09/04/2014 02:31 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2014

Politico Columnist Pretty Sure Glenn Greenwald Has 'Peaked'

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Over at Politico, Michael Hirsh is wondering if Glenn Greenwald -- one of the select few journalists to whom former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden entrusted his cache of purloined NSA documents -- has already "peaked." I suppose that if Greenwald has peaked, it would be bad news, since the former Guardian reporter has taken his game to Pierre Omidyar's startup journalism enterprise, First Look Media. This is a point to which Hirsh alludes right away:

For about a year, the global enterprise you might call Glenn Greenwald, Inc. has been taking off like a red-hot app. The question now is whether the sudden rise of Greenwald -- a 47-year-old lawyer-cum-activist from Queens by way of George Washington University -- will soon follow the course of most Information Age startups: Boom. Bust. Bye.

Whence comes this notion that Greenwald has peaked? Industry observers have made note that Omidyar's company has had something of a halting start. Columbia Journalism Review's Dean Starkman wrote a good piece on its "growing pains" in August, suggesting that First Look Media has, perhaps, more challenges to face than it envisioned at the outset. Greenwald, who left a legacy newspaper to become the de facto "face" of the First Look brand, is inevitably knit up in all of that.

But none of this is central to Hirsh's thesis as to why Greenwald, and First Look, has "peaked." Rather it's this:

Will there be many more Snowdens to come, based on Greenwald’s "model"? Perhaps. But it’s more likely that Greenwald Inc. has already peaked.

Ahh, look out, we got a Hot Take, coming in fast: There is only one Edward Snowden. This is obviously a pretty keen insight. Now that Snowden is a well-known NSA whistle-blower, what are the odds that he one day returns to the NSA to do more whistle-blowing? Chances are, none, but I'm just speculating here. The salient point -- or so it seems, anyway! -- is that to avoid "peaking," Greenwald will have to come up with discourse-shattering scoops on a regular basis. I can't really name another journalist who's been asked to adhere to that standard. Perhaps the point of journalism is to never peak at all? This system is arguably working for Michael Hirsh. Greenwald and First Look Media, I guess, will have to resort to hiring "reporters" and cultivating "sources" in order to "break stories." Crazy, I know.

Hirsh's contentions only get weirder from there:

The NSA, duly chastened by Snowden’s leaks, is changing under presidential directives that will rein in its mass collection of telephone "metadata" -- its most controversial program -- while most of the rest of us have moved on.

I don't know who Hirsh's source is for the claim that "the rest of us have moved on." That strikes me more as a funny feeling that Hirsh had after a particularly vigorous pocket hockey session. But the most remarkable part of Hirsh's argument here is that he takes the recognition that Greenwald's journalism has had a remarkable impact on policy and the public discourse, and asserts that as evidence that this form of journalism is like, totally donesville, man. He continues in a similar vein here:

Another issue that tends to deflate the prospects for Greenwald, Inc., perhaps, is that no one (least of all Greenwald) can point to any serious violation of civil liberties or prosecution based on the Snowden disclosures -- except, arguably, that which threatens Snowden himself. No person has been charged; there are no Kafkaesque Joseph Ks being mysteriously placed on trial as a result of NSA surveillance; no one else has come forward complaining that family members or neighbors are being "disappeared."

I don't think this is an entirely unfair assessment, but I'll point out that when you produce a lot of journalism about what the NSA is capable of potentially doing if left unchecked, it really helps to prevent abuses from happening.

Hirsh, doing the Journalism That Really Matters, reaches out to former NSA Director Michael Hayden to assess whether First Look's journalism model is strong or not, and he asks Greenwald if he's "bothered" by the fact that he "damaged America's brand." Here's a pro tip: The question that was put to Greenwald in this instance is the one that you actually want to ask Hayden.

This isn't the first time that Politico has oddly asserted that Greenwald et al. have "peaked." Here's Dylan Byers, from July of 2013:

Despite how troubling the NSA's surveillance practices are, the American people seem content to live with them. [Editor's Note: Sorry, Dylan, but nope!] Moreover, the news cycle has moved on, dominated now by the Zimmerman trial, Egypt, et al.

Oh, so the "news cycle" is always "moving on" to a bunch of other stories that First Look can cover? Whatever will they do?

At any rate, if the people running the country decide overnight to become paragons of virtue, leading to a golden age in which no one abuses power, makes terrible decisions or otherwise acts like one of a bunch of well-heeled reprobates who benefit from a corrupt meritocracy, lots of people in journalism could end up "peaking." But I'll lay you odds that this is not going to happen.

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Edward Snowden