The blue-check brigade is piling on journalist Glenn Greenwald for the heinous crime of criticizing a USA Today writer. Because this writer happens to both female and an intern, the attacks on Greenwald are predictably infantilizing and borderline sexist.
Greenwald had a substantive complaint with a story written by Brenna Smith, along with co-authors Jessica Guyunn and Will Carless. When Smith, a college graduate who’s already been accepted to work at the New York Times, tweeted out her article on Sunday, Greenwald replied.
My *first* story with USA Today: Defendants in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot continue to crowdfund their legal fees online using popular payment processors despite a growing crackdown from tech companies. https://t.co/KpegKiOmzL
— Brenna T. Smith (@brenna__smith) March 28, 2021
Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations. You're well on your way upward in this industry for sure: https://t.co/pvpmX3DaaW
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 28, 2021
In a quote tweet of Smith’s tweet, he wrote, “Congratulations on using your new journalistic platform to try to pressure tech companies to terminate the ability of impoverished criminal defendants to raise money for their legal defense from online donations. You’re well on your way upward in this industry for sure[.]”
The replies from blue-check brigade were nauseating, infantilizing Smith, defining Greenwald’s substantive complaint as “harassment,” and invoking the USA Today writer’s sex as though it should prevent men from criticizing her work in public.
Shout out to Glenn for his attack on the female intern publishing her first story. Ignore him, Brenna. The rest of us have realized that he is a nasty misogynistic troll and undeserving of a moment of your time. Congrats on your first story. https://t.co/7S4gNNKusP
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) March 29, 2021
The amount of vitriol from trolls on this site in response to her story is beyond shameful. The fact that it's targeted at a debut journalist who is doing fantastic work is sickening. https://t.co/w3gL10nrJ1
— Adrienne Shih 施若蓁 (@adrienneshih) March 29, 2021
This situation is unconscionable. Every week Grnwld picks a new woman to target & every week they're flooded with harassment. Not just for the women but supporters, too.
Brenna is an incredible reporter and she wrote a strong story. Nobody deserves this. https://t.co/d4nvMYm5sf
— Jane Lytvynenko (@JaneLytv) March 29, 2021
The amount of harassment women (especially journalists) receive for simply doing good work is mind boggling. Today it is @brenna__smith. But it is many others too.
— Brian Castner (@Brian_Castner) March 29, 2021
Brenna is a superstar journalist who followed the money using *public* records. The way she's being targeted online is absolutely shameful. Ignore the angry men shouting at the sky and go read her excellent story here: https://t.co/3LlgdWZnN3 pic.twitter.com/PsCo0jFdIH
— Ashley Wong (@wongalum) March 29, 2021
I’ve known @brenna__smith for a while now and she is an excellent journalist. Nothing excuses this sexist barrage of vitriol unleashed against her reporting esp when she’s an *intern*, by two male “journalists”. Here is her article in Q:https://t.co/wACQEwttbl pic.twitter.com/oNvudzefZG
— Manisha Ganguly (@manisha_bot) March 29, 2021
Our intern just published her first story with us and this is the vitriol she’s been met with. Just insane. Here’s the piece — it’s great and so is Brenna https://t.co/wTvnLxlrWi pic.twitter.com/tW28WcatJp
— Brett Murphy (@BrettMmurphy) March 28, 2021
This story I tweeted yesterday? Glenn Greenwald doesn't want you to read it, which is as good a reason as anything to click the link. Also, give @brenna__smith a follow while you're at it – Greenwald is trying to sic his trolls on her. https://t.co/uJV8aeMGem
— JMDavis (@JessMarinDavis) March 29, 2021
I feel like I keep writing this same tweet but this is horrific. To go after a literal intern on her first story with a disingenuous attack is awful.
It seems some powerful men are determined to go after female tech journos and also force new ones out before their careers start. pic.twitter.com/BiG5hLwtEe
— Kalhan (@KalhanR) March 29, 2021
Now, if Greenwald had sent his tweet to a college student working for her campus paper and invited his followers to engage in sexist attacks, that would be one thing. In reality, he criticized the work of an adult who’s published in one of most powerful news publications in the world after she publicized that work.
Some have argued it was Greenwald’s use of the quote tweet function that made his reply problematic, given that it brings bullies and trolls into Smith’s mentions. Let’s not pretend that if Greenwald had used the “reply” function, his critics would have been totally chill. When high-profile journalists on the left or right criticize people, trolls enter the chat. It’s inevitable. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re Glenn Greenwald or Soledad O’Brien or Donald Trump or Joe Biden.
To suggest that should prevent Greenwald from engaging in criticisms is silly. If you don’t want to be criticized for your work because those criticisms attract trolls beyond the control of their authors, then don’t use Twitter to promote your work. Greenwald didn’t ask or imply anyone should bully Smith. He should be able to engage with her.
It’s all reminiscent of recent complaints that Greenwald and conservative journalists like Tucker Carlson attacked New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz. By calling them out, our media’s petulant leftists claim, Greenwald and Carlson knowingly direct harassment at young, female journalists.
That’s almost true. They knowingly direct criticism at young, female journalists. Given that both Smith and Lorenz are grown adults performing journalism for powerful international news organizations, they are necessarily fair game for the harshest of media critiques. So what?
It’s their job to hold the powerful to account, just as it’s the job of media watchdogs to hold our powerful journalist class to account. If you choose to enter that space as a journalist, you are freely exposing yourself to media watchdogs, which are an essential part of that ecosystem. The stakes for the public are high, so getting criticized won’t always be a warm bath—nor should it be.
Further, broadening the definition of harassment to include rhetoric like Greenwald’s tweet hurts women and all legitimate victims of harassment (probably even like some of the trollish comments sent Smith’s way) because it dilutes the word’s meaning, making it more difficult to convey serious offenses and hold the offenders accountable.
Insular media spats are rarely worth spilling ink over, whether on Twitter or in these pages. But this particular internecine conflict is important because it’s a new tactic the media is employing to disempower its critics, smearing them as harassers and sexists to preserve their power from scrappy outside competitors.
Greenwald himself said it best, reflecting on the Lorenz backlash earlier this month. “This transparent tactic is part-and-parcel of the increasingly ideological exploitation of identity politics to shield the neoliberal order and its guardians from popular critique,” he wrote on Substack.
If you’re an adult journalist who publicly tweets out their work for a powerful news outlet, that work is fair game for substantive rebuttals. Greenwald’s critics are so caught up in criticizing Greenwald and scoring points by performatively defending a a young woman from a mean man, they lose sight of what they’re actually doing — infantilizing an adult, belittling women, and protecting the powerful.