The Cult of Authority
March 7, 2018
On a recent episode of “Intercepted,” Glenn Greenwald, James Risen, and Jeremy Scahill, three millionaire celebrity journalists employed by a billionaire to provide the masses with fearless, adversarial journalism, debated, for approximately fifty-seven minutes, whether Donald Trump might be guilty of treason. This debate was prompted by the negative response to Risen’s first investigative piece for The Intercept, “Is Donald Trump a Traitor?,” a lengthy rehashing of the official narrative the corporate ruling classes have been relentlessly disseminating for the last eighteen months. Dedicated readers of The Intercept had wondered aloud on social media how, exactly, this repetition of the evidence-free “Trump is a Putin Puppet” narrative qualified as fearlessly adversarial. Some had even gone so far as to suggest that Risen, a legend in the world of investigative and national security journalism,had been a bit reckless, ethically speaking, in throwing around words like “treason” and “traitor,” and in allowing his status as a journalistic legend to lend further credence to the most ridiculous official propaganda campaign since the “Saddam is stockpiling WMDs for al Qaeda to attack America with” hoax.
In any event, The Intercept, its brand identity under attack, sprang into action and arranged this debate. Scahill and Risen were live in New York, possibly at First Look’s Fifth Avenue studios, with Greenwald participating remotely from his home in the mountains above Rio de Janiero. Following a solemn introduction by Scahill, and after kowtowing to each other at considerable length, Greenwald and Risen get down to the work of defining the word “treason.” This takes twenty minutes. They then move on to ascertaining whether Greenwald believes, and will admit on camera, that “Russia intervened” in the 2016 elections. Mercilessly pressed on this point by Risen, he finally confesses that he probably believes that the Russians likely “did some things.” This takes up another twenty minutes. The rest of the episode is dedicated to establishing that Greenwald is not a Trump-loving pinko (despite his occasional appearances on FOX), and that Risen agrees that the general public (not to mention fearless, adversarial journalists) should not just accept whatever intelligence agencies tell them without supporting evidence. Scahill then wraps up the episode by joking about Greenwald getting paid in rubles and Risen getting paid by the CIA, and noting how “interesting” it is to be a fearless, adversarial journalist at a serious operation like The Intercept, where extremely affluent, award-winning colleagues are allowed to respectfully disagree about whether the President of the United States should be tried and executed for treason because some Russians bought some Facebook ads and said mean things about Hillary Clinton.
I realize you’ll probably want to break off now and go watch this thrilling debate yourself, but bear with me for just another few minutes, because this essay isn’t really about the debate, or The Intercept, or even First Look Media. Believe it or not, I’m a fan of Glenn Greenwald, who is one of the very few celebrity journalists who has had the guts to consistently challenge the ridiculous “Russiagate” narrative from the start. And just because The Intercept is owned by a neoliberal oligarch who backed a fascist coup in the Ukraine, micro-financed a few Indians to death, and employs a personal security detail of ex-Secret Service agents and State Department types who will fly him to safety in his private jet in the event of imminent zombie apocalpyse, that doesn’t mean The Intercept staff doesn’t publish important investigative journalism.
No, what struck me as I was suffering through this debate was how utterly divorced from reality it was, whatever “reality” might mean anymore. Watching Greenwald, Risen, and Scahill sitting there, like rational people, “debating” whether Donald Trump might be part of some convoluted Russian conspiracy to destroy America and Western democracy, I felt like I was finally having one of those apocryphal LSD flashbacks. It was as if I was watching these respected journalists debating whether the face of Jesus may have actually appeared on a breakfast taco at a daycare center in Beeville, Texas.
Now, I mean no offense to The Intercept, or Jesus, or even breakfast tacos. I’m simply trying to point out how, after eighteen months of relentless repetition, we have all been barraged with so much ridiculous “Russiagate” and “Collusion” propaganda that it is almost impossible to step back from it enough to recognize how ridiculous it is. Fundamentally. The basic premise of the narrative. Imagine for a moment, if you can, that you had never heard about “Russiagate,” and listen to the story concept as if you were hearing it for the very first time. Ready? OK, here it comes … “Donald Trump conspired with Putin to brainwash Americans with Internet ads into electing him President of the United States so he could help the Russians take over the world!” How is this story concept any more credible than the one where a radical Jewish prophet who’s been dead for over two thousand years, but who rules the universe with his omnipotent father, appeared on a taco in Beeville, Texas?
Well … OK, I’ll tell you how it’s more credible. It’s credible because “authoritative sources” say it is credible, over and over, and treat it as a “serious” story, in spite of