Monday, July 15, 2013

The Journalistic Practices of the Washington Post and Walter Pincus

The Washington Post building. (photo: file)
The Washington Post building. (photo: file)
By Glenn Greenwald, Guardian UK
10 July 13

Fifteen hours after acknowledging that an innuendo-filled article is factually false, the Post still has not corrected it

n Monday night - roughly 36 hours ago from this moment - the Washington Post published an article by its long-time reporter Walter Pincus. The article concocted a frenzied and inane conspiracy theory: that it was WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, working in secret with myself and Laura Poitras, who masterminded the Snowden leaks ahead of time and directed Snowden's behavior, and then Assange, rather than have WikiLeaks publish the documents itself, generously directed them to the Guardian.
To peddle this tale, Pincus, in lieu of any evidence, spouted all sorts of accusatory innuendo masquerading as questions ("Did Edward Snowden decide on his own to seek out journalists and then a job at Booz Allen Hamilton's Hawaii facility?" - "Did Assange and WikiLeaks personnel help or direct Snowden to those journalists?" - "Was he encouraged or directed by WikiLeaks personnel or others to take the job as part of a broader plan to expose NSA operations to selected journalists?") and invoked classic guilt-by association techniques ("Poitras and Greenwald are well-known free-speech activists, with many prior connections, including as founding members in December of the nonprofit Freedom of the Press Foundation" - "Poitras and Greenwald have had close connections with Assange and WikiLeaks").
Apparently, the Washington Post has decided to weigh in on the ongoing debate over "what is journalism?" with this answer: you fill up articles on topics you don't know the first thing about with nothing but idle speculation, rank innuendo, and evidence-free accusations, all under the guise of "just asking questions". You then strongly imply that other journalists who have actually broken a big story are involved in a rampant criminal conspiracy without bothering even to ask them about it first, all while hiding from your readers the fact that they have repeatedly and in great detail addressed the very "questions" you're posing.
But shoddy journalism from the Washington Post is far too common to be worth noting. What was far worse was that Pincus' wild conspiracy theorizing was accomplished only by asserting blatant, easily demonstrated falsehoods.
As I documented in an email I sent to Pincus early yesterday morning - one that I instantly posted online and then publicized on Twitter - the article contains three glaring factual errors: 1) Pincus stated that I wrote an article about Poitras "for the WikiLeaks Press's blog" (I never wrote anything for that blog in my life; the article he referenced was written for Salon); 2) Pincus claimed Assange "previewed" my first NSA scoop in a Democracy Now interview a week earlier by referencing the bulk collection of telephone calls (Assange was expressly talking about a widely reported Bush program from 8 years earlier, not the FISA court order under Obama I reported); 3) Pincus strongly implied that Snowden had worked for the NSA for less than 3 months by the time he showed up in Hong Kong with thousands of documents when, in fact, he had worked at the NSA continuously for 4 years. See the email I sent Pincus for the conclusive evidence of those factual falsehoods and the other distortions peddled by the Post.
There is zero possibility that the Washington Post was unaware of my email to Pincus early yesterday. Not only was it re-tweeted and discussed by numerous prominent journalists on Twitter, but it was also quickly written about in venues such as Politico and Poynter.
Nonetheless, the Post allowed the falsehoods to stand uncorrected all day. Finally, at 3:11 pm ET yesterday afternoon - 15 hours ago as of this moment, and more than 8 hours after I first publicized his errors - Pincus emailed me back to acknowledge that his claim about my having written for the WikiLeaks blog was false, and vowed that a correction would be published (he did not address the other errors):
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