On Glenn Greenwald Distorting My Words

by Ryan Singel on December 30, 2010

In Glenn Greenwald’s recent response to Wired’s explanation of why it is not releasing more of the Bradley Manning/Adrian Lamo chat logs in the Wikileaks controversy, he defends himself by unethically cherry-picking and truncating a quote from an e-mail from me, that he says, erroneously, that I explicitly put on the record.

He writes that I said, “I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be.”

That’s true, but there was no period after the word “be”.

Instead, the full sentence was, “I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be, but I think you screwed this up, Glenn, and it’s pretty disappointing that you seemed to let your infatuation with Wikileaks color your analysis.”

Any journalism 101 student will tell you Greenwald’s quote is a clear violation of journalistic ethics.

So in the spirit of openness, here’s the e-mail I sent Greenwald on June 18, 2010, trying to be diplomatic about what I thought was clearly a hatchet job on a very good journalist.

Glenn -

Suffice it to say I’m disappointed by your article, which I find to be warped by your allegiance to Wikileaks, which gets nothing but glowing accolades from you, despite ample evidence that Assange and Wikileaks aren’t acting in good faith.

You make much of Wired not revealing all of the transcripts. [...]

Moreover, you go to some lengths to portray Poulsen as some sort of consigliere to Lamos, when what Poulsen has done over the years is simply develop a source.

He wasn’t the only security journalist to have the same relationship. In fact, it was Brian Krebs, formerly of the Washington Post, who got the inside scoop from Lamo about his foray into the NY Times database. Lamos gave him the screenshots, and Krebs then contacted the Times and wrote up the story. http://www.infosecnews.org/hypermail/0202/5510.html (ED. NOTE 12/30/2010: This timeline is not correct – Krebs was on the story simultaneously and had a long relationship with Lamos, but Poulsen published first.)

What exactly is a journalist supposed to do otherwise, when a hacker comes with proof they’ve broken into a company? You make it sound nefarious (strange and complicated, in your words). In fact, it’s exactly what happened with Gawker’s Ryan Tate and the recent vulnerability in AT&T’s iPad interface. Frankly, your characterization of it is slimy.

Intriguingly, you leave out all the attacks from Assange on Poulsen (calling him a manipulator and a snitch). Meanwhile, you ignore all of Assange’s weird attacks on the press any time he doesn’t like a story. Did you read the Mother Jones piece that exposed how Wikileaks fakes its advisory board? Or see Assange’s reaction?

Did you notice that Assange loved the New Yorker profile, until other outlets jumped on the fact that Assange admits that Wikileaks was bootstrapped by spying on the Tor network? Then Assange attacked those outlets and the New Yorker, calling them liars but not saying that Wikileaks didn’t spy on the Tor network. (Which Assange himself all but admitted when he was trying to get support for Wikileaks’ start, writing in an e-mail list that Wikileaks was getting info by spying on Chinese hacker, “when they pull, we pull”) http://cryptome.org/wikileaks/wikileaks-leak2.htm

Then when Assange wanted to drum up donations to Wikileaks after the Manning disclosure, he sent out a blast e-mail pointing to the anonymous Boing Boing comment suggesting that Poulsen was working on behalf of the feds.

And now, thanks to your article, you have commenters saying the same thing.

You mention that you are a fan of Threat Level, but you NEVER mention throughout the story anything of the kind of coverage that Poulsen has done in the last decade. You don’t mention that Threat Level published the NSA docs while they were under court seal. You don’t mention that Poulsen exposed, via a successful FOIA suit, that DHS covered up that its computers got infected with a virus. You don’t mention that he revealed to the world that the FBI has a secret browser vulnerablity. You don’t mention at all the type and kind of coverage that Poulsen is responsible for for over a decade.

That credibility would go a long way to dispelling the slander campaign Wikileaks and its rabid followers are waging against him, for having the audacity to write a story that a leaker had been arrested.

Instead you added to it with insinuations that Kevin is somehow in cahoots with Lamo.

For instance, you make it sound creepy that Poulsen wrote a long profile about Lamo. Huh. Read the story again. Basically, it goes like this. A convicted hacker, now gone legit, calls the police to report a stolen laptop. When the police arrive, instead of focussing on the crime, they 5150 the victim. Lamo contacts Poulsen while in the ward. Poulsen gets the intake sheet, takes his time to develop the story (which could have been made very over the top, COPS THROW EXHACKER CRIME VICTIM IN MENTAL WARD). Lamo gets a diagnosis and new medicine, which oddly helps. Lamo learns something (maybe) about himself. Story is now very interesting, but complicated. Poulsen takes the time to write it well. Then you come along and say it looks fishy.

I appreciate that you spent the time to interview people in the case. But it’s unclear to me where Poulsen crossed any journalistic line. People aren’t *friends* with Lamo. They just end up talking and IMing with him. He used to contact me out of the blue on IM, offering odd leads.

Lamo is clearly starved for attention. Often he gets it by coming up with odd leads. Here he decided to become a rat, and then went on to brag about it. I’m not sure how Poulsen gets tagged or slimed as an informant for reporting it, but Wikileaks managed to do that — and sadly, you helped out.

I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be, but I think you screwed this up, Glenn, and it’s pretty disappointing that you seemed to let your infatuation with Wikileaks color your analysis.

Sincerely,

Ryan Singel

(A snippet of this e-mail going into minutiae has been clipped for readability.)

Additionally, here’s a full, not truncated quote from Glenn Greenwald in that same e-mail thread, about Kevin Poulsen:

“The very idea that I’ve “successfully impugned the reputation of a fucking good journalist” about whom I said: (a) he violated no ethical principle, (b) there was no evidence to suggest he did anything wrong, (c) is someone whose work I’ve admired, and (d) there’s no evidence to question his integrity or good faith — is, to put it mildly, fucking insane.”

So there it is — Glenn Greenwald believes Poulsen has not violated any ethical principle, is someone he admires, and says there’s no evidence he’s done anything wrong or any reason to question his integrity.

Greenwald and I have also had e-mail conversations over the last few days, where I vociferously objected to his slimy, Yuletide Glenn-Beck-esque insinuations about Poulsen. And at no point, did he bring up the e-mail from June, which according to my records of the conversation, includes nothing about whether it is on or off the record.

Stating that I explicitly wanted it on the record is just wrong, and cutting off sentences halfway through to distort the meaning of a sentence wouldn’t pass muster at even a neighborhood weekly. It’s the tactic of FOX News.

It’s especially galling coming from Greenwald, who holds himself up as the the arbiter and scold of the world’s journalistic practices.

Related

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Glenn Greenwald December 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Your post has two serious factual errors about which I’ve emailed you, asking that you post my reply, but you’ve yet to do so. Here is what I wrote:
____________

You’re the one misleading your readers with quotes. Here is the full sentence that I wrote, which you failed to quote — on purpose in order to mislead (emphasis added):

“After my first article about Wired in June, Singel emailed me ******to defend Poulsen and contest my objections***** but wrote: ‘I’ve long been a fan of your work and I’ll continue to be’.”

I included exactly that which you tried to imply I omitted — that you “emailed me to defend Poulsen and contest my objections.”

You also lied when claiming you didn’t say our email exchange was on the record. On June 17, you sent me the first email that started our exchange and wrote: “Feel free to use any or none of this on the record.”

You should add this email as an update to your post, as it constitutes (a) my response and (b) my allegation that your post is misleading in two critical respects.

Ed. note:

In an e-mail I sent to Greenwald before he wrote his story, I wrote:
Glenn,

I see you are at work on a Manning story.

For the record, every post I have ever made on state secrets and the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, including the one where we posted AT&T’s secret spying diagrams (documents that the LA Times refused to report on due to NSA pressures), was edited and or assigned by Kevin Poulsen.

I trust you will write the complicated story fairly, but suffice it to say, that Poulsen co-founded Threat Level and has run it for years with what I believe to be the highest of journalistic standards and principles. He’s hands down the best journalist and editor at Wired.com and I’m appalled by how Assange has handled the outing of Manning. I say that having written a number of stories on Wikileaks, long before it became a known entity.

Feel free to use any or none of this on the record. I’ve been blessed to have him as my editor for years and I don’t say that lightly. There aren’t many good ones left, as you know. KLP is without question one of the good guys.

Sincerely,

Ryan Singel

I’m not arguing that the e-mail that Greenwald cherry-picked and truncated a quote was off the record. Going off the record is a dance where someone asks and the other person agrees or doesn’t. But in the second e-mail, which came AFTER Greenwald’s story under a totally different subject line, I did not say explicitly it was on the record, contrary to what Greenwald wrote as he ripped a quote out of context and cut it in half, Fox News-style.

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Gordon S December 30, 2010 at 7:26 pm

How is it out of context if he included the context in the same paragraph?

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Judge December 30, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Get off your websites, twitters and the internets and talk about it over coffee or a boxing match or something. If you decide to duke it out, contract the fight out to HBO.

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omooex December 30, 2010 at 8:24 pm

Sorry, dude. You have to say “this is off the record” for every interaction. That’s the way journalism works, whether you or I think its fair or not.

Ed. note – Sorry you didn’t get it at all. I’m not saying the e-mail I sent AFTER Greenwald published his story was off the record. I’m saying that it was NOT explicitly on the record as Greenwald claims.

In an e-mail BEFORE he wrote a story, I wrote to give him some background and said he could use that for his story. That e-mail is published above this comment.

Greenwald is free to quote from the separate email thread that started after his egregious first post, though doing so does go against the gentleman’s agreement of backchannel communications. That said, NOWHERE in my post do I say the second e-mail was off the record, I simply say I didn’t explicitly put it on the record as Greenwald contends.

You don’t get to go off the record by just declaring it — it has to be negotiated. Some times reporters will allow a unilateral declaration as a courtesy, as I have with inflammatory e-mails from Julian Assange.

But Greenwald is wrong that I said the e-mail he quoted was explicitly on the record and he was wrong to rip it in half. No respectable journalist would do that.

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Mick o December 30, 2010 at 9:36 pm

My reading of Greenwald’s excerpted characterization of your message to him was that you were able to disagree with his original article about Wired but still respect him overall. And now that I read your full message to him, that seems to be a fair characterization. So why are you so mad now? He faithfully pointed out that you disagreed with his article, then pointed out that you were mature enough to not let that damage a level of professional respect you had and purported to continue to have. So, given that the sum total of his reference to your email was that you disagreed with his post but could maintain an overall respect,which part of that sentiment are you walking back now? The part that you disagreed with him, or the part that you could still maintain respect?

FWIW I thought his original assessment of you based on his excerpted quote was a positive reflection on you- that you could disagree without demonizing who you disagreed with. So what changed?

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Robert December 30, 2010 at 10:06 pm

I can’t say I feel sorry for any of you being smeared by Greenwald. His been smearing people on a regular basis for as long as he’s been a blogger. That you admired him for yeas for being a notoriously dishonest smear-artist of a blogger means you are getting exactly what you deserve. You should’ve noticed the truth about Glenn Greenwald years ago, but I guess your politics made his tactics “okay” to you for all those years.

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omooex December 30, 2010 at 10:32 pm

“Greenwald is free to quote from the separate email thread that started after his egregious first post, though doing so does go against the gentleman’s agreement of backchannel communications. That said, NOWHERE in my post do I say the second e-mail was off the record, I simply say I didn’t explicitly put it on the record as Greenwald contends.”

Let me clearer. It seems to me that once you say something’s on the record, everything you say after that is on the record until you say its not. It couldn’t be more explicit. “This is on the record” is like a qu0tation mark that doesn’t have an end-quote in an interaction until you clearly state that its not. In the first place, that’s common sense. Its what i would have understood. I can’t speak for what a “respectable” journalist would do, because its quite probable that our definition of that really differs. Respected by who? I think Wired’s acted very irresponsibly in this matter. Its journalists haven’t followed good journalistic practices. As journalists they certainly haven’t earned my respect.

On a larger note, no journalist has any responsibility to you to treat something off the record even if you ask them to. There’s no legal issue here, nor philosophical one, I just did a little google check and many, many journalists agree with Greenwald and not you. If you want a second opinion, google “off the record”. Blogs are like @##$oles and every journalist has got one and they’ve more often than not addressed this issue.

The job of a journalist is to write news, and as the public we expect them to hurt people’s feelings once in a while, or violate whatever confidences the other party [mistakenly] assumed existed.

When you get burned by the rules of your own game, you can quit the game, but it makes no sense to hate the players. Wired made itself part of the story, as integral to understanding it as Lamo or the federal government or Julian Assange.

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Ryan Singel December 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm

It’s really not that hard to read. I NEVER said that Greenwald wasn’t free to quote me or that the e-mail critiquing his story was off the record. I simply said that his assertion that I explicitly said that e-mail was on the record was false. I said that in relation to an e-mail that I sent to him BEFORE his story ran.

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Confusion Says December 31, 2010 at 9:10 am

Ryan, I think the point you are missing is that based on this minor, minor issue of whether or not you were explicitly on the record (which you were, per the norms of journalistic ethics, as you are explicitly on the record until you are off — as every journalist knows — but, even if you weren’t), this is not sufficient misconduct to satisfy your ethics charge.

An ethics violation is supposed to be something extraordinarily serious. That’s how we practically derive meaning from ethics so that we can apply them to real-world situations. By casually tossing around ethics violations over ellipses and periods and “explicitly” on/off the record, you devalue ethics.

Glenn’s charges against Wired do include scenarios where questions of ethical journalism come into play. They aren’t about punctuation or inconsequential items. When you brush those off as ludicrous and undeserving of a response and instead focus on finding any excuse to, basically, say “i’m rubber, you’re glue…”, all you are doing is showing a profound lack of professionalism.

I honestly hope you take this as thoughtful consideration from someone who sees great potential in you as a journalist. It really feels like you are struggling with a toxic environment at Wired. Good luck.

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Michael P December 31, 2010 at 4:32 pm

So your complaint to Greenwald, is what, exactly? That he said you explicitly made an e-mail on the record, but you actually had said that in the PRIOR e-mail? As an above commenter pointed out, that means that the following e-mails as part of the same correspondence were also on the record. And you aren’t even complaining about them coming out! So in effect you’re complaining about nothing, while writing in an offended tone that misleads the casual reader into thinking you have some actual complaint.

And you’re bothered that he ended the quote of you before the whole sentence was over? Give me a break — what he claims you said is EXACTLY what you said, and the rest of the quote doesn’t change the meaning of the statement at all. It’s a perfectly reasonable and accurate quote.

When you find yourself reaching this far in order to find fault with Greenwald’s reporting, it says much more about you than about him.

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Ken Houghton December 31, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Singel: “Read the story again. Basically, it goes like this. A convicted hacker, now gone legit, calls the police to report a stolen laptop. When the police arrive, instead of focussing on the crime, they 5150 the victim. ”

Poulsen: “Someone had grabbed Lamo’s backpack containing the prescription anti-depressants he’d been on since 2004, the year he pleaded guilty to hacking The New York Times. He wanted his medication back. But when the police arrived at the Safeway parking lot it was Lamo, not the missing backpack, that interested them. Something about his halting, monotone speech, perhaps slowed by his medication, got the officers’ attention.”

He appears to be reporting a backpack with PRESCRIPTION (shouted so there is no doubt I see nothing wrong with him having them) drugs in it being stolen, not a laptop. (The word “laptop” does not appear in the story, and the only uses of “computer” don’t appear to be references to a machine owned by Lamo.)

Are you misremembering the piece, or am I missing something really obvious?

Ed. note: I simply misremembered the piece in an off-the-cuff e-mail to Greenwald. It was his backpack and it was lost medication, not a lost laptop. However, I see now it’s become a huge new “clue” to the conspiracy theorists who need to find some scapegoat for Manning’s arrest.

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John W. January 1, 2011 at 5:55 am

Ryan,

You write: “A convicted hacker, now gone legit, calls the police to report a stolen laptop. When the police arrive, instead of focussing on the crime, they 5150 the victim.”

Can you please clarify? Per Poulen’s reporting, Lamo called the police because he lost his medication. There’s no mention of a missing laptop in Poulsen’s story about Lamo’s hospitalization. Do you know something we don’t, or were you in error when you wrote the passage above?

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Ansel January 1, 2011 at 9:28 pm

What Greenwald did in this case was not exactly nice, but it is fair. The quote was not missing all context and technically you were on-record. What he did not do is “distort your words.” Actually, that’s kind of what you did by pretending there was no context to the quote…

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Ronan January 2, 2011 at 3:52 am

I think Mick O has called this exactly right. Glenn did not do a dis-service to your e-mail, either in tone or in content, in his article. He pointed out that you disagreed with him strongly while also quoting you in saying that you respected his work. He did not give the impression that you were simply a “fan of [his] work and [would] continue to be”. He laid out quite clearly that there were strong disagreements on this issue. Am I to understand that you have written this strongly-worded, angry posting over whether quoted your words verbatim when it is obvious to anyone who has read the piece that you think he “screwed it up” and is biased towards WikiLeaks? Do you believe that people could read Glenn’s articles on this subject and come away not knowing that this was your point of view?

I think this debate has descended into nonsense. Glenn made a suggestion that I’ve seen used to resolve these issues before: Bring in a neutral, mutually-respected third-party to view the logs and answer Glenn’s questions while listening to Wired’s arguments. It’s very simple, it would further the cause of transparency and *crucially* it would stop this petty feud between two otherwise very decent sources of journalism. I think that this would be a solution that any of us with an interest in this story would support. What say you?

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John January 4, 2011 at 12:04 am

The proposition that Greenwald did not manipulate the quotes from Singel are utter and complete nonsense. Predicably Greenwald’s supporters (or perhaps his sockpuppets) will step in to defend their hero. Here is a suggestion. Glenn, you stand accused of manipulating the sources statements. Why don’t you update your original response with the complete quotes from Singel. This is the web after all no editor is going to chop your story just to make it fit inside the allocated column inches. Since we know you are reading this and it isn’t a holiday weekend, we should expect an update by 5pm pacific. Otherwise we may should from the blogosphere about Greenwald stonewalling, refusing to issue corrections and dodging his critics.

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Diable4 January 12, 2011 at 4:09 am

Ryan:

If you read Greenwald’s blog (I do sometimes when I can stomach it), you’ll find a lot of the same screen names that are defending Glenn here. His followers are very devout and even spell out their intentions in the comments of his blog on Salon: If one of them finds an critical article or blog post about Glenn, then post a link to the offending item and ask others to flood the comments with Glenn-supportive feedback.

It’s dishonest for sure, but hey, they learned from their trailer-park cousins, the rightwingnuts.

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