Note From Glenn Greenwald: The following is the full show transcript, for subscribers only, of a recent episode of our System Update program, broadcast live on Monday, Febraury 27, 2023. Watch the full episode on Rumble or listen to the podcast on Spotify
We devote our program to one of the most scathing and insightful indictments of the modern-day corporate media, particularly their subservience to power centers and how they eagerly spread disinformation campaigns in service to that power. One of the most insightful critiques that has been published on this topic in years, our guest, Steve Krakauer, who is the author, has been around media for decades, and the book shows how much up close insight he has developed. He has worked inside a very diverse range of media outlets from CNN and The Blaze to Mediaite and NBC News, and he now works to produce one of the best shows in the most thriving sector of our media ecosystem, independent media, specifically, on “The Megyn Kelly Show.”
Before we show you that interview, I want to share some of my own reflections on this book and the reasons why I believe that what is often dismissively and snidely minimized as “mere media” criticism is in fact one of the most consequential and necessary forms of real reporting and journalism.
For now, welcome to a new episode of System Update starting right now.
Many corporate journalists are very fond of trying to draw a distinction between what they call real reporting, which is noble and elevated and honorable – even though for them it usually consists of little more than calling the CIA and the FBI and writing down what they tell you to say – as opposed to media criticism, which they regard as tawdry and trivial.
It is, of course, unsurprising that employees of corporate media outlets would seek to denigrate and minimize anything designed to put them and the many flaws of their work under a microscope. So, their antipathy to what they call media criticism or media critics – always said with a condescending sneer – can be reasonably dismissed as nothing more than self-interested whining. I actually regard the attempt to insist upon this distinction as quite revealing, one that provides insight into how these corporate outlets have come to see their role in the world.
There's no universal definition for what journalism is, or even what constitutes reporting – it can mean a lot of different things and a lot of different contexts but I think we can identify foundational values, and defining goals, that distinguish journalism from other activities. These are the goals and functions that render journalism, when it is done, well as genuinely necessary to a healthy and functioning democracy, the reason the American founders decreed it as a guaranteed right in the First Amendment, one that could not be infringed upon for any reason. They did that precisely, or presumably, because they believed that a free press was essential for maintaining the equilibrium with which they were obsessed with preserving, the system of checks and balances that will ensure that no one institution or individual can ever acquire the kind of unchecked power that allowed the British monarch to act with such arbitrary force and under such personal whim that they were willing to fight an extremely risky war against the then most powerful empire on Earth in order to liberate themselves from those abuses.
If journalism does nothing else, it must exist to impose checks and accountability on society's most powerful institutional actors. The unique attributes of journalism can impose on such institutions –transparency, investigative scrutiny, questioning, dissent – they are vital to ensuring that those actors remain limited, humble, and in check. I think very few people, even those who consider themselves journalists in the corporate world, would find those basic principles I just outlined objectionably. But what many of them overlook, or more accurately, what they choose to deny, is that near the top of the list of powerful institutional actors in need of journalistic scrutiny are the very gigantic media corporations that are their employers; highlighting the corruption and deceit of, say, Goldman Sachs and the CIA, is no more or less urgent than doing the same for NBC News and the New York Times.
All powerful institutional entities need investigative scrutiny, unflinching critiques, and pushback against their propaganda and deceit. And that most definitely includes, perhaps especially includes, the media conglomerates that control the nation's airways and printing presses and which report and disseminate the news and analysis of our politics to tens of millions of people. As a result, what they try to mock and minimize as mere media criticism – something in their eyes barely different than idle gossip – is to me not only real reporting but some of the most important and valuable real reporting that one can do. If one affirms that journalism exists to place the actions of powerful institutions under an investigative microscope, but then excludes gigantic media corporations from the list of institutions that receive that kind of attention, then what is permitting those corporations to become exactly the kind of unchecked, unlimited power centers that the founders most feared? Worse, it will ensure that these corporate giants have the power to propagandize the population without any real systemic pushback or investigation because those who perform those services have been successfully marginalized as lowly media critics rather than people who do real reporting.
And that is why I have always categorically rejected not just as artificial but dangerous, this self-serving attempt to differentiate critiques of media outlets from real journalism. Indeed, I have come to believe that debunking the propaganda and disinformation of the nation's most powerful media corporations is arguably the most valuable and necessary form of real reporting. It's what enables us to liberate ourselves from the kind of propagandistic prism. In which we would be permanently detained absent the ability to critique these institutions.
That's a lesson that I actually learned very early on in my decision to begin writing about politics in 2005. When I started doing that, I had not been trained as a journalist. I had no intention of paying much attention to media corporations, let alone spending much of my time critiquing what it was that they were doing. My range of interests and why I began to write about politics was far more limited. I was setting out to critique the civil liberties assaults being waged under the banner of the War on Terror, and I was approaching it mostly as a constitutional lawyer. I was offended by the kinds of programs that deny the due process by imprisoning people without trial or that spied and surveilled American citizens without the warrants required both by the Constitution and by law. Those were the values and the interest I was seeking to vindicate and to report on and shed light on and I was doing it from a very limited perspective, largely as a journalist turned writer, trying to convey complex constitutional principles to people who had not gone to law school.
But what I realized very early on was that it would be impossible for me to make any progress, to make any impact whatsoever if I was unwilling to confront the actual barrier to getting my fellow citizens to see things in the way I thought they should see them, which was the mountain, the avalanche of propaganda that was descending upon them on a daily basis from all directions, emanating from the country's most influential, wealthiest and most powerful media corporations. And I knew, for example, when, say, reporting on illegal domestic warrantless spying or on many of the pieces of the War on Terror, that if I were unwilling to debunk and dismantle and dissect the propagandistic framework being fed to people to induce them to accept these abuses as something noble or necessary to guarantee their security, I would have no way of making any headway of having my voice be heard beyond a very small and limited group of people already trained in constitutional law.
So, very early on in my journalism career, I began adopting as a primary focus, even though that was never my intention, the lies that were being issued on the topics I knew most by the most powerful newspapers, by the most influential media outlets, because that was a way of getting people to clear their mind of what was being purposely put into it – the clutter that was being inserted into it – to prevent them from thinking critically. And as I did that, I began to view that work, namely the work of dismantling propaganda issued by media corporations on behalf of power centers, not just as a form of media criticism, but as a form of reporting. After all, if the goal of reporting – which is what I believe – is to show one's fellow citizens who don't have the time to engage in politics full time, who have families to take care of and other work to do – to show them the information in the public interest they need to see. If that's the goal of reporting, then debunking media propaganda showing them that what the media is telling them and inducing them to believe, showing them that it's actually untrue and baseless, is a vital way of reporting on the world. It's crucial for showing them the truth of what is happening, of what our institutions are actually doing. And from that very first year of writing, I learned that this attempt to isolate media criticism from real reporting was nothing more than an effort on the part of those media corporations to malign and discredit people who decided that all-powerful actors and all-powerful institutions, including media corporations, deserved to be subjected to that level of scrutiny.
One of the things that Steve talks about in his book – and we talk about in this interview – is the cultural change that journalism has seen over the last several decades. If you go back to the 1920s, the 1930s, even into 19th-century journalism, what you will find is that journalism, which really wasn't much of a profession or a priesthood the way it is now, it was really an activity in which all citizens could engage – was really most commonly heralded in its muckraking form. These are people who really enjoyed more than anything, almost sadistically, taking down the elite institutions that like to drape themselves in all sorts of prestigious private praise and all kinds of awards. And then, when reporting became an actual way to earn a living, in the 1930s and forties and fifties, it was really a working-class kind of a job – It was people who formed guilds in order to provide themselves a livable wage and what it attracted, more than anything, was a personality type that I would describe as people who most enjoy throwing rocks from the outside of elite events rather than being invited into those elite events. What really changed – more than anything – the nature of journalism, in my view, was the corporatization of media. Media began to be more expensive, as you needed to own networks and studios and major printing presses, the kinds of things only large corporations could afford. The iconography of the outsider journalist with smudging ink on their fingers, working late hours for little pay, and the kind of slovenly dress got replaced by the mentality that corporations value most. The people who began to thrive within corporate journalism had the same kind of characteristics that cause people to thrive within any type of corporation – people who don't make waves, who are good at managerial tasks and doing what they're told – and it really began to incentivize the exact opposite kind of personality as what journalism used to encourage. As a result, the idea began that the way you thrive in journalism is not to strip our most powerful institutions of their mythology or expose their secrets but help elevate them and elevate respect for them and serve their interest rather than undermine them. And that, more than anything, became one of the most important cultural changes in how corporate journalism works. And that's why, for that reason, the people who continue to choose to remain on the outside, who still have that personality type, that would rather be the people throwing rocks at those powerful institutions rather than being bestowed with all sorts of awards within them, to me are the people who are often doing the most important work, and they may easily be dismissed by condescending employees of corporate media outlets who never break stories, whose only basis of self-esteem is the titles they get within these corporations. But nonetheless, you can call them the media critics if you want, who are performing the core function of journalism and showing that the emperor has no clothes. And most importantly of all, dissecting and shedding light on the lies that these institutions are disseminating and the reasons for it.
And for all of those reasons, we decided to devote our show tonight to this discussion we're about to show you with Steve Krakauer. He has just published one of the most incisive critiques of the modern-day corporate media entitled “Un/cover/ed” – How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned its Principles and Lost the People. As I said, he's very well positioned to express this critique, given how many functions he has served within the media. He now authored the Fourth Watch Media newsletter. He hosts the Fourth Watch podcast, and he's the executive producer of “The Megyn Kelly Show”, one of the most successful ones in my views, one of the best forms of independent journalism. So, I really enjoyed talking to Steve. I enjoyed this book in ways that I didn't expect. It provided me with a lot of insights that I kind of had lurking in my brain, but never really quite articulated in the way the book enabled me to do – something that a book, a really good book, does best. And I am confident that you will enjoy listening to this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
The Interview: Steve Krakauer
G. Greenwald: So, Steve, first of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. Congratulations on the release of the book. I know that's always a happy time in life when you finally get a book out to the public. So, I'm glad you're able to talk with us about it.
S. Krakauer: Glenn, thanks so much. Really, I've been such a fan of you and your work and it's great to be on.
G. Greenwald: Absolutely. So, let's talk first about the title of the book. Even though my mother taught me not to judge a book by its cover – I'm also going to judge the book by what's inside of it as well, I promise - but the title of the book is “Uncovered - How the Media Got Cozy with Power, Abandoned Its Principles and Lost the People”. And this phrase, “how the media got cozy with power,” I remember back when I first started writing about politics in 2005, 2006, that was a time when, at least as I perceived it, the media was very cozy with, say, the intelligence community that was supporting the War on Terror. I think some people have forgotten the critical role The New York Times played in helping the Bush administration sell the war in Iraq, based on a lot of the falsehoods emanating from the government. My critique back then was that the press was far too cozy with power, especially the Security State. Do you think that that has gotten a lot worse in the past few years? And if so, how and why?
S. Krakauer: I do. I think that there were absolutely valid critiques of the media back then for decades. I mean, I describe the SLA media that's based in New York and D.C. and, by extension of just the pure geographic nature of the media, so much of that we see is this coziness between the people and elite positions on the government side, on business and the people in the media. The people that are supposed to cover them and be a check on power in support of the people, instead, they become part of the powerful, even the ones that are, you know – it's not clear exactly the connection. They might just be on the sidelines of their kid's soccer game and then they connected in some way.
So, I absolutely think it's been a problem for decades. But I do think it's also gotten worse, partially because of the incentive structure that we've seen change and shift over time. On one end, there are the business models – completely broken now. And so, at once it was really good for business, to go after people in power in some ways. And so, yes, it was a mix, but you certainly get some good journalism out of it because those are the things that actually performed well. And then you have social media, Twitter, which really has a chilling effect in a lot of ways on younger journalists who won't go after stories that they think they might get backlash for on social media and might actually hurt them, stories that might make them less popular with people. That's the role of journalists. Journalists should be unpopular with people in power. Instead, we see people just sort of craving that attention, craving that popularity and influencer status, building their brand. It's all been detrimental and it only adds to the coziness that we see.
G. Greenwald: I've been dealing a lot over the past couple of weeks with Sy Hersh, in part because of the story he published on Substack, claiming it was the United States that blew up Nord Stream 2. Regardless of what one thinks of that story or some of his other stories, it reminded me, as I was dealing with him in terms of how just generally cantankerous he is, how he's not particularly, you know, oozing charm, and doesn't really care to. That kind of old-school journalist – of which he is very much a vintage expression – was the kind of person who generally liked to find themselves on the outside of authority and society. They preferred to throw rocks out at elite events rather than be allowed into them. They really didn't care at all whether they were being applauded by elites. It was kind of a working-class profession. Clearly, all of those things have changed in so many ways. What do you think are the primary reasons why it has?
S. Krakauer: Yeah, I think that journalists, you know, a positive phrase is they should be curious. I look at the total lack of interest in that Sy Hersh piece from the larger corporate press – total disinterest in pursuing that story, which is a fascinating story. I mean, maybe let's dig into it, let's look into it. No. Total lack of interest. But I think, you know, journalists should be nosy. They should be disliked. They should be annoying to people in power. And that's also something that has gone away. And there are a few reasons for it. I mean, I think that some of it is just general laziness and incompetence. I mean, how interesting is it that the most complicated stories, the stories that take a lot of work, are the ones that rarely get attention from the corporate press, the press that has resources and various people to dig into stories? No, we don't really get much coverage of those. But the stories that are easy, the ones that are quick turn, those are the things that get constant attention nonstop and across the board. I mean, some of this is political. Some of this happened and really became worse during the Trump years because all of a sudden it's good for business when you spend your time, spending every waking moment, 24 X 7, talking about Donald Trump, as if it's this big, giant existential threat, ignoring any other story. And then, in some ways also, we saw it, I think in many instances with COVID, where it's just a total like anti-speech activism I describe in the press, where it went from not only a disinterest in stories to this idea of working in tandem with the censors to make it so that the public won't even have access to information or to other points of view because there's a general distrust in the public. By being so disconnected from the public, the press has made themselves no longer connected, no longer even trusting that the public can get the information that it needs.
G. Greenwald: You know, I think one of the strengths of your book is that you're not just this kind of harsh media critic, which you are, but a lot of times harsh media critics are people who have never actually worked inside of journalistic institutions and, I think, therefore, lack a certain perspective that might be helpful to inform their critiques and make them a little more nuanced. You actually have spent a great deal of time working within some of these more established media outlets and, as a result, you have sources, people who are willing to speak with you for this book, both on and off the record, and you share some interviews and some anecdotes that parallel mine as well, where you talk to journalists inside these major news outlets who often said to you, ‘look, there's a lot of things that I think are said that are critical of the prevailing narratives that our media outlets that I agree with.And yet I don't really have much of a willingness to be among the people speaking out and saying those things.” And there are a lot of different reasons why. And whenever it comes to kind of younger or even middle-aged but less established journalists, I've tried to give them the benefit of the doubt by saying, it's a shrinking industry, there are constant layoffs, and if one day you stick your head up on Twitter and say something off key and you become the person of the day who editors and journalists call, you know, all the names that you get called if you do that, your resumé is the easiest one to most quickly be thrown away the next time there's an opening. And that's part of the reasons why younger journalists are petrified of speaking out. Do you think that those economic reasons are the primary ones why it's become so conformist?
S. Krakauer: I think that is a huge reason for sure. I think that the business is truly in flux and in a lot of ways that's positive for both the public and the individuals who are willing to put themselves out there, to just trust the public enough to put information out there. Independent sources like your show are on the rise for a good reason, because the corporate press has so much disdain for the general public that there is this real opening. At the same time, as you say, I was in these newsrooms. An impetus for this book was that in 2018, after seeing just how totally just off the reservation the larger establishment press went after Trump won one election – shocked them in November 2016 and then what we saw in 2017 with the coverage. I kind of laid out an idea of sort of a three-page pitch to them about, you know, here's how you can kind of reconnect, maybe fix some of the blind spots. And I called it all my favors. I talked to executives at CNN and CBS, ABC, across the board, tried to sell them on this idea and, generally, there was a lack of real introspection or interest in this. And it's too bad.
But I think this ultimately became what the book was, which is here are all the ways that this went off the rails over the last few years. And at least if we could just lay all the cards on the table, face up. Anyone who's reading it, anyone in the public can be on the same page. And then we don't need the gatekeepers anymore. We don't need the corporate press and we don't need the people who I think really are showing a bit of cowardice, whether it's the younger generation, whether it's their editors who just give in to the mob, that we don't need them to necessarily change their ways to get the information that we need.
G. Greenwald: Yeah, absolutely. I think the big cause for optimism is the success of independent media of what you're now a part of as well, working with “The Megyn Kelly Show,” and doing other projects. And I want to talk about a lot of those Trump era examples that you raised, because I also think that another major factor is for sure the arrival of Donald Trump and the way in which that transformed a lot of things, but probably, above everything else, media behavior and what they thought of their actual mission. But before I get to that, you know, I think part of the change we just touched on, is the economic motive. There's also clearly a cultural change, I think, where journalists often used to take pride in the fact that stories they filed or analyses that they offered provoked a kind of anger and disturbed people. It resulted in controversy. I told this story before, but I had dinner, I think maybe three or four years ago in New York with two very well-known and established journalists who are very secure in their careers because of their reputations, because of how well-known they are, because of their past accomplishments. They're not the kind of young journalists I was just referring to who are petrified that their resumés are going to be thrown away. And I remember having this to our conversation with them that contained really interesting and nuanced discussions about a wide range of controversial issues. They are both parents of teenagers, they were talking a lot about concerns about how gender ideology is infiltrating schools and clearly converting some kids who aren't really suffering from gender dysphoria but who feel a certain kind of pressure. It was a very interesting kind of conversation, an adult nuanced conversation that I really enjoyed, and yet the minute I left, and I was riding back to my hotel room in the taxi, I realized that under no circumstances would either of them even think about breathing a word of any of what they had just said to me, notwithstanding that they don't have that excuse – I might be fired and I won't get another job given, as I just said, all of this security they enjoy.
What happened in the cultural milieu of journalism that has turned them all into such cowards and conformists? Not all of them, but the vast majority in the corporate media.
S. Krakauer: Yeah, it does seem like across the board but there are some exceptions. You know, as you mentioned, I talk on the record with over 25 people in the book, all throughout the industry, some at Fox News, but some at The New York Times and The Washington Post, and trying to get at this question.
And, you know, I look at The New York Times as a good standard of how this decline has really materialized because I spent a great deal of time about The New York Times’s Tom Cotton op-ed fiasco that we saw in 2020, which I think was just such an important moment. And yes, people who may know a little bit about it privately and then it spilled out publicly. But to really dig in and look at the circumstances and look at the implications of what we saw there, we saw the publication of an op-ed by a senator during the height of the protests and riots after George Floyd by Tom Cotton. And it was such a backlash.
G. Greenwald: Just to remind people what he was advocating – it was something with which I disagreed – but he was advocating essentially for the deployment of military reserves and the military to keep order in the streets. Not exactly an unprecedented proposal or something that George Bush 41 had done during the Rodney King riots and many other times. And it wasn't that these reporters were saying they disagreed with the story. They were saying they were so offended that the newspaper wouldn't even air the opinion that they demanded and then ultimately won the resignation of a very senior editor at The New York Times.
S. Krakauer: Exactly. And the way that they went about that, after having all this internal drama and crying on Zoom meetings, which I described in the book on the record, that if spelled out publicly in a very specific way, they said that publishing this column put the lives of our colleagues in danger. And that implies that it was actually dangerous to publish this op-ed is what was able to get the bosses to give in to this mob that was created, not just from the external activists, but from internally. So that was point one that was really alarming. But the second element here is that it was journalists. It was not even activists – it was not opinion columnists. It was the actual staff of the news side of the newspaper that put this out there and you start to learn that journalists these days, for whatever reason, whether they believed it or whether they just went along with it, they were able to use this scare tactic in order to get this changing dynamic culturally. And I do think what's interesting is more recently with what we've seen with the kind of trans coverage of The New York Times and the pushback that they got. The New York Times actually went a different route and has stood firm so far, pushing back against their own internal staff and the activists who are coming after them for daring to publish stories objectively looking at this issue from a variety of perspectives.
G. Greenwald: You know, I pay a lot of attention to the times when journalists do things that aren't just wrong, but that seems to me to be such a fundamental violation of what the journalistic mission is supposed to be, what the defining values of journalism have always been. When I see, for example, journalists being the leading agitators for censorship, when journalists have long been expected to defend free inquiry to be, it's like seeing a cardiologist encouraging everybody to smoke six packs of cigarettes a day. They just do not combine. There's an anecdote in your book I want to ask you about, in part because I admit to finding it entertaining – but also revealing – which is that Charlie Wetzel, who was this sort of star columnist of The New York Times, was the test case. He left The New York Times for Substack and that was going to prove that there was this young generation of journalists that the world really did crave their work and loved them. And he was going to be a shooting star at Substack. It turns out nobody cared about him once he left the paper, and I think after nine months, ran back to the arms of the Atlantic. But you talk about the reaction that he had when, during this whole Tom Cotton episode, which I found really interesting and revealing. Why don't you tell that anecdote and tell us why you thought it was worth including?
S. Krakauer: Yeah, absolutely. And this was a story that was relayed by Shawn McCreesh, who at the time was an opinion writer staffer and is now at the New York Magazine. And he went on the record with this, which, again, I mean, I give him credit for revealing this. But he describes a meeting with hundreds of people – and, again, if you remember this, at the height of the pandemic, everyone's at home, everyone's spending too much time on Twitter and getting emotional over watching cable news or whatever they're doing when it comes to these protests – and he describes Charlie as saying that, essentially crying during this meeting, saying that his friends wouldn't talk to him because he worked for The New York Times. And that was one of the impetus for why he was fighting against the publication of this column by the United States senator. You know, it's sort of silly and it's kind of funny, but it's also just really disturbing. And again, it's those kinds of anecdotes, I believe, that were able to move The Times in this very real way, which, as you say, you would think I get why maybe activists in a height of this were where you know would push back against The New York Times ...
G. Greenwald: That's their job, right? That’s their job to influence papers to produce new journalism more favorable to their agenda.
S. Krakauer: But the one occupation that should be the most for free expression and the free exchange of ideas is journalists. And potentially the paper of record should be the one that employs the ones that do it the strongest and most ardently. And that is completely the opposite. That was a real eye-opener for me. And I do think it was a very clear case of the perilous times to come when it comes to the support of censorship that we've seen in the intervening years, particularly after Trump left.
G. Greenwald: Yeah, you know, again, I think it's very cultural. I was sort of steeped in the journalistic iconography of the 1970s, which in some ways was the peak for journalistic accomplishments. That was the era of Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate investigations, and the uncovering of a lot of the dirty deeds of the CIA as part of the Church Committee. So, journalism inspired me as a kid because it was, you know, a profession where people were expected to go risk their lives covering wars or you would expect to go to prison and instead of revealing your source a court told you to or do your reporting, that angered power centers to the point where they wanted to prosecute you. And now we have journalists crying in staff meetings because their Brooklyn liberal friends are angry about that with them and won't talk to them, not because of anything they wrote, but because of an opinion piece that their newspaper wrote. And I think we see this kind of degeneracy in terms of just the character of the people who are supposed to be journalists and what they're willing or not willing to endure.
S. Krakauer: Yeah. And I do think –and I know you've written about this quite a bit – and in chapter one, I start to say, well, how did we get to this particular point? And I do think it was in how the press really was just subservient to the Obama administration, despite the fact that in many real ways, the Obama administration was an enemy to the press. […] talked about the Trump administration, enemy of the people, all that while, you know, we criminalized the act of journalism through using the Espionage Act, more times than every other administration combined, to prosecute and to criminalize journalists and journalism sources. James Risen, who was a victim of this, wrote in the New York Times, as soon as Donald Trump was elected, that if Donald Trump targets journalists, blame Obama. And I would also blame the journalists themselves who didn't push back against the Obama administration's overreach on journalism, instead continuing to deify him in every possible way. That's what you get. And then all of a sudden, this is what happens when the pushback on what was supposed to be the kind of criminalization of journalism that journalists should be outraged about, doesn't happen.
G. Greenwald: Yeah. From personal experience, I mean, that was when I was doing the Snowden reporting and the government forced me to stay in Brazil for a year against my will. My journalistic colleague, Laura Poitras, was forced to stay in Germany. It was not Donald Trump threatening us with arrests because of the reporting that we were doing, it was the Obama administration. I remember at the time there were plenty of journalists not only not defending us but justifying that on the grounds that the reporting we were doing was criminal. I was notoriously asked by David Gregory on “Meet the Press”, whether I should be in prison because of the reporting. So I think you're right, you could really see the change then, as they undertook this very subservient posture with the Obama administration.
S. Krakauer: But if you happened to do the Snowden reporting a few years later when Donald Trump was in office – I wonder how they would have treated you. And I wonder how that story would have played out if it was just simply under a different administration.
G. Greenwald: Yeah, You know, one of the problems for sure is that whether the reporting you're doing is considered favorable by the government often determines your rights. I was doing it in Brazil, and the Brazilian government’s daily reporting is very favorable. Why? Because we were informing Brazilian authorities about the ways in which the NSA was spying on all their key civic institutions and the populations. So, it's very popular in Brazil. It was not in the United States. And so, I was protected by the Brazilian government and threatened with prison by the Obama administration.
Well, let's move on to the Trump era and some of the specific examples you focus on most. I was thrilled that you basically began the book with a focus on the Hunter Biden story because I think sometimes even long-term readers of mine, people who are part of my work, think: “Is he ever going to stop talking about the Hunter Biden story? And he loves to talk about the Hunter Biden story. I can barely do a show without talking about it. I personally think it's for a good reason. I think it illustrates a lot. You obviously seem to agree, given the play that you gave to it in your book, why do you think it merits so much attention?
S. Krakauer: Yeah. In fact, I did an interview last week with Brian Stelter and he asked me, what's the thing we got the most wrong during my time at CNN? And I said it was the Hunter Biden laptop story 100%.
It was a really disturbing story because of the – I think [some of the stories I write] about in the book are laziness, incompetence from the press, you know, stupid mistakes. This one was not. This was a real determined effort – and we've seen through the Twitter Files that have come out since – but we really knew it at the time. I think any discerning consumer of the news would understand what was going on, even in the moment that the tech platforms were in collusion with agencies, at least in talking to you for four months before that with the FBI and the media, instead of being a check on that powerful collusion that was happening, we're instead a part of it. We're part of the entire elite censorship collusion because they not only were not outraged by it, but they also only gave attention to all the earmarks of Russian disinformation letter coffers of the world. And they were not at all anywhere close to the way that they should have been outraged by their colleagues at the New York Post, getting completely censored in a truly unprecedented way. The link to the New York Post was not available to be spread. And I laid this out point by point. You know, I mean, it's almost amazing to go back and look. Maggie Haberman shares a link to The New York Post and is trending as MAGA Haberman because her colleagues were mad that she happened to link to it, just noting that that story existed. Jake Sherman, now of Punchbowl, then at Politico, was suspended from using his account on Twitter. He linked to the story. He quickly deleted it and apologized for daring to link to this horrible text. It was so embarrassing that the media, instead of fighting for their colleagues, joined in on the censorship. We know what happened in October 2020, but it continued for years and years and obviously has since been banned. Oh, no, now The New York Times and CNN are confirming that this laptop is real. Yeah, we knew it all along. The public should have lost the distrust that they may have had in the press to give it to you straight. They can't even be curious about it and they can't even be honest about why they're not being curious about it.
G. Greenwald: But this is the thing that I have to admit does somewhat mystify me, which is as people like Brian Stelter tell it, and I heard those parts of the interview, you know, then they were like, oh, look, we were in the dark. It was hard to know what was going on. You know, they have all these excuses for why they were unclear. They pretend they really didn't spread this lie, that it was Russian disinformation – even though you can spend all day showing people one video clip after the next, where they brought on people, including their own employees like James Clapper, to say exactly that. But even if you want to give credit to that version of events, ‘there's no way we could have known’ – even though a lot of us did know to the point where we were willing to stake our careers on it by putting our names on those stories because the authenticity was so obvious – at least now, as you say, even the institutions that they say are the ones you should trust most – The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN – have all come out and said these documents were never Russian disinformation. We've authenticated the documents independently. A political reporter did the same as well. And the story of how that laptop got into the hands of the FBI and Rudy Giuliani was also accurate: that Hunter Biden left it at that repair shop and it was abandoned. This means that whatever their intentions were before the election, the story they all spread day after day after day was wrong. And it's been the most basic rule of journalism forever, that when you get a story wrong – like The New York Times did after the Iraq war, and they went back and signed a long editor's note trying to account for how they got it wrong and why and what they need to do better – there's not been one single journalist or one single outlet, not one that has spread that story that is in any way even purported to grapple with the lies and falsehoods they spread before the election. And there seems to be very little demand on them for you to do so. That seems like a major change to me in how journalism functions. What do you think explains that?
S. Krakauer: Yeah, so I think there are two things about that. First of all, I will say one of the people I spoke to for the book was Olivia Nuzzi, of New York Magazine, and she was a co-author of the cover story about Hunter Biden’s laptop, for New York Magazine a few months ago, which I thought was very good and actually called into account some of the real problems with the way that it was covered originally. Of course, her story barely got attention. I wrote about it for my newsletter, but very, very few in the press gave it much attention because I really think it's the second reason, which is that they didn't just get the story. They essentially got the story wrong on purpose They treated it as this toxic, contaminated piece of information that we can't even acknowledge exists. I mean, all this so often with Colbert. It's why I think just like the Hunter Biden laptop story, we're not getting the introspection with COVID either, because they realize that correcting the record now proves why you got it wrong in the first place, which is that either consciously or subconsciously, you intentionally didn't even cover the story. You weren't even curious enough. You wouldn't even give the oxygen of at least hearing other perspectives and allowing other information out there. We just shut it all down because of a fundamental distrust of the public. And that's too embarrassing to really start to go and put into account.
G. Greenwald: So, we talked about it right at the start because of the book title that describes pathologies in the media that we both agree actually predated Trump but seems to have gotten much worse once he ascended to the presidency. And I think that's true across-the-board. Whatever media pathologies were already in existence went to an entirely different universe because of this overriding, not just even contempt they had for Donald Trump, but this belief that he was such a singularly threatening figure that they could, almost like abiding by journalistic ethics, became a luxury they couldn't afford. Here's somebody who has kind of had one foot in the kind of more corporate mainstream media, but also a foot in conservative media working with Fox and Megan and other people like her. Why is it that the media came to see Trump in those terms as so radically different than, say, more conventional politicians like John McCain and Mitt Romney and even George Bush and Dick Cheney?
S. Krakauer: Yeah, for sure. It was very clearly different. I lay out in the book three specific reasons why. First of all, there's the business side of it. He was so good for business, and we saw that very early on in the way CNN and even MSNBC covered him in a very nice way, essentially. I mean, they just played all his rallies without any movement. So that was the way it started. It was a good business decision. But it was also personal. I mean, I write about all of the media executives and media personalities who were at Donald Trump's wedding only in 2005. Jeff Zucker, Katie Couric, Gayle King. You go right down the line. And so, they were kind of part of that and he became this turncoat to the elite power structure that he started in the media space in New York. So that was two. And then the third one, as you mentioned, I do think that there were elements of the media that truly believed they were doing Watergate every single day in this existential fight, and they were saving democracy. But I would argue that instead of what they should have done, which is even if they believe that, which I completely think is ridiculous, but if you believe that, that's when you double down on your standard, that's when you have your journalistic principles. And you have to even do that more stronger because you have to convince the public to trust you on it. Instead, they went in the opposite direction. The guardrails were completely off and just the trust of the public completely declined as well.
G. Greenwald: But I want to probe a little bit of that more because I can understand why the media kind of like people like John McCain and Mitt Romney, who are these kinds of moderates. You know, John McCain carefully cultivated this maverick image his whole life reaching out across the aisle. Mitt Romney was this sort of a standard old-school Republican, just kind of a business guy. George Bush and Dick Cheney at the time they were elected were considered radicals by the media, especially after 9/11. And I think for good reason. It was part of what was my impetus for getting involved in journalism. They were doing things like instituting a worldwide torture regime and then invading Iraq based on false pretenses and creating CIA black sites and the Patriot Act and warrantless spying on American citizens. I would argue that, from a liberal perspective, Donald Trump, the first president in decades not to involve the U.S. in a new war, was nowhere near that same universe of moral evil from a liberal perspective as George Bush and Dick Cheney. And yet they look at Bush and Cheney as these very kind and decent human beings. Maybe a little bit of that is just the passage of time. People seem less horrible as time goes by. But I think there's a lot more going on there. What do you think accounts for that?
S. Krakauer: I agree. I think that there is a general sameness in thought when it comes from the left or the right of the people that spend their time in cable news, green rooms and in the newsrooms of all these organizations. And so, yeah, you know, Dick Cheney, George Bush, and, you know, it's all sort of the same in a lot of ways. I mean, there was not a lot of outrage over the Patriot Act for a very long time – even from places like on the left, but most of the people on the left. And I write about this in chapter eight, in terms of Bernie Sanders, because I do think that in 2016, it's been widely reported Bernie Sanders was sort of screwed by the DNC and in cooperation with Hillary Clinton’s political job there. In 2020, when really it seemed that Bernie Sanders was going to coast to the nomination after Nevada, I remember just a political galvanization of all the candidates going behind Joe Biden in an effort to stop it, to stop Bernie Sanders before Super Tuesday. It was the media themselves. It was people like Joy Reid on MSNBC, even CNN to a lesser extent, that really just started to push against Bernie Sanders and his supporters in a very overt way. Why were they doing that? The same reason that they didn't like Trump. It was a disruption to the establishment and a disruption to the general sameness that they were used to for so long and they weren't going to have it. And on the Bernie Sanders side, whether it was from MSNBC or from the DNC, they were successful in doing that two times in a row. Trump was able to do it outside of the norms, even though he was not a fan or even not the candidate from the right either.
G. Greenwald: So, I just have a couple of questions left, and one of them is actually one that you just kind of answered in a way but I think, for me at least, it's such an important question that I want to kind of ask it from a different direction and probe a little bit more. You know, for years I remember well before I was a journalist, it was kind of just gospel on the right that the United States media is liberal. The liberal media, Rush Limbaugh would rail against them every day, right? They were Democrats. They were on the side of the left. And it was never something that I believed. You know, I think on cultural issues, you can probably make a much better case. These are people who go to the same schools where left-liberal cultural ideology comes from. They live in blue cities. It makes a little more sense there from an economic perspective, a military perspective. They were never on board with antiwar protesters or the economic policy of Bernie Sanders. As you just said. They were very hostile to Bernie Sanders, who was clearly to the left of Hillary Clinton. And as I said when I was writing about politics, my argument was they were very subservient to the Bush-Cheney administration, serving their agenda in so many ways, and that the ideology isn't so much that they're left-wing. It's that they're just kind of pro-establishment. They're interested in protecting whoever is a status quo candidate, which is why they're comfortable with, say, a Mitt Romney and a John McCain in a way they're not comfortable with a Donald Trump.
How do you see or how would you define the core bias of the corporate media now in the post-Trump era?
S. Krakauer: I completely agree. I think that you can make the argument that for decades the bridge to someone who leans left, probably when they vote, they probably vote for Democrats much more often than Republicans. We see that in poll after poll. That changed. But something also fundamental has changed. Now it's even more overt. I see this in the way that objectivity has become this dirty word – I write about it a little bit in the book.
There is no longer a sense that journalists should be even striving for fairness, you know, fairness to all sides or both sides. No, it's much more overt. I actually think it's a nonideological disdain for the average American. I think from the American media perspective, there is a real distrust in the people that you don't know. And I think it goes both ways. I think the average American has a real disdain for the elites on both sides of the aisle. We saw it with Donald Trump and we saw it with Bernie Sanders. And so I think, if anything, the sort of policy perspective of our current elites, the people who are in government, the people who are running our corporate media, is one of general distrust and disdain of the people that they're supposed to be the conduit for. Instead, they kind of dislike and feel like one thing might happen and they're all going to mess up what we have going on here. I think COVID has made this entirely worse, and that's a real problem because the public can feel that they get that sense. Every poll shows the lowest trust in the public of the media every year at the lower and lower.
G. Greenwald: Yeah. This is a great place to end because this is the thing I worry about a lot, in general, is, you know, if you look at history, when the breach gets way too large between the elite sectors of the country and kind of the ordinary citizens, lots of instability or even worse can happen. That's clear here in the United States now, they don't just hate the media, they hate the media more than other elite inside institutions. They hate most establishment institutions, which is why they were driven into the arms of whatever politicians Obama or Trump promised to burn the system down.
But I want to talk a little bit about why there's been this breach with the media, why they're so insular. I remember the interview at The Intercept. There was all this talk constantly about diversifying the newsroom. And, you know, you would look around over the years and it would seem like, on the surface, in the most superficial ways possible, that this diversification process was actually underway. And yet, I'm not exaggerating, Steve, some of the wealthiest people I've ever met in my life, meeting people who come from the wealthiest enclaves in the United States and were raised by the world's richest families, were people I met at The Intercept, reporters, editors, you know, just so whatever diversification of the newsroom meant, it definitely didn't mean class or education. They all went to the same schools and the like.
How much of that in the culture of journalism – which really used to be a working-class profession, people unionized, they made very little money – what is the role of all of that and how much do you think is responsible for these changes?
S. Krakauer: Yeah, it's gone in the opposite direction, right? And I do think that's one of the reasons that I wrote the book. I would love it if the corporate press got better and started to learn some of these lessons and had some ability. But I don't believe that's going to happen. Instead, lay it all on the table and actually band together because we don't need them. We need the independent press. But no, I think that one of the things I would argue is to actually get the press in a better position is to find people who don't want to be journalists, to almost drag them kicking and screaming into the profession. Because if you're looking for people who actually want to be the journalists of today, there are people that see themselves building a brand, accruing followings on social media, using it as a stepping stone to accrue more power and to have a voice in a larger way. In the olden days, I mean, a couple of decades ago, the best journalists were respected by the people, but not really known. You know, that was the way that journalism works. Yeah.
G. Greenwald: David Halberstam, who won a Pulitzer for covering the Vietnam War for The New York Times, used to say, “if you're famous, it's likely that you're not a very good journalist”..
S. Krakauer: Right. Right. But that's clearly not the case. You can be a lower-level staffer at a big publication like The Washington Post or The New York Times and have 200,000 followers and think that you're famous – and in some ways you are – but being a famous low level journalist is really just a recipe for disaster if the media wants to get in a better place. Yes, I think ideologically there could be more diversity, cultural diversity, but also try to find some people who are not swayed by the current trappings of what journalists can be, find people who actually want to talk to people, tell people a story, and not worry about what's happening on Twitter every time, every day.
G. Greenwald: But for your next book, I give you permission to call that the Taylor Lorenz syndrome. I think you could use that as good shorthand.
Actually, I do have one last quick question for you. Yeah, it's about a part of your book I wanted to ask you about and it relates to a story that came out obviously after the publication of your book. So, you didn't talk about it. There's this controversy about the lawsuit brought by Dominion voting machines against Fox News, claiming that they were intentionally defamed through accusations that they were involved in voting fraud. And one of the arguments you make in your book that actually I thought was pretty novel, and I hadn't really thought about it this way before, though I think it makes a ton of sense, is that one of the things that our polarized environment has done is that it makes it so that if one side wildly exaggerates a certain story, the other side refuses to acknowledge any validity to it whatsoever. I think the Hunter Biden story is a good example of the role the FBI and the CIA play in influencing Big Tech, that's another. It has to be either or all. I think the coverage of this Dominion lawsuit has been terrible. They were eager to try and pretend that Tucker, who always is their number one target, was on the air constantly promoting theories of electoral fraud while in secret he was saying he knew it was untrue and in reality, he never did. In fact, he kind of bravely went on air and attacked Sidney Powell for refusing to show her evidence.
Nonetheless, I'm curious what you make of this particular story and what we do know about it and whether it reflects any of these kinds of pathologies that are going on, not in the primetime shows of Fox, but in other sectors of Fox.
S. Krakauer: Yeah, I think it's a fascinating story. I think any time you start to read the text messages of really famous people, it becomes a juicy media story. I'm all for transparency, I think that there's validity to that. I think what's interesting is you look at the original Dominion filing - I think it was 400 or so pages, 200 pages or so - it was all tweets and Instagram posts and Facebook posts. And notably, he's the only person from Fox who essentially filed exactly this lawsuit with others. He was the star of the original filing, but he's not the star of the media coverage of these text messages that are coming out now. Instead, as you say, Tucker was someone who did not put this stuff on the air, and instead called out Sidney Powell on November 19, early on.
So, at the same time, we also learned what was happening inside the heads of people like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, and some of these others. And it is interesting, you know, I think it's valid to say that perhaps there was a bias of omission, which is something I write about in the book, of not going full on and explaining ‘well, this is what we actually believe about what's happening here.’ At the same time, you also see the business decisions that get me here because Donald Trump had his grip on his supporters at that moment. And you have to tread carefully. These are your voters. In fact, in the text messages, they really, Tucker and others show care for their own viewers saying they're being spun this. We need to find a way of getting through to them, but not do so in a way that's going to alienate them. I think that's a very real thing.
And the other thing I would just say, is I think I would be very curious to see the 2016 text messages of people like Rachel Maddow and others at MSNBC because I don't think they didn't believe what was being spun about Russiagate. I think that they actually bought fully into the 2016 election story. And I don't know what's worse, but I do think it's interesting to look at the stories totally.
G. Greenwald: I think one of the hardest things to do in journalism is having to challenge your own audience when your journalistic revelations are your own sense of what's right and wrong compels you to do so. And I think there's a lot of fear in doing that. But ultimately, that's what builds trust, in my view, more than anything, is the more you're willing to show your audience that you're not pandering to them, you're not condescending to them, you're willing to tell them things you know they don't agree with or want to hear, but demand kind of a fair hearing for them to give it to you. That's what I think develops trust, the rapport between journalists and their audience. It can really rebuild trust.
S. Krakauer: They'll respect that. Yeah, yeah.
G. Greenwald: Yeah. Well, Steve, congratulations on the book. We will give everybody not just the information on where to get it, but also encourage them to do so. I think the issues you're writing about in this book are among the most important we face. We cannot have a healthy democracy when we have a rotted and corrupt press corps, which we absolutely do. And I think your book does one of the best jobs yet in laying out why that is and also how it's come to happen. So, I hope everyone will read your book.
S. Krakauer: Hey, Glenn, thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it.
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