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Greenwald writes: "She granted anonymity to government officials and then uncritically laundered their dubious claims in the New York Times."

Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Reuters)
Glenn Greenwald. (photo: Reuters)

The Spirit of Judy Miller Is Alive and Well at the NYT, and It Does Great Damage

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept

22 July 15


ne of the very few Iraq War advocates to pay any price at all was former New York Times reporter Judy Miller, the classic scapegoat. But what was her defining sin? She granted anonymity to government officials and then uncritically laundered their dubious claims in the New York Times. As the paper’s own editors put it in their 2004 mea culpa about the role they played in selling the war: “We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not as rigorous as it should have been. In some cases, information that was controversial then, and seems questionable now, was insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged.” As a result, its own handbook adopted in the wake of that historic journalistic debacle states that “anonymity is a last resort.”

But 12 years after Miller left, you can pick up that same paper on any given day and the chances are high that you will find reporters doing exactly the same thing. In fact, its public editor, Margaret Sullivan, regularly lambasts the paper for doing so. Granting anonymity to government officials and then uncritically printing what these anonymous officials claim, treating it all as Truth, is not an aberration for the New York Times. With some exceptions among good NYT reporters, it’s an institutional staple for how the paper functions, even a decade after its editors scapegoated Judy Miller for its Iraq War propaganda and excoriated itself for these precise methods.

That the New York Times mindlessly disseminates claims from anonymous officials with great regularity is, at this point, too well-documented to require much discussion. But it is worth observing how damaging it continues to be, because, shockingly, all sorts of self-identified “journalists” — both within the paper and outside of it — continue to equate un-verified assertions from government officials as Proven Truth, even when these officials are too cowardly to attach their names to these claims, as long as papers such as the NYT launder them.

Let’s look at an illustrative example from yesterday to see how this toxic process works. The New York Times published an article about ISIS by Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard based entirely and exclusively on unproven claims from officials of the U.S. government and its allies, to whom they (needless to say) granted anonymity. The entire article reads exactly like an official press release: Paragraph after paragraph does nothing other than summarize the claims of anonymous officials, without an iota of questioning, skepticism, scrutiny or doubt.

Among the assertions mindlessly repeated by the Paper of Record from its beloved anonymous officials is this one:

Excerpt with data on IS and leaked documents. (photo: The Intercept)
Excerpt with data on IS and leaked documents. (photo: The Intercept)

Leave to the side the banal journalistic malpractice of uncritically parroting the self-serving claims of anonymous officials, supposedly what the paper is so horrified at Judy Miller for having done. Also leave to the side the fact that the U.S. government has been anonymously making these Helping-The-Enemy claims not just about Snowden but about all whistleblowers for decades, back to Daniel Ellsberg, if not earlier. Let’s instead focus on this: the claim itself, on the merits, is monumentally stupid on multiple levels: self-evidently so.

To begin with, The Terrorists™ had been using couriers and encryption for many, many years before anyone knew the name “Edward Snowden.” Last August, after NPR uncritically laundered claims that Snowden revelations had helped The Terrorists™, we reported on a 45-page document that the U.K. government calls “the Jihadist Handbook,” written by and distributed among extremist groups, which describes in sophisticated detail the encryption technologies, SIM card-switching tactics and other methods they use to circumvent U.S. surveillance. Even these 2002/2003 methods were so sophisticated that they actually mirror GCHQ’s own operational security methods for protecting its communications.

Data covering the “Jihadist Handbook” from 2002-2003. (photo: The Intercept)
Data covering the “Jihadist Handbook” from 2002-2003. (photo: The Intercept)

This “Jihadist Handbook” was written in 2002 or 2003: more than a full decade before any Snowden revelations. Indisputably, terrorists have known for a very long time that the U.S. government and its allies are trying to intercept their communications, and have long used encryption and other means to prevent that.

The New York Times’ claim that ISIS learned to use couriers as a result of the Snowden revelations is almost a form of self-mockery. Few facts from Terrorism lore are more well-known than Osama bin Laden’s use of couriers to avoid U.S. surveillance. A 2011 article from the Washington Post — more than two years before the first Snowden story — was headlined: “Al-Qaeda couriers provided the trail that led to bin Laden.” It described how “Bin Laden strictly avoided phone or e-mail communications for fear that they would be intercepted.”

Terrorists have been using such surveillance-avoidance methods for almost two full decades. In May, we published a 2011 NSA document that quoted Jon Darby, NSA’s then-associate deputy director for counterterrorism, as saying that “[o]ur loss of SIGINT access to bin Laden actually occurred prior to 9/11 — it happened in 1998.”

If one were engaged in journalism, one would include some of these facts in order to scrutinize, question and express skepticism about the claims of anonymous officials that ISIS now uses encryption and couriers because of Snowden reporting. But if one is engaged in mindless, subservient pro-government stenography, one simply grants anonymity to officials and then uncritically parrots their facially dubious claims with no doubt or questioning of any kind. Does anyone have any doubts about what these New York Times reporters are doing in this article?

There’s one more point worth noting about the New York Times’ conduct here. As has been documented many times, Edward Snowden never publicly disclosed a single document: Instead, he gave the documents to journalists and left it up to them to decide which documents should be public and which ones should not be. As I’ve noted, he has sometimes disagreed with the choices journalists made, usually on the ground that documents media outlets decided to publish should have, in his view, not been published.

One of the newspapers that published documents from the Snowden archive is called “The New York Times.” In fact, it is responsible for publication of some of the most controversial articles often cited by critics as ones that should not have been published, including ones most relevant to ISIS. When it comes to claiming credit for Snowden stories, the New York Times is very good at pointing out that it published some of these documents. But when it comes to uncritically publishing claims from anonymous officials that Snowden stories helped ISIS, the New York Times suddenly “forgets” to mention that it actually made many of these documents known to the world and, thus, to ISIS. What the New York Times is actually doing in this article is accusing itself of helping ISIS, but just lacks the honesty to tell its readers that it did this, opting instead to blame its source for it. In the NYT’s blame-its-source formulation: “The Islamic State has studied revelations from Edward J. Snowden.”

When I was first told about the Sunday Times’ now disgraced story claiming that Russia and China obtained the full Snowden archive, my initial reaction was that the story was so blatantly inane and so journalistically corrupted — based exclusively on unproven, self-serving accusations from anonymous U.K. officials — that it wasn’t even worth addressing. I changed my mind and decided to write about it only when I saw huge numbers of journalists sitting around on Twitter that night uncritically assuming that these claims must be True because, after all, government officials said them and a newspaper printed them.

I went through exactly the same process when I saw this Snowden-helps-ISIS claim laundered yesterday in the New York Times. I assumed that the “journalism” here was so glaringly shoddy that nobody needed me to write about it, and that a few mocking tweets would suffice. Everyone knows by now to treat anonymous government claims like this critically and not accept them as true without evidence — or so I reasoned.

But then I began seeing one self-described journalist after the next treat the accusation from these anonymous officials as tantamount to Proven Truth. They just started asserting that Snowden’s revelations helped ISIS without a molecule of doubt, skepticism or critical thought. That’s what makes this process so destructive: once the New York Times uncritically publishes a claim from a government official, even (maybe especially) if anonymous, huge numbers of “journalists” immediately treat it as Truth. It’s shocking to watch, no matter how common it is.

Here are just a few examples: first, from New York Times reporter Alex Burns, stating the Snowden-helped-ISIS claim as fact:

Now here’s long-time journalist Kurt Andersen, demanding that Snowden be confronted and made to say whether he regrets this:

Here’s a tweet claiming the NYT “reported” this, re-tweeted by long-time NYT and CNBC journalist John Harwood:

After I noted that the NYT “reported” no such thing but merely uncritically wrote down what anonymous officials said, here’s Harwood explicitly defending classic stenography as “reporting”:

Here’s a CNN and Miami Herald columnist, Frida Ghitis, nakedly treating the anonymous claim as true by blaming Snowden for helping ISIS:

Here’s a tweet Business Insider sent to its 1.1 million followers this morning:

Here’s self-proclaimed “terrorism expert” Will McCants mindlessly repeating it as fact:

And now the bottom-feeding British tabloid Daily Mail has a just-published screaming, hysterical story based exclusively on the anonymous assertion laundered by the New York Times:

The British tabloid Daily Mail's headline for a New York Times story. (photo: The Intercept)
The British tabloid Daily Mail's headline for a New York Times story. (photo: The Intercept)

Look at what the New York Times, yet again, has done. Isn’t it amazing? All anyone in government has to do is whisper something in its journalists’ ears, demand anonymity for it, and instruct them to print it. Then they obey. Then other journalists treat it as Truth. Then it becomes fact, all over the world. This is the same process that enabled the New York Times, more than any other media outlet, to sell the Iraq War to the American public, and they’re using exactly the same methods to this day. But it’s not just their shoddy journalism that drives this but the mentality of other “journalists” who instantly equate anonymous official claims as fact.

The peak of the Sunday Times’ humiliation was when its lead reporter, Tom Harper, went on CNN and expressly admitted that the paper did nothing other than mindlessly print anonymous government claims as fact without having any idea if they were true. What made Harper a laughingstock was this sentence, captured in a Vine by The Guardian’s HannahJane Parkinson (to listen, click the “unmute” button in the lower right-hand corner):

How is this not exactly what the New York Times, yet again, has done? In fact, if one replaces “British” with “American,” is that not the actual motto describing how this paper so often behaves, one might even say their core function? your social media marketing partner


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We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

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-19 # torch and pitchfork 2015-07-22 13:10
Unfortunately for the planet, human beings need war on a global scale to thin out the herd.
+19 # Merlin 2015-07-22 13:24
torch and pitchfork 2015-07-22 13:10
Unfortunately for the planet, human beings need war on a global scale to thin out the herd.

Do you really believe that this is the reason for war?
+2 # Texas Aggie 2015-07-23 22:43
No, but it is one of the side effects.
+27 # wrknight 2015-07-22 13:32
Quoting torch and pitchfork:
Unfortunately for the planet, human beings need war on a global scale to thin out the herd.

It won't be herd thinning - it will be herd annihilation. I can do without that.
+26 # twocents 2015-07-22 15:25
Nonsense. It's for power and money.
+10 # lfeuille 2015-07-22 18:18
Quoting torch and pitchfork:
Unfortunately for the planet, human beings need war on a global scale to thin out the herd.

Ever heard of birth control?
+3 # Texas Aggie 2015-07-23 22:44
Ever hear of reactionary religionists?
+26 # wrknight 2015-07-22 13:31
My suspicion is that the internet has cut into the Times (the Washington Post and other mainstream meadia) revenues to the extent they can no longer afford true independent, investigative reporting along with verification. If you look at circulation numbers and the loss of advertising (remember how thick both papers used to be) it's hard to believe that the Times is not on hard times, and therefore is not as scrupulous as it once was.

Having said that, it raises the issue of where to find true reporting that goes beyond the quotes from "sources who can't be named because they were was not authorized to speak publicly". We are living in a time where the truth is truly hard to find. With luck, and public (financial) support the internet will help us out with more sources like RSN. But the nation, as a whole, still has to wean itself away from mainstream media.
+13 # dickbd 2015-07-22 15:29
There is something to what you say, but the NYT has always done this. And yet, it remains the bastion of truth for liberals. I read it too, but I am frustrated by my liberal friends who think it can do no wrong.

They're almost as bad as my conservative friends who think it is the fountainhead of liberal propaganda. It's a good newspaper as compared to the others, but it is still corporate owned, and it has the bias of corporations, just a little less obvious than the others.
+9 # RMDC 2015-07-23 06:08
dickbd -- yes, the NYT has always been the liar for the ruling elites. But "bastion of truth for liberals"? What liberals. do you mean the "faux gauche" or the fake left. A dozen years ago, the NYT published an article with the title "Yes, We are a Liberal Newspaper." but all the issued it claimed to be liberal on were the social issues like reproduction rights, gun control, drug laws, and so on. When it came to US foreign policy, the NYTimes was way to the right of the neo-cons.

The NYTimes represents wealthy and well educated fascists or imperialists in the US. They are quite tolerant on social matters like gay rights or public schools. But they are viciously supportive of US colonialism, racism, war, US terror campaigns, hatred for non-white races, and all the rest of the hallmarks of US white supremacy and militarism.
+4 # Merlin 2015-07-23 13:21
RMDC 2015-07-23 06:08
“The NYTimes represents wealthy and well educated fascists or imperialists in the US. They are quite tolerant on social matters like gay rights or public schools. But they are viciously supportive of US colonialism, racism, war, US terror campaigns, hatred for non-white races, and all the rest of the hallmarks of US white supremacy and militarism.”

Perfectly put! The tolerance of social issues, which hardly affects their foreign policy and New World Order agenda, can be used to their advantage. First it makes the paper appear Liberal and second offers a sop to The People, distracting them from the really important issue of world domination.

The NYT is no “bastion of truth for liberals.” It is no more than “the paper of the oligarch’s record.” It is neither liberal nor conservative.
+1 # dickbd 2015-07-24 15:20
I meant "bastion of truth" sarcastically or in the sense that the textbook liberals don't question it. It's for the liberals that don't question hardly anything. They don't question that paper, and they don't question NPR.

I think most of us here are beyond liberal. I guess many of you use the term "neoliberal" for the kind of liberals I'm talking about.
+9 # elizabethblock 2015-07-22 17:44
Probably true. No excuse.
+23 # Merlin 2015-07-22 15:47
As I understand what Greenwald is saying boils down to two things.

1. The NYT, which has the reputation of being “The paper of record” along with the other major MSM sources, purposefully prints propaganda as fact. By implication, the NYT claims that what they publish is fact.

2. A great many“reporters” , some of them well known, simply take this propaganda and call it fact, without questioning it, based on the unstated understanding that “If it is printed in the NYT it must be true.

His point then, is to show the serious damage to the country, this misinformation, masquerading as fact, has been and continues to be. And how widespread this disease has become! The prime example of this, is the Judith Miller lies, that seriously helped sway The People’s minds and justified the Iraq invasion to them.

I would add, that I go further in my belief that the MSM, (NYT, WaPo etc.) is owned by the oligarchs who create the propaganda they want disseminated through their papers. These are not individually, or family owned papers any more, competing for breaking stories, as they were back even in the 1960s. They should be seen as trumpets for the oligarchs. They are all on the same page working for the same people.
+5 # Philothustra 2015-07-23 09:32
Exactly right, but hardly surprising. The use of fake sources, catering to government insiders by printing their lies in exchange for a seat at the press conference, and the creation of full-length imaginary conversations, is a long standing practice.
Yet as Greenwald points out, it is rarely criticize or even remarked upon. Thde biggest blowhard of the bunch is Woodward, who now simply invents entire war room converations, in quotes, as verbatim transcriptions. Yet no reviewer or critic comments on it. The assumption is that Woody is such a big shot insider that he's right in there with the chiefs of staff? Such "journalism" is a joke!

Another example: Woodward published a 9-11 article in the Washington Post early in 2002, wrapping up his account of Bush as the new "war president," with the flat statement that as Bush went to bed that night, he wrote in his diary, "The New Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today".

Think about that claim for a minute, particularly the use of the planted phrase "new Pearl Harbor" taken straight from the PNAC documents! this is not just propaganda being regurgitated-- it is active collusion with the conspirators

In what sense was Miller punished? Her reward for 9/11 collusion was a Fox News job, a post on the flack/hack Council of Foreign Relation, actually "participated in a senior-level bio-terror attack simulation on Oklahoma City conducted on June 2001, "Operation Dark Winter"---!!!!

+9 # hjsteed 2015-07-22 16:52
NY Times "Paper of Record" still stands by the USA 911 Commission Report that maintains planes & small fires brought down the buildings at the World Trade Center and that there were no explosives used without acknowledging the validity of scientific evidence that explosives were indeed used - and that the real causes & effects of those actions led to the demise of the US Constitution, UN Charter & Universal Declaration of Human Rights for Military Rule - and that has led to the deaths, injuries & forced evacuations of millions of innocent civilians since then.

Is the NY Times Record the history record that should be passed on to future generations if those human beings survive the damage the New York Times has already done to humanity in this regard?

Should the NY Times Owners & key editors be charged & tried for fraud & complicity in commissioning those grave war crimes?
0 # ericlipps 2015-07-22 18:39
Tons of jet fuel igniting isn't a "small fire."
+15 # Buddha 2015-07-22 17:09
The Times is just like all the Mainstream Media, purely Corporate entities whose entire purpose is to misinform the American public and move opinion in a way that supports the Oligarchic and Corporate agenda.
+13 # elizabethblock 2015-07-22 17:45
"The Terrorists™"
I love it!
+10 # ritawalpoleague 2015-07-22 18:34
Thanks to Glenn G. and RSN, for the umpteenth time, for so truthfully outing what 'free press' problems exist in today's 'mess' media.
+5 # cordleycoit 2015-07-23 07:39
Miller did a lot of policy stuff for the government before the Middle East beat. She did dictators in Latin America as they imported the drugs for the Bush clan. I remember Narco News with their expose of Miller and her Times editors in the late nineties.The NYT never really recovered from getting caught. Before that there was their man Bob Moses and the Zachem connection to the concrete lobby. She is really Hillery's evil twin sister.
+3 # banichi 2015-07-23 10:43
As the NYT and other MSM newspapers have been progressively taken over to corporate ownership, they have become mouthpieces for the elitist right-wing neocons and neoliberals. Thanks to the revolving door of business leaders into government and out again, is it really any surprise that any actual journalism has disappeared from their stories?

That the NYT has been exposed as printing what the government (particularly military and security sources) wants to say without any attribution to provide backup for the truth of the stories, or confirmation from independent sources, only serves to confirm that it is highly likely that such lack of required proof is a matter of policy for the paper.

That just makes the NYT only a mouthpiece for the propaganda of the MICC and security agencies which serve them, and not a source of serious journalism in any way. Which is the point of the article, and shows that the Times is useless as a source of real truth and news about it.

So believe what it says at your own peril.
0 # bingers 2015-07-24 15:11
The NYT reporters write truth, which does have a liberal bias to their credit, but the management and the op-ed pages have always been right wing. The amazing thing was that the Times let reporters get away with it. Sadly when you get a liar like Miller they get away with it too.
0 # beeyl 2015-07-26 11:15
"This “Jihadist Handbook” was written in 2002 or 2003: more than a full decade before any Snowden revelations."
Sure. But it's still possible that Snowden's schoolboy knowledge of computers and cryptography was used by Jihadists to write that handbook… theoretically. Ed did have email back then… so there's that.

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