Please Help Me Interpret Michael Kinsley

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Yesterday I was pondering whether to write something about the great Kinsley-Greenwald-Sullivan-Etc. contretemps related to Michael Kinsley’s unflattering review of Glenn Greenwald’s latest book. Long story short, I think the entire thing is idiotic, and maybe I’ll blather about that at greater length someday. Then again, maybe not.

But there is one thing I’d like to get a crowdsourced opinion about. Here’s a paragraph Kinsley wrote about whether people like Greenwald have the right to expose secrets that the government thinks are dangerous to reveal:

The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government. No doubt the government will usually be overprotective of its secrets, and so the process of decision-making — whatever it turns out to be — should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay. But ultimately you can’t square this circle. Someone gets to decide, and that someone cannot be Glenn Greenwald.

So here’s my question: what do you think Kinsley is trying to say in the bolded passage? Here are a few possibilities:

  1. The government should adopt policies that reduce the number of secrets it keeps.
  2. When the press gets its hands on a secret, it should “tilt” in favor of publication—but the government should still get the final say.
  3. When the press gets its hands on a secret, it should “tilt” in favor of publication—but it should also listen seriously to the government’s arguments in favor of continued secrecy.
  4. Something else.

For what it’s worth, my interpretation of this was #2. Is this wrong? Help me out in comments. What’s your reading of this?


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It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

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