Don't Shoot the Messenger: Glenn Greenwald Blames NEWSWEEK for Problems We Diagnose

Regular readers of are probably aware that sometimes we deploy sarcasm or irony to make points. I did not mean to be taken literally when I suggested that Republicans should declare all Massachusetts elections to be national referenda, nor did my colleague Daniel Stone when he said, regarding how the media covers and categorizes violent acts of protest, "Terrorists have beards [and] live in caves." And sometimes, as with all publications, a given sentence in one of our items lays out the logic of a third party whose views we are describing. Taken out of context, you could falsely claim that such a sentence demonstrated our own views, but most commentators know better than to do that.

So you would think that a well-read blogger with a law degree at a prestigious publication would not fulminate about statements belonging to either of those categories as "stunningly revealing" and "propagandistic." But, if the blogger in question is Salon's Glenn Greenwald, you would be wrong. Greenwald obtusely misreads our roundtable discussion on why the media was covering Joseph Stack's suicide plane mission in Austin, Texas, less than the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing, and why the media was more reluctant to label Stack a terrorist.

Greenwald characterizes the e-mail chain as "an internal discussion among Newsweek editors and writers over their reluctance to use the term 'Terrorist' to describe Stack and who they believe qualifies instead ... Many of them all but say outright that it can apply only to Muslims but never non-Muslim Americans."

To be clear: we are not reluctant to label Stack a terrorist. Last Thursday, before this e-mail chain was even started, I said in the office that we should describe him as a terrorist—a position I reaffirmed in the e-mail chain Greenwald saw. I asked my colleague David Graham to characterize Stack's action as terrorism in an item he was writing, and he did so in both the headline and the lead.

Anyone with appreciation for irony would be able to tell that my colleague Stone is mockingly describing a view that he does not himself hold. Greenwald, of course, might say we should have been clearer about what we were doing. But given that Stone's comment would, if taken literally, trigger outrage across the Internet, and did not, I think it's safe to assume that Greenwald's confusion is his fault, not ours.  

Likewise editor Devin Gordon is mocking, not endorsing, The Wall Street Journal calling Stack "the tax protester." In asking whether anyone wants to tackle the light treatment that Stack received relative to the alleged underpants bomber, Gordon was encouraging our writers to explain and analyze this double standard, just as Greenwald himself did.

Obviously, therefore, the "we" that pops up throughout the e-mail chain refers to the media and the American people, not NEWSWEEK's staffers. So when my esteemed colleagues say things like "we definitely reserve the label 'terrorist' for foreign attackers," they are referring to the public and/or the media at large, not NEWSWEEK in particular. Indeed, how could they be when NEWSWEEK referred to the actions of Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, and the attempted bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta as acts of terror or terrorism?

We (note to Greenwald: here I mean NEWSWEEK staffers) believe that outrage is not the only mode in which one can observe, analyze, and illuminate political, media, or social trends. We are sorry that Greenwald disagrees.

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