Alistair Fairweather
Alistair Fairweather

Glenn Greenwald vs Newsnight – when did the BBC become the lackeys of the security state?

Something deeply disturbing is going on in Britain, right under the nose of one of the oldest democracies in the world. Watch the video embedded below to see what I mean.

For those of you unable to see the video, it’s an interview of Glenn Greenwald by veteran BBC journalist, Kirsty Wark. Her first question – “Why should you be the arbiter about what is in the public interest and what is vital to national security?” – sets the tone for the whole interview.

But what’s striking here is not the combative tone of the interview, although I find that extremely unprofessional of Wark, but the blatant lapses in quality journalism. Throughout the interview Wark simply parrots the government’s official position, and makes all kinds of vague and unsubstantiated statements.

Time after time she repeats serious accusations of which she has no proof other than what she has been told by the GCHQ. She claims that David Miranda, Greenwald’s partner, was “carrying around his password on a piece of paper” when he was (illegally) detained by British police at Heathrow airport in August. Greenwald has to remind her that government statements shouldn’t be simply accepted, and then goes on to disprove the claim with hard facts.

Wark feels quite comfortable speaking on behalf of her fellows Britons. She proposes that people might “actually feel quite safe” to know that “spies do spy”. Glenn counters with the fact that the NSA and GCHQ do not only spy on terrorist, but on ordinary people, companies and organisations including Petrobras and the Organisation of American States.

Later Wark quotes a mistranslation of an interview Greenwald gave with a Portuguese publication in which he appears to threaten the UK with revenge reporting. She asks if anything is “coming down the pipeline” since the interview was “several months ago”.

Greenwald has to explain to her first that the interview was only four weeks ago and second that a report on GCHQ spying on Petrobras had been published since then. He then goes on to rubbish her suggestions that he is seeking revenge, explaining what he actually said in the badly translated interview. And still, she will not quit, insisting that “you can see how people think that” (he is engaging in such revenge).

Wark also repeatedly interrupts Greenwald, haranguing him in the hopes of winning an argument for which she is ill equipped. The vagueness of her questions speak of an extremely shaky grasp of computer security, which perhaps explains some of her bluster.

She asks Greenwald if he has the documents “on a memory stick in your pocket” which is an idiotic question to anyone who has read anything about the Guardian’s technology protocols and expertise.

There’s a nasty, grimy undertone of homophobia to Wark’s questions about Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda. She sneers that Miranda is “your partner and, I suppose, collaborator” and later says that his illegal detention “must have been very distressing for you.” Given the tone of the interview that remark comes across as snide and disengenuous. She asks, at one point, “Is it (the unreleased information) in your bedroom in Rio?” to which Greenwald replies, “I’m not going to talk about what’s in my bedroom.”

Although angered by Wark’s bombast, Greenwald retains his composure and gives measured and reasonable replies with hardly an “um” or “ah”. He also retains his sense of humour qipping “not being able to visit the UK is not really something I regard as particularly great punishment”.

And if the first clip hasn’t convinced you of the bumbling incompetence of Newsnight’s producers and hosts, this one should do the job. Pay particular attention to the polite reverence shown towards Pauline Neville-Jones.

The most disturbing thing about this whole affair is that it is a product of the BBC, not a right-wing mouthpiece like Sky News or Fox News. What happened to the bastion of balanced and independent broadcasting? How could they allow such an ill informed apologist to attempt a character assassination on a fellow journalist without so much as blinking an eye?

It smacks of lickspittle journalism and government interference. As I’ve said before, I’m generally a national security hawk, but this kind of willful blindness in the face of overwhelming evidence is appalling. And if we can’t rely on the BBC to have some balance and common sense, Britain’s democracy is in more trouble than I had ever feared.

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    • george orwell

      Thanks for highlighting this. The video makes fascinating viewing.

      Greewald dissects Wark’s questions and expose her for the ‘churnalist’ she is.

      Greenwald fillets Kirsty Wark and serves her up as haddock. Not sure if she’s sharp to see how silly she’s made to look, reading a list of talking points issued by Mi6.

      Auntie Beeb’s slip is showing like never before.

      The BBC is to the UK what Pravda was to the old USSR – state media that cannot claim to be ‘impartial’.

      The BBC’s Board is stuffed with titled members of the elite establishment.

      Kirsty Wark gives voice to their narrow, vested viewpoint. BBC News is creepily archaic. Almost Retro.

    • george orwell

      George Orwell worked at the BBC in the 1940s.

      “He was hired as a Talks Producer for the Eastern Service to write what was essentially propaganda for broadcast to India.” [quote taken from BBC's own archive site]

      His concepts of “news speak” , “ignorance is strength”, “war is peace” and “memory hole” (ie news conveniently forgotten/omitted) speak to his time as a Beeb journalist .

      He understood that state broadcasters aren’t going to stray far from the establishment status quo – ie. parameters set by the powerful 1% .

      He understood that news selection is skewed according to the milieu in which journalists and editors are embedded.

      In the same way, corporate media won’t challenge their owners’ and advertisers’ bottom-line interests. Media accepting adverts from certain oil/petrol/gas interests, or media houses with board members who also sit on boards of those industries, will not launch huge campaigns against fracking or oil resource wars, for example.

      BBC is a classic case study in propaganda.

      But many westerners only regard the ‘ Official Enemeis’ broadcasters (Russia, China) as propagandistic.

      They believe western media is 100% impartial, neutral and untainted by vested interest.

      That’s why this K.Wark interview is so interesting: Wark wears her unconscious propaganda role on her sleeve.

      If a Russian journalist interviewed a Brit asking similar questions from a Russian point of view, the Brits would be very good to cry…

    • george orwell

      Breaking News – Fake Video on BBC – reported today by former UK Ambassador Craig Murray

      This article points again to people desperately trying to direct or frame news, rather than impartially report it.

      Of course this sort of thing from the Beeb is nothing new. There was the famous incident of Beeb journalist Jane Standley reporting the collapse of Building 7 at the World Trade Centre, on 11 September ‘1, with the still-standing Building 7 clearly visible in shot, behind her left shoulder.

      It actually only imploded 20 minutes later.

      If BBC reported that the Mayor’s trousers had fallen down 20 minutes before they actually did so, wouldn’t you wonder where they got that information from?

      See this short video: The BBC’s Premature Announcement:

    • rmr

      To say that the BBC interviewer was unimpressive is to put things very mildly. Her harsh, rather desparate tone, irritated, as did her lack of depth and preparedness. One would have welcomed a debate about an issue vital to the well being of democracy. If this is the best the BBC can do they are in trouble. Greenwald and Snowden certainly deserve better.

    • Michael

      I agree with almost all of this except the belief that this represents a shift in the BBC’s reporting. I remember the BBC during the run up to the war in Iraq, and they were perhaps the most pro-war, pro-government station running, it was a shameful display.

      The BBC during the financial crisis has also been mouthpiece for state policy, they hardly ever fail to side with the government and financial industry.

    • Martin

      Living in the UK, I think many are not surprised that much data is collected which is superfluous to the aim of suppressing terrorism: the government has to sift a great deal of data to find what it’s looking for and may not even know what it’s looking for before is finds it. The bigger question is whether it does anything with the excess data or simply deletes it after a period of time.

      There are also a good number of people amazed by the arrogance of the Guardian newspaper and its journalists. Greenwald demonstrates this very clearly in the interview: there are no other facts than his, and no space for any other interpretation of the actions of the parties than his interpretation alone.

      Apparently the Guardian does not think that the UK authorities have any right to intercept stolen goods passing through Heathrow (granted that the use of the Anti-Terrorism laws was over the top) or to retrieve them from the offices of the Guardian. (Does it occurs to anyone that the UK authorities might not know what the NSA had obtained and Snowden had access to?).

      People are also concerned at the irresponsible volume of data that has been released: it it really necessary to release 58,000 apparently personal documents when releasing 6,8 or 10 will prove the point?

      The impression given is that the Guardian believes that it is above the law.

      Kirsty Wark does not distinguish herself but she does give Greenwald an opportunity to demonstrate the frightening certainty of…

    • John Trainor

      After seeing this interview I’ve lost respect for the BBC.

      Re “Martin’s” comment that “Apparently the Guardian does not think that the UK authorities have any right to intercept stolen goods passing through Heathrow,” evidently you think that governments have a perfect right to listen in on our phone calls and watch over our shoulders as we surf the internet. Obviously you do not believe in individual freedom or perhaps do not know what it is.

    • jimbob

      Hello BBC, are you worried about the competition ? or was it another issue?

      Having watched the propaganda broadcast for most of my life it makes me sick that the beeb now is a mouthpiece for what? the US? who knows, I will go back to reading my normal daily now in new country of residence, at least the propaganda here is not dressed up as news, and on the radio or tv the same propaganda bureau speaker appears and spouts there nonsense

    • jimbob

      sorry, missed this bit out on previous, good on you guardian for sticking to the journalism despite your misguided leftie leanings

    • Tofolux

      @alistair,let me congratulate you for your ‘light-bulb” moment. Personally I would like to advise you to celebrate and remember that moment forever. What this means is that you have reached a critical juncture and allowed yourself to pose what is simply called critical questioning. This is what our democracy and freedoms have asked us to do, in fact it is our responsibility to pose critical questions not only that we are enriched but also that we hold EACH OTHER to account. I thought with the advent of ’embedded” journalists (remember that) it sounded the death knell to objective and independent reporting. Of late, we have seen notice of the impending attack on Syria, with Obama bumbling away about ‘national interests’ and ‘democracy’. Critically at issue is the fact that the soundboard from SA media was an exact replica of the take western media had on these reports. This is quite problematic because it shows that there is one source where information comes from, no investigation and no interrogation of ”ground-breaking” news. BBC has been embroiled in the manipulation of information for a long time. Evidence indicates a particular stance that is similiar to cnn news. In fact, there is no difference in the content. Question, how can two stations break the same news, with the same footage, with the same content at the same time? Isnt it time that news becomes independent, objective and anti-papparazi? Hence lets ask if the credit ratings of America will be…