The Price of Truth with Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is an award-winning journalist, author and constitutional lawyer. His reporting on the global surveillance programs won a Pulitzer Prize for The Guardian. He hosts the daily show System Update on Rumble.

The truth can be an elusive thing. From early on, we learn that it’s easier to get things wrong than to get them right. When we understand something, we tend to generalize it too broadly, and get confronted with its limitations. Read the rest of this article on my Substack

CHAPTERS

00:00:00 In this episode…

00:00:20 Intro

00:02:57 Chapter 1: The political spectrum

00:07:24 Chapter 2: Journalism and knowledge of the law

00:13:23 Chapter 3: Snowden’s legacy

00:22:38 Chapter 4: Fear and civil liberties

00:58:15 Chapter 5: Political hypocrisies

01:25:41 Chapter 6: The cost of truth

 

View Full Transcript

The Price of Truth with Glenn Greenwald

 

In this episode

Because the more power is centralized in Big Tech, the more the U.S. security state can have a place where they can collect information in a very easy and centralized way. At the same time, these companies have a consumer incentive to prove to their customers that they are actually providing privacy, but also they get a ton of money from the government cannot alienate the U.S. government either.

 

Intro

Hey everyone, and welcome to this episode of the Fred Pinto Podcast. Why does truth seem so slippery today? From online censorship to cancel campaigns to government agencies actively hiding some of their more controversial actions, it seems that people in power wanting to suppress the truth is a natural part of the human condition. But there’s more than that. There’s also separating the signal from the noise. We’re bombarded by a ridiculous amount of information every day, much of it weaponized or tainted by negative emotions. And our brains are simply not designed to thrive under these conditions. This state of things is why I reached out to legendary, award winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, through a common friend of ours, for this interview. My interest was less about his particular opinions about the topics of the day, but rather about his general approach to reporting truth seeking, and the puzzling reasons why we need to constantly fight to maintain our civil rights in the 21st century. Glenn is, of course, the legendary journalist who broke the Ed Snowden NSA story, which won The Guardian a Pulitzer Prize. And as a result of his confrontational and uncompromising approach to reporting, Glenn has been targeted by governments, big tech and others in positions of power. But he’s emerged largely unscathed. Still speaking, his mind still rattling the cage. He’s equally critical of hypocrisies on the right and the left, and so he’s made enemies on both sides. This is a true sign of speaking truth to power, and not just to the people you happen to disagree with politically. His decades of reporting of the left him with some really deep insights on the nature of government coercion, whether privacy really exists, and the constant challenges to free thought and free speech. Today, as a fellow lawyer, I found his clarity and depth of analysis really impressive. You can disagree with him on any number of issues, but at least he makes the reasons why he hold particular views really clear and consistent. Truth to me is a measure of transparency, accuracy, consistency, and courage. And these qualities are all there in spades. When you listen to Glenn Greenwald break down the topic. I hope you all enjoy and learn from this as much as I did. This is the Price of Truth with Glenn Greenwald.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – The political spectrum

Fred

Glenn Greenwald, a pleasure and honor to have you here with me.

 

Glenn

Thank you so much for asking me. It’s great to talk to you.

 

Fred

Awesome. So you’re known around the world as a fierce, independent journalist. You know, something of a throwback to the era of real investigative reporting. A conscientious objector, someone who pursues truth and justice even when it comes at a big personal cost. You draw a lot of fire from both sides of the political aisle. Although I always think as an independent voice and as an independent conscience, you’re probably doing something right if you’re getting heat from both sides. So I thought I would start by maybe giving you an opportunity to define, to see how you define your core values, because they rarely seem to align neatly with how we understand the divide between right and left today…

 

Glenn

Absolutely. You know, I think, in some way I have to go back to when I first stopped doing my prior job, which was being a constitutional lawyer, and decided to become a political writer and then a journalist. It was in 2005, and prior to that, I was really focused on my work as a constitutional lawyer and worked at a big law firm in New York, and I left after just a couple of years. I knew that it was not for me in order to start my own law firm, and I really wanted to use the Constitution, which I find to be this extraordinarily ingenious document to impose limits on how power is used. Ultimately, that’s what the Constitution is to document, that imposes limits on the way authority can be exercised over people. And that was what was so appealing to me about it.

 

And then once the war on terror happened, 9/11 took place. I was living in New York. I was in Manhattan on 911. You could feel the climate in the United States change. It became something it had never really become before was, you know, kind of in a way, not entirely palpable, but still very detectable. It was a much more repressive climate. There was not a lot of opportunity for dissent. People who tried to raise questions about things the government was doing were instantly demonized. And I felt like practicing law and suing people and working within the courts really wasn’t a sufficient platform for the things I was trying to do, which was to bring attention to a lot of the issues that I thought merited a lot of attention. And when I started, I really didn’t consider myself either on the right or the left. I really didn’t start writing thinking I’m a leftist, I’m on the right, I’m a libertarian. I really was focused on a small range of issues, things like due process in terms of like the government imprisoning people, including American citizens with no due process, spying on people with no warrants. Obviously the Iraq war and just the general idea that we can go around bombing any other country that we want without congressional declarations of war. For me, these seemed like core civil liberties, these kind of values that we all, as Americans were indoctrinated to believe or what defined our country. But because George Bush and Dick Cheney at the time were president and my critique was against the administration primarily, I quickly got defined as being on the left because my following became largely liberals and Democrats, although I always had a large libertarian following as well.

 

And then when Obama became president and he continued and even strengthened a lot of those policies that he had campaigned on about to uproot, and I began applying my critiques to him with equal fervor because it was the same policies that he was defending. I think a lot of people can get a little bit confused about where I was on the political spectrum. Since now I was spending all my time attacking President Obama, and I think there’s probably some sense in which you could associate my worldview with maybe the political ethos of the American and Western left in, say, the 1950s and 60s and 70s – is high distrust of the U.S. security state and the posture of endless war of the US’ attempt to dominate the world through military force.

 

Certainly, censorship and free speech had always been a cause that, at least in my early part of my life, was associated with the political left. But I think so many of these issues have now been put through an entirely different grinder, where if you look at the Democratic and Republican parties and even the right and left on so many issues, they are united and agree on so many important issues, that it’s almost like the far more relevant metric right now is do you oppose establishment, orthodoxies? Are you suspicious of them? Or do you generally support them? And I think that, to me is a much more coherent way of understanding people than left and right, which I don’t think has a very good definition at this point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Journalism and knowledge of the law

Fred

And it’s a that’s a really good point. And I think as a civil libertarian, this idea of limiting power today, well, you know, if the left has power, if the right has power, you’re going to tend to make, you know, the critique overreach and what we’re going to get back to that started with the war on terror and so forth. But I’m just curious, as a lawyer as well, you mentioned a lot of the, originally when you started doing journalistic work. A lot of the issues you were attracted to seem to be kind of a legal issues in a lot of ways. Right? Like overreach and over- power overstepping and not respecting the Constitution and so forth.

 

And I’ve realized in your journey, as I was kind of like looking at the history of your career, your legal skills, seemed to have come in handy at various points, even as a journalist. I knew you had an episode in 2019, in Brazil, with Operation Car Wash, where, you know, you had legal trouble and you were able to get out of it. And even in the U.S., intelligence officials once, once you know, lobbied the white House to have you labeled as an information broker and eventually didn’t go all the way there. But government agencies seemed to play hardball with journalists, people like you who rattle the cage a little bit. Do you feel like your knowledge of the law is, useful to you? Maybe more useful that it should be, as a reporter, because it seems like it has come in handy, at various points, and people who do sort of prod and question and push back on power. Do seem to be treading on dangerous waters these days.

 

Glenn

I think it’s a very perceptive question. I think it’s also gets to an important point, which is, I think in the West, people who grew up in the West, who identify as Westerners like to believe, because we’ve always been told that our societies are free and democratic. Maybe not perfectly so, but we have a basic respect for free speech and free press, and you can report on the government critically and not be sent to prison like that happens in the bad countries like Russia and Iran and China. And there is some extent, I think, to which these Western values are genuine. But the reality is, is that if you do, let’s call it reporting, just broadly speaking, in a way that promotes or serves the government’s interests, you definitely have free speech. No one and you have you have a free press. Nobody will bother you. Nobody will try and stop you from what you’re doing. But, you know, the same is true in every repressive country. You know, if you’re loyal to the crown prince in Saudi Arabia, you can say whatever you want as long as you’re serving the interest of the regime. And that’s true.

 

Fred

And in a country PR department, you become part of the PR department of the government or the thing that you’re reporting on.

 

Glenn

Exactly. And, you know, it’s one of the reasons why we say that the measure of a free society is not how it treats its obedient citizens, or its citizens who kind of are on board with prevailing orthodoxies, because those people are always protected in every society, even the most repressive. Nobody bothers with them. The true measure of a society is how it treats its dissidents, and the more of a dissident you become, then what? What are the true nature of your freedom? And, you know, we can look at someone like Julian Assange, who has been effectively in prison for more than a decade, has been actually imprisoned for four and a half years now in a high security prison in the UK that the BBC has called the British Guantanamo and the reason is, is because he did reporting and did it in a way that allowed the government to claim that he crossed a line… enough for people in the media to not really look at it as this kind of tyrannical act, the same way they say, look at the imprisonment of this young Wall Street Journal reporter by Vladimir Putin in Russia, which we see as an act of pure tyranny. But in the United States, we look at Assange’s imprisonment as kind of a murder case.

 

And I always knew and certainly, as the years went by, became obviously even more familiar with the fact that the more reporting that I was doing that was threatening to the interest of power centers. You know, in the Snowden case, we went around the world. I went around the world publishing the most sensitive documents from the most secretive agency within the world’s most powerful government. You’re not going to do that and not provoke some legal risk. And same in Brazil, where the government of Brazil had been basically run by this anti-corruption probe that was controlling everything. And we got our hands on a big archive that proved that the judges and prosecutors running this probe were themselves corrupt. And when we published it, it overturned the entire political order and resulted in my indictment, which was ultimately thrown out. And I do think my ability to kind of think about what I would tell our client in a similar position, namely, I wouldn’t say, oh, don’t do this work. It’s too dangerous. I would say, do the work, but be careful. Be conscious of how you don’t cross that line, because if you’re doing work or any activism or anything that threatens real people or power, you have to be way more careful than people who are serving those interests. And I think you’re right that my ability to kind of skirt out of these situations in a way that, say, Julian Assange wasn’t able to do, that Edward Snowden, who’s in exile in Russia, wasn’t able to do. That my s            ources there in Brazil who went to prison weren’t able to do. That a lot of journalists have been able to do did come in part from the legal training I’ve had in my knowledge of kind of where those lines were and how to stay just on the right side of them, while still doing the work in an uncompromising way.

 

Fred

I think. Yeah, that’s the sense I got when I was looking at some of those. Those are those hot moments and incidents where it could have easily gone either way, and not knowing precisely where the line is, is often the difference. As we know, as lawyers, especially when you’re pushing back against, you know, things like national security or the fight against terrorism, or they’re sort of like the hot button issues where there’s a lot of executive power. And that’s the sense I got when I looked at some of those, those episodes in your life, going back to the, like, from my perspective, the big one, as big a political story as there is from, in my opinion, your breaking in 2013 of the NSA prism story with through your work with Edward Snowdon of course.

 

 

 

Chapter 3 – Snowden’s legacy

Fred

Snowden once said something that I’m very curious to get your thoughts on. He said, I only have one fear in doing all of this, that people will see these documents and shrug, that they’ll say, we assumed this was happening and don’t care. The only thing I’m worried about is that I’ll do all this to my life for nothing. From your perspective, what’s been the fallout from the breaking of the Prism story? I took a look at it. There’s a bunch of stalled lawsuits, some preliminary court rulings. There was, of course, the passing of the USA Freedom Act in 2015. Some people say we kind of repealed a lot of the government powers that led to the Prism accesses. Some people say it didn’t really, quite go as far as it should have. From your perspective, has enough been done? Do people care enough about this issue to really understand the nature of the threat with this kind of program?

 

Glenn

I think yes and no. Obviously, Snowden shared that fear with me before we began publishing, and it put on me a great sense of responsibility to do everything I could to make sure that this story wouldn’t be ignored in everything I did. A lot of what I did, in fact, was designed to, you know, the way we kind of publish one story after the next, took a very confrontational approach with the government that created the kind of drama that forced people to pay attention. You know, I tried to be as very as deliberative – as deliberative as I could be in ensuring that this wouldn’t be ignored or wouldn’t be just a one week story or something. And I think we did succeed. I mean, if you look at how much media attention in this thing got compared to others, you know, dominated headlines for months, and again, not just in the States, but in many countries around the world.

 

I just want to clarify one thing, which is when we say Prism, the Prism program is one of the programs that we unveiled. This was the way in which the US government had been coercing Big Tech companies to turn over enormous amounts of data about their users, without any search warrant or protection or safeguard of any kind. The very first program that we reported them before we revealed Prism was a program where the US government was collecting the phone records of all American citizens by the hundreds of millions, with no search warrant that revealed with whom everybody was speaking, where they were, when they were speaking for how long. That presented this very vivid picture of every individual citizens life that allowed the NSA and the FBI to create a dossier on individual citizens. And that program has been repeatedly ruled illegal and unconstitutional by federal courts and was struck down.

 

Now, on the one hand, you are right that the walls of the NSA did not come crashing down upon it. The NSA is still open. It still spies on people. The changes in American domestic law have been more minimal than major. I, you know, wouldn’t say that it’s been trivial, but it’s certainly nowhere near when I would have hoped it would have been. But I think we knew when we did this reporting that that wasn’t going to be the change. The change wasn’t going to be that the American government was suddenly going to decide that what they were doing was wrong, because this was a government that had the power to do this. What we wanted to do was to make people understand that whatever beliefs they had about privacy on the internet were completely illusory, that you could not overestimate the extent of how much these governments had obtained the ability, and then exercised the ability to spy on everything that you’re doing online.

 

And obviously every year that goes by, we do more and more online, and that did result in a lot of changes. I’ll just give me two examples that I think are the biggest. Number one is before we did the reporting, almost nobody had heard of and nobody was using any kind of encryption, which is a mathematical device, a wall to keep governments, non-government actors from being able to monitor what you’re doing. In fact, when Snowden contacted me, one of the first demands he had of me was that I use encryption. And even though I was a journalist working on sensitive national security issues with Wikileaks, I hadn’t really used encryption very much. And had I used it a little bit, but nowhere near as sophisticated as he wanted. And now you look at the number of people who use encryption, not even because they choose to, but oftentimes because it’s embedded within software products. You don’t even know any longer that you’re using encryption. If you speak on WhatsApp, which is the most popular app in many major countries, it has end-to-end encryption.

 

That is all the result of the Snowden reporting that created this understanding that companies, if they wanted to compete, could it be seen as turning over people’s data to the government? They had to prove to their users that they were willing to provide privacy, real protection against US spying. So that was one thing, was just the consciousness raising. That, in turn, resulted in the overall changes that made up much more difficult for governments to spy.

 

And then the second one was this pressure that was put up, Big Tech companies, where Big Tech companies constantly, as part of their marketing, to help these privacy protections that aren’t impenetrable but then are very real. You have apps like Signal and Telegram that constantly are trying to improve the impenetrability of their technology, you have an arms race between hackers, on the one hand, who are, I mean defensive hackers who are creating encryption in the US government, trying to invade it on the other. So you’re and then, I mean, I guess I’d say a third thing, which is internationally, it really changed how countries deal with one another as well. I mean, in Brazil, for example, it was a huge story. I did all the reporting in Brazil, there was a lot of reporting on how the U.S. was spying on Brazilians, and Brazil created alliances with other countries that said, we’re going to create our own cyber optics network and our own internet, network that doesn’t have to transgress the United States because of the fact that when you put the physical infrastructure in the United States, it makes it easier for the NSA to intercept it.

 

So these changes may not be as dramatic as, say, a major law or constitutional amendment, but in a lot of ways, they were effective. At the same time, the US security state has been at this for many, many decades. And they understand that when people are concerned about their power, their abuse of power, their privacy, things of that nature, they know how to elevate the fear levels of the population. So they say, oh, maybe al-Qaida’s not threatening, but now we have ISIS, now we have Russia. Now we have this group in that group that is threatening you, and you need to give us the tools to protect you from it, to enable us to spy on people. And it’s constantly this pushback in public opinion about getting people to care about privacy versus getting them scared enough to be willing to give up privacy rights in the name of being protected.

 

Fred

There’s also been a big push since then. I don’t know how connected the two are, but with privacy laws in general. So things like the GDPR or all the privacy laws that you’re seeing all around the world, that impose, way more constraints on governments and on large corporations. I don’t know if you’ve looked into that area. Us as lawyers, it’s an area of law that’s very… that’s booming that we need to really master, because if companies want to acquire, personal information now, they need to comply with all these laws. I don’t know if you looked at it from the perspective of actually protecting, functionally protecting privacy, because sometimes I wonder if it really has that effect. Because when you take a look at, you know, the prevalence of hacking and, you know, the governments just being able to play that national security card and find exceptions all over the place, I wonder whether or not it really moves the needle. But definitely, it has, you know, in the last few years, these laws have also come to the forefront.

 

 

 

Glenn

Yeah. And there was none of this before or very little of this before the Snowden reporting, because people were really conscious of this. And I think one important thing is to kind of avoid this binary framework, which is either we have total privacy and the government’s locked out completely, or we have none, the government can evade everything. Like I said, I think it says push and pull. One of the important things to recall, to remember is that a lot of our privacy doesn’t actually go through the government. It really goes through Big Tech companies, and especially in Europe, but even more so now increasingly in North America, there’s this understanding that if you want to protect citizens, you want to protect consumers and you want to protect individual rights, they channel the kind of road runs through Big Tech.

 

And you see a lot of these antitrust actions, especially with the EU, that are trying to weaken Big Tech. And then if you go and look at whenever there’s measures in the United States, I think is so notable that are designed to break up Big Tech or to reduce its monopoly power, the people who stand up most quickly and vocally to defend Big Tech, and to say no, we need Big Tech strong, our people affiliated with the US security state, CIA and FBI and Homeland Security operatives.

 

Because the more power is centralized in Big Tech, the more the US security state can have a place where they can collect information in a very easy and centralized way. At the same time, these companies have a consumer incentive to prove to their customers that they are actually providing privacy, but also they get a ton of money from the government. Can’t alienate the U.S government either. So, you know, ever since this noting reporting, I would say it’s just been this constant war on a PR level, on a legal level, on a technological level about how much privacy we’re going to have and how much- how vulnerable we’re going to be to governments, then there are things we can do as individuals too, like I said, if you want to have a conversation and you want to protect yourself, you know from it. Don’t use Google or Facebook chats or Twitter DMs. Go and use encrypted apps like Signal, or even more advanced ones if you’re a human rights activist. So a lot of these are about individual choices as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4 – fear and civil liberties

Fred

So in terms of the rationale for how the government comes in and justifies, let’s say, broadly speaking, diluting or bending, you know, pushing, you know, civil liberties. For what rationale? You’ve mentioned that you’ve traced a lot of your, you know, core interest in these issues, to the war on terror. A period I remember very well, after nine over 11, of course, the passing of the Patriot Act and the basic policy of the Bush administration that I understood at the time, the point they kept insisting on was the need to sacrifice some of our freedoms in order to get more safety. And then progressively, as a result, we see the process of giving away more and more freedoms to large bureaucracies. A lot of times also, you know, through contracts with major corporations.

 

Do you think that in many ways this… historically from a historical perspective and what we see today of Twitter files and so forth that we’re going to get to… this is where the sort of template for top-down government control was created for modern democracy. So usually amplifying some kind of legitimate fear, something that exists but sort of amplifying it. And then promising to provide the population with more safety, usually with the help of large corporations, will get large contracts and so forth, all under this idea of protecting us and keeping us safe. And then quietly, kind of like incrementally grabbing more and more power and justifying us giving away more and more of our freedoms. Do you think that’s roughly where the template was set? And that, you see sort of since then replicated in different ways?

 

Glenn

I think that’s the formula, the recipe for authoritarianism in every part of the world, going back for as long as human history is recorded. Human fear is a very powerful motivating factor. Fear is a very important instinct that we have. Right? If we see a lion or something that’s threatening to us, we need to feel fear to that we’re impelled to run away and to protect ourselves. This instinct is very important. And when you can put someone into fear, you can really control them, especially if you’re simultaneously offering to protect them from whatever they’re scared of. And governments and tyrants and authoritarians and dictators have always known that if you can put a population into fear about some external threat or some internal threat, that is when they are most easily malleable, that is what they’re willing to give up most of their rights, because most people don’t value rights when they feel like their physical safety is immediately jeopardized. And you could watch that after 9/11.

 

Obviously, 9/11 was a terrible attack. Like I said, I was in Manhattan that day. I remember it very well. It was a terrible event, was a trauma, etc. but what immediately happened is that people who long had other agendas, including invading Iraq and wanting to remove Saddam Hussein for whatever reasons, who were advocating that in the 90s, wanting to go and do the same in Iran, wanting to expand spying power, immediately saw in this 9/11 attack an opportunity while the country was still kind of recuperating from the shock of it. And that’s when you got this, like flurry of legislation as if it had already been pre-prepared. And it eventually did lead to the invasion of Iraq by convincing 70% of Americans that Saddam Hussein was the one who had personally planned the 9/11 attack and was involved in the 9/11 attack as well as, of course, the that the military abutments of mass destruction.

 

So you can see this formula repeating itself over and over. And that’s one of the things that I realized early on was when I started writing about politics. If you look at my writings for the first six months or year, it was very focused on legalistic argument. You know, I just kind of like as long as I can show people that this is adverse to the Constitution, that what’s being done is exactly what the founders wanted to prohibit, that it was dangerous to them that people would see the light. And I quickly realized that that was very naive, in part because you have a media wall you have to get through, right? These major media corporations that are disseminating this information on behalf of the government. I mean, people didn’t just come to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. They believed it because the media outlets they trusted, like the New York Times and the Atlantic and the New Yorker.

 

Fred

Was also concerned. Also, Colin Powell at the U.N. making that presentation.

 

Glenn

Of course!

 

Fred

It was a trusted figure. And it was like, wow, would they go this public and this specific if they didn’t know there was…? Actually I remember at the time I was, I was I was in university and I was looking at it, I didn’t really just looking for the truth. Right. Like, wow. I mean, it does look… looked to these eyes as evidence. And then we discovered it was it was there were nine and went for me. And personally, like a lot of my political cynicism, the bear was really around this WMD issue. And, and just looking at, you know, Bush administration admitting that there were no WMDs, but then still staying in Iraq, I was like, that’s when I was like.

 

Glenn

Not really admitting that it was the wrong thing to do either. I know I think a lot. I mean, that was exactly my trajectory. You know, as I said before I started politics, I was practicing law. I wasn’t really that focused on politics, but I, you know, was I was paying attention with one eye, you know, I read the New York Times every morning and I had a subscription to The New Yorker in the Atlantic, all things that good and consumers were consuming to believe that you’re kind of you know I trusted that, you know, I wasn’t so naive to think there was no falsehoods in there, but I thought it was at least giving me the general sense of what was happening in the war. I kind of trusted it to inform me and shape my perception, my perspective. And I think the realization that it wasn’t just the government.

 

You know, I think a lot of people know the government may lie, but then especially a Republican government, a lot of Democrats look to liberal media outlets like the New York Times and these other liberal journals that they trusted, and a lot of Democrats like, you know, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and John Kerry were telling them as well. I think there was this sense, I know I had it, that it seems unlikely that all of these institutions would unite to just all convince us that something that is completely false as a pretense we’re going to war. And of course, that’s exactly what happened. And I think it did really erode the trust that a lot of people had built up in these institutions. I don’t think these institutions ever really recovered from that. But I think one of the things at least I learned is that the way in which that was done was do fear. Remember, Condoleezza Rice would say things like, oh, people want a smoking gun. The problem is, we can’t have the smoking gun be a mushroom cloud.

 

Fred

That’s right.

 

Glenn

You know, over New York City, meaning that Saddam Hussein was going to pass to al-Qaida, a nuclear bomb, and that was going to be detonated. I mean, that is playing right to our most visceral fears of protecting ourselves, our children, our family. And when you could put people in fear, they’re no longer operating rationally and they can be convinced of anything. And so I quickly realized that in order to do the work I wanted to do, I not only had to address media propaganda and kind of do media critiques and show where media accounts that people believed were untrue or unreliable, but also confront this idea that a lot of these risks were being wildly exaggerated.

 

Fred

Yeah, very much. Very interesting. And I wonder, you know, then, you see, during Covid, again, taking a nonpolitical lens at this issue, the way I sort of look at it is it’s not like there is no self-interest when power is exercised. Right? When power sort of centralized in the hands of government, or when it’s kind of centralized in the hands of big corporations. It’s not like there’s no incentives there. It’s not like there’s no self-interest there. And so, every time there’s an issue, like there’s – I think the way you said it is exactly right. A lot of people will contest this on the grounds that it sounds like conspiracy theory. It’s more like opportunism from people that have the ability to sort of centralize power once, when a kind of society-wide fear grips us, and then they take the opportunity to kind of centralize the power, and then it becomes a power agenda, and there is very little we can do until that fear passage. Is that kind of the way you see it as well?

 

Glenn

Yeah. I think sometimes people resist this idea because it seems as though you’re insinuating a kind of a villain-like evil that most people think might be exaggerated. So it’s not like necessarily, I mean, this does happen, but it doesn’t require this notion that there you have these villains in like a James Bond-like underground layer, you know, rubbing their hands together about all the power they’re going to get by scaring everybody. It can be much more banal than that. I mean, that’s, you know, Hannah Arendt, the Jewish German philosopher, when she attended the Nuremberg trials, was expecting to see these, you know, raving evil satanic people who had just implemented the Holocaust. And she found instead a lot of people were, like, accountants. So, you know, like very bureaucratic, very organizational, kind of just following institutional inertia.

 

Fred

The banality of evil, the banality of evil,

 

Glenn

And she called it the banality of evil. Exactly. And I think that is oftentimes the way it works is if you’re working in Washington, you want more importance and more power and authority for your agency. You want more budgetary authority. You want more status. And the way that you get that is by getting more powers and convincing people that your mission, whatever it is, is more important than other people may realize, which requires hyping fear. And then another terrible incentive is that the way our national security system and culture works in Washington is people who say, I’m against the war don’t get into the important rooms where decisions are made. If you are saying, I’m against the Iraq war, you were just thrown out of the room.

 

 Just like now. If you say you’re against the US NATO war in Ukraine, for example, you don’t get into the rooms. But if you say, I support the war and I want to debate how it should be done, that’s the only way you get access. And so there’s this great career incentive to support a lot of these things as well, because that’s the way that you gain entrance into the halls of power that can make you famous, make you wealthy, make you powerful. And all of us as human beings are susceptible to these deportations. You know, when you have a system as powerful as the one in Washington that encourages this and fuels this with the world’s, you know, only superpower, the most militarized and powerful and wealthiest country in human history, a lot of people are going to do whatever they have to do to be a part of that and to gain from that. And I think that encourages a lot of these behavioral incentives.

 

Fred

Yeah, that’s a good point. Free speech is also a huge battleground for a lot of these, a lot of these issues. And speech is usually censored for what sounds like a good reason. Right? So safety is one example. Another one could be loyalty to the group or protecting vulnerable people or preventing the spread of hate. Right. It never gets, restricted in the name of a bad idea. The idea always sounds good. There’s always this idea of protecting someone or protecting something. And so because of that, the case for speech needs to be made over and over and over. And I recently just reread some of the big case law on free speech. There’s many good reasons, for free speech, what you have the wide and messy search for truth. You have, you know, slippery slope arguments where, you know, you can start by restricting bad speech and then then you end up restricting more and more, the importance of making evil visible. If you get all these arguments. I’m curious from your perspective as someone who’s actually fought this fight so strongly, often paid a price for it, what’s your, kind of, course summation of why free speech is so critical, and why we need to constantly push back against these very logical sounding attempts to diminish it.

 

Glenn

I just don’t trust any human being or any institution composed of human beings to arrive at a belief that we’re supposed to deem so self-evidently true that no one is permitted any longer to question it or disagree with it or, dissent from it. I just don’t, I honestly, I, you know, there are a lot of political values that I hold, a lot of causes I’m dedicated to, a lot of things I fervently believe in, but it would never occur to me to reach a state of hubris necessary for me to believe about myself that I have removed myself from the history of intellectual progress, which is human beings thinking they’ve acquired absolute truth only for the next generation to conclude that that is wildly erroneous, if not shameful. I think it takes a hubris to believe about yourself that you have acquired a kind of knowledge that is so absolute and so unchallengeable, that the force of the law or the force of corporate power, should be deployed to prevent people from questioning or disagreeing with the things that you said. That’s one thing. It’s just a matter of truth. I don’t trust this notion that some things are so sacrosanct as beliefs that they can never be challenged.

 

And then the second part of it is, which I guess is I wouldn’t say more important, it’s just kind of a different consideration, which is if you attain the power to dictate which views can be expressed and which ones can’t, what kind of punishments get doled out for questioning certain views. The power that you acquire is almost unlimited by definition. If you have a very powerful political party or a political movement that’s in control, as long as others have the right to critique it and to try and convince others that that political group or that political movement is misguided or should be opposed, there’s always an opportunity to undermine that group and to remove them from power and change the course of your society.

 

If, though, you lose that one right to be able to say this group is engaging in bad behavior or not good behavior, their ideas are wrong and not right. If you lose that right, then the group that has taken that away from you exercises totalitarian power. It just means that you can’t question anything they’re doing or saying, which in turn means you can’t resist in any way their attempt to control how people think and how people think about them, in particular their ideas. And I don’t think there’s anything more dangerous in that. So I’m of course aware that it’s possible that free speech would produce sometimes bad consequences. You can spread hate speech, you can spread bad ideas, you can incite violence with hate speech. There are cost to it, but there are costs to every freedom. For example, we decide as a society, pretty much every country in the West has, that we don’t allow the police to just break into any home that it wants whenever they decide that there’s a reason to do so because they’re trying to catch a criminal or solve a crime, they have to go to a court and convince a court that there’s reason to enter a home. That barrier that we put in front of the police almost certainly sometimes means that murderers or rapists or dangerous criminals end up getting away. There’s a cost to that freedom. But we say those costs are outweighed by the importance of the right not to have the police enter your home upon the decision that they should. And to me, that’s what free speech is. You can’t deny that some speech sometimes creates harm, but the benefit of being able to have free speech and the danger of not having it is so much greater.

 

 

 

Fred

I read a study recently on this issue here. You hear the argument for harm or against providing safety, the other side of it, right. Again, playing into the hands of those who have power. And the more we believe, the more we want to be safe and the more scared we are of having harm. And I was reading a study about how generationally, a great book from a Jean Twenge called Generations how Millennials and Gen Z are much more in favor of safety. They value safety way higher than previous generations. So Gen X and boomers, let’s just say. And so they’re way more likely to see speech as dangerous as something that needs to be… We need to be protected from sort of these forms of dangerous speech. I wonder, just from a generational perspective, it seems like this plays right into and of course, these generations are they’re way more active online. You know, the future of political discourse, in a sense, it plays right into the big controlling power centers, the state actors who seek to grab power in the name of safety. If people start to value safety and start to be afraid of harm a lot more, I wonder if that’s an experience that you’ve had or something that you’ve thought about.

 

Glenn

Yeah, there’s a great book, called Coddling of the American Mind that starts off talking about this issue from the framework of parenting. And I have kids, so I can empathize a lot with the fact that when you’re a parent, you have this instinct to protect your children from anything that might harm them. You want to keep them protected. Sometimes you just want to lock them into the house, especially when they’re teenagers, because you’re worried about what they’re going to do if they leave the house. The problem, of course, is that if you do that, you may keep them safe, but you’re going to completely destroy them as human beings because you’re preventing them from growing, from learning. And even biologically, if you’re a parent who’s obsessed, excessively fixated on, for example, keeping your kids away from dirt and germs because you’re fearful of what that might do, you’re repeating the development of the immune system you’re going to mean- It’s going to mean that your kids are way more susceptible in the future to infection and to allergies and to all sorts of things, because their body hasn’t been able to confront the things to which it’s supposed to develop a resistance. And this kind of necessity to have people sometimes, especially as people are growing into fully-formed adulthood, that they’re exposed to in confront things that make them uncomfortable, that can be unpleasant. That’s how they develop a capacity to navigate through the world. And if you shield them from that, in the name of maximizing safety, then all you’re going to do is create eternal childhoods, which in, I think, in a large extent is what we’re doing.

 

So if you look now, you know, when I, grew up in the 1980s, the idea was, you know, you turn 18 and you go away to college and a lot of people, including myself, wanted to go as far away as possible from your parents, not really in full-fledged adulthood and independence, because you’re still in a lot of ways dependent on your parents. You’re still kind of one foot, but you are definitely in a different place. You’re in a different context, and you have the responsibility to take care of yourself. And that’s when you learn how to become an adult. What’s happening now is that the model of childhood is being extended. So first people have parents, and then when they go to college, college deans or administrators or resident assistants are supposed to assume the role of parents and keep these kids safe from or away from anything that makes them comfortable, including ideas or political protest or marches. And they are supposed to- they have an expectation that these institutions are supposed to keep them, not physically safe, which of course is reasonable, but just safe emotionally and psychologically.

 

And now what you’re seeing is that extending even into the workplace, where now people go into the workplace and expected human resources will take the place of administrators in college, which in turn took the place of parents to protect them from anything that makes them uncomfortable so they never have to resolve conflicts with coworkers. They have this kind of parent figure to do it on their own, and it creates this permanent state, of childhood and incapacity that I think is extremely damaging. And that, of course, is going to teach people that they have an entitlement to always be protected and be safe. Again, I think that is a human instinct to want to be safe. And then that gets extended even to the notion that scary ideas or ideas that create discomfort also need to be suppressed so that it is kept away from them and doesn’t harm them by making them feel uncomfortable. And this is really a generational and cultural change that I think fosters this idea that free speech is not only not desirable, but actually actively undesirable. And censorship is not just something we should tolerate, but demand as a way of being shielded from things that make us feel bad.

 

Fred

Yeah, that book, Coddling of the American Mind, fantastic book by Jonathan Haidt. He makes the link between that which is called like safety-ism. Right? We would say like the college now is expected to be the parent that that keeps you safe from the harmful speech or, you know, just expanding the definition of harm, right? Like way beyond physical harm and the anxiety rates that you see. So there’s like a like a mental health component. Right? Initially they we’re looking at, why is this generation so anxious? I think that they are publishing a book a very soon on this called the Anxious Generation or the Anxiety Generation about how. Yeah, but that’s exactly when you start to think that there’s harms everywhere. Then that’s the idea that you tell your kids and we’re going to keep you safe. We’re going to keep safe from all these harms, all these harms.

 

You’re actually creating an environment of anxiety and fear and constant fear. And the more you define harms broadly, the more things you have to be scared of. And so they never develop that. I when talking about the 80s or the 90s, you know, there was an expectation of people can say kind of whatever they want. And we talked maybe a little bit rough here and there. But overall, you know, you sort of get I get you develop a little bit more of a thick skin, which is something that could that actually is quite useful in developing, you know, mental resiliency and actually facing the world and all the challenges and the adversity in the world. And today, it’s funny because I approach it from a political angle, which is, you know, the more scared we are and the more we define harms broadly, the more we kind of give this fiduciary duty to the state or to colleges to take on that power and define what acceptable speech is and take on more powers of central, centralized power. But there’s also the mental health component of living in up in a world where you know, everything is harm, everything is fearful. And we need to get, we need to be protected by a large institution.

 

Glenn

Yeah. You know, when I was growing up, there was that fairy tale, the princess and the pea, where this girl grew up as a princess. And so everything, every one of her last whims was always attended to. And as a result, she developed this great sensitivity where extremely trivial discomforts from those people would be something that would just plague her because she was so unaccustomed to anything bothering her. And there was that the fairy tale was. She had 22 mattresses on which she slept, and under the 17th mattress there was a pea. And because she was so insulated, the pea drove her crazy, she couldn’t sleep with it because it was just something that was just in a minimal way bothering her. But because she was so unaccustomed to dealing with even minimum discomfort, it became something gigantic for her that tormented her and almost drove her crazy.

 

I think, in that, of course, is that lesson that you just drew, which is that if you become taught that you are entitled to never feel uncomfortable, then any minimal discomfort, which, of course, you’re going to experience. I mean, there’s no way to hide from those in life will be something that you’re not equipped to deal with because you never had to, because everything in your life was geared to shielding you from having to confront all those things. I think, you know, every adult I know would say it’s not really, particularly insightful either, that the way that you learn and grow and develop different capabilities is by encountering hardship and difficulty. And those are the moments that teach you how better to deal with life and to become a stronger and more capable person. So if you deny somebody those experiences on the grounds that they have a maximalist entitlement to avoid ever feeling uncomfortable, of course you’re going to deprive them of the ability to deal with just the normal burdens of life, let alone the more difficult ones. And that’s where you’re going to generate the kinds of things we’re seeing, which is epidemic rates of anxiety disorders and depression and alcoholism and drug addiction and suicide, and people being medicated in enormous amounts with all kinds of antidepressive drugs because of the fact that they’re no longer equipped how to deal with any of those things on their own.

 

Fred

And there’s a dangerous relationship there between institutions that, perhaps are incentivized to have people be afraid and or look at them as providers of safety providers of, you know, those safe environments and, and the anxiety of the people. There’s a dependency there. And the opposite would be the independence of a person who feels that they have enough resiliency to face the challenges of life. And so they’re more autonomous. They don’t have a need to sort of hand away, you know, political power or, to refer to a large institute or to seek protection from a large institution. That very is a very dangerous relationship there between the anxiety, the fear, and, you know, the declining mental health of people and then the sort of centralizing thrust of these big institutions, you know, the universities, the states and so forth. I think it’s a very, very dangerous pattern there. And I think we’re seeing it play out in a lot of different contexts.

 

 

 

Glenn

Yeah. And I mean, of course, it has a political expression as well as you suggested. You know, one of the political controversies that I think kind of led me to feel like I was more drawn to say, political and cultural leftism in my teenage years. And then in my young adulthood was in the 1980s. It was the emergence of what was called the Moral Majority in the United States. This movement, that kind of social conservatism that was connected to the Reagan campaign and then the Reagan presidency. And it was very much about the idea of re-imposing morality through the use of government force, through censorship, through use of the force of law to regulate and control people’s private lives, talking about not children, but adults. And this sentiment arose, I think was very much a left wing sentiment that the government, the state, shouldn’t be controlling what adults think and what they read and what they can do in the privacy of their own homes in consenting situations.

 

This was not a proper role of the state, and it lead to this left wing ethos of being opposed to censorship and to being opposed to the interference in our lives on the part of major governmental and corporate institutions. And now, if you look at political leftism in the West, certainly in the United States, but I think even more so, or at least as much throughout Western Europe, that ethos on the left is almost gone and has been replaced by the opposite impulse, which is this view that, in fact, we want the state, we want large corporations to act as our caretakers, to keep us comfortable, to keep us safe, and to protect us from things not just that physically threaten us, but that make us uncomfortable in any way.

 

Fred

In and looking back, the link between between big government and big corporations and Big Tech work more particularly, of course, in 2022, Elon Musk, purchases Twitter, releases the Twitter files, which revealed, really, the extent of, government interference and kind of a wholesale censorship. I’m sure you followed that with a lot of interest. Was there anything surprising or particularly important that you feel that we learned from the Twitter files? Was just a really a continuation of what you already knew.

 

Glenn

It reminded me a little bit of the Snowden reporting, which is in the sense that before that happened, before we could show people those documents, I think there was a sense that the NSA and governments were spying on the internet in ways that went far beyond what we understood, but you couldn’t really prove it and therefore all you could do is kind of speculate on it. You sounded like a conspiracy theorist if you asserted it. And the Snowden documents, let everybody read the truth and no longer was there a lack of clarity or was there confusion about that. I think it was exactly the same thing is what- when Elon Musk released these files to journalists and let them report on what they found, I think there was an obvious understanding that the US government and its agencies, like the FBI and the CIA and the CDC, especially during Covid, were constantly pressuring Big Tech companies to remove content that they dislike, that they found inaccurate or harmful in any way.

 

And there wasn’t just a request, but it was a pressure campaign. It was very coordinated. and you saw Big Tech censoring constantly in a way that aligned with government policy, which is why, you know, I think gave away the game. But until you had the evidence in your hand, you can’t really be certain more so you can’t convince other people. And then when the Twitter files emerged and people like Matt Taibbi and others were able to describe and show what these documents revealed, which was this constant tsunami of demands and pressure and coercion from the highest levels of the US government to Big Tech, to remove all kinds of content about all sorts of major political controversies, whether it be the 2020 election or the Covid vaccine, and the efficacy of lockdowns and mass or the war in Ukraine, a whole variety of issues, that was all confirmed that the government, in fact, was doing that.

 

And now we have two court rulings from two major federal courts that say that – I think that one of the things that happened as a result of that was that by being able to read these documents, we could see the truth in federal courts. Now, a lower federal court and an appellate court have ruled that this policy of the Biden administration in constantly pressuring Big Tech companies, coercing them, threatening them to remove content is as grave an assault on the First Amendment guarantee of free speech as anything we’ve seen in decades. And that was all a result of this reporting, which, incidentally, most people in corporate media pronounced ought to be ignored on the grounds that it was a nothing burger, that it proved nothing of any interest. And in fact, it turned out, according to the courts, at least, to be one of the gravest full frontal assaults on free speech rights in decades.

 

Fred

Yeah, there’s hypothesis that that I want to get your thoughts on. I always felt like look at looking at this the, you know, for a long time, we just saw it as Big Tech censoring speech, along the lines, along ideological lines. You know, most people in Big Tech, are, let’s call it more on the political left, way more on the political left. So if they see anything that sort of right wing, they’ll censor it. And so we saw we were always seeing this and saying, okay, this is a threat, a new threat, to free speech. But at the same time, they’re a private corporation, they’re allowed to moderate content and so forth. I always felt, legally speaking, looking at this strictly, really as a constitutional lawyer, there was a very easy fix there. Because you tend to get this debate as to whether the social media platforms are publishers or whether they’re just like technical intermediaries, like the phone, line. Right? And I always felt like, no, like both of those analogies are wrong.

 

Why don’t we just consider them what they actually are, which is a public forum, which would then justify us, subjecting them to the same free speech constraints that the government has. And there’s legal precedents for that and so forth. And, of course, one of the reasons this never happened might have been political. You know, the Democrats, for example, would have never accepted this because they would lose this kind of, home court advantage that they get with Big Tech censorship. But it also didn’t happen under Trump. And so a lot of these sort of issues like, you know, the NSA issue and now the Twitter files, you know, when people have, like you say, these things that sound like conspiracy theories and then you discover what’s actually going on and they kind of confirms a lot of those fears. So I – kind of a suspicion on this. Maybe government is actually okay with having a powerful private censorship instrument so that it can restrict indirectly what it can’t restrict directly through direct action or laws. I’m usually suspicious of this kind of thinking of conspiracy theories, but what are your thoughts on this? The government loves having this private instrument that is not subjected to free speech laws that it can use, regardless of whether you know, it’s represented there on the right or on the left, it’s really much more like a power agenda.

 

Glenn

Yeah. So let me offer something concrete that will help, I think, elevate this out of the realm of conspiracy theory, because I think it’s absolutely true, but not just true in a speculative sense, but in a proven sense as well. I refered to this earlier, actually, which is that when there’s legislation that’s presented and there is support for this kind of legislation in both political parties in the United States. And there’s regulatory action here about this as well, to say, try and break up Google so that it doesn’t control every single, instrument that we use and produce its power significantly, or break up Facebook or break up Amazon or break up Apple so that they can’t control using all their vertical, antitrust powers. The market of information among the people who step up and most loudly object are people in the national security state.

 

And the argument that they make is that actually, it’s extremely important from an American national security perspective, that we maintain the power of these companies, that we keep Google and Facebook as mega-corporations, as massively powerful behemoth, in order to compete with, say, the Chinese versions of Facebook and Google. And I think a major reason is, is exactly what you just said, which is that when you have 3 or 4 different companies that are capable of controlling the flow of information to the extent these can, I mean, when you talk about Google and Facebook and Apple and Amazon together, talking about almost the entirety of the United States is exposed to these companies in some way or the other. And if you have the ability, because it’s not diffuse this power, it’s all centralized to seize control of it, which the Twitter files and other documents show that that’s exactly what the government has done, because Amazon and Apple have massive contracts with the U.S government, they don’t want to make enemies of the U.S government.

 

When the U.S government comes knocking and says “we want you to remove this information”, they’re going to do it when you have the ability to do that, that is an incredibly potent means not only of censoring, but also of affirmatively propagandizing the citizenry, which is constantly receiving by staring into their phones or their computer screens these four companies that as long as there’s a certain flow of unchallenged information going over those platforms, are going to convince huge numbers of people to believe whatever the people in control of those platforms want them to believe. I just want to make two other quick points. One is, you know, you alluded to the fact that people who run Silicon Valley tend to be left wing, and that’s why they censor conservative speech. If you actually look at who created kind of the first wave of Silicon Valley, it was people the ethos at the time was keep your hands, the hands off the internet. The idea was the government should have no role in the internet.

 

Fred

It’s was more libertarian.

 

Glenn

It was very libertarian sentiment. It was the idea was, you know, the internet is going to be liberatory as a technology. It’s going to be free entirely of government coercion and control. And I think a lot of those kind of second generation or first generation Silicon Valley executives continue to believe in that. The problem is, is that you have this combination of a left wing media or a liberal media that constantly puts pressure on them to censor by accusing them of having blood on their hands or being responsible for all sorts of socialism. They don’t. And then they have a workforce inside of these companies that are filled with a lot of recently graduated people, and from the younger generation who from the other direction are demanding censorship of views they don’t like.

 

Fred

The safety-ism.

 

Glenn

And a lot of these companies end up capitulating to that. And then the other issue is, you know, you’re seeing this now with the attempt to ban TikTok or the attempt to threaten to ban TikTok from the United States is coming from a lot of different directions, including the Democratic and Republican parties claiming that TikTok is a Chinese government-controlled platform and that is the most used social media platform among young Americans by a huge distance. And the attempt really, the fear of TikTok is not so much that it’s being controlled by the Chinese or propagandizing Americans against the interests of United States government. The fear is that that’s the one platform that isn’t subject to the control of the U.S security state and financial centers of the U.S. government and what they’re really trying to do by threatening TikTok to be banned from this very lucrative market, which is United States. And the people who run TikTok are capitalist. What they really want them to do is to say to the United States, “look, we don’t care about content moderation decisions. We don’t care about censorship. We’re willing to turn over the decisions about what content is moderated from our platforms to you. We’re just capitalists. We want to make money. We want to stay in the United States. We’re willing to do anything we can to do it.” And now you’re seeing TikTok very much integrated into the same scheme of censorship. They’re hiring a lot of the content moderators from Facebook, from Google, many of whom have ties to the U.S security state. And it’s becoming integrated into this as well. And that’s where you see what the real goal of all of this is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5 – political hypocrisies

Fred

Very interesting. You’ve written a lot about the hypocrisies of the political parties in your book, Great American Hypocrites. I think there’s a lot of recurrent themes here about when you look at the commonalities of what characterizes, let’s call it, a power agenda, regardless of whether it’s right or left, versus these supposed values that these different parties or political movements are supposed to have. And I think you’ve made the point many, many times about how both sides will compromise their supposed ideals and principles, when it’s politically expedient for them to do so when it’s in their interest to do so. So I want to ask you about the, like, today, today’s left, today’s right. And, you know, the lines shift all the time, right. What was considered a left, you know, the 80s and 90s is very different from today. I want to ask you what you see as the core hypocrisies on both sides. So let’s start with the left, when you broke, the prism story, of course, the NSA story with Edward Snowden, it was during the Obama administration. Obama was a kind of a poster child for civil rights and diversity. But not only did all of this happened under his watch. He also went really hard after whistleblowers, also, all sorts of issues from a civil libertarian perspective. And then, of course, the Democratic Party’s attack, various attacks on free speech. What do you see as the core hypocrisy on the left today?

 

Glenn

So if you look at what the political left in the United States has been over the last, say, 7 or 8 decades, it was a movement that was dedicated to opposing American wars and American imperialism and American adventurism abroad, obviously vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War. Probably more than anything, that’s what formed the modern day identity of the American left was constant, protesting against the Vietnam War, driving Lyndon Johnson from the Democratic Party, the president at the time in the 60s, preventing him from getting renominated as his party’s president over opposition within the Democratic Party in the American left to the Vietnam War, as well as a kind of cultural revolution of the idea that Americans should be free, as we were talking about earlier, to do whatever they want without government and institutional interference, as well as a huge distrust of the U.S security state. I mean, the idea that the CIA was evil, that they were implementing coups all over the world and interfering in our domestic politics from malicious ends, was foundational to American leftism. As a view, you couldn’t be on the American left unless you had that as a kind of worldview.

 

And now I think largely because of Trump. And we could talk about the ways in which Trump really single-handedly, I think, changed and transformed American politics and scrambled these ideological divisions in so many ways. The reality is, is that a lot of these major institutions of establishment authority that the left once opposed became very fearful of Trump because what they want more than anything is stability and predictability. And if there’s two things Trump is not, it’s stable in terms of his actions and predictable. He does not preserve the status quo. He disrupts it. He subverts it, sometimes even unintentionally. And so you had this union of establishment institutions in authority were aligned against Trump, both in 2016, 2020 and certainly again in 2024, including the corporate media, which had always been an enemy of the American left as well, when they started seeing the world solely through the prism of one person, which was Donald Trump, namely, either you’re against Donald Trump or you’re for him, it meant that anyone opposed to Donald Trump became an ally of the American left.

 

That includes neoconservatives who, when I began writing about politics, were viewed by the left and by liberals as this kind of almost like Hitler-type figures; they were the embodiment of evil. It includes the CIA and the FBI, the U.S security state that was – that’s where Russiagate came from. They sabotaged – they did everything they could to sabotage Trump’s presidency. It includes the U.S corporate media, the state, financial centers of power… And so now you have this union between the American left, liberals on the one hand, and these institutions of authority that they had always previously opposed on the other, because they perceived correctly that those are their allies in undermining Trump. And it’s not just my perception. Opinion polls show overwhelmingly that liberals want the CIA and the FBI with the power to censor the internet in the name of stopping disinformation. They hold these institutions in very high regard. There’s very little skepticism about them. It’s liberals who like and reads CNN in the New York Times and NBC news. There’s almost no critiques of those media outlets. And so the values in the ethos of the American left and American liberalism, especially in the era of Trump, has almost completely reversed from what it had been previously.

 

Fred

It’s very interesting. As you started giving that answer, I started smiling a bit because it just sounded weird. The way you describe the left, it sounds weird to almost think of the left as that today, right? So different, as being so skeptical of the national security agencies or being sort of all about freedom or like the opposing war. I think just in your little preamble, you’re really giving the whole answer. It was like, wow, that is that is you see, the difference is like, it’s so stark and so, shocking in a lot of ways. So let’s maybe focus a little bit on this. What you just kind of called the Trump scramble. Is it really that? The fact that he’s an unpredictable, individual, a disruptor, even for the folks around them, people don’t know really what to expect. And so you get this reaction from the people that want to impose, security or stability. How else do you see this? The figure of Trump, fundamentally changing American politics?

 

Glenn

Well, first of all, there’s, I guess kind of a stylistic or compartmental sense in which Trump is this unpredictable and unstable figure in that if you look at how American presidents speak, how they behave, what they say, what they do, it’s very important to maintain this kind of image of high nobility, because the American government goes around the world exerting major, assertions of power in almost every region in the world. And that can be justified only if there’s a perception in the American government as this very high minded, noble institution that’s dedicated is the most sophisticated in advanced values. And so, you know, you look at George Bush and Bill Clinton, you know, Ronald Reagan at George Bush the first, George Bush the second, and Joe Biden. They speak in the same vernacular. They behave in the same ways. They dress the same ways. It’s all very important to maintaining this illusion of American power. Then you get a Donald Trump who observes none those norms. So, I mean, he’s you know, just this morning, for example, he posted on his actual personal social media platform a video image of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris at last night’s state of the Union speech, using filters that are on Snapchat that distort people’s faces. My kids love to do this to me, and they laugh endlessly as they do it because it distorts my face. It’s something 14-year-olds love to do.

 

Fred

Yes

 

Glenn

And this is something that Trump did. Know, this was a former president who’s leading in the polls to be president again. This is just not the kind of behavior in which American presidents have ever engaged. So just on that level alone, which might seem trivial, but is actually quite important, Trump is already a deviation from everything that the American establishment relies on to maintain this sense of power and image. But then much more substantively and ideologically, when Trump ran in 2016, he ran against so many pieties of establishment authority that had never previously been questioned, not only denouncing Bush and Cheney for the war in Iraq and mocking the CIA for the things they got wrong and for the things they lied about, but also doing things like saying, you know, I think rich people corruptly rule the government. I know as a rich person, all I had to do is give a check to a politician, and they would immediately get on the phone and ask me, what did I want? He kind of opened the curtain on how Washington really works in a way that you’re not supposed to do.

 

He questioned whether or not the United States should still be in NATO, whether or not the United States should be going around the world, changing governments and engaging in all these kinds of wars that are so central to how the United States functions and how it works. And increasingly, he has become a greater and greater, adversary to these long-standing factions that have long ruled Washington because he perceives correctly that they have been trying to persecute him, and he has become increasingly this outsider figure in a way that no American, anyone who had been as outsider in terms of their mentality and their ideas as Trump is, would have been previously instantly destroyed. And you see how they’re trying to destroy him. I mean, he’s indicted in four separate jurisdictions facing 91 felony charges. They banned him from the internet. They’re trying to put him in prison. They tried to strike him from the ballot. Look how extreme they’re being in terms of their desperate attempts to stop him. Why is that? Usually, you don’t care if John McCain wins or Barack Obama wins or Mitt Romney wins. It’s all the same to them. But in the case of Trump, they are a huge amount, and that is because they perceive him, I think, for valid reasons, as a threat to these decades-long means of keeping American institutions of power firmly in place, regardless of the outcome of elections.

 

 

Fred

One of the reasons people support Trump is the sense that he’s telling us the truth. And he’s, lifting the veil on this decorum and on the fakeness and on the hypocrisy. And then again, regardless what we think of him politically, do you think that in that sense as being a disrupter, being an outsider figure… do you see as somebody who’s committed to truth and exposing truth, do you think that in a lot of ways, one of the functions that he serves is in exposing a lot of the things that, you know, a lot of people believe that, you know, both parties kind of conceal inside of Washington politics. Is he a figure that, that, that, that that reveals the curtain and exposes a little more truth to the American people?

 

Glenn

Absolutely. I mean, I’ve always seen that value in Trump from the beginning that in this kind of chaos emerges opportunity. In other words, if you maintain stability in how people think, then the status quo will just continue in perpetuity. That’s the reason why stability is so valued by those who wield power. That makes sense. If you wield power, the last thing you want is any kind of disruption or change in the society, because you’re very happy with how things are structured. For a figure like Trump to come in and start encouraging people to disbelieve everything the FBI does, and to believe that our media institutions lie constantly and people should tune them out, or that nature of how we have discourse in the United States is designed to conceal lies, or that the way in which Washington runs is through corrupt corporate donations that corrupt and purchase both political parties… It’s hard to imagine a threat greater to establishment power than this because it’s breeding a level of distrust and suspicion among American citizens and leading American institutions. And he’s been doing it for eight years. And if he wins, he’s going to be doing it for another four years from the Oval Office again, in a way that arguably will be irreversible. And I don’t think there’s been, at least in my lifetime, a threat to Washington status quo, ruling class prerogatives as much as Donald Trump.

 

Now, that doesn’t mean that I believe that he’s some kind of revolutionary or true believer. A lot of times he’s motivated by petty grievance. He’s motivated by his own personal animosities. The reason he hated the CIA and the FBI, was because they’re the ones who tried to, in his mind, minimize or diminish his victory in 2016 by claiming that it was Russia that helped him win. And he started lashing out at the CIA and the FBI. But whatever! Sometimes we end up seeing the truth through petty and ignoble motives and I don’t really care ultimately what his motives are. I care a lot more about what the impact is of his presence in the political landscape and the fact that if I want to now go criticize the CIA or the FBI, or question the primary tenants of American foreign policy, that the space where I have to do that is now opened up very much on the American right. Whereas ten years ago it was completely closed to that. If course, I’m going to consider that to be a major positive, because it has provoked in a lot of people who previously never entertain these ideas to start entertaining the idea that maybe there’s something radically and fundamentally wrong about our leading institutions of authority. And since I think there is something like that, that is true. I want more and more people to be open to that. And to the extent Trump is an agent of that kind of chaos, I see him as a net positive.

 

Fred

It’s interesting that Trump also emerged, and after being a donor to the Democratic Party for a very long time, emerged on the right as a Republican. What do you see as the core hypocrisy on the right? You know, so traditionally, historically, the party of tradition and small government and so forth, what do you see as the core hypocrisy on the right with today’s right?

 

Glenn

I think the right has tried to rebrand itself and reconceive of itself and reposition itself as this anti-war and anti-interventionist party under Donald Trump. The idea that these wars internationally are fought for, a global elite and not for the benefit of American citizens of the working class. And I think this is an idea that’s very true. I also think the American right has become overtly hostile to the idea that we should be censoring speech and punishing dissent, and yet there’s still a lot of instincts that are old and not really purged from the American right that are completely contrary to those new ways of thinking about themselves. And I think you really see it over the last five months, ever since October 7th happened, where when Joe Biden stood up and said, I want the United States to finance and fund Israel’s military and Israel’s war against Gaza. It’s exactly the sort of thing that when it came, for example, to Ukraine, most people in the American right said, why are we funding and financing the wars of a foreign country? We should be taking care of our own citizenry. And yet Israel occupies such a place of extreme importance among the American right for political and ideological and religious reasons that all of that kind of got abandoned.

 

And even more disturbing was that since October 7th, there have been all sorts of people and media and academia fired because of their dissent from U.S. policy and support for Israel. There have been student groups that are pro-Palestinian that have got banned from American campuses. This safety-ism narrative that we were describing earlier has been imported again into American campuses, but this time in defense of Jewish students who say they feel unsafe because Palestinian students chanting things like from the river to the sea. And you have a lot of people on the American right now are suddenly supporting, not just financing other countries wars and having United States go to war, not just Israel, but bombing Yemen and bombing targets in Iraq and Syria for reasons that I think are very difficult to claim have a connection to the interests of the American citizen here in the United States, but also supporting the kind of cancel culture and suppression of dissent and safety-ism that they’ve been long opposed to, that I think there’s kind of a muscle reflex on the part of a lot of conservatives, including ones who identify as Trump populist or Make America Great Again first… Adherents to this idea that at the end of the day, the role of the United States is to go bomb and kill our enemies and to prevent any dissent at home. And I think you’re seeing a lot of these tensions play out with this issue of Israel and how political dissent has been treated around it in the United States since October 7th.

 

Fred

It’s been it’s a heated issue, for sure. There’s definitely been a flipping on the free speech side and on the safety-ism side, since that issue, I’m curious when you follow the, the hearings with, the Ivy League presidents around the issues of, you know, calling for genocide because I think even people that are free speech more or less absolutists, as I consider myself, typically, we also do recognize that there are exceptions. I mean, they’re the obvious ones, like defamation or copyright infringement, but there’s also incitement to and then it depends… people, people say incitement to….? What? Is it incitement to direct violence? Is it incitement to hate? Is it incitement to. And so what emerged in the imagination and you had all this fallout. It was incitement to, let’s call it a calls for genocide. I’m just curious, like where do you draw the line? If there is a line, in your view, as to what constitutes unacceptable speech or speech that can be regulated out? Not from this kind of like very, very, inflated sense of safety-ism, but from a sense of, you know, maybe there are some issues where there’s, there’s an actual security component to it. How did you kind of follow that, that whole, that whole discussion and debate and all the fallout?

 

Glenn

So first of all, as a constitutional lawyer, I generally look to First Amendment precedent in the United States. I think protecting free speech, constitutionally and legally, is one of the things United States still does, as well as, if not better than, most other countries, if not all. And the kind of guiding, precedent that I have always cited whenever these free speech issues are, are raised… And of course, the left has always justified censorship by that same ground that, look, we’re not censoring dissent, we’re just censoring speech that could incite violence against marginalized groups like black people and trans people and women and immigrants. That’s all we’re doing is we’re just protecting marginalized groups from speech that might encourage people to engage in physical violence against them. By stirring up so much hatred for them. The Brandenburg case, for me is the perfect answer, was a case where a leader of the Ku Klux Klan stood up in a speech in Ohio and said, if the government doesn’t stop discriminating against white people, it’s going to be necessary and justified for us to use violence against our leaders in response. And he was prosecuted under an Ohio statute that banned, advocacy for terrorism. That’s what they called it, because he was saying, we’re going to use violence in pursuit of our political aims if this doesn’t change. And Ohio prosecuted him for advocating terrorism. And the Supreme Court reversed the conviction and said, you cannot prosecute people for their speech, even including abstract advocacy of violence.

 

After all, the country was founded based on people saying the king had become so repressive that we have to take up arms against him. It’s justified to do that. And the only exception is if you have a kind of it’s called imminent violence, where, say, you have a crowd of people gathered with torches on a street and you say to that crowd right now, go burn down that person’s house. And then the crowd goes and does it. Then you can be accused of imminent incitement to violence. So when in those hearings, for example, those university presidents were asked what about advocacy of genocide? And they said it depends on the context. I think that was the absolutely right decision for this reason, if you publish an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson or some university newspaper, or even if you have a political protest, and your view is that the formation of the state of Israel was illegal, that Israel should be eliminated by the UN, that it shouldn’t be, that it was this, that of, a country’s land. Of course, you should be able to engage in that kind of speech. Do you think Israel is an illegitimate country? People think other countries are illegitimate, and you advocate for the change of borders and maps. If you go, you go and go up to a Jewish students face every day and say, I’m going to murder you because I think all Jews should be murdered. Of course, that crosses the line into harassment. It’s the same way that you could write an op-ed and say, I think transgender people are evil. I think transgenderism is a threat. We have to eradicate transgenderism. That’s a much different case than going up to, say, a trans person on campus and saying, I’m going to murder you. I’m going to kill you. I believe all trans people should be murdered.

 

So I think what these university presidents, because it was in the context of people trying to reclassify common pro-Palestinian slogans like from the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free as genocidal. And I think that attempt was very similar to me to the left liberal attempts to classify right-wing speech as inciting violence and justifying banning them. And they were saying it depends on the context. What is it that you mean by advocacy of genocide? And I think we want university presidents being cautious about jumping and promising to ban speech. The problem, of course, is that the people who are least credible to make this case were these university presidents because they have presided over a heavy regime of censorship against right-wing views and conservative views. And so no one trusted them to make that case. But on the merits, I am very concerned by any effort to classify political speech as so dangerous or so violent that we now need to ban it. Once you go down that road, I think… and the last thing I would say is, if you find yourself entertaining censorship theories where it comes to views that you most disagree with, I think that’s when you have to really put yourself under a microscope and ask yourself, am I really doing this because I think this is a different kind of view, or is it just that this is the view that’s so offensive to me that I’m finding ways to justify its suppression?

 

Fred

Yeah. So the hypocrisy point is a good one. They had been presided over, I believe, by Greg Lukyanov’s organization FIRE gave up free speech rankings to universities and Harvard ranked dead last with a negative score. And so it’s super repression of free speech and all of a sudden it depends on the context. So I think that’s one of the reasons why there was such a backlash and such a reaction. Is it fair to say then, in your view, that line, that famous, you know, when we’re looking for the line, what is the line where it becomes acceptable for you that it’s about imminence and specificity of the threat and not sort of a general political argument. And then my question to you is, does it also apply to groups? In other words, if somebody says something against a particular group. So for instance, death to whoever… Death to Jews… Death to blacks… or calling upon violence to a particular group, is that something that also crosses the line for you or, or does it depend on the context? And then what is the context? Right. If it’s specificity and imminence of the violence, where do we draw that line? I know that’s kind of a trite way of putting it. It’s hard, everybody wants to have that clear line and it’s hard to get. But in the context of this, you know, very politically heated ssues where there are acts of actual violence, right? How do we ascertain the specificity and eminence of a threat before we say, okay, let’s prevent, you know, the speech from leading to action?

 

Glenn

Yeah. No, it’s an important question. One of the things I would say is when October 7th happened, there are obviously a lot of pro-Palestinian protests immediately convened against the bombing of Gaza. There were also a lot of pro-Israel protests or even Anti-Palestinian protests in the United States. And at some of these protests, and there’s video circulating, them all, people were saying things like, flatten Gaza, kill all Arabs, kill them all, turn it into a parking lot.

 

Fred

Yeah.

 

Glenn

You could definitely argue that’s genocidal speech. I mean, if saying, you know, kill them all, kill all Arabs, flatten Gaza, turn into a parking lot, if that’s not genocidal advocacy I don’t know what it is, but I definitely think that’s the sort of speech that, of course, has to be protected because it’s still an idea. It’s an expression of an idea. And we have those kind of debates all the time. People say, go bomb Iran, bomb it hard, wipe it off the map. I mean, this is the kind of political rhetoric that I find unpleasant.

 

Fred

So you’re not saying it should be said. You’re not saying people shouldn’t say these. You think it should be protected.

 

Glenn

Of course I find these ideas horrible. I find these idea offensive. Like go wipe Gaza off the map to me is genocidal speech. But I believe very much in that standard of Brandenburg that I outlined earlier. To me, it’s the only safe standard that as long as you’re still in the realm of words, and it’s not spilling over into immediate action. Because at the end of the day, all political speech has the potential to incite violence. Let’s say somebody listens to the discussion we just had, and we convince people that the CIA is evil. Maybe somebody goes to the CIA headquarters with a gun and starts gunning people down in the parking lot, because they get so riled up by the things we just talked about. All political speech has that potential to incite people to violence, which is why I think the imminence standard, where you’re intending to do that, where you’re encouraging people that moment you are gathered for that reason to go do it. You become part of the mob. That’s instituting violent. But it has to be a very, very… there has to be a lot of proximity between the speech and the action.

 

Fred

There has to be an actual link between the speech and the action has to be actual. It can’t be theoretical. It can’t be somebody is going to come in and connect the dots to an action from that speech. It’s got to be the speech is intricately connected to the action, like we are going to go there and do that to this person.

 

Glenn

Then you really become part of the act, then you’re really becoming part of the mob.

 

Fred

Part of the act.

 

Glenn

Yeah. You think about the abortion debate, you know, and this has happened. People who say abortion is murder, which of course, you have the right to say that has inspired people to go in and murder abortion doctors, who perform abortions, or you say, people who are anti-abortion activists endanger women’s lives. That might inspire somebody to go put a bomb in a pro-life organization, which also has happened before. So all political speech, if you’re passionate about it, if it’s an issue that riles people’s emotions up, has this potential to quote unquote incite violence. But as long as it’s not, you know, imminent where you’re becoming part of the violent act yourself, I think it’s crucial that we protect that ability to express ideas. And as the Supreme Court said, even abstract advocacy of violence is protected speech because it’s still in the realm of ideas. And as long it’s in the realm of ideas, I think we have to regard it as protected free speech.

 

Fred

Thank you. I mean, that’s a clear explanation of the standard that you abide to. And it seems to be that you applied consistently to all sides, regardless of whether you see it.

 

Glenn

I try.

 

Fred

The I mean, that’s all we can expect. I mean, in a political discussion and discussion about these issues, it’s so tricky, especially, when it becomes emotionally charged with different positions and with different, different perceptions of different levels of threat. I think having clear standards and applying them consistently is part of a healthy political discussion. So thank you for that. I think we’re in a very challenging era… Maybe close with this, so much information to sift through. It’s just, the information overwhelm. I think it’s not something that we are, wired for. We’re not wired to sort of sift through and filter and deal with so much information. And a lot of it is weaponized information by large institutions, by political parties, by large corporations… You’ve got cancel cultures now it’s very clear on both sides, as you’ve just explained now since October 7th, it’s kind of flipped over. So it used to be that cancel culture was kind of like, you know, it’s known that it came from the left. But today you’ve got cancel culture is on both sides. You saw what it cost Elon to sort of expand the scope of speech on online and in social media. There’s a saying that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention. But I’m wondering today, and this is the kind of the hypothesis I have for you, and I want to get your thoughts on it with the amount of time that we have to spend sifting through information and the risks we have to take to expose certain truths but find truth to defend truth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6 the cost of truth

Fred

Is truth today, in many ways more expensive, than it’s ever been?

 

Glenn

it’s a really good question. I think it’s a complex question. It’s a difficult question to answer. And the reason is that the internet has changed everything in this regard. I mean, if you go and look at how people consume information about politics and about culture, even say, 30 years ago, 40 years ago, there was a small number of large media corporations that could afford to pay for the infrastructure needed to disseminate information television networks, printing presses and the like… Radio stations. And those people had control over information. And you could… you are pretty much captive to them. But there was a sense, I think, that there was a public duty on the part of journalists, journalists who went into that profession were people who did not want to become part of power centers. They were people who had these anti-authoritarian personalities. They wanted to throw rocks from the outside. I think the corporatization of media, where large mega corporations bought up media outlets, including TV outlets and the ethos of large corporations, is to assuage power and accommodate power. That’s who gets rewarded. Not people who are disruptive or who cause problems. Changed the nature of journalism.

 

And then the internet caused this gigantic proliferation, the availability of information so that you and I are able to have a conversation in a way that’s similar to, say, what a television network 40 years ago could have presented. Only we don’t have to buy a studio for it. We don’t have to spend a lot of money in order to have people find it, and people can listen to it as easily as they can listen to a major television outlet. And on the one hand, that creates more options, but on the other it creates this kind of great difficulty of, well, how do you decide what it is that you’re hearing? And then you add on to that the knowledge that certain information outlets are being controlled. And I think the fact that Elon Musk bought Twitter with the promise to liberate that platform from these controls, is one of the most important revolutionary acts in many years, precisely because it kind of reinstates this idea that there are outlets that we can go back to trusting, at least in the sense that speech is free.

 

I have my daily, my nightly show on Rumble, which is a Canadian company, actually, started in Canada. And they’re very devoted to this idea of allowing all views to be heard as well. I think that model is so important. And the question becomes, how is it, as a consumer, do you trust or distrust information that you’re hearing? And I think ultimately it is the burden on the individual to make sure that whoever you’re deciding to trust, whoever you’re deciding to believe, you’re not deciding to trust or believe because you’re happy about the views that they’re defending and how it aligns with your own. But instead, there are people who are taking up on themselves the burden to make sure that whatever they’re saying, they’re simultaneously presenting evidence for it, convincing proof that it’s true. And it is a very difficult task. People are raising kids. They’re working in modern life is… doesn’t leave all the time to breathe, let alone spend a lot of time analyzing which information is trustworthy and not. But ultimately, it’s something that you owe to yourself to make sure you’re not being deceived and manipulated and misled. And, although I do think it does create this difficulty, this proliferation of ideas and this diversity of sources of information, on the whole, it’s much more beneficial than having our information controlled by a tiny group of small and homogenized large corporations that, I mean, a small number of them, that feed us information. And we don’t really have a basis for comparing anything to what we’re being told.

 

Fred

So. So perhaps more truth, more available, but we have to work a little bit harder to get there.

 

Glenn

Exactly. That’s precisely how I put it.

 

Fred

That’s great. So, maybe just, now really to close, curious any, from a big picture perspective, any a big projects, a book that you’re working on, a project that you’re very passionate about, that you’re working on at the moment?

 

Glenn

I mean, what consumes most of my time is last year, at the end of last year, we were at the end of 2022, rather, we undertook our… a commitment by contract to produce a nightly one hour, 90 minute live show that we do live every night on Rumble, Monday through Friday at 7 p.m. Eastern. And I do have a book contract in July to bring journalism I want to be doing… I sometimes do, but when you’re producing a daily show, a nightly show, every single day, Monday through Friday, that’s live, it ends up consuming most of your time. So if you want to follow my work, aside from social media or Twitter or whatever, we’re trying to produce a program. We usually just do 1 or 2 topics every night so we can spend 40, 45 minutes delving very deeply into it. We don’t follow the cable model, switching topics every six minutes because we assume that our audience has attention deficit disorder. The way the internet kind of conditions you to do, we try and really dive deeply into things, present evidence. So that’s mostly where my time goes these days.

 

Fred

Beautiful. Glenn Greenwald, thank you so much. This was very educational, and I thank you very much for your time.

 

Glenn

Yeah, I appreciate you inviting me. Really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks so much.

 

Fred

Awesome.