Media Criticism

The Atlantic Reports that the ACLU Reports that Glenn Greenwald Will Report Bad Surveillance Stuff

By Benjamin Wittes
Thursday, July 3, 2014, 12:19 PM

Over at the Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf is reporting that Anthony Romero of the ACLU in a speech in Aspen is reporting that Glenn Greenwald someday soon will report that really bad surveillance stuff is happening:

Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, told an Aspen Ideas Festival panel Wednesday that forthcoming revelations about the NSA will provoke new debate about the propriety of government spying. According to Romero, Glenn Greenwald will reveal that Muslim Americans in public life were "subject to the kind of surveillance that Hoover did on Martin Luther King." 

Without apparent irony, Friedersdorf goes on to report that he asked Romero for details and got, well, this:

Romero said he could speak openly about the forthcoming story due to another press report, but that he didn't know many details because, although the ACLU represents Edward Snowden, these stories are being worked on by journalists, not his organization. "It will be interesting to see who is on this list but I don't know," he said. "It will be interesting to see if there were members of Congress on this list, what kind of judicial review was provided." He said that ferreting out this information is harder than it once was. "This isn't a manila folder put in a filing cabinet. This is a database. So all the data is there. The question is, what have they pulled from the database. So you actually have to recreate the queries from the databases to see that which they've pulled. It's very labor intensive. It doesn't just spit out something that says, 'Romero, they followed him' ... you have to read the code, it involves a lot of technologists, and part of the reason the journalists have taken as long as they have with these stories is that it's very complicated to pull them out of these massive amounts of data. So we'll stay tuned."

So let me get this straight: A journalist is reporting that an activist is reporting that a journalist will at some point publish a story about which the activist knows no details but about which he's prepared to draw dramatic conclusions.

For what it's worth, there's a reason that responsible journalists don't spent weeks flacking a story that has not yet been fully reported---as Greenwald has done on this one. For my part, I'll wait until Greenwald actually publishes his story, which was supposed to go live this week but didn't, before commenting on it.