On Contact: Biden admin redux, deep state, empire & censorship
On this show this week, Chris Hedges talks to Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald about the incoming Biden administration and what it will mean for a country in crisis, ravaged by a pandemic it cannot control, hostage to corporate power and bifurcated into warring factions.
Glenn Greenwald is the author of several bestsellers, including ‘How Would a Patriot Act?’ and ‘With Liberty and Justice for Some’. His most recent book is ‘No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State’. Greenwald is a former constitutional law and civil rights litigator. He was a columnist for the Guardian until October 2013 and was the founding editor of media outlet the Intercept. He is a frequent guest on Fox News, Rolling Stone, and various other television and radio outlets. He has won numerous awards for his NSA reporting, including the 2013 Polk Award for national security reporting, the top 2013 investigative journalism award from the Online News Association, the Esso Award for Excellence in Reporting (the Brazilian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize), and the 2013 Pioneer Award from Electronic Frontier Foundation. He also received the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism in 2009 and a 2010 Online Journalism Award for his investigative work on the arrest and detention of Chelsea Manning. In 2013, Greenwald led the Guardian reporting that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service.
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Chris Hedges: Welcome to On Contact. Today, we discuss what to expect from the incoming Biden administration with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald.
Glenn Greenwald: The most disturbing event yet beyond as we discussed earlier, Facebook and Twitter's unity in blocking the New York Post reporting, is the fact that Amazon, Apple, and Google, three of the four companies that a Democratic House Subcommittee, just three months ago, declared to be dangerous, monopolist, and illegal anti-trust, anti-competitors in a really comprehensive report that they issued, united to remove from the internet a competitor to Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram that had become the most popular app downloaded on the Apple Store, which is Parler, on the grounds that Parler played a role in inciting or agitating for the capital breach and the riot that occurred on January 6th, even though it was their own properties like Google's YouTube and Facebook that played a much, much bigger role. They simply destroyed a competing platform at the urging of people like Congressman Ro Khanna, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They issued demands for it on Twitter, and within 72-hours, Parler was gone from the internet.
CH: Joe Biden and the system's managers of the deep state and empire are returning to power. Donald Trump and his coterie of buffoons, racist, con artist, and Christian fascists are sullenly leaving office. America, as Biden says, is back, ready to take its place at the head of the table. In the battle for the soul of America, he assures us democracy has prevailed. Progress, prosperity, civility, and a reassertion of American prestige and power are, we are promised, weeks away. Biden's appointments, however, are drawn almost exclusively from the circles of the Democratic Party and corporate elite. Those responsible for the massive social inequality, trade deals, deindustrialization, militarized police, world's largest prison system, austerity programs that abolished social programs such as welfare, the revived Cold War with Russia, wholesale government surveilles, endless wars in the Middle East, and the disenfranchisement and impoverishment of the working class. The Washington Post writes that about 80% of the White House and agency officials he's announced have the word Obama on their resume from previous White House or Obama campaign jobs. The Biden administration resembles the ineffectual German government formed by Franz von Papen in 1932 that sought to recreate the ancien regime, a utopian conservatism that insured Germany's drift into fascism. Bernie Sanders were buffed in his efforts to become Secretary of Labor and the Biden administration has expressed frustration with the Biden nominations. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was denied a seat by House Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee because of her support for the Green New Deal. The message of the Biden administration to Progressives and Left-wing populist is very clear, "Drop dead." What will the Biden administration's decision to put into place a third term of the Obama administration mean for a country in crisis, ravaged by a pandemic it cannot control, hostage to corporate power, and bifurcating into warring factions. Joining me to discuss the incoming Biden administration is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald. So, Glenn, we've seen the appointments. We've seen where they're drawn from, Victoria Nuland, Susan Rice, Lloyd Austin coming from the board of Raytheon, Janet Yellen. Talk a little bit about what you expect from the Biden administration, and I assume you'll agree with me why that's probably dangerous.
GG: I don't think it's particularly difficult nor is much work required to know what to expect from the Biden administration, in part because Joe Biden has been at the national political level since 1972. So we're talking about essentially 50 years. He has a very clear record of who he is, somebody who has repeatedly supported militarism and imperialism. He obviously was one of the crucial leading advocate in the invasion of Iraq as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002. He, coming from Delaware, has been a very loyal servant of the credit card and banking industry, architecting the bill that Elizabeth Warren said made her so angry that she entered politics, which was the bill that made it much more difficult for consumers to discharge debt and bankruptcy. Obviously, he is the architect of the 1994 Crime Bill, which is so ironic in a year when we had months and months of protests, largely from the Left against the police state and against racist police abuses, that the person who is probably more responsible than any other single person for that became the person behind whom they rallied. And then you add on to that eight years of the Obama administration of which Biden was a crucial part of that, as you said, which he's clearly attempting consciously to replicate. I think people have forgotten what the Obama administration is like. The Democrats are very good at creating a brand that is radically different than the reality. But essentially the Democratic Party serves militarism, imperialism, and corporatism. That's who funds them. That's what they believe in. It's why you see neocons migrating so comfortably back to the Democratic Party, why you see [INDISTINCT] operatives cheering for Joe Biden, why Wall Street celebrated when he picked Kamala Harris, who of course has her own background as a harsh prosecutor. I think it's very easy to see exactly who they are.
CH: What do you think the consequences of that are going to be for a country in crisis? There's a strong argument, which I think I subscribe to, that in many ways, the failure of the Obama administration to deal with the systemic problems gave rise to a figure like Trump and Trumpism. What's the danger of continuing these kinds of neoliberal policies?
GG: I think you see the dangers of--that neoliberal mentality, that neoliberal ideology in not just United States but entirely--basically throughout the democratic world. Here in Brazil where I live, people always ask me how is it possible that a country that elected a center-left Workers Party from 2002 until 2014, so essentially four consecutive national elections, suddenly lurched to this far-right extremism in Jair Bolsonaro, and the answer is it's because the system failed them, they know the system failed them, and then they rallied behind whoever it was who seem to be the most virile adversary of that political order. Obviously, the same was true with Brexit in the United Kingdom with the rise of far-right parties in Western Europe, places we never expected to see them. And it's not a coincidence that after eight years of Obama and Biden, we got Donald Trump. And, obviously, if you go back and do exactly the same thing that the O'Biden administration did for eight years, which is what Biden is preparing to do, any rational person has to expect the same outcome. The same outcome being the middle class continues to be destroyed, companies that have no allegiance to the United States that will take as many jobs as possible and shift them to places where they can pay slave labor will continue to do so, communities will continue to be ravaged with unemployment, crisis with drug addiction, with suicide, with depression, all the things that are dominating small American towns, rural towns, and increasingly even larger ones. And that anger and dissatisfaction is going to only continue to grow so that when you have a smarter more stable version of Donald Trump tapping into that populace anger, promising them to close the United States, to give them better lives, it's going to be even more appealing this time around.
CH: The Biden administration, especially through many of the appointees, has made it very clear that they look at the progressive wing of the Democratic Party centered around Bernie Sanders as the enemy. Many of the people that he's appointed openly ridicule Sanders and his supporters. What will that mean for the party and what will that mean for progressives?
GG: Well, it's such an interesting dynamic. Really kind of pathetic to watch, because a major strategy of Joe Biden when he was running against Trump was to bash Bernie Sanders, specifically in the Left, generally as often as he could. Constantly ridiculing Trump for trying to link him to Bernie, or AOC, or Medicare for All, or the Green New Deal by saying, "I destroyed them. I crushed them. That's not me. You're confused about who I am." Joe Biden has always had contempt for the Left. So did Barack Obama. But this contempt, oddly, the more blatant it becomes, the more open and kind of contemptuous it becomes, the more the Left becomes almost more submissive than ever. I mean, I heard, over the last year, people not just tolerating but praising Biden for distancing himself from Bernie on the grounds that it was a politically shrewd and wise thing to do. And even now that the election is over, there was no chance Bernie was going to be Secretary of Labor. He practically begged for it, and they came up with an excuse that it's better to leave him in the Senate. There--as Bernie himself said, there really are no progressives. You can, maybe if you expand that definition, count one or two minor cabinet posts that way. But certainly nobody associate with Sanders' movement, which became a dominant part of Democratic Party in 2016 and 2020, is involved in this administration. And I've seen very little dissent on the part of the Left because they have bought into the overarching narrative that there are only two choices, united behind the Democratic Party and fight fascism and Hitler or succumb to fascism. They--it's kind of like the Bashar al-Assad strategy in Syria, which is to say, "I know you hate me but your only choice is to unite behind me or be ruled by Isis." That's essentially the choice they're using in with some exemptions on the Left that seems to be working. And I think Left-wing loyalty to Democratic Party is higher than I've seen in a long, long time.
CH: I want to get into the issue of censorship. We have seen the Left, in essence, embrace a wholesale censorship by Silicon Valley, not just now with Parler and now Biden is calling for a new terrorism law, and he was one of the primary architects of Patriot Act, but even before the election, we--maybe we can begin there. That Twitter locks out the New York Post from its own account. Your article about the revelations found on the Hunter Biden laptop are not--were censored out of The Intercept for which you resigned. You were one of the founders of The Intercept. But let's just start, you know, before--you know, during the campaign, and the Left cheered all of this on.
GG: Oh, yeah. I mean, one of the big causes of the Left during the 2020 election, it was one that I supported, was working to help Ed Markey, the long-time congressman, now senator from Massachusetts defeat a primary challenge nominally from his Right on the part of Congressman Joe Kennedy III. He became a hero of the Left. And right after he won, his primary and general election, there was a hearing convened where they called Silicon Valley leaders, including Mark Zuckerberg to testify before a committee on which Senator Markey sits and he told Mark Zuckerberg, "Unlike my Republican colleagues who are complaining about censorship, we don't believe that the problem is that you're censoring too much. We believe the problem is you're not censoring enough." And then proceeded to show him a bunch of content on Facebook that Markey thinks is dangerous or extremist speech that he demanded be censored. Obama delivered a speech a couple months before the election in which he says he believes the internet is the greatest threat to American democracy because of the role it's playing in disseminating misinformation. So the Democratic Party, including its Liberal wing and its Left-wing, are very much on board with idea that we cannot have free speech in this age of, whatever they want to call it, White supremacy, domestic terrorism, right-wing extremism, because it simply too dangerous. And not only should the free speech be restricted by laws and acted by Congress, which presumably would have to mean amending the First Amendment, but until then they're on their knees pleading with billionaires, and oligarchs, and monopolists, and Silicon Valley to censor in the way that they believe is politically advantageous. And this was true, as you said, even before the election. I honestly think, Chris, that one of the most momentous moments of the last five or six years was when the New York Post started reporting on documents that, to this day, everyone acknowledges are completely authentic. And the intelligence community invented a lie that it was Russian disinformation, which immediately pressured or gave the pretext to Twitter and Facebook to ban report it. If you wanted to go on Twitter and post a link to the New York Post reporting on the Hunter Biden laptop, which contain a lot of information about what Joe Biden was doing in Ukraine, what he was doing in China when he was the presidential frontrunner, you couldn't even post the link. They had banned it. Facebook algorithmically announced through a long-time Democratic Party operative networks at Facebook that they were going to suppress the spread of that story. That was stunning intervention on the part of Silicon Valley in the ability to do journalism, in the election on behalf of a candidate that Silicon Valley overwhelmingly was supporting. And since the Democrats won, every time the Democrats call on Apple, or Google, or Facebook, or Twitter to censor, those companies comply because they're in debt together. There is an alliance between Silicon Valley billionaires, and oligarchs, and monopolist on the one hand and the Democratic party on the other. And it's now all about to merge with the power of the state.
CH: Great. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation about the incoming Biden administration with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald. Welcome back to On Contact. We continue our conversation about the incoming Biden administration with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald. So, Glenn, let's talk about removing Donald Trump from social media platforms. I think even the shopping--was it the shopping network? I mean--and why that's dangerous--a dangerous president?
GG: I found it really interesting that numerous world leaders, including ones who have famously acrimonious relationship with President Trump stood up and very vehemently denounced Twitter's decision and Facebook's decision to ban President Trump from the platform, that includes Chancellor Angela Merkel, who's a center-right politician with whom Trump has argued and bickered almost his entire presidency. It includes President Lopez Obrador in Mexico, who's a leftist president, who very eloquently and vehemently warned that Silicon Valley is becoming essentially a world media leader. Something greater than nation states, because--and ministers high up in the Macron government in France, obviously who also don't love Donald Trump, denounced it in similar terms. Why? Because they're extremely concerned that these private tech monopolists who they cannot battle--the EU has been trying to break up Google and break up Facebook for years, and they simply can't because they're too powerful, are also coming for their democracies. And they know that if Facebook and Twitter can block President Trump from accessing the internet, they know it could be done to them as well and to their countries as well. And the only people who aren't bothered by this, from what it seems to me to be, are US Liberals. And I think that the most disturbing event yet beyond, as we discussed earlier, Facebook and Twitter's unity in blocking the New York Post reporting, is the fact that Amazon, Apple, and Google, three of the four companies that a Democratic House Subcommittee, just three months ago, declared to be dangerous, monopolist, and illegal anti-trust, anti-competitors in a really comprehensive report that they issued, united to remove from the internet a competitor to Twitter, and Facebook, and Instagram that had become the most popular app downloaded on the Apple Store, which is Parler, on the grounds that Parler played a role in inciting or agitating for the capital breach and the riot that occurred on January 6th, even though it was their own properties like Google's YouTube and Facebook that played a much, much bigger role. They simply destroyed a competing platform at the urging of people like Congressman Ro Khanna, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They issued demands for it on Twitter, and within 72-hours, Parler was gone from the internet. So it doesn't take much to understand why this is so dangerous that our speech, our ability to organize on the internet and to be heard is concentrated in the hands of a tiny number of Silicon Valley oligarchs who exist completely outside of the realm of democratic accountability who operate with no transparency and with no limits.
CH: And you--your last column, which I subscribed to, was on Parler. Just tell people how they can subscribe to your Substack feed.
GG: Yeah. So Substack is one of those new independent outlets that gives people the freedom, at least for now, to write, speak without interference. And I left The Intercept and went there. And you can find my writing at greenwald.substack.com. There are other writers like Matt Taibbi at taibbi.substack.com who are doing great work. And I really encourage people to support independent media as one of the key antidotes to all of this.
CH: Let's talk a little bit about, with the powerful tools at their disposal, let's not forget that Silicon Valley was a major funder of the Biden campaign. Indeed produced a series of anti-Trump advertisements in the last week of the campaign. All of this was dark money done through a super pack. Biden has a clear animus towards progressives and the Left. If the Biden administration continues the policies of the Clinton, Obama administrations, fails to deal with the rupturing of social bonds and the grotesque social inequality and the misery that has been inflicted, exacerbated by the economic fallout of the pandemic, what do you see happening to voices like yours or like Matt's? What do you see happening to progressive critics who call out the Democratic Party for who they are?
GG: I think absolutely they are very committed to the destruction of any outlets that permit independent voices of dissent. Already you could just pick up a New York Times this morning, and there was an article about how people who were using Parler but now can no longer because it was removed from the internet by Amazon, Google, and Apple are migrating to platforms like Telegram and Signal. And there was a New York Times article, Laying the Groundwork, for saying, "Look, Telegram and Signal are now the venues for this right-wing extremism that has become a dangerous." It's only a matter of time as Substack grows before these groups of journalists that the--that NBC and the New York Times and the CNN employ whose only function is to demand censorship, start turning their guns on platforms like Substack or Patreon and saying, "Look at the extremism that they're hosting. Why aren't they removing this content that's extremist and radicalizing people, and is so dangerous." They want to maintain a monopoly over the dissemination of information, and they're not--and the most shocking part of it is the people who are leading this crusade, this censorship crusade are journalists, are the people who work at the large corporate media outlets. They are the biggest and the most vocal cheerleaders for corporate censorship of anybody because they don't want any other voices competing with their own.
CH: You make a point in one of your columns about the--and the--and the raison d'etre for that. We're talking about publications like The New York Times, is they claim that they are nonpartisan, and you kind of devastate this argument. But lay that out for us, the idea that these partisan outlets, whether the Left or the Right, are shut down and censored. And there is a direction. The people who seek news are directed to established media outlets like The New York Times as if they are objective. But please explain that fallacy.
GG: So, you know, obviously, there has been a lurking question for 15 years now or so with the advent of the internet which is, "How is it that media outlets and newspapers can survive when there's so much free content online as a result of the internet? Where can they get their revenue from?" It used to be that they could get it from advertisers, but advertisers now primarily go to Google and Facebook, and they collect 90% to 95% of what used to be media advertising money. People are unwilling, increasingly, to pay for content online, and so these media outlets were in serious trouble. And so the model that they adopted in order to become financially viable was to become a [INDISTINCT] to say, "We're not just objective news disseminators," because you can get that anywhere. "We're going to be devoted to a particular political cause," and because you agree with that cause so passionately, you're going to give us your money the way that you give your money to the ACLU or to some other group that you support. So The New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, all these other outlets position themselves as anti-Trump outlets. And everything that they did became designed to appease and aggrandize essentially the Democratic Party because that is who became their audience. The Democrats are now the audience of the white affluent managerial cause. That's where you get subscription money from because of this financial incentive to become essentially organs or spokespeople for the Democratic Party. Obviously, not the socialist movement within the Democratic Party but the established neoliberal one.
CH: And yet the argument is that they somehow aren't partisan. That's the argument that they make to justify diverting readers towards their content.
GG: Yeah. You know, it's kind of ironic because when I began writing about politics in 2005, one of my motives was I didn't think that this kind of pseudo-neutrality or pseudo-objectivity that the media had long adopted for themselves was destroying journalism. And the example that bothered me the most at the time was that the Bush administration began implementing a system of worldwide torture, and media outlets refused to call it torture on the grounds that, well, the Bush administration denies that it's torture. Human rights groups and everyone else around the world says it is. Who are we to decide? We're just journalists. We tell you what one side says, we tell you what the other side says, and then we wash our hands of the question. And that was clearly a corrupting form of journalism because it precludes the truth, and I always advocated for a more adversarial and honest form of journalism that's willing to call lies from government officials' lies. In a sense, they've adopted that but only in a very partisan sense. They're only willing to do that when it comes to Donald Trump because that's all their readership wants to hear. You're going to see a radical shift in how the US government is covered now that Biden and the Democrats are about to take over. I'll bet you you can count on one hand the number of times CNN will have a cry-on onscreen calling a press secretary statement or the president's or vice president's statement a lie or false because they're not doing journalism. They're doing activism on the part of the Democratic Party. That is the model they have assumed.
CH: Great. That was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald, on what to expect from the incoming Biden administration. Thanks, Glenn.
GG: Great to be with you, Chris. Thank you.