“Don’t go to journalism school,” Glenn Greenwald said in an interview after his discussion with Globe and Mail editor-in-chief David Walmsley on Tuesday at CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio. “And if you do, don’t let people tell you what journalism should or should not be.”
Since being chosen by whistleblower Edward Snowden to report the controversial mass spying practices of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013, Greenwald’s revelations have brought the issue of state surveillance and privacy to the global stage. It also challenged the very essence of journalism.
Greenwald says he didn’t set out to report the NSA leaks. Snowden reached out to him. According to Greenwald, he was chosen by Snowden because he wasn’t objective, he wasn’t neutral and he wasn’t afraid to oppose the government.
“He’s one of my heroes,” first-year journalism student Jake Kiuanc said after Greenwald signed a copy of his new book No Place to Hide.
“There is a bad underbelly to the government and Glenn has done a great job at exposing that.” Kiuanc said it’s not only important for journalism students, but for anyone who is reading critical pieces on government surveillance.
For those like Kiuanc, Greenwald’s advice is to avoid big institutions.
“Find your own way of doing journalism by developing your own expertise,” said Greenwald. “The Internet allows you to find your own audience and do journalism that your passion dictates.”
After what has become the largest whistleblowing stories since Wikileaks, the U.S government has demonized Snowden and criminalized Greenwald’s journalism. Greenwald says they’ve used these tactics to discredit and draw attention away from what was found in the NSA’s classified documents.
“Government can’t prevent dissemination or disclosure,” he said. “So they have a different tactic of preventing this, which is to create a climate of fear.”
Greenwald said the motto of this climate of fear dictates: “If you meaningfully challenge anything we do, we will destroy you.” He said this not only makes sources terrified to speak to journalists, but has “destroyed the entire news gathering process.”
Snowden was prepared to go public with his identity, which was what convinced Greenwald to go meet him in Hong Kong in the first place.
Greenwald spent days picking apart Snowden’s thought process, questioning why the whistleblower was willing to sacrifice all of his freedom and perhaps go to prison. “He was that convinced of this injustice to take that risk,” Greenwald told Walmsley.
Greenwald says the media has become too timid, and posed the question: “Are we to be in the same socio-economic circle, having cocktails parties with governments, or to be adversarial?” Walmsley responded by saying, “the big message: Conformity is your enemy.”
So what do journalists need to be doing?
According to Greenwald, they should be encouraging more whistleblowing. But while he and Snowden shared that courage, Greenwald admitted that they still needed a big organization like The Guardian newspaper behind them.
Since releasing the NSA documents, Greenwald has been unofficially exiled from the U.S. and the military banned its members from reading his independent media website, Intercept. Snowden was recently given a three-year fugitive’s residency in Russia.
Despite the scale of the revelations, Greenwald is still second-guessing his coverage of the NSA information.
“What keeps me up at night is not that I published too much, but published too little,” he said. Greenwald has published only 10 per cent of the documents he and Snowden have, which include more details on U.S. spying and even how countries like Canada are involved.
Greenwald says that as a journalist, it would be worse for him to withhold information than the government. Hence, Greenwald is considering releasing the majority of the top secret NSA documents online, similar to what Julian Assange did with Wikileaks.
Greenwald remembered the last call The Guardian made made before going to print.
It was to the British government, who later demanded The Guardian newsroom smash its hard drives.
“They were telling us not to go public,” Greenwald explained, “but the courage Snowden displayed was contagious. It infused me. It infused The Guardian, and that’s why I think it’s been so hard for the U.S government to manage. Because there is so much courage.”