From Tom Paine to Glenn Greenwald, we need partisan journalism | Jack Shafer
New York Times business journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin called for the arrest of Greenwald (he later apologized) and Meet the Press host David Gregory asked with a straight face if he shouldn’t “be charged with a crime.” NBC’s Chuck Todd and the Washington Post‘s Walter Pincus and Paul Farhi also asked if Greenwald hadn’t shape-shifted himself to some non-journalistic precinct with his work.
The reactions by Sorkin, Gregory, Todd, Pincus, Farhi, and others betray — dare I say it? — a sad devotion to the corporatist ideal of what journalism can be and — I don’t have any problem saying it — a painful lack of historical understanding of American journalism. You don’t have to be a scholar or a historian to appreciate the hundreds of flavors our journalism has come in over the centuries; just fan the pages of Christopher B. Daly’s book Covering America: A Narrative History of a Nation’s Journalism for yourself. American journalism began in earnest as a rebellion against the state, and just about the only people asking if its practitioners belonged in jail were those beholden to the British overlords. Or consider the pamphleteers, most notably Tom Paine, whose unsigned screed Common Sense “shook the world,” as Daly put it.
My paean to activist and partisan journalism does not include the output of the columnists and other hacks who arrange their copy to please their Democratic or Republican Party patrons. (You know who you are.) Nor do I favor the partisan journalists who insult reader intelligence by cherry-picking the evidence, debate-club style, to win the day for their comrades. (...) ask yourself: Where would we be without our partisan journalists?