Being busy with my self publishing adventure, I’d not been paying much attention to the Internet, so I was surprised when I read Jay Rosen’s tweet about allegations against one of my favorite journalists.

Over the last few years I’ve developed a great deal of respect for Glenn Greenwald’s reporting. While I can imagine detractors calling Greenwald many things, “puppet” just seems… ludicrous. If I had an important controversial news story to break — like the Robert Redford character in the movie “Three Days of the Condor” — Greenwald is the reporter I would seek out. Clearly Edward Snowden agrees, because Greenwald is the man he took his story to.

Even without knowing what allegations were being flung, I added my support of Glenn Greenwald to Jay’s tweet:

— Laurel L. Russwurm (@laurelrusswurm) July 11, 2013

My tweet drew a challenge from a total stranger … someone I do not follow, and who does not follow me.

This stranger, who posts on twitter under the pseudonym A.T., suggested Glenn Greenwald needs to “answer the charges of sock-puppetry that [A.T.] happen[s] to find more than just plausible.”

What an allegation! In web parlance, a “sock puppet” is a fake persona some people use to bolster their own spurious arguments. Accusing Greenwald of being a sock puppet is a bit much, because Greenwald is a real live human being, an internationally well known journalist with a longstanding career and reputation.

an emply sock puppet

The irony in this allegation is that the person spreading this attack on Greenwald is him/herself pseudonymous, and so could easily be a sock puppet. When total strangers insert themselves in your conversation, they may well be trolling, which is to say, spreading misinformation or otherwise seeking to antagonize.

Yet the only way to guarantee free speech is to support citizen anonymity. There are all sorts of good reasons to protect your identity when speaking out. But when speaking anonymously, you must establish credibility, or you may be taken for a sock puppet or a troll.

In order to decide how much credibility this stranger might merit, I looked at his/her twitter profile. On the face of it, it doesn’t read like a troll feed. Perhaps this person is new to the net, and doesn’t have the jargon down; they might still have something valid to impart.

So I asked,

— A.T. (@innerproduct) July 12, 2013

Forgetting for a moment that some of us don’t “google” (we search), the Internet is a very big place.

Web searching is a complicated process. Not all searches are equal. Not even close. Even if I were to use Google to enact a web search, depending on:

  • the search terms I choose,
  • my geographic location,
  • my IP address history
  • the time of day,
  • even the browser I use,

the search results will be different. Google’s justification for collecting and aggregating personal information about us all, whether or not we are signed in, is to tailor the search results to the individual making the search. Since I am more likely to use a privacy respecting search engine like DuckDuckGo, StartPage or IxQuick, the search results I receive will be different than the search results returned to someone who uses “google” as a verb.

When making any allegation or argument online, it is not only reasonable, but essential to be able to back it up with supporting links. If this person read a specific article, or a series of articles that called Glenn Greenwald’s professionalism into question, this is when they need to provide that and any other link supporting their argument.

Telling me to google it is akin to suggesting I sift the haystack for a needle. (And finding the needle would very probably be easier.)

When someone can’t be bothered to back up allegations, or abruptly backs down, it is generally reasonable to assume such allegations are at best misguided, or worse, spurious. Or even malicious.

I’m guessing these particular allegations were inspired by the Washington Post article referenced in this article The journalistic practices of the Washington Post and Walter Pincus.

While I think A.T., my Twitter correspondent here, was merely misguided, allegations like the ones made by the Washington Post against Glenn Greenwald are a symptom of a serious issue. The deeper problem is that mainstream news media has largely ceased funtioning as the ‘watchdog press.’

If a reporter gets something factually wrong, people clamor for correction; but when an unsavory report is undeniably true, ad hominem attacks are often applied — which is why this type of attack must always be taken with a grain of salt, and, if possible, challenged.

We are fortunate that the Internet has allowed for the rise of citizen journalism. When the voices of ordinary and even anonymous people are raised online, by tweeting, blogging or sharing, we can spread the news ourselves, and sometimes even shame the news industry covering an unpopular story. But when ordinary people engage in citizen journalism, it is important to do so in a credible and responsible manner.

Free speech is not the same thing as attacking someone’s real life reputation from behind a screen of anonymity. When people are personally attacked they deserve the right to face their accuser.

When a journalist exposes government malfeasance, the state often fights back, either by attacking the journalist directly, or indirectly, through its shills in a bid to deflect the unwanted scrutiny. Slinging mud at detractors in an attempt to discredit them is a shell game that erodes democracy. The Government of the United States prefers to have its citizens diverted into the consideration of the personalities of journalists or leakers in hopes that concerns about warrantless government surveillance will fade away.

Sadly, it seems today’s Washington Post is not the kind of news outlet that could bring down a corrupt presidency so long as its policy embraces government “pravda.” I wonder if any news outlet operating within the United States can stand against government pressure? Any news outlet that sells out press freedom isn’t really a news outlet at all.

I believe in the principle declared at Nuremberg in 1945: “Individuals have international duties which transcend the national obligations of obedience. Therefore individual citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring.”

Accordingly, I did what I believed right and began a campaign to correct this wrongdoing. I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell US secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice.

That moral decision to tell the public about spying that affects all of us has been costly, but it was the right thing to do and I have no regrets.

The Guardian: Edward Snowden statement: ‘It was the right thing to do and I have no regrets’

glossary via Wikipedia
sock puppet


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