Glenn Greenwald says ouster of Abramson signals more “neutered” journalism at NY Times

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In a Huffington Post interview, journalist Glenn Greenwald criticized the replacement of Jill Abramson with Dean Baquet as executive editor of the New York Times. “It signals that the New York Times is going to continue to descend downward into the sort of journalism that is very neutered and far too close to the political factions that it’s supposed to exercise oversight over,” said Greenwald.

Greenwald appeared on the May 16 show Huffpost Live to discuss his new book, “No Place to Hide,” a chronicle of his Pulitzer prize-winning work with NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Interviewer Alyona Minkovski’s kept the discussion interesting with this timely question about the Times’ controversial personnel changes.

Minkovski: This week, Jill Abramson was ousted very abruptly from being executive editor of the New York Times. Now we know that Dean Baquet is taking over. In the book, you mention that in 2006 when he was  at the LA Times, Baquet had actually stopped a story about the NSA and AT&T from being published. So, now that he’s going to be editor of the NYT, does that give you any hope for the paper in the future?

Greenwald:  No. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t. I think, of all the executive editors of the New York Times, at least in recent history…well, I’ll say in the last 10 years since I’ve been paying extremely close attention to how the NYT functions…Jill Abramson was probably the best advocate for an adversarial relationship between the government and the media. I don’t know if she was always been that way, but in her stewardship of the paper as editor-in-chief, I think that was definitely the case. It didn’t surprise me to learn that she was trying to hire Janine Gibson my editor at The Guardian the editor-in-chief of The Guardian, U.S, who oversaw the reporting of the NSA in a very aggressive and fearless way, because I think that was the model Jill Abramson was trying to create. By contrast, her successor Dean Baquet does have a really disturbing history of practicing this form of journalism that is incredibly subservient to the American national security state; and if his past record and his past actions and statements are anything to go by, I think it signals that the New York Times is going to continue to descend downward into the sort of journalism that is very neutered and far too close to the political factions that it’s supposed to exercise oversight over. I’m willing to wait and see, and see what he does, but the past record is certainly not encouraging.

New York Magazine provides a bit of background on Baquet, also a Pulitzer-winner, and the AT&T story.

Pre-Snowden whistle-blower and AT&T technician Mark Klein worked for two months on a story with L.A. Times reporter Joe Menn, but then told the story “had been killed at the request of then-Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte and then-director of the NSA Gen. Michael Hayden,” ABC reported. “Baquet confirmed to ABCNews.com he talked with Negroponte and Hayden but says ‘government pressure played no role in my decision not to run the story.’ Baquet says he and managing editor Doug Frantz decided ‘we did not have a story, that we could not figure out what was going on’ based on Klein’s highly technical documents.”

This practice—encouraging a whistleblower, giving the government a heads up, then refusing to publish the story—is common in the news business. Its dangerous for whistleblowers, especially those who work on secret programs, because the government immediately begins looking for clues to the source’s identity. It is aided in the search by NSA’s massive collection of domestic emails and phone calls.  Potentially, a whistleblower could be imprisoned for ‘disclosing’ information that is never publicly disclosed.

Fortunately, Klein did not hold a security clearance when he worked for AT&T and he retired before disclosing what he knew. It could have been a different story, however, for Edward Snowden, who avoided the New York Times because it similarly killed a 2004 story about NSA surveillance. Last November, Snowden told Advocate.com, “The bottom line is that sources risking serious harm to return public information to public hands must have absolute confidence that the journalists they go to will report on that information rather than bury it.”