Guardian columnist and blogger Glenn Greenwald joined HuffPost Live Tuesday and railed against what he called "reckless and irresponsible" journalism by BuzzFeed reporter Tessa Stuart.
Stuart wrote a story Monday claiming that Michael Moore had overhyped the recent detention of Palestinian filmmaker Emad Burnat at LAX as an attempt to seek publicity for Burnat's Oscar-nominated documentary, "5 Broken Cameras." Her story was based on a single government source, and she was forced to issue a correction after initially presenting it as based on multiple sources.
"The biggest problem with the story is that it granted anonymity to a government official to do nothing but defend and justify the government's conduct. That's almost never justifiable," Greenwald told HuffPost Live host Ahmed Shihab-Eldin.
"The purpose of anonymity in journalism is to protect people who want to blow the whistle on those in power and to protect them from incrimination. People who are exposing government secrets against the wishes of their superior," he said. "This is a person who's acting as a government agent doing nothing but justifying the government's conduct. He's acting as a government spokesman. There is zero justification for giving him anonymity and letting him say things without any accountability that may or may not be true."
Greenwald compared Stuart's story to shoddy reporting in the lead-up to the Iraq war, saying it "did nothing but uncritically pass on the claims of one government source" without investigating or contradicting those claims and calling it "government-subservient stenography."
"It really was nothing but a press release for the government," Greenwald said. "I thought that the lesson of the U.S. media in the wake of the Iraq war was that mindlessly passing on the claims of anonymous government officials was not journalism, it was government-subservient stenography. And that's what this was."
Greenwald specifically took exception with the fact that Stuart failed to place the story in a broader context of Muslims filmmakers experiencing difficulty with customs and immigration officials, citing a "long history of the U.S. government and U.S. government customs officials and Homeland Security officials harassing Muslim filmmakers who produce movies and documentaries critical of the United States or its allies."
"There's a huge context to what Michael Moore reported proving that this is probably what happened that the BuzzFeed reporter either didn't know about or didn't bother to inform herself about in order to serve her source and created this incredibly one-sided impression as a means of attacking Michael Moore," he said. "It's reckless and irresponsible all the way around."
BuzzFeed was invited to participate in the segment but declined -- which Greenwald called a "cowardly" move:
"I think it's incredibly unprincipled to basically accuse someone like Michael Moore of being a publicity-seeking liar, which is what that piece did, and then 'pass' on the opportunity to come in and defend your story and defend what it is that you've done," he said. "If they want to hold people accountable, as they think they do, then they should be held accountable for their own behavior."
In the second clip, seen below, Shihab-Eldin, who is a Palestinian American, shared his experiences being detained at airport security, which Greenwald placed into a broader context of Muslims traveling in or out of the United States experiencing difficulty with customs and immigration officials.
"It's absolutely ludicrous. Customs will all the time pick out people without having to explain why they're doing it, to take them to a secondary screening room to interrogate them further about why they're coming to the United States, to request additional documentation," he said. "And there's all kind of evidence that the people who end up getting targeted have their ethnicity or their national origin or their race or their religion used as a factor in determining who gets selected."
Greenwald said that the premise of Stuart's story -- which suggested that Burnat, "a Palestinian filmmaker traveling with a wife wearing a hijab who produced a film critical of Israel and the occupation," was randomly selected for detention -- is "completely ludicrous."
"At the very least, anyone calling themselves a journalist would have serious skepticism about that claim given the history of the United States over the last decade," he said. "And that's what's so offensive about what this story did. Instead of presenting that skepticism or operating within the context of those facts, it simply went and mindlessly wrote down and copied what a government official claimed happened without presenting any of the facts that called the veracity of those claims into question, and then dress it up as a news story that almost proved that Michael Moore was lying and simply seeking publicity. It was a reflexive siding with government authority and power, the very opposite ethos of what journalism is supposed to be about."
UPDATE: BuzzFeed wrote a second story on Tuesday, this time quoting five LAX officials and saying that the logs from the airport showed that Burnat was detained for 23 minutes. The story still differs widely from Moore and Burnat's account of the detention.
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