UPDATE #2: A Failure to Communicate: Why Everything Probably Isn’t a Conspiracy

UPDATE #2: (Feb. 22, 2015) At the bottom, I comment on TLDR‘s new episode revisiting their “Quiet, Wadhwa” piece.

UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2015) On Saturday, Venture Beat published a response from Vivek Wadhwa to the TLDR episode I discuss below.

For a year in middle school, I carpooled with the family of a girl whom I’ll call Suzanna. Her mom or dad would take me to school in the morning on their way to work and my dad would drop her off at home in the afternoon.

Suzanna and her family were all very kind and generous people. If we had enough time in the morning her mom would stop at the Bashas’ near my house and buy us soda and snacks. (A practice which I guess these days sounds rather negligent, but which Suzanna and I thoroughly enjoyed.)

My dad wanted some way to repay Suzanna and her family for ferrying his smart-assed spawn to school every morning, so one day, upon picking up Suzanna, he asked her if she’d like to get something to eat with us when we picked her up the next day. Suzanna said sure, that would be great.

Here’s where it gets sticky, I’m almost positive either Dad or I told her to make sure her parents were okay with that first. We didn’t want to spoil her dinner or anything.

So the next day, we all go out to eat after school. We had a great time, it was a lot of fun, etc. Upon returning home, we found that Suzanna had not in fact informed her parents of this outing.

Her mother was so worried that her daughter had not returned home on time that she called Arizona’s highway patrol. (Neither Dad nor I owned cell-phones at the time, nor if I remember correctly, did Suzanna, so there was no way of contacting any of us while we were out.)

Dad was very confused. What was Suzanna’s mom so worried about? We were only out for about an hour more than usual. I was what they’re calling nowadays a “free-ranged kid,” so I imagine Dad wouldn’t be too worried if I were gone for that long.

Dad’s adorable naïveté about this whole situation was made more ironic, considering that he, like millions of other Americans, watched (and still watches religiously) Dateline, 20/20, and those other TV news magazines that frequently indulge in “true crime” reporting.

South Park had a different name for it. (Image courtesy Comedy Central Press.)

It took me a few tries, but when I was finally able to get Dad to understand what was likely racing through Suzanna’s mother’s mind throughout all this, he was horrified and upset that I would consider such a thing. It certainly never entered his head.

At this point, I’ll mention that Dad’s an immigrant. He came to the U.S. from Thailand in the early ’80s. Even my 14-year-old self wondered if that colored how this whole thing was perceived.

Children of first-wave immigrants, or anyone who’s seen “Shit Asian Dads Say,” understand how a less-than perfect command of English and a, let’s say developing, understanding of American social conventions can often result in (usually) hilarious situations.

They got everything right, down to the wrapping of electronics in plastic like a madman.

In any case, the confusion was cleared up and Susanna and I enjoyed the carpooling services of each other’s families for the rest of the year, including detours for junk food and slightly-better-than-junk-food food, though this time with more perspicuous parental notification.

I tell you this story, dear reader, in an attempt to illustrate how easily ominous conclusions can be drawn from the mundane.

Because if Meredith Haggerty and the producers of “Quiet, Wadhwa,” the Feb. 6 episode of TLDR1, On the Media‘s spin-off podcast on Internet culture, acknowledged this, they could have produced something much more interesting than the deeply flawed episode they actually made.

At the time of this writing the original piece has been removed and replaced with the following note:

TLDR episode 45, published Friday, February 6, has been removed. We are working on a piece for On the Media that will include a range of views on advocacy for women in technology.

Addendum:

WNYC decided to remove this episode, because it centered on an internet debate about author Vivek Wadhwa and we failed a basic test of fairness: we did not invite him to comment. We are planning a follow-up that will address both the original issue and the ensuing conversation around the removal of the episode. We are keenly aware of the discussion out there and will release the new piece as soon as it is ready.

The 11 minute segment has been re-posted by a helpful fellow here. Give it as listen as I’ll be discussing it in detail.

So if TLDR is now scrambling to produce a segment that “includes[s] a range of views on advocacy for women in technology,” then what did they actually produce on the Friday last?

The episode is a discussion of Amelia Greenhall’s recent blog post about an academic/tech entrepreneur named Vivek Wadhwa, who has positioned himself as an advocate for women in tech. A position that some (many? most?) women in tech would prefer be filled by actual women in tech.

Greenhall, an accomplished woman in tech, describes how Wadhwa became the go-to authority on the subject by “trading up the chain;” leveraging the publication of one’s work in one outlet in order to get it published at bigger and better places.

Readers, correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure trading up the chain is how the publishing industry works. It certainly doesn’t make Wadhwa an expert on women in tech, but it doesn’t show why he shouldn’t be writing about it either.

Greenhall’s issue with Wadhwa is that he’s “taking up space,” and “sucking all the air out of the room” by getting published and quoted by journalists on the issue of women in tech instead of actual women in tech. But is that Vivek Wadhwa’s fault or the fault of the editors and journalists who’ve published his work and sought his comments?

Wadhwa should turn down interview requests on stories about women in tech and point journalists towards “someone more qualified,” says Greenhall at the end of the piece. And while I agree it would be nice if, for example, the co-architects2 of the current horror show in the Middle East stopped opining about America’s foreign policy and handed the mic to someone else, you know an idea is bankrupt when the proposed solution is for discredited pundits to self-deport from the conversation.

Why do journalists get a pass here?

I’d like to hear why the editors of the various outlets in which Wadhwa’s writing and words have been published chose to hear from him. I think it would be quite revealing to hear the criteria by which journalists deem someone an expert whose voice deserves to be heard over others.

But instead of traveling down that path, the discussion turns to Wadhwa’s perceived creepiness.

Much is made about Wadhwa’s “token floozies” comment. I would tell you more, but I don’t really know much more. In the TLDR episode Greenhall just repeats what she wrote in her blog post:

There was the “Floozies” incident. Basically Vivek got on stage at a Bloomberg conference in January 2014 and talked about the importance of hiring women in influential leadership roles, not just as “token floozies.” He tried to ignore the criticism for several days, including a blog post by management consultant Mary Trigiani calling him out for it. He then published a condescending public response to Trigiani that belittled and gaslighted her as having “personal difficulties.”

The full context of Wadhwa’s words seem important here. Is he saying that all or most women in tech are “token floozies”? Is he saying that “token floozies” is what the boards of tech companies want, and that this is a bad thing?

Few things are more suspicious than a narrative crafted around a two-word quote from a lengthy speech. If the context supports the claim, people are pretty eager to show the full context.

However, the Daily Beast article Greenhall links to doesn’t link to the actual talk Wadhwa gave. Nor does Trigiani’s blog post. I’ve done some searching for the talk, and while I can find a number of Wadhwa’s talks, I can’t find one from the “Hacking Gender” Bloomberg conference in January 2014. If anyone knows where I can watch/listen to it, please let me know.

Wadhwa’s “condescending public response” was posted by him the the comments of Trigiani’s post and on Medium.

His response is dismissed out of hand with another two-word quote. Here’s the paragraph where Wadhwa supposedly “belittled and gaslighted [Trigiani] as having ‘personal difficulties'”:

When, later in the evening, someone pointed out that the slang word that I used had a different meaning than I thought, I apologized profusely. I felt really, really horrible and I literally lost sleep over this. You, on the other hand, stormed away and behaved in a highly unprofessional manner. I asked several people why you were reacting this way and they said that I should ignore you because you had “personal difficulties”. A couple of people said you had a reputation for behaving in this manner. I did not want to ask more because I was not sure of what was motivating you to behave the way in which you did. That is why I chose not to respond to your barrage of angry tweets.

And here are the paragraphs from Trigliani’s blog to which it appears Wadhwa was responding:

By Tuesday evening, I was enduring the remarks of a so-called expert in talent who fretted that “token floozies” in companies like are not truly women of the tech workforce. Who then refused to explain what he meant. For two days now.

You see, he expects only to pontificate. To not answer questions unless they are posed in a way that flatters his ego and sustains his superiority, both in the asking and the answering. Should this man be challenged, watch out. He cites Duke University, Stanford University, Singularity University, WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and startup Trove as the stars in his CV, and so far, they see no need to call for an explanation, either. Rumor has it he has a book coming out about how women are leaving tech employers in droves.

So in context we see that Wadhwa was in fact responding to her challenge for an explanation.

In context we see that Wadhwa’s “gaslighting”3 could also be just as neatly interpreted as Look dude, I heard you were going through some heavy shit, so figured it would be best to not respond, but now you’ve slammed my work on a public forum, questioned the intentions behind my work, and accused me of being unwilling to respond criticism, so now I’m responding.

It’s the shit you have in your tape library which gives seemingly unrelated incidents perspective.” (Screenshot by author.)

On the claim that Wadhwa is frequently “condescending” or “paternalistic,” I’d like to remind everyone that he is a professor at two “Ivy-plus” schools. He’s written books and his articles have been published in national newspapers.

I’m not saying any of that qualifies him to opine on so much as the opening of a new jogging path in San Jose, but college professors are pretty damn condescending and paternalistic—not just towards women in tech, towards everyone.

Heck, my uncle is a retired elementary music teacher and if someone pushes past him on the subway, he has to fight the urge to stop the young man and lecture him on manners.

So if one criticizes Wadhwa’s work—as everyone should be able to—it shouldn’t seem crazy that he might go into professor mode, assuming that the disagreement is due to his failure to effectively express himself, and that if he keeps trying, eventually everyone will agree with him.

Even if that isn’t an accurate assessment of his behavior—which it very well many not be—it’s no less unreasonable than Greenhall and Haggerty’s apparent assumption that Wadhwa acts like a paternalistic, condescending prick when he converses with women.

But perhaps Wadhwa was wrong to mention “personal difficulties,” whether or not they indeed exist, in a public venue, yes? They are “personal” after all. Maybe it would be better if he tried communicating to his critics via a more informal platform? Maybe he could be more easily understood in a more casual conversation?

Well if you listened to “Quiet, Wadhwa,” you know where I’m going next.

“He has a tendency,” darkly intones Haggerty, “to DM” or direct message his female critics on Twitter.

Greenhall describes Twitter’s DMs thusly:

It’s really like this non-consensual, ‘let’s go over here, where people can’t see you criticizing me, maybe I can talk to you there.’ Wadhwa has done this to several women.

(UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2015) In his Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat, Wadhwa says that he has only sent Twitter DMs to one woman, Kelly Ellis, who’s screenshots of the conversation are discussed below.)

Haggerty:

It really feels like the Twitter DM can be like the “hand on the knee” of social communication.

Greenhall:

I don’t follow that many men because I’ll see them through Twitter lists, but if you’re mutually following them, that opens up that DM channel and you just get a lot of unwanted private messages that are pretty gross usually.

That’s a hell of a lot of intent being ascribed to Wadhwa. First, Greenhall’s insinuation that Wadhwa is using Twitter’s direct messaging system to send untoward messages to women to ensure that their responses are not public is undermined by screenshots taken by Kelly Ellis, a woman he messaged, in which he asks her to make the entire discussion public:

So his plan is to have a secret conversation, only to request that it be made public, because…? (Screenshot by Kelly Ellis.)

Ellis posted two sets of screenshots of her DMs with Wadhwa here and here.

The other element of intent placed on Wadhwa is that everyone knows that only creeps who send “gross” private messages send Twitter DMs to women and yet he sends them anyway.

First, it’s not clear that Wadhwa is aware of that convention. Do many or most male Twitter users know how some/many women view DMs? Conversely, maybe the guy who promotes himself as an advocate for women in tech should know these things and by being unaware, he further crystallizes why he should stop.

But even if Wadhwa is aware, to whatever extent, of how (most? all? some?) women perceive DMs, it’s quite possible that the idea that he could come across in such a manner, just as the notion that a mother might—for completely understandable reasons—grow increasingly worried when Suzanne should have been home 45 minutes ago and was last seen with that middle-aged foreign guy she doesn’t know too well, never crossed Dad’s mind either.

Regardless, the aspersions continue to fly. In his direct messages, Greenhall notes that Wadhwa repeatedly invites the women he’s conversing with to continue the discussion in person at some point:

He asks them to come meet him, like, ‘meet me in person,’ ‘come to Standford,’ ‘come to my office,’ ‘come meet me,’ ‘come sit on my lap, you bad, little, young woman.’

Indeed, Wadhwa could be attempting to lure women to his office for nefarious purposes. (I’m assuming the last quote isn’t actually a direct quote.)

Or looking at it another way, maybe Wadhwa is frustrated that members of a group for whom he sees himself as an advocate are upset with him and the written word by which he makes his living isn’t helping, and in exasperation he asks some of these women to meet him to discuss this in person, hoping that maybe then they might understand that he is on their side. But for reasons for which he’s at fault (which I’ll get to below) and other reasons which are entirely unfair, they’ve stopped buying what he’s selling.

I do admit though, the sinister explanation makes for better radio.

(UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2014) In his Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat, Wadhwa gives his own account of his conversation with Kelly Ellis.)

In his response to Trigliani’s blog post on his “floozies” comment, Wadhwa blames his poor understanding of American slang, as he learned English in India, where the dialect contains far more Britishisms than American slang. Wadhwa expresses similar confusion in a DM with Kelly Ellis:

Wait, who gets to define these words again? (Screenshot by Kelly Ellis.)

Greenhall and Haggerty suggest this even further disqualifies him from writing and speaking about women in tech. Greenhall argues that:

[e]ven if you do take him at his word, I think it’s totally disturbing. Has he really been this spokesman for women in tech for all these years, while he’s believing that women can’t be nerds, because that’s like super misogynist because [venture capitalist firms] only want to invest in nerds and they have a lot of power in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area.

Wait, Wadhwa’s misunderstanding the nuances of certain American slang words is misogynist because VCs only want to invest in nerds? Is Greenhall saying Wadhwa believes that? Has Wadhwa made that claim about VCs? Is there data to support that claim? Was there any actual reporting done in this episode?

I always thought “nerd” implied a sense of social isolation, whereas “geek” meant an obsessive knowledge about a particular thing; e.g. there can be sports geeks, music geeks, computer geeks, etc. There appears to be a wide variety of definitions of and connotations with the words “nerd” and “geek” in the English-speaking world alone.

Why must everyone subscribe to the same nuances of words like geek and nerd to comment on women in tech?

Haggerty and Greenhall then share Wadhwa quotes that confound them.

Haggerty:

‘Women should let the boys have their social media while they save the world.’ What does that even mean?

Good question, Haggerty. Why didn’t you ask him?

(UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2014) According to Wadhwa’s Feb. 14 response published in Venture Beat the line Haggerty is bewildered by is the title of an article he wrote “on why the future belongs to women.”)

I realize that this is an opinion piece. Amelia Greenhall has every right to publish her opinions. However, Haggerty and the producers at OTM and TLDR are journalists with an obligation to ensure that their broadcasts meet the ethical standards of their profession. Among which are to:

– Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

– Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

“Quiet, Wadhwa” concludes with a list of genuinely scummy examples of his shameless self-promotion—including stealing bylines—over actions that would help ensure journalists heard more from women in tech, like actually pointing journalists towards women in tech.

(UPDATE: (Feb. 15, 2015) In his Feb. 14 response in Venture Beat, Wadhwa contends that the examples listed in the TLDR episode as evidence that he obscures the work of women to promote and enrich himself are incorrect or mischaracterized.)

But TLDR‘s failure to meet “a basic test of fairness,” as the note on the removal page puts it, calls into question all of the claims put forth in the episode.

While I don’t think Vivek Wadhwa deserves to be the go-to guy on women in tech (more so than anyone else, at least), I don’t think it’s very productive to attempt to silence him in return for all his egocentric bloviating.

In the end, I think this incident will only serve Amelia Greenhall and Meredith Haggerty’s ideological opponents. The malicious intent they were certain they read in Wadhwa’s Twitter messages will be heard in the sloppy reporting, the episode’s removal, and whatever OTM comes up with to replace it.

But maybe they would have heard that anyway. There’s this quote I like from Sarah Miller in a Time article. It aptly diagnoses the problem with the simplistic narratives peddled by advocacy journalism. “While the world should certainly have respect for feminism,” Miller writes, “I’d like to see feminism have a little more respect for chaos and ambiguity.”

To chaos and ambiguity.

UPDATE #2: (Feb. 22, 2015) Last Thursday, TLDR released an episode revisiting their “Quiet, Wadhwa” piece. You’ll grimace through all 23 minutes of it, but it’s quite illuminating.

TLDR producer Katya Rogers admits to being “in a bubble” when she and Meredith Haggerty produced the original piece. In an age of identity politics, I really hope journalists’ ethical obligations to be fair and seek comment from all parties won’t be tossed aside as an insidious method of silencing and minimizing those who journalists cast as the victims in their narratives.

It seems both Haggerty and Wadhwa thought that a long, mostly un-edited interview would vindicate their respective positions. The end result, however, is that both of them come off even worse.

Haggerty continues to appear oblivious to the implications of blithely comparing someone’s behavior to sexual harassment in a news broadcast.

Wahdwa refutes the accusations of financial impropriety, byline-stealing, and “taking up space” in the conversation which Amelia Greenhall leveled at him, but comes across as every bit the paternalistic, condescending prick that the original TLDR episode cast him as. Lots of lines like “these women don’t understand how journalism works” and asserting how awesome an advocate he is for women and minorities.

Although I still think the problems with his tone are largely compounded by the cultural barrier through which he’s attempting to communicate.

Since TLDR doesn’t confirm Greenhall’s accusations or deny Wadhwa’s denials for the more easily-confirmed claims regarding money and properly crediting people, I’m going to assume the accusations are bunk. Which means all we’re left with is tone policing.

I’m sorry, but I can’t agree that someone should be “quiet,” as TLDR #45 instructs, because I or others dislike his tone.


  1. I don’t mean to pick on On the Media again, but I listen to them a lot so I hear a lot more of their brilliant moments and their missteps than those of other news outlets. 
  2. The others being various monstrous dictators and murderous zealots. 
  3. Gaslighting is a disturbing form of mental abuse. However, online the term is frequently wielded against anyone who suggests that the wielder’s interpretation of something may be incorrect. By suggesting that you didn’t mean for the wielder to interpret what you wrote in that way, you are also suggesting that the wielder is crazy, and thus you are gaslighting. Scott Alexander explains this sort of motte-and-bailey stratagem here. Put simply, people want to apply a term loaded with serious implications upon conditions that are far removed from the scope of the original meaning. Gaslighting is a real phenomenon that is no doubt also practiced by abusers on the Internet. The term should certainly be employed when appropriate, but the word carries too much freight for journalists to toss about lightly. 

The Ugly Reviews the Good and the Bad

 Real life took over this week, so another post from my old class blog. This one written in January 2013. It’s another rambling mess on the Snowden leaks, focusing in particular on the bipartisan consensus on national security and foreign policy. The new post I’m working on is in the same vein. Until I get that up, I hope you find this interesting.

Journalists are often flummoxed when tasked with covering those in the political realm who hold viewpoints outside of the mainstream. On the one hand, one does not want to unjustly vilify such people, as they probably get enough of that already, however, one also does not want to give credence to any particular political belief through their coverage. At the same time, journalists are instructed to “test the accuracy of information from all.” Objectivity is not the end-goal, the reporting of facts is.

Greg Marx’s piece in the Columbia Journalism Review titled “Covering the Fringe Candidates” offers an insightful overview into how journalists in politics attempt to navigate all three of those demands. It gets points off right away for using the label “fringe,” which implies a kooky, perhaps even dangerous minority, and excludes the possibility that, as libertarian-leaning Reason editor Nick Gillespie wrote for Time, there may be policy positions that have been embraced by a majority of Americans for years that have only recently become major issues in national political discourse.

The analysis within, however, makes up for the sigh-inducing labeling. Marx quotes from Conor Friedersdorf’s piece at the Atlantic who notes that:

a protest candidate that challenges the bipartisan consensus on foreign policy, the war on drugs, or civil liberties is ignored, no matter the substantive quality of their arguments on those issues. And if their fans complain, it is pointed out that they don’t have a chance of winning. The salutary effect that protest candidates can have on political discourse even if they don’t win is completely forgotten. (Occasionally, another dodge is used: that Ron Paul, for example, disqualifies himself from serious coverage due to fringe positions he takes on the Federal Reserve or the gold standard. Suffice it to say that all sorts of candidates are covered as serious contenders despite holding positions more lunatic, as Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Herman Cain attest. Paul’s foreign policy critique is serious, coherent and mostly unanswered.)

He wants us to end our unsustainable wars, LOL. (GIF surprisingly not included in Marx’s article.)

Marx adds that “mainstream political reporters” are trained in strict objectivity which, “leaves them needing some outside authority to validate a losing issue position as worthy of attention—and the “bipartisan consensus” is one such authority.” Perhaps news outlets, he suggests at the end of his piece, should start using “reporters who hold a well-defined (and known-to-readers) set of political values—especially when those values are in tension with the bipartisan consensus” to cover political campaigns.

I think this idea would benefit both news/political junkies and the media illiterate. Those immersed in news and politics can read reports about what candidates are saying and doing by journalists who are familiar with the candidates’ ideas, so we might see fewer condescending and simplistic articles which sound like an explorer encountering the strange natives for the first time. Meanwhile, the lucky readers who have yet to fall down the rabbit hole might be able to identify spin and bias more easily if the journalist’s political leanings are allowed to be a part of his reportage.

There is, however, a danger if ideologues are allowed to step off the campaign trail and cover more general political stories; we may see more political hit pieces masquerading as fact-based journalism in generally reputable outlets, such as Sean Wilentz’s cover story for the New Republic.

The problems start at the title, “Would You Feel Differently About Snowden, Greenwald, and Assange If You Knew What They Really Thought?” Right away, it implies that 1) their arguments and revelations about government surveillance are undermined by what they really think and 2) the author knows what they really think. The article consists of a variety of disparate claims, message board and chat postings, listing events and articles without context in order to convince the presumably left-leaning readership of the New Republic that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, journalist Glenn Greenwald, and Wikileaks founder and activist Julian Assagne subscribe to the same “paranoid libertarianism” which the aforementioned readership should be frightened of. It is all very reminiscent of ‘50s era if-you-are associated-with-X-your-ideas-about-Y-are-invalid-and-can-be-dismissed-by-default sort of reasoning.

Wilentz cites (by “cites,” I mean he drops a publication name and a claim or quote, no links or authors or titles—there are only two links in the 7500-word article), chat room messages apparently made by Snowden in which he comes off as a gun nut, against leakers of classified information, and against welfare recipients.

On the gun nut angle, gun ownership has increased in both Republican and Democratic households in the last decade, so it does not necessarily appear to be a sign of the Snowden’s “developing affinities” for libertarian extremism that Wilentz seems to think it is.

The apparent calls of violence against leakers and the mocking of beneficiaries of the welfare system are harder to defend, but I will caution against using chat logs to derive earnest and not facetious, the thoughtful and not off-the-cuff political positions of individuals. The apparent condemnation of leakers is most damning to Snowden’s credibility for obvious reasons, but here too the inconsistency and hypocrisy Wilentz sees is shoddy. There is a difference between the leaks of intelligence operations that target Iran’s nuclear weapons program that Snowden apparently decried and a policy of surveillance on American citizens that he revealed.

I could go on, but I already passed 800 words for this post. However before I go, I would like quickly to address some of the sillier claims in Wilentz’s article. The wishy-washy insinuation that Snowden could be a spy for Russia (because after all, why is Snowden in Russia, hmmm?), ignores the fact that he could not travel because the U.S. revoked his passport, which left him stranded in Moscow. Iceland, Snowden’s initial destination, turned him down.

Finally, the journalist who Snowden has been working with to leak his information, Glenn Greenwald, is made out to be some sort of libertarian hired gun who will work with those on the left or right if their causes align with his. Wilentz says Greenwald let libertarian-leaning Republican Rand Paul off the hook for his comments on the Civil Rights Act while railing against the Democrats and Republicans. I think I found the Greenwald column in question, though I am not sure since there are no links or proper citations in the Wilentz piece:

There’s no question that Ron Paul holds some views that are wrong, irrational and even odious. But that’s true for just about every single politician in both major political parties (just look at the condition of the U.S. if you doubt that; and note how Ron Paul’s anti-abortion views render him an Untouchable for progressives while Harry Reid’s anti-abortion views permit him to be a Progressive hero and even Senate Majority Leader). My point isn’t that Ron Paul is not crazy; it’s that those who self-righteously apply that label to him and to others invariably embrace positions and support politicians at least as “crazy.” Indeed, those who support countless insane policies and/or who support politicians in their own party who do — from the Iraq War to the Drug War, from warrantless eavesdropping and denial of habeas corpus to presidential assassinations and endless war in the Muslim world — love to spit the “crazy” label at anyone who falls outside of the two-party establishment.

Later in the column:

He [Conor Friedersdorf (hey, here he is again) writing in Newsweek] goes on to note that “these disparaging descriptors are never applied to America’s policy establishment, even when it is proved ruinously wrong, whereas politicians who don’t fit the mainstream Democratic or Republican mode, such as libertarians, are mocked almost reflexively in these terms, if they are covered at all.” Indeed, this is true of anyone who deviates at all — even in tone — from the two-party orthodoxy, as figures as disparate as Dennis Kucinich, Noam Chomsky, Howard Dean or even Alan Grayson will be happy to tell you.

Anti-progressive libertarian who you should ignore, indeed. If a person’s ideology cannot fit neatly into the left-right paradigm, it seems they are reacted to as if they are the most dangerous of all.

Go-Bags and the Gladrags

I wrote this back in February for a blog I maintained as a part of a class assignment. That blog was set to “private,” so only the instructor and a few classmates saw it. Before I delete it/forget the login info, I plan on salvaging whatever is still timely and not terrible and reposting it here. Next week’s post will be a new one expanding on the ideas in this recycled screed, and so on. As always. Thank you for reading.

If you can’t respond to their arguments, cast aspersions. Critics of National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden have resorted to retroactive well-poisoning as the increasingly indefensible activities of the U.S. government’s surveillance program are unfolded before the public.

Last summer, NBC’s David Gregory revealed what was to many another example of how the Washington press corps has sided with the government on the surveillance leaks with a shamelessly leading question to Glenn Greenwald while hosting Meet the Press and also suggesting Greenwald isn’t a journalist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDmqJ6W3FoI

Then, two weeks ago, Mr. Gregory again gave his critics on the NSA story evidence of his deference to Washington’s elite. On a segment of January 19’s Meet the Press, Gregory interviews House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers and Senate Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein on President Obama’s speech on intelligence reform. The transcript of the entire episode is available here. Below is a small clip from the Rogers interview. Archive.org has hosted more of the Meet the Press idiocy here.

The amount of distortions and misrepresentations on top of the unfounded speculation that David Gregory fails to even acknowledge makes a proper critique of this interview rather challenging, but let us try.

  • Rogers begins with a patently ridiculous analogy comparing Snowden to a janitor at a bank who “figured out how to steal money.” Rogers then declares that Snowden “was a thief, who we believe had some help, who stole information the vast majority had nothing to do with privacy.”

It’s impossible to prove a negative, but all of the NSA documents made public so far deal with surveillance which is inherently related to privacy, or more precisely, the elimination of it.

  •  “Our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines have been incredibly harmed by the data that he has taken with him and we believe now is in the hands of nation states.”

Rogers repeated this assertion elsewhere in the interview, elaborating that terrorists have changed their methods, making them harder to monitor, which puts our military at risk. That claim would have more credence if intelligence agencies hadn’t already issued public reports which explain that terrorists avoid online communication services from companies that have been known to provide access to the U.S. government on request. Terrorists tend to use the “Deep Web,” parts of the Internet not indexed by search engines, and have been using use encrypted messaging software to communicate since at least 2007.

Gregory catches the accusation and asks “Who helped him?”

To which Rogers says, “Well, there were certain questions that we have to get answered. Where some of this aid, first of all, if it was a privacy concern he had, he didn’t look for information on the privacy side for Americans. He was stealing information that had to do with how we operate overseas to collect information to keep Americans safe.”

If I may adapt Rep. Roger’s analogy, this is like the bank’s management, after the janitor revealed they were lying to investors, asserting the leaked information was vital to the bank’s operations.

The Michigan Congressman continues saying, “that begs the question. And some of the things he did were beyond his technical capabilities. Raises more questions.” Some of readers might have identified the rhetorical technique Rogers is employing here.

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See anything familiar? Screenshot by author.

Actually, how Snowden obtained many of the documents was revealed last November: colleagues at the NSA gave him logins and passwords after he asked for them.

Next, Rogers drops some sexy spycraft jargon. Rogers said he was investigating how Snowden “arranged travel before he left. How he was ready to go, he had a go bag, if you will.”

How? He bought a plane ticket to Hong-Kong, ultimately headed for Iceland. WikiLeaks and Russians with ties to the Kremlin only reached out to Snowden after he became stuck at a Moscow airport when the U.S. government revoked his passport (source). I’m still waiting for evidence of foreign orchestration in all this.

Now for this “go-bag” business. What could that be? It couldn’t be an actually fairly innocuous item about which information is widely available, including public information pages on government websites, could it? Indeed, as Snowden says in this interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, he had one packed for his work. I would be surprised if the members of Rep. Rogers’ security detail didn’t have go-bags packed and ready too.

Gregory then asks Rogers to speculate on his speculation asking, “But how high level, do you think?”

Rogers indulges Gregory, declaring “I believe there’s a reason he ended up in the hands, the loving arms, of an FSB agent in Moscow. I don’t think that’s a coincidence, number one.”

It certainly isn’t a coincidence that Snowden needed Anatoly Kucherena, a lawyer with ties to the Russian security services (assuming anyone can do anything in Russia without ties to the security services). He was stuck in the Sheremetyevo airport because his U.S. passport was revoked.

Gregory states flat-out what the Congressman is insinuating: “You think the Russians helped Ed Snowden?”

To which Rogers dodges with “I believe there’s questions to be answered there.” The Congressman should get the answers to those questions before attacking someone’s reputation on national television.

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Click on the above image to see Cartman’s impersonation of Rep. Mike Rogers. Image courtesy of Comedy Central Press.

David Gregory reminds the viewers that this is “a significant development if it’s true.” A good journalist reminds his audience that unverified allegations are just that. Whether they could be “significant” is immaterial if there is no proof.

Gregory then lets Rep. Rogers give a final, unchallenged string of untruths and deception:

The oversight that is conducted, that’s what is the interesting thing about this. With all the disclosures, we find out, holy mackerel, the court’s involved. Both the Senate and the House committees are involved. There was plenty of oversight of the programs. And it was very restrictive, only 288 times that they even used the business records in 2012.

It turns out the “involved courts” were deceived about the data the NSA was collecting, our fully-briefed Congress has to bring in outside experts to get a grasp on the NSA’s capabilities, and government agencies don’t need to request business records when they have broken into private data centers anyway.

And not one peep from Gregory.