emotional connection.

Most of the people our public space is filled with are forced to be blathering idiots by the requirements of a "job" that constrains them to reduce everything down to a gang mentality. That's how this partisanship and bias and lack of listening to the other side starts ... and while it's nice to see Greenwald has a glimpse of this, he is one of the most voluble participants in it as well.
 
 
-1 # dickbd 2015-02-01 09:40
That is a legitimate point, and I am really puzzled as to why it drew so many red points.

I think you are right on about bias and not listening to the other side. However, I guess I am blind to Greenwald's participation in it. You've obviously come to distrust him. How do you feel about Noam Chomsky?
 
 
0 # brux 2015-02-18 23:35
Both of these people are important, but most of what they do is image management, PR and day to day blathering, picking up money for articles and speaking ... mostly to the rabid Left that do not even know how to appreciate what they have to offer.

I have learned a lot from Noam Chomsky, about history and media ... but his take on geopolitics is hopelessly naive.

But in the movie CitizenFour the producer/direct or talked about how she got the contact with Snowden because Greenwald was too stupid and lazy to learn how to install encryption on his computer. Snowden is a ham out to make a name for himself ... he is not doing much original work and he has not even released much of anything from the Snowden files.

What is going on with Snowden's stuff? Have you heard anything. i think Greenwald is either working for the government and not releasing stuff, or he is not bright enough to make heads or tails of it.
 
 
+9 # Walter J Smith 2015-01-29 16:36
I like this, irony and all: "Online vigilante mobs can be as blindly authoritarian and bloodthirsty as the real-world version." Indeed, what part of this online blogging and commenting does no contain that stuff daily? And, you are correct to point out this: "It would be wonderful on one level if all criticisms were expressed in the soft and respectful tones formalized in the U.S. Senate, but it’s good and necessary when people who wield power or influence are treated exactly like everyone else, which means that sometimes people say mean and unfair things about you in not-nice tones."

Indeed, it is so wonderful that it recently hit that genius of a Senator, John McCain, dead center in his vanity; he responded with proof that he needs WAY MORE SUCH challenges. His utterance demonstrated that he is precisely what he accused the demonstrators of being: "Scum!"

He thereby demonstrated the veracity of this: "Between erring on the side of people with power being treated with excess deference or excess criticisms, the latter is vastly preferable." And McCain is far from the only US Senator who needs more of that criticism, excess and all.

"The world would be vastly improved if we were never again subjected to the self-victimizin g whining of highly compensated and empowered journalists..." and presidents and prime ministers and ungoverned CEOs.
 
 
+7 # dandevries 2015-01-29 18:59
I have said it before and will say it again. If I believed in God I would thank Her daily for Glenn Greenwald.
 
 
-1 # cordleycoit 2015-01-29 19:27
PC sucks like the torture government operators inflict on free thinkers. Getting beaten by brutal cops is bad. Fearing cops is worse. PC was invented by Trotsky and co-opted by the Maoists in the early sixties."The slogan The People and the part are one" is an example of trite lying. It quickly morphs to new-speak and ernst editors trying to vanguard a non event into a revolution. PC's running mate is choiceless choice a leftoid empty promice.
 
 
0 # ericlipps 2015-01-30 06:08
So it's journalists' fault if they don't like being verbally assaulted by every drunken loser with a grudge and an Internet connect?
 
 
0 # tedrey 2015-01-30 08:49
Greenwald writes 'Let’s acknowledge some valid points among this strain of commentary, including Chait’s article. Certain groups of writers – racial and religious minorities, women, LGBT commentators – are subjected to a particularly noxious form of abuse, even when they have prominent platforms. The use of social media to bully kids or other powerless people is a serious menace. Online vigilante mobs can be as blindly authoritarian and bloodthirsty as the real-world version. Some journalists, pundits, party operatives and online activists frivolously exploit (and thus trivialize) serious accusations of bias, racism, and gender discrimination for rank partisan gain or cheap point-scoring against adversaries in much the same way that some Israel defenders routinely exploit anti-Semitism accusations against critics to delegitimize substantive critiques (thus dangerously draining the accusation of its potency as a weapon against actual anti-Semitism). All of that, I’d venture, is what Filipovic meant when she said: “There is a good and thoughtful piece to be written about language policing & ‘PC’ culture online and in academia.”'

Yet 90% of Chait's article does deal precisely with these "valid points." But Greenwald otherwise ignores these points, as do the 20 previous comments on this thread (including mine.) He only savages Chait's 'epic whine.'

Mr. Greenwald is a highly intelligent and honest man. I wonder if he wrote this article much too angrily and much too fast?
 
 
+1 # Nominae 2015-01-30 19:14
Glenn Greenwald is the author of some of the most incisive, intelligent, cogent and persuasive articles out there.

This, unfortunately, is demonstrably *NOT* one of them.

Obviously, even a good writer can have a bad day.

The man is a commentator, not the Oracle of Delphi.
 

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