At the Washington Post, Erik Wemple fact checks one of the more inflammatory claims in the latest Glenn Greenwald article about alleged NSA/FBI spying on American Muslim leaders: that the Justice Department went around to Muslim groups before the story was even written, warning them Greenwald’s article was full of errors and misrepresentations. Would you be terribly surprised to find out Greenwald’s claims are … false? You wouldn’t?
This is the paragraph in question in The Intercept’s story:
The Justice Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on this story, or for clarification about why the five men’s email addresses appear on the list. But in the weeks before the story was published, The Intercept learned that officials from the department were reaching out to Muslim-American leaders across the country to warn them that the piece would contain errors and misrepresentations, even though it had not yet been written.
Wemple contacted Greenwald to ask for more information on this claim, and Greenwald responded:
He said that the remarks of the officials were “designed to poison our relationship with people in the Muslim community by bad-mouthing us and saying this story is inaccurate before it’s even written. They literally did it before we put pen to paper,” says Greenwald.
Wow, the US government “bad-mouthed” the Mighty Greenwald?! How dare they? The noive!
However, when Wemple reached out to Muslim-American groups and the Justice Department, he discovered that the truth was exactly opposite to the way Greenwald portrayed it. Muslim leaders had heard rumors about Greenwald’s upcoming article, and they specifically asked the Justice Department to discuss the issue.
According to these community leaders and the Justice Department, there was indeed a July 1 gathering at the main Justice building, part of a regular series of quarterly meetings convened by Justice’s civil rights division that date back more than a decade. Though the get-together preceded publication of the Greenwald-Hussain story, Muslim American community leaders had heard about the goods that The Intercept had acquired. And so it was they, and not the Justice Department, who insisted on discussing the pending story. A letter from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), in fact, specifically asked that the surveillance issue be placed on the meeting’s agenda.
Wemple posts a screenshot of the ADC’s letter to the DOJ, asking that the surveillance issue be discussed at this regular meeting. So now we know that: 1) this meeting was not an unusual occurrence, but one of a series of regularly scheduled meetings that have been going on for many years, and 2) the Muslim groups themselves asked to discuss Greenwald’s pending article at the meeting, not the other way around.
But what about the claim that Justice Department officials “bad-mouthed” Greenwald’s story and warned these Muslim groups it would contain “errors and misrepresentations?” Again, Greenwald is playing fast and loose with the truth:
According to various participants, the government officials who spoke to the Muslim-surveillance issue — primarily National Security Agency General Counsel Raj De and FBI General Counsel James Baker — walked the attendees through an explanation of the legal structure designed to protect Americans from surveillance. One of the officials reportedly counseled the group, “Just don’t make assumptions. Please think about what you read based on what the legal structure is.”
Abed A. Ayoub, the ADC’s director of legal and policy affairs, confirms that’s how things went down. At the same time, Ayoub vouched for the accuracy of the Greenwald-Hussain description of the proceedings. “What we were told was to look at the legal framework of the way the surveillance took place … the FISA courts and so forth,” says Ayoub, who insists that the “legal framework is part of the problem and we need to seriously address this.”
ADC National President Samer Khalaf says of the message from government officials: “It wasn’t that they were saying it was false. They were saying they can’t respond to a story that wasn’t out yet.” When asked about alleged warnings of errors and misrepresentations, Khalaf says that the government reps said that the article may not represent the “full scope of the program.”
Again, Greenwald’s account is shocking and inflammatory… and entirely dishonest and self-serving.
This is the case with almost every one of Greenwald’s articles; a batch of wildly incendiary accusations that fall apart and are shown to be false, distorted, or exaggerated in the following 48 hours after publication. This isn’t journalism — it’s propaganda.
You have to wonder why other journalists rarely do the job Wemple did in this case. Are they afraid of Greenwald’s slash-and-burn smear tactics against critics, or simply more interested in the clicks and pageviews they know his fear-mongering pieces will drive to their websites?
The Intercept’s editor John Cook responds to Erik Wemple’s debunking with: For the Record: Yes, the Government Really Did Trash-Talk Our FISA Story.
His evidence to back up this headline is… well, he doesn’t present any evidence. He posts several emails and text messages he sent to the Justice Department, making the same assertion Wemple debunked, but absolutely nothing to show that “the government really did trash-talk” their story. Read it for yourself. He simply doesn’t back up his claim at all.
it’s getting a bit ridiculous.