On bullying: Glenn Greenwald and the ‘Obama nun rape’ smear

Has Greenwald gone too far?

Glenn Greenwald has developed a reputation as one of the most prolific — and self-righteous — voices on the Internet. But this past weekend, he revealed another side that longtime observers of his rise to prominence in liberaldom knew all too well.

By amplifying a Twitter comment that “Barack Obama could rape a nun live on NBC” and his followers would still back him up, Greenwald revealed one of his more unappealing traits — a nasty streak that holds those who disagree with him — and not just their ideas — in utter contempt.

From Zerlina Maxwell, writing for theGrio:

… Greenwald has been one of the loudest and harshest critics of the Obama administration, and while not actually a liberal or an Obama supporter, he is frequently identified as a blogger who is “disappointed with President Obama” over what he sees as serious violations of civil liberties. The debate over the NDAA (and U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan) has been ongoing and frequently gets lively between Greenwald and his supporters, and pro-Obama bloggers like Imani Gandy, of AngryBlackLady.com and Balloon Juice(Gandy also contributes to theGrio.)In a particularly heated exchange on Twitter Saturday night, a blogger named “DrDawg” tweeted about Gandy: “Obama could rape a nun live on NBC and you’d say we weren’t seeing what we were seeing.” In response, Greenwald chimed in, “No – she’d say it was justified [and] noble – that he only did it to teach us about the evils of rape.”

When twitter exploded in attacks on Greenwald for making a “rape joke,” instead of apologizing for the comment, Greenwald doubled down, tweeting that the reference to rape was not a metaphor and in fact Obama supporters would defend the president in the face of “ANY evil: assassinations, child-killings: EVEN rape violent crime like rape.” …

It’s that doubling down that seems to be presenting a problem for Greenwald, as even people sympathetic to his views are asking, “dude, do you really want to own that?” Yes, he does. Maybe the guy is simply insensitive to women (one of his favorite causes is a guy who, when not leaking national security secrets, was punching a female colleague...) or to rape survivors, or maybe he’s just too cloistered in his Libertarian ideascape to see how offensive that tweet was. If you read his timeline, he really doesn’t seem to get that saying people who support the president would condone him raping a nun in front of them, or if you include his self-defense, would support any act of depravity or violence the Evil Barack Obama of Greenwald’s invention could commit, is patently offensive and well… crazy. It’s crazy like the libertarian belief that slavery and Jim Crow would have cured themselves via the free market. But that’s a whole different post.

Greenwald is clearly an ideologue, and I’m sure he sincerely believes that the government’s use of drones and waging of covert wars and the drug war are the most pressing problems facing the planet. Or at least he believes that now. But his most consistent pattern seems to be a rapier’s edge applied to anyone who disagrees with him. And unlike, say, the late Christopher Hitchens, Greenwald applies the sword without the ballet of swordsmanship. His attacks are more like serial killings than swashbuckling. One has to be, in Greenwaldian terms, literally evil to not agree with his point of view. And he’s not afraid to say so. Anyone who fails to loathe Obama as he does is an “Obama lover” (just chew on that, if you’re African-American) or a “cultist.” It isn’t possible that Obama could do anything that isn’t vile and insipid and worthy of continual, emphatic condemnation.

If Greenwald felt this way because he simply loathes violence and drones, and the extrajudicial killing of terrorists and the senseless deaths that unnecessary wars bring with them, that would be one thing. But back when he was a Bush supporter, and was, by his own admission, very much in favor of the invasion of the sovereign nation of Iraq, he seems to have had a decidedly different view. Greenwald openly admits to not voting up to at least the 2000 election, precisely because he had the kind of blind trust in his government, and even in President George W. Bush that he now, sneeringly, pins on Obama’s supporters. And, again, he supported the Iraq war — not in 1991 but the one that happened in 2003. One can even imagine Greenwald penning a 4,000 word Salon blog post calling those who opposed the president and the war idiotic, infantile and stupid — how could they not give their president the benefit of the doubt, as the brilliant Glenn Greenwald did?

A couple of years later, in 2005, back when he was a vigorous opponent of illegal immigration (in his pre-Salon days) Greenwald was writing things like this:

There already is a “closed sign on the border” when it comes to illegal immigration. It’s called the law. The problem is that the “closed sign” isn’t being enforced because the Federal Government, which has its interfering, power-hungry hands in virtually everything else, has abdicated its duty in one of the very few areas where it was actually meant to be: border security.

As if the Bush administration (which I guess he no longer blindly supported) had become too stupid, and too obsessed with meddling in the free market and individual liberty to lock down the border with Mexico. That passage could have come from any right winger today, except that unlike your average conservative, Greenwald also believes the government should not have its interfering, power-hungry hands involved in killing Osama bin Laden.

At around that same time, attorney Greenwald was defending white supremacist Mathew Hale against civil suits by black and Jewish victims of a Hale devotee’s shooting rampage, which isn’t inherently problematic, since in our system, everyone deserves a lawyer. And yet in true Greenwald fashion, he characterized the complainants as “odious and repugnant” … and then he unethically wiretapped witnesses in the case (luckily for him Libertarians don’t have any particular thing against individuals violating each other’s civil rights … only governments.) Because, you know, people on the other side of Glenn Greenwald’s cases — even if they are victims of hate crimes — are “odious and repugnant.” Hope you’re not too stupid and robotic to understand that.

These things didn’t happen Millennia ago. They happened less than a decade before Greenwald became a de facto leading voice of “liberals.” And they are repeated features of Greenwald’s style, which is to tear apart not just the arguments of his opponents, but his opponents themselves. The sheer anger, and vitriol in a Greenwald column can make it hard to read, and it’s one of the reasons I stopped reading him a long time ago. The bullying tactics online and on Twitter take away from his arguments (some of which I’d probably actually agree with…) as do his past hypocrisies.

Look, we’re all hypocrites on some level. I used to vehemently oppose the healthcare bill because it lacked a public option, to the point where I was prepared to see the bill die rather than pass. I’ve since changed my position, because the realities of governance became more compelling than my former disillusionment. I don’t begrudge Greenwald or anyone else being disappointed with Obama’s policies, or even vehemently opposed to them. He has a perfect right to do it, just as those who disagree have a right to present a counter-argument.) It’s the bullying toward people who have made the exact same decision he made about George W. Bush in 2000 — to give the president the benefit of the doubt — and the snide presumption of moral superiority by people like him (and David Sirota and some others) that’s hard to take.

Case in point: more than just an attack on what Glenn calls “Obama cultists,” the “nun rape” tweet defense was also a particular attack on one person — a woman named Imani, who blogs at AngryBlackLady.com. Greenwald’s sympatico, “DrDawg” was directing his comment at ABL, and Glenn’s amplification was directed at her as well (Imani is also the “lying, partisan enforcer” Greenwald denounced in his Big Ron Paul post, along with the “simple minded” who can’t figure out how great Paul is… she’s a frequent target of his online bullying…)  It was his way of making his usual point about the obeisance of Obama supporters to their “dear leader.” But Glenn has never presented evidence of that obeisance. Rather, like his delusional rant about their being some mythic prohibition against criticizing the dearly departed Mr. Hitchens in death, he simply asserts that it is so, goes to Insult Defcon One, and poof!

An example? Here is Glenn arguing that Obama criticism is also “not allowed” by his “bots” (who have some mystical control over, I’m not sure who, but let’s go with it…)

Then there’s the inability and/or refusal to recognize that a political discussion might exist independent of the Red v. Blue Cage Match. Thus, any critique of the President’s exercise of vast power (an adversarial check on which our political system depends) immediately prompts bafflement (I don’t understand the point: would Rick Perry be any better?) or grievance (you’re helping Mitt Romney by talking about this!!). The premise takes hold for a full 18 months — increasing each day in intensity until Election Day — that every discussion of the President’s actions must be driven solely by one’s preference for election outcomes (if you support the President’s re-election, then why criticize him?).

Worse still is the embrace of George W. Bush’s with-us-or-against-us mentality as the prism through which all political discussions are filtered. It’s literally impossible to discuss any of the candidates’ positions without having the simple-minded — who see all political issues exclusively as a Manichean struggle between the Big Bad Democrats and Good Kind Republicans or vice-versa — misapprehend “I agree with Candidate X’s position on Y” as “I support Candidate X for President” or  I disagree with Candidate X’s position on Y” as “I oppose Candidate X for President.” Even worse are the lying partisan enforcers who, like the Inquisitor Generals searching for any inkling of heresy, purposely distort any discrete praise for the Enemy as a general endorsement.

First off, I don’t recall Imani or Shoq or any of Glenn’s Twitter foes ever stating that he endorses Ron Paul. I, for one, have made it clear in my posts about Greenwald that he hasn’t endorsed him. Glenn’s affinity for Paul, however, is well documented, going back to the 2008 campaign, and he dug in his heels defending Paul against progressive objections then, too. Is that an endorsement of Paul? No. But it’s clear that Greenwald is as much a supporter of Paul as he posits people like Imani and Shoq are of Barack Obama. He is, in fact, as unflinching in his support of the man, and fierce in his defense of him, even as the evidence of some seriously racially offensive views on Paul’s part builds, as he claims “Obamabots” are of the president. But don’t call him a “cultist,” that just wouldn’t do.

As for the “with us or against us” accusation, it is rich for Greenwald, who applies a scorched earth strategy, full of schoolyard taunts and insults, to even the most basic arguments, to moan that such a thing is being used against him. He is the one with the apparatchiks who fan out to strafe anybody who dares to criticize The Glenn. He is the one who has even employed pretend fan-people to do so. He is the one who conflates support for Barack Obama to slavish devotion on a North Korean scale, with the only escape from his Sirotan prison being, I suppose, for the “cultist” to actively express live hatred for Obama, to Greenwald’s satisfaction, as proof that one is not enslaved.

Greenwald is neither a liberal nor a conservative, so it would be unfair to hold him to the probably unrealistically high standards for civil discourse and decency that liberals tend to hold one another to.  And he and his fierce defenders online, and particularly on Twitter, probably could give a damn what insignificant, robotic, fools like me think of him.

But Mr. Greenwald should know that bullying doesn’t go unanswered in the Twitter age, and contempt tends to run both ways. The progressive movement is not nearly as dependent on individual online stars to build it up as it used to be, due to the rise of social media, which has greatly democratized the discourse on both sides of the ideological aisle. The people Mr. Greenwald dismisses as nobodies who can be disparaged and pushed around by him and his devotees represent a far greater share of the liberals/progressives than he and his Cato/Federalist Society/libertarian crew.

So good luck with that, Glenn.

And one last thing — and this is to those defending Greenwald and that tweet: imagine that the last name of the tweeter had been “Beck,” rather than Greenwald. How different would the reaction of the “left” be then? Or what if a rape joke had been tweeeted about Hillary Clinton? What then, folks? I suspect the outrage would have been considerably louder.

Footnote: and this is called taking my own medicine. I think you shouldn’t demand of others what you won’t do yourself, so with this post, you won’t hear me calling people “emo” anymore. It’s uncivil, and divisive and Greenwaldian, and to the extent that I have promulgated the term (I actually didn’t make it up, though I sometimes get credit for it) I’m sorry to have done so.

So here’s to more evolved discourse. For what it’s worth.

UPDATE: A rape survivor responds to this Chirpstory with a sobering letter. Hat tip to @dvnix

Related: Should Glenn Greenwald have to own the Ron Paul blue plate special?

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76 Responses to On bullying: Glenn Greenwald and the ‘Obama nun rape’ smear

  1. Ken Heimbuch says:

    Ladies and Gentleman, there are many more worthy of your scorn than Glenn Greenwald. Fry the big fish folks.

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  3. Chris Lines says:

    Well written. The discourse of Glenn Greenwald is tragic whiney libertarian crap. He took his ball and ran away to Brazil where he met a boy toy. In addition to the great points made here in this posting, widdle GG didn’t get his way when he lost law suits and when his 11 yr relationship ended so he ran away to Brazil and hasn’t returned because the U.S. won’t let him get married to his (at the time they met) teenaged lover. Instead of staying in the U.S. and using his law degree to fight for equal marriage, he threw a hissy fit and ran away. That’s one of the points in which he completely loses credibility with me. So he sits in his ivory tower in Brazil with his 23yro boy toy and pontificates about U.S. policy without voting. OK. ergo the other element in which widdle GG loses credibility with me. As a gay man who has fought for our rights in this country without a law degree but with my intelligence and true liberalism/progressive stand, I am embarrassed that he is a member of my community. Then to add insult to injury are the so called liberal professional left like Joan Walsh and Van de Heuvil from the Nation who just gush over GG as if he is the 2nd coming of Hitchens, SHAME ON THEM for giving him credibility. Let me not forget to include and express my disappointment in Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes also for giving GG a platform to express is venom.

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  5. N.J. Parsons says:

    In general I like Greenwald and note that his passionate posts against drone killing is usually related to Arab deaths. I don’t think he is racist.
    Posters criticizing his sexual preference are way off base. Why go there?

  6. Dana Gordon says:

    Anthony:

    “I’m guessing most folks here don’t even follow Greenwald. Anyhow, he proves his point as the Obamots are clearly incensed by Greenwald’s valid criticism of their robotic support of anything he does — things they wailed against when done by Bush — and his very salient, valid condemnations of Obama’s anti-Constitutional actions.”

    This is exactly right. One does not have to agree with everything Greenwald says to acknowledge the importance of his voice regarding the Constitution and torture and war crimes and a host of other issues that Obama is given a pass for, where Bush was not.

    It is appalling to see a bigoted, poorly reasoned attack on Greenwald like this, along with the homophobic stuff in the comments section.

  7. Bill Owen says:

    I’ve been posting and reading at Glenn’s blog for years. I know him well. The vast mass of the posters here are being misled by this very biased on underhanded attack.

    Yes, he is not an Obama fan. Okay, good, get over it. Attack his ideas and the innumerable facts that he presents if you like. I don’t see Glenn smearing anyone, but I see it here.

    Come over to UT (his blog) anytime if you want to discuss.

  8. JTGordon says:

    Comment 11. ALLAN ON JANUARY 3RD, 2012 2:18 AM

    “In leadership theory they talk about the concept of ‘shadow of a leader’ which can be boiled down to: people look to their leaders for cues on what constitutes acceptable and appropriate behavior.”
    “… the despicable apple doesn’t fall too far from the despicable tree as far as Greenwald’s loathsome fans are concerned.”

    I thought the point was that criticizing a leader’s actions is noble and justified — while disparaging the leader’s sycophantic enablers is bullying and cruel?!

    It’s truly a pity if you wrote “Greenwald’s cultish admirers” without even a hint of irony.

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  10. ThomLandon says:

    Dear Unthinking Obama Zombies on this blog:

    It is very simple what Greenwald has said and done for the last 10 years regarding civil liberties, unlawfull killings, torture, rendition, war. Look them up. There may be a few others more committed to liberty, but not many.

    His argument that Obama supporters (& Bush supporters before them) are willing to go to any length to RATIONALIZE what we call atrocities and terrorism and fascism in others.

    If you can refute that Obama has promulgated the same (or worse in some cases) drone, unlawful detention, unlawful killing policies then I would ask Greenwald to apologize too.

    Otherwise, look in the mirror, grow up, and realize that Obama is not a saint, perfect, playing the long game or biding his time. Change comes from holding leaders accountable, not being servient to power.

    We have been at war for more than 10 years. These policies of Bush and their extension by Obama are the NATURAL RESULT of our larger war policy.

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  12. Pingback: Balloon Juice » Blog Archive » Glenn Greenwald’s Portman/Obama Comparison on Marriage Equality is Crap

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  15. Junaid Noori says:

    Most of the claims against him in this article are false:

    http://m.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/30/1182442/-Glenn-Greenwald-Responds-to-Widespread-Lies-About-Him-on-Cato-Iraq-War-and-more

    If you like to tout yourself a nerd, you ought to do the research that comes with it.

  16. MelHaun Sr says:

    I find him ( Greenwald ) one of the few persons I can agree with a few things he has to say, but find him disgusting and obnoxious. Makes hard to even listen to anything he has to say. I would not want to be tempted by being the same room. That said, this whole thing about the young man Greenwald is pimping is still developing so, I won’t go there.

  17. Robert says:

    I stopped reading this post about halfway through (when it was spreading erroneous claims about Greenwald concerning the Iraq war). I don’t think the writer simply got the facts wrong. It is a reckless disregard for the truth and an intentional smear piece. For those who’d like to read Greenwald’s own replies to some of the above, read this: http://m.dailykos.com/story/2013/01/30/1182442/-Glenn-Greenwald-Responds-to-Widespread-Lies-About-Him-on-Cato-Iraq-War-and-more

  18. Cory says:

    I agree that using derisive terms directed at people is a very poor substitute for an argument. But let’s not pretend that it isn’t something we all do, public or private. Your criticisms of Greenwald are legitimate, even if they at times straddle the fence of hyperbole. Glenn’s work is important, tireless, and for the good of the people and far outweigh any of the perceived or real shortcomings presented here. The last point should be uncontroversial.

    • mandy says:

      I doubt few of even us are as annoying and disingenuous as Glenn is, even when we’re losing an argument. I think even fewer of us are as narcissistic.

  19. Pingback: On bullying: Glenn Greenwald and the ‘Obama nun rape’ smear | I read stuff.

  20. danny6114 says:

    The main thing that G.G. loathes is lack of attention.

  21. mandy says:

    Glenn is mean and nasty, as he was with me online last year, but that’s not his worst trait, by far. His worst trait is his insipid, uninspiring writing. I invite you to read it closely, for content and style, and you may realize he’s not that good. His writing is pedestrian and often hysterical, and his logic is faulty. I don’t get why he’s so sought out. He rarely says anything credible. He NEVER says anything that is not self-serving. I don’t get it. LOL

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