So he withdraws:
John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who many believed would be the spy agency’s next director, on Tuesday withdrew his name from consideration for a top job in the Obama administration amid concerns he was intimately linked to controversial C.I.A. programs authorized by President Bush.
The reason? Better believe it:
The opposition to Mr. Brennan had been largely confined to liberal blogs, and there was not an expectation he would face a particularly difficult confirmation process. Still, the episode shows that the C.I.A.’s secret detention program remains a particularly incendiary issue for the Democratic base, making it difficult for Mr. Obama to select someone for a top intelligence post who has played any role in the agency’s campaign against Al Qaeda since the Sept. 11 attacks.
The problem I have with this, as I’ve said before, is that (we) bloggers are shitty substitutes for vetters of a candidate for high office. We don’t dig up stuff, we just rip off other people’s work; and when that work is substandard or nonexistent, as in the case of Brennan, all we come up with is recycled quotes from a couple of interviews we wouldn’t even know existed were it not for Wikipedia.
Here’s a case in point: Celebrating “the best political news since the election”, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald yesterday claimed to have “documented at length” that Brennan was an “ardent supporter” of torture and rendition. But judging by the journalistic standards I’m used to, Greenwald hasn’t documented anything. An earlier post, which he provides as proof of his hard work, only contains extensive quotes from three old Brennan interviews he now deems incriminating.
I find this kind of vetting-by-Google problematic for a variety of reasons. First of all, it gives you no real insight into a person’s character. Unlike investigative journalism, it only tells you what someone has said, not what he has done. Secondly, since this lazy man’s method mostly turns up useless blabber, even bright guys like Greenwald are reduced to cherry-picking that borders on the absurd. Witness Greenwald quoting a New Yorker story by Jane Mayer (emphasis Greenwald’s):
Without more transparency, the value of the C.I.A.’s interrogation and detention program is impossible to evaluate. Setting aside the moral, ethical, and legal issues, even supporters, such as John Brennan, acknowledge that much of the information that coercion produces is unreliable. As he put it, ‘All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.’
I don’t call this documenting; I call it taking a reporter’s assertion and making it a fact. Which brings me to my third point: as any professional journalist knows, taking other people’s stories at face value inherently carries the risk of repeating their errors. But in the Blogspace, even if something has been taken out of context, or even if someone has been misquoted, it all ends up recycled and bundled up with the good stuff and blogged about endlessly. This is the most horrific thing about the Internet — decent people accidentally ending up as character assassins.
Even the eminently wise Scott Horton stumbles into this trap and consequently fails to make a convincing case against Brennan:
The problem isn’t John Brennan’s lack of credentials. He was a career intelligence operative who gets consistently strong marks for his effectiveness and intelligence from people who have worked with him. But he has a critical shortcoming: his completely ambiguous and inconsistent views about the CIA’s use of torture and torture by proxy as techniques. As a company man, Brennan was quick to justify and support what was done. As an ‘independent’ analyst for broadcast journalists, he also provided support and cover for practices from waterboarding to the use of psychotropic drugs.
Apparently Horton knows he’s preaching to the choir as he doesn’t even bother linking to anything that would give us a peek into those “ambiguous and inconsistent” views. The real reason, of course, is that Horton’s incisive critique is not based on personal insight but the same three interviews every other anti-Brennan blogger is quoting.
As anyone who reads my blog knows, I’m hardly a supporter of the Bush administration’s policies. For all I know, Brennan really might be a bad guy. And I’m more than ready to accept that Obama’s CIA director needs to be a credible symbol of change as much as a consummate professional. But instead of half-baked blog posts that only amount to a “firestorm” in Geekworld, I would’ve wanted to see a genuine exposé of the man behind the fuss.