Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In Which I Disagree With Rachel Maddow

That the Obama administration is being blamed for the action of a Conservative British government and the British security service in detaining David Miranda is one of the symptomatic mass delusions of the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras cult.   The other day Rachel Maddow joined in:

The White House today said it had been given a heads-up in advance that the detention of David Miranda was likely to happen. Britain gave the White House a heads up that it was likely to happen. The White House went out of their way today to say that it was Britain's decision to detain Glenn Greenwald's partner -- it was not something the US asked Britain to do; and okay fine, but the White House did know about it in advance and it still happened.

We have that kind of special relationship with Britain where if our government were outraged that this detention was going to happen, we could have objected, right?  We could have at least asked our dear friends, the British government, to not do this, maybe in the interests of not intimidating the activities of the free press, if not for any other reason.  Did our government make any objections when it got advance notice from Britain that this detention was going to happen?  Did our government protest?  And if not, why not?  I tend to think we did not protest, since it went ahead.

While Maddow, being one of the smartest people who currently appears on American TV, doesn't pretend that the American president, even Barack Obama, has the power to compel the British government, acting under British law on British soil to not detain someone they believe they have the authority to detain,  she comes right up to that boundary into the realm of non-reality.  The fact is that the British government can do what it is permitted to do by the British public that elects it.  Just like the U.S. government can do what it feels is necessary domestically, under U.S. law without seeking the permission of the British government.  It happens between other countries.   It happens between Britain and other countries in Europe with which Britain has a far more formal and legal relationship.   Certainly Rachel Maddow is smart enough to know that, though, from the last three days of blog blather about it,that's the shocking fact,  that many would-be liberals and their close allies, the libertarians don't get that basic fact of civics.  

Furthermore, the British government is able to do things that an American president might not like all on their own for their own purposes.   As I mentioned yesterday, the prospect of British intelligence getting its hands on a large cache of classified U.S. intelligence that the American government has, for its own reason, not shared with the Brits might plausibly be a reason, when they find it very likely has been voluntarily put within their grasp by a David Miranda and the people running him, to take it by means deemed to be legal under British law.  

Since Barack Obama didn't know what was on the hard drives and other things David Miranda was carrying, those could have contained secrets which would have offended the British government, damaging relations between the governments and to the "special relationship" that Maddow seems to believe goes a lot farther than it does in reality.   Glenn Greenwald had chosen to reveal information of that type, offending the British government and people before, so there was reason for Barack Obama to suspect maybe more of that was in his possession.  Or, maybe, that information released by David Miranda's de facto husband has chilled the "special relationship" already.  For all Maddow knows, the Obama administration didn't particularly like the idea of more of Greenwald's cache of stolen American secrets being known by the British Government, which could risk more of that damage.

Maddow's statement,  "I tend to think we did not protest, since it went ahead," is quite naive in any number of ways asserting powers to an American president, blaming him for actions of a foreign government that are better assigned to the British government and courts.  But, in the milieu in which Maddow finds her audience, that delusion is all the rage.  And it isn't the only one of those on full display this week.  She went on to say:

I know the US government is not happy about Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald and their reporting about US surveillance.  The president said that the disclosures from their source have led to a disorderly debate about these issues and even though we ought to have a debate about these issues, it ought to be more orderly.  Fine.  But if the United States wants to convince the world that the Glenn Greenwalds and Laura Poitras' of the world are correct when they say the US government is going too far -- if they want to underline and put flashing red lights on that reporting that says that counter-terrorism is being used to justify all sorts of things that are not justified by the actual threat of terrorism, and that in fact have just greenlit gross government overreach and intrusion and intimidation of legitimate activity including journalism -- then putting journalists and their families through marathon interrogations and seizing all their electronics is a really great way to start convincing the world that all that reporting is accurate.  

Letting our closest allies do it while we stand silent is the same thing as us doing it.  Journalism is not terrorism.  Pretending otherwise is outrageous, and ridiculous, and a dangerous affront to who we are as a country and a democracy.  It's an absolute outrage.  

Well, in the first sentence of that, she gave a good reason why the Obama administration might not feel inclined to come to the defense of David Miranda, since his husband, Glenn Greenwald had already said his mission to Berlin was to carry material to and back between him and Poitras.   

But perhaps what I should have begun with needs to be said now.


If Glenn Greenwald wants to come back to the United States with David Miranda after they have been legally married, perhaps the recent Supreme Court ruling annulling the "Defense of Marriage" Act - with Barack Obama's support - would make David Miranda's well being and happiness Barack Obama's legitimate concern, but that's up to Greenwald and Miranda, not the President of the United States.  

Furthermore, David Miranda, by Glenn Greenwald's own and opportunely made declaration is not a journalist.  He doesn't fall under the mythical veil of protection that journalists claim for themselves, under no law that exists in the United States.  And journalists are not diplomats certified by any government in the world, they don't have a right to diplomatic immunity.  The things they carry through other countries can be searched, copied or seized by any government which decides they have that legal permission to do so.   It's for the journalist to watch out for its security in countries other than the U.S. not the American president's responsibility.   Journalists can be detained and questioned in Britain just as anyone else can for up to nine hours, what they are carrying can be confiscated.  I would imagine if what they were carrying is encrypted and the person carrying it doesn't give them the key to its encryption, that alone would justify their keeping it to see if they could break the encryption and find out if what they are carrying MIGHT BE relevant to the security of Britain.   

Given the experience in those paradises of journalism China and Russia, of Edward Snowden, the man who made this star turn by Greenwald possible, and Greenwwald having been a practicing attorney,  he's been remarkably irresponsible with the handling of information not only embarrassing but likely damaging to the interests of the United States.   For him, acting in the way he has, to expect anything but what the American president is obligated by his responsibilities of office is due to him,  he is only justifying the charge of narcissism which has been noted long before he ever heard of Edward Snowden.   For it to be claimed that any obligations an American President has to a citizen extend to David Miranda is absurd.   

Journalists who do so are claiming that they have some kind of legal status which they have never had under the American Constitution or American law.  To claim those rights for a Brazilian citizen flying from Germany, stopping over in Britain en route to his home country, merely because his partner is an American opinionator, is entirely ridiculous and symptomatic of a dangerous delusion current in American journalism. For Maddow to assert it under these conditions diminishes her.   If she wants to extend the title "journalism" to what David Miranda was doing, only diminishes her claims to being a journalist in exchange for support of people who are ignorant enough to not be taken seriously in discussing this issue. 

For journalists to go too far in claiming rights they don't have and a right to The President's protection past where it extends, under any interpretation of the law, discredits their claims about overreach by the government.

What Rachel Maddow did was demanding that Barack Obama attempt to assert authority far past when he had any authority on behalf of a Brazilian Citizen who is engaged in acts hostile to what The President believes is the security of the United States.  Doing what he believes to be in the security of the United States is within his authority and his sworn responsibility.  It's our responsibility to debate that and to try to make the congress pass laws to ensure that the president's and the government's ability to do that doesn't actually endanger freedom and a reasonable expectation of privacy.   That's an American journalist's job, or so they like to claim.  Them doing their job is the only reason they are granted any special status they can claim under the law.  


  1. Two points: a) as news stories in England have made clear (it doesn't seem to have penetrated as much here, because it's not about US), the Guardian has info on British secrets and surveillance, too. So the Brits have reasons to detain Miranda independent of any US interest. Which puts a very sharp pin in the balloon of speculation that everything that happens in the world is about US.

    b) you might find this interesting. I've just started reading it, but I want to pass it along.

    1. Thank you for the link. I was involved with writing a series of posts when he wrote this, I wasn't really paying that much attention to the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras (am I just imagining that they're all jealous for attention?) affair. Looks like I've been playing catch-up and I will put Joshua Foust in my bookmarks right now. Thank you.

  2. then putting journalists and their families through marathon interrogations and seizing all their electronics is a really great way to start convincing the world that all that reporting is accurate.

    I can't confirm this, but I don't think Greenwald and Miranda are married under Brazilian law. If so, then Miranda isn't even "family." He's a roommate. Maybe a very, very committed roommate, but a roommate.

    And I don't say that in antagonism to same-sex marriage. I knew a couple once, male and female, who lived together and weren't married, even under the very loose allowance of Texas common law marriage (just say once "That's my husband," and you're married in Texas. It has to do with community property.). They were roommates, and in no way "family" for any legal purpose (next of kin, inheritance, etc.).

    So can we slow down and recognize what's before us, rather than erasing critical distinctions in favor of a position that really isn't tenable, that doesn't stand up to the least scrutiny?

    I used to expect better of Maddow, but mostly I don't, anymore.

  3. The last I knew, they weren't married.

    I think Rachel Maddow is in danger of pandering to a fan base, that's the beginning of the end of a really distinguished career in journalism, though you can still be merely good.

    Chris Hayes, on commercial TV, is about the only real competition she's got in terms of intelligence but she should take his example as a way for her to freshen up her format and extend her repertoire. She's in danger of getting stale and turning into an audience pleaser.

  4. I have my critiques of both of them. Chris was better on weekend mornings, with the format of a two hour show where he could lead very intelligent discussions. He's gotten better, but I miss the old show.

    Although his comments on Ted Cruz last night had me shouting at the TeeVee. He was impressed with Cruz as Texas Solicitor General (an office basically invented for Cruz; Chris didn't know that), but Chris is no lawyer, and probably is impressed with Scalia, too (even as he disagrees with him). Chris thinks Cruz is dangerous; I think Cruz is a male Sara Palin, a man in love with the sound of his own voice and with TV cameras. I'm not as impressed with glib eloquence as some people are. It didn't carry Newt Gingrich all that far politically, and it won't make Cruz the next GOP POTUS.

    Rachel tends to flat out talk too much. She obviously works without a teleprompter, so she stops, blunders, repeats herself several times for emphasis when anyone listening got the point five minutes ago, and then tends to launch off into unsupported rants like the one you caught here. She'd do better to have more guests on to talk to, instead of just talking by herself for much of the show. I've gotten pretty tired of her.

    YMMV, of course.

    1. Her format makes it all about her, which is inviting trouble. Some of her guests have been pretty appalling. When she had Amanda Marcotte on I wondered if it might have been way past shark-jumping state.

      I only see either of them when it's my night to sit with our mother, she's addicted to the MSNBC nighttime lineup. I didn't see his weekend show, but two hours twice a week is bound to be higher quality than an hour five times a week. That schedule is an invitation to following a formula and not having enough time to produce real quality. I think the schedule of Moyer's old show helped a lot, and he had co-hosts who produced filmed reports.

      I'm looking more at Foust's site and am wondering where he's been all my life. It is excellent. Thank you, again.