Cherry picking, suppressing evidence, or the fallacy of incomplete evidence is the act of pointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position. — Wikipedia
Some four years ago I had the occasion to visit the northern German city of Lübeck, home to Thomas Mann and setting of his Buddenbrooks, where I joined a sightseeing groups of German-speaking tourists. Our guide explained various periods of the city’s history. For WWII, he found only one event worth mentioning: what he described as the barbarity of bombings by the RAF. Indeed, it occurred to me while listening, the people of Lübeck had suffered. But I also recalled something the guide did not mention, i.e. the Holocaust that had occurred some kilometers further east.
Fast forward four years. Within the last three weeks Mr. Glenn Greenwald and his Omidyar-financed website Intercept have thundered against Israel and Israel’s various putative barbarities in Gaza. I found not one word, not a single one, that could be construed as criticism or even reservation concerning the actions of Hamas. (I have blogged about one of these recent Greenwald anti-Israel broadsides.)
So one of Glenn Greenwald’s offenses against intellectual integrity — and there are a number of these — is cherry picking, as defined in my quotation above. But the problem with the Omidyar-Greenwald website is actually much more extreme because it is not just some ordinary propagandistic one-sidedness that can be detected by the observant reader. I would call it a higher cherry picking, consisting of the total suppression of any information that does not fit into the author’s ideology.
It is no secret that Greenwald has obtained the vast trove of US government secrets that were stoled by Edward Snowden. Now, more than a year later, Greenwald and his collaborators dip into this trove and other stolen government documents from time to time, pick from them whatever they want to pick, and present the result as a truthful representation of what the world is all about. Since nobody outside of the Greenwald organization has access to these materials there is no way for Greenwald’s readers to know whether a) the particular document now “revealed” actually comes from US government sources; whether b) if indeed it does, it is presented in its entirety; and finally whether c) if it is, there are other documents in the collection that limit or contradict it. In other words, a reader must accept, on faith alone, that the document exists and that it means what Greenwald says it means.
A typical example of the Greenwald method is his posting, just three days ago, of an article “Cash, Weapons and Surveillance: the U.S. is a Key Party to Every Israeli Attack.” The piece purports to tell a story, using Snowden documents, of secret US military, financial, and intelligence support of “Israel’s military assaults — such as the one in Gaza.”
First of all, there are publicly available materials that US assistance of this kind is routinely given to Arab countries as well, something Greenwald does not mention. We know, for instance, that the US has provided Qatar, the ally of Hamas, with such cooperation. Moreover, as Cliff Kincaid has reported, ” [Greenwald’s] own reporting [inadvertently] discloses that the NSA and the Israeli signals intelligence unit (ISNU) have shared information with the Palestinian Authority Security Forces.”
So much for Greenwald’s cherry picking, which, indeed, can be detected by diligent googling. But there is the more insidious “higher cherry picking,” which consists of citing wholly opaque sources (the Snowden papers), not accessible to anyone but Greenwald himself, and which Greenwald expects his readers to accept on his sole say-so.
So here is my question to all those who see some value in Greenwald’s journalism: since there is no way of verifying his assertions, and since, moreover, his record for veracity has never been established, what possible grounds can there be for defending his work ? Mr. Greenwald says that he favors “transparency” of government, but what he practices is total opaqueness.