Is Glenn Greenwald the New Master of Right-Wing Media?
The leftist scribe has become “a practitioner of manufactured controversy” for outlets like Fox News, say his stunned former colleagues.
“DISGUSTING & DANGEROUS,” screamed the banner headline at the bottom of the television screen, just under the blonde-sheathed visage of Fox News’ Laura Ingraham. “GREENWALD BLASTS INTERCEPT FOR SMEARING INGRAHAM GUESTS.”
And so during a recent episode of The Ingraham Angle, Glenn Greenwald—who is so familiar to the top-rated cable channel’s millions of viewers that he requires only a surname—put on a suit and tie in Rio de Janeiro, where he lives, to continue doing what has occupied his energies for much of the past month.
That’s deploying every conceivable platform—from Twitter (where he has 1.6 million followers) to YouTube to Substack to an array of popular conservative websites to the very top of the ziggurat, Rupert Murdoch’s corporate cash cow—to denounce former friends and colleagues at The Intercept, the left-leaning digital news and opinion site he co-founded with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill in 2013.
“These millennial digital liberal outlets like the Intercept, BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, so many of them—they think that if you’re a conservative, you’re not really a journalist,” the 54-year-old Greenwald intoned (a tad weirdly, because most of his targets are in their late forties and fifties), while Ingraham could barely contain a gleeful grin. “They think that you’re part of this crypto-fascist movement, that you’re the enemy,” he added—referring to two young conservative videographers whose coverage of Black Lives Matter and other protests came under The Intercept’s withering scrutiny.
This past month has occasioned spectacular success, of a sort, for the pugnacious contrarian pundit, an erstwhile leftist journalist-turned-Donald Trump defender who once again is proving his mastery of the right-wing media ecosystem.
Indeed, in a self-perpetuating feedback loop that runs from Twitter to Fox News and back again, Greenwald has managed, like Trump before him, to orchestrate his very own news cycles.
Last year, following his exit from The Intercept, Greenwald admitted to The Daily Beast that Fox News airs its share of “horrific, toxic, damaging, destructive, and bigoted” content. However, he defended his frequent Fox hits, saying, “I have no doubt that some people at the Intercept were upset that I was going on Fox, but I would no sooner allow anyone to dictate to me which shows I can go on than I would allow anyone to censor my opinions.”
And now he is effectively operating as something of a Fox News assignment editor, as indicated by The Daily Beast’s spot check of the frequency with which Greenwald’s online musings on social media and elsewhere, especially his Substack page, have served as the basis for dozens of articles on Fox News’ website.
For the most part, the FoxNews.com stories have tended to celebrate Greenwald’s slashing critiques of non-Fox media personalities, such as a recent article inspired by his tweet trashing MSNBC anchor Nicolle Wallace for misreporting, along with other media outlets, that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was warned by the FBI that he was the target of a Russian disinformation campaign. (MSNBC and other outlets ultimately corrected the error.) A similar piece, written a couple weeks later, highlighted Greenwald’s Substack post in which he blasted “resistance journalism.” Of course, Fox News made sure to identify Greenwald as a “progressive journalist,” apparently to enhance the man-bites-dog credibility of his claims.
Besides obsessively repurposing Greenwald’s complaints about other media personalities—sometimes publishing multiple Greenwald-related pieces in the same day—the network also creates entire outrage cycles from Greenwald tweets, transforming tiny kernels into the media equivalent of a bag of popcorn.
For instance, a January tweet about what Greenwald called the “monster” of so-called “cancel culture” not only prompted his appearance on the Fox News Channel but also an online article about him “sounding the alarm” on the “cancel culture mob.”
The March 7 episode of MediaBuzz, the network’s Sunday media analysis show, provides another example of Greenwald’s Twitter feed inspiring Fox News segments—essentially a programming pipeline from social media-to-cable channel. Fox News’ digital media team had written multiple articles about Greenwald’s online complaints concerning CNN’s “junior high hall-monitor tattling” reporters, New York Times tech reporter Taylor Lorenz, and MSNBC host Joy Reid’s criticism of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Greenwald was then brought on by host Howard Kurtz to weigh in on all three subjects across multiple segments.
And just days after the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Fox News devoted multiple on-air segments across both its opinion and so-called “hard news” programming to discussing a lengthy Greenwald Twitter thread that slammed liberals for being “overwhelmingly supportive” of Big Tech censorship—specifically over the social media bans of Trump and the shuttering of Parler. And, inevitably, Greenwald’s online comments warranted their own FoxNews.com piece.
Fox News in general, and Laura Ingraham’s and Tucker Carlson’s primetime shows in particular, have also provided Greenwald with a vital perch from which to stir the right-wing media cocktail. A review of television transcripts indicates that Greenwald has racked up at least 72 appearances on Fox since December 2017—40 of them on Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Ingraham, meanwhile, has booked him on 14 different episodes, followed by nine appearances on Fox News Primetime, three on Kurtz’s MediaBuzz, two each on Sunday Morning Futures with Maria Bartiromo and Martha MacCallum’s now-defunct The Story, and one booking each on Watters’ World, the defunct Bill Hemmer Reports and the now-cancelled midnight show, Fox News @ Night. (Those figures do not include insomniac-friendly replays of Greenwald’s segments.)
“I did not see this coming,” said The Nation’s national affairs correspondent, Joan Walsh, who was editor-in-chief of Salon more than a decade ago when Greenwald gave up practicing law to spend five-and-a-half years as a star writer there. “It’s kind of sad. He won awards for us. He was a beacon during those dark days [of the Bush-Cheney military adventures and Barack Obama’s first term]. He was a lovely colleague, he really was. The difference between the cantankerous guy we sometimes had to wrangle with—it wasn’t all roses—and this person? Who’s this?”
Since Greenwald left Salon for The Guardian in 2012, he and Walsh have tangled on Twitter—bitterly at times. Last year, when Walsh was skeptical concerning the claims of Tara Reade, Joe Biden’s sexual-assault accuser, Greenwald couldn’t resist calling his former editor a “partisan opportunistic hack… sent out to try to smear, demean & discredit her.”
Greenwald’s latest media campaign is ruthlessly marshaling the armies of Twitter, Substack, YouTube and his home away from home, Fox News, to stoke fury against The Intercept’s investigation of the far-right social media platform Gab, as well as the news site’s documentary short exploring the questionable tactics and deceptive editing of two young videographers for conservative outlets who call themselves “the riot squad.”
He’s reaping rich rewards in attention and publicity from the right-wing media ecosystem by targeting his erstwhile Intercept comrades in remarkably personal terms.
During a recent appearance on YouTube’s The Jimmy Dore Show, where he prosecuted his indictments against the Intercept’s reporting, Greenwald called out editor-in-chief Betsy Reed as an example of the “shit liberals” and “liberal DNC hacks” who “crave nothing more than mainstream media approval”; Reed’s deputy editors Roger Hodge and Peter Maass, meanwhile, are “those little eunuchs she has working under her,” he claimed.
“This is a totally made-up controversy. It’s manufactured. There’s no there there,” said Reed, who joined The Intercept from The Nation in late 2015 with Greenwald’s blessing. “There’s no kernel of truth to Glenn’s crusade. That is what I think is fundamentally different from the old Glenn, who would often kind of overstate the case, and fall into hyperbole, but there was usually a kernel of truth. And I would say this time, he lost the kernel—or he doesn’t care about having that kernel. He’s become a practitioner of manufactured controversy in the service of the hard right in this country.”
Former New York Times journalist and “Riot Squad” author Robert Mackey—whom Greenwald had personally recruited to The Intercept on the strength of his Times work live-blogging major news events, making documentaries, and analyzing social media—practices his journalism while “sitting on his fat white ass on the couch,” Greenwald told Dore.
“That was his ‘reporting’”—here, Greenwald gestured scare quotes—"that was so innovative and that led The Intercept to hire him,” he added sarcastically. (Needless to say, Greenwald didn’t mention his key role in eagerly lobbying Mackey to leave the Times in 2016.)
In another curious omission on The Jimmy Dore Show, Greenwald went after one of his favorite targets, Times tech reporter (and former Daily Beast staffer) Taylor Lorenz, for her “unhealthy fixation” on billionaire Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen—but failed to mention that Andreessen is a major investor, to the tune of $15 million, in Substack, and is leading a new fundraising round of $65 million for Greenwald’s latest journalistic platform.
Hours later on the same day of his Dore guest-shot, Greenwald donned a suit and tie in Rio de Janeiro to trash Mackey some more on The Ingraham Angle and accuse The Intercept of deliberately inciting antifa members to physically assault TownHall.com videographer Julio Rosas and his Daily Caller counterpart, Jorge Ventura, “by dragging their faces into the light.” Never mind that the two young men, who clearly revel in the attention, had just appeared on Ingraham’s show before millions of Fox News viewers.
“I don’t pretend that my life is some avatar of working class values,” Greenwald elaborated in an email to The Daily Beast. “I do, though, think that’s true of Julio and Jorge. And that’s why I find it so repellent to watch a bunch of coddled, highly paid editors and journalists using a billionaire’s money from their $3 million/year office on the 18th floor of a Park Avenue tower to target actual working class journalists doing dangerous reporting about a violent group (Antifa) with which the Intercept ideologically identifies.”
Greenwald’s most astonishing verbal assault, however, was aimed at computer security engineer Micah Lee, director of information security for the Intercept’s parent company, First Look Media, and author of the Gab story. Lee had been essential to Greenwald’s two greatest journalistic triumphs.
As a staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 2013, Lee connected Greenwald, then at The Guardian, with National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden (after Greenwald hadn’t responded to Snowden’s attempts to contact him), teaching him how to use encrypted communication and helping him navigate Snowden’s classified data dump that revealed the NSA’s widespread surveillance of private citizens—reporting for which The Guardian shared the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. (The Washington Post’s Barton Gellman, whose Snowden reporting also won the 2014 public service Pulitzer, recounted in Dark Mirror, his book about the episode, several instances of Greenwald’s alleged duplicity in the throes of competition as the two jousted for scoops and credit—oozing charm in a conciliatory email and then bad-mouthing him behind his back to a New York Times reporter.)
In 2019, Lee was instrumental in the Intercept’s blockbuster “Operation Car Wash” series exposing official corruption and wrongdoing by powerful politicians in Brazil. (According to knowledgeable sources, after Greenwald began getting serious death threats from supporters of Brazil’s right-wing populist president Jair Bolsonaro—to say nothing of official prosecutorial harassment—First Look Media spent lavishly, in the six-figure range, to provide him with a team of bodyguards and an armored vehicle. That was in addition to Greenwald’s eye-popping salary of more than $500,000 a year.)
A collaborative project involving Brazilian journalists and Greenwald, who is fluent in Portuguese, the “Car Wash” series depended largely on a massive secret archive (secured, made searchable, and administered by Lee) “of private chats, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation—provided to us by an anonymous source,” as Greenwald, Reed, and Leandro Demori, the executive editor of The Intercept Brasil, wrote upon publication.
Yet after the release of Micah Lee’s Gab story—which, contrary to Greenwald’s indignant claims, doxed no one and simply documented that the platform hosts a range of Jan. 6 insurrectionists, anti-Semites, QAnon conspiracy theorists, white supremacists, and other extremists—Greenwald tweeted a photo of Lee, along with the warning: “If you, your relatives, or your friends are Gab users, remember that @micahflee is spending his days and nights trolling through your/their personal data with the intent…to expose them if they have the wrong ideology.”
Lee and members of his family had already been hassled by an Internet stalker with a criminal record soon after the Gab story was posted in early May, but in due course the stalking had fizzled—that is, until Greenwald’s tweet which, predictably, inspired a new wave of online harassment.
Internet trolls tried to uncover the personal data of Lee’s sister, and succeeded in doxing Lee and his wife, who were targeted by antisemitic and homophobic slurs and threats; they contacted local and federal law enforcement officials but ultimately decided to hire private security and change their phone numbers, especially after Lee received this voicemail message from an anonymous male: “Hey faggot. You do understand that doxing works both ways. So go ahead and paint a target on your back and there’s lots of people who are willing to take shots at you. You want war? Fine.”
“Glenn and I have always disagreed on some things, but at least he used to have consistent principles and respect for basic facts,” Lee told The Daily Beast. “It’s disappointing and tragic that he’s gone so far off the deep end, from what seemed to be an honest and fearless journalist into a conspiracy-peddling pundit that spends all his time misleading people.”
In an email exchange with The Daily Beast—which Greenwald posted preemptively in its entirety on Substack—he was unapologetic about his attack on Lee because, Greenwald complained, he started it. (He was apparently referring to a May 5 tweet in which Lee mercilessly mocked Greenwald’s outrage—duly splashed on Fox News’ website—at an Intercept fundraising letter touting the Gab investigation.)
“Precisely because of my long work relationship and friendship with Micah,” Greenwald wrote to The Daily Beast, “I would never have criticized him personally or even by name under any circumstances. When I co-founded the Intercept back in 2013, Micah was one of the first if not the first people we hired. That’s why I was so disappointed when he decided to start publicly criticizing me by name. After having chosen to do that to great applause from his liberal following, he—like the Intercept generally—wants to play the victim and whine about how he’s being persecuted for something that he himself did.”
Peter Maass, a noted author, experienced war correspondent and Greenwald’s former editor at The Intercept, told The Daily Beast: “Glenn can act in the most vicious ways against people who were loyal to him and essential to his best work. He has to know that his attacks on Micah are going to lead to intimidation and threats.”
Indulging his fondness for insult, Greenwald fired back: “It’s quite hilarious to hear lectures about loyalty from Intercept editors like Peter, making $300,000/year for nothing, when none of them would even [have] jobs if it weren’t for me and my work in creating the news outlet that they now all leech off of.”
As for Walsh, she “is a Democrat who still cries every night that Hillary Clinton isn’t President. She’s just angry that I don’t like Democrats,” Greenwald emailed.
Betsy Reed comes in for the most severe thrashing. “[S]he’s a pathological liar who makes everyone she works with hate her,” Greenwald emailed.
“I have zero respect for the senior editorial leadership of the Intercept—I have contempt for them which I have made quite publicly clear—so it’s hardly a surprise that they’re sniping at me in ways they never had the courage to do when I was there,” he added.
Seven years after eBay chairman Pierre Omidyar enlisted him to help start the web site and pledged $250 million to the project, Greenwald quit The Intercept in a blaze of acrimony last October, days before the presidential election, claiming Maass, Hodge, and Reed had censored his reporting on the presumed contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop to protect their preferred candidate, Joe Biden, and defeat Donald Trump.
Greenwald’s tabloid-ready departure—coupled with a lengthy manifesto-and-denunciation posted on Substack—quickly took on the trappings of a carefully-choreographed media event staged not only for the New York Post, which devoted 1,160 words to the liberal establishment’s attempt to muzzle a truth teller, but also for such Trump-friendly outlets as The Daily Caller, TownHall.com, Newsmax, The Washington Examiner, The Federalist, and of course Fox News, all of which credited Greenwald’s narrative of liberal hypocrisy and suppression.
Greenwald celebrated his exodus with a seven-minute appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show, where he claimed The Intercept’s alleged shielding of Joe Biden from scrutiny was all of a piece with an anti-Trump conspiracy in which “the CIA and the Deep State operatives became heroes of the liberal left, the people that support the Democratic Party, [and are] now in a full union with the neocons, the Bush-Cheney operatives, the CIA, Silicon Valley and Wall Street. That is the union of power, along with mainstream media outlets, that is fully behind the Democratic Party.”
“I totally agree,” Carlson declared. “And I’m ashamed of the times I made apologies for those agencies or this behavior. I really am. You are telling the truth… Glenn Greenwald! Congratulations on getting out of there.”
The real story of Greenwald’s Biden screed and his abrupt departure from the Intercept, however, is a little more complicated. According to several of Greenwald’s former colleagues, he had been musing since last July about the possibility of leaving for the richly financed Substack—where, he’d heard, his close friend and former Intercept colleague Matt Taibbi was earning close to a million dollars a year. (“It would be inaccurate to say I made anything close to a million,” Taibbi told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know what Glenn told others.”)
“It is absolutely true that I had been talking about leaving the Intercept since at least mid-2020, because I had become disgusted with its servitude to the Democratic Party and the resulting corruption of journalism that that produced,” Greenwald told The Daily Beast. However, he wrote, “it’s absolutely false that I was considering going to Substack” until “24 hours” before making the jump.
When Hunter Biden’s long-lost laptop became a public issue after Rudy Giuliani shared it with the New York Post, Greenwald proposed writing about it and Betsy Reed agreed on condition that the piece would contain actual reporting, not just opinion, and that Greenwald would submit it to an editing process before publication—terms he accepted. However, after he filed the piece to Maass, his nominal editor, Greenwald strenuously objected to Maass’ extensive notes (also posted on Substack) calling for changes, deletions and more facts.
At that point, according to three sources, Greenwald’s Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill read the draft of the Biden piece and made detailed recommendations of revisions designed to satisfy the concerns of both Maass and Greenwald. The sources said Greenwald largely agreed with Scahill’s suggestions to fix the piece, but instead of submitting a new version, he simply withdrew it, explaining that he had already made the decision to leave the Intercept for Substack—a move he announced the same day as his resignation, leaving former colleagues to believe he had been secretly negotiating a lucrative deal with Substack all along. Scahill declined to comment.
In an email to The Daily Beast, Greenwald confirmed that “Betsy was demanding that I submit my article to an editor—the first time in 7 years that she did so,” and that “Jeremy voluntarily went and made suggestions to the article, all of which I told him were acceptable. But Betsy was furious with Jeremy for doing that, telling him that his suggestions were nowhere near sufficient to render the article publishable.”
Reed, who said she was not furious with Scahill for trying to broker peace, added that Greenwald abruptly withdrew the piece before she or Maass had the chance even to see Scahill’s editing suggestions.
Greenwald added: “I never talked to the Substack people until the day before I announced my resignation from the Intercept— - less than 24 hours in advance...And that happened only because it was obvious that they [The Intercept] would only publish my article if I first removed all the parts critical of Joe Biden—the candidate they were desperate to win the election—and only leave the sections about media criticism.”
Meanwhile, readers can subscribe to Greenwald’s Substack writing under a variety of plans ranging from $5 a month to $50 a year to $150 to become a “founding member.” Greenwald has already lined up between 20,000 and 40,000 paid subscribers, according to an estimate by the Financial Times that Greenwald said was accurate, and is reportedly on course to earn up to $2 million a year.
Not bad for a guy who, as Greenwald put it in his email, “grew up in a working-class neighborhood raised by a single mother who worked hourly-wage jobs as a McDonald’s cashier and a defensive driving instructor” and “went to public schools and only could go to college and law school because of a full-time scholarship from the debate team and student loans.”
Intercept editor Roger Hodge theorizes that money is probably behind at least some of Greenwald’s adventures in right-wing media.
“He needs subscribers and he’s giving people what they want, which is hatred and rage,” Hodge told The Daily Beast. “He’s tapped into the rage machine. He understands that there’s no engagement like rage engagement.”