Government Secrecy: Bad or Bad?

Greenwald uses a quote from a Washington Post article claiming (in the context of No Place to Hide) that “much of our government’s business [is] so large, so unwieldy, that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work”. By Google searching the quote, I was readily able to locate the original source, an article entitled “A hidden world, growing beyond control”, at the very first link.

In Greenwald’s context, the quote supports the claim that too much government business is “conducted in secret”. In the original source, Greenwald interestingly chose to leave out a few words when he quoted this evidence (found in the first paragraph). The original source says that the government’s business is “so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive”. Greenwald may have done this in order to hide the fact that the quote as a whole is not about government being conducted in secrecy, but it is merely a portion of the claim being made in the original piece. Leaving that part out creates the illusion that the entire quote is about government secrecy. The Washington Post article does not, in fact, talk about individual privacy being an issue whatsoever. It instead focuses on the claim that the government and its individual departments and agencies are growing so much that it is becoming counterproductive. Priest and Arkin, authors of the Post article, claim that this is occurring because the government is too secretive. If it was more transparent, its abundant wastefulness would be exposed, and it could be made more efficient. It does not claim that the NSA is too invasive; it claims that it collects unnecessarily copious amounts information that clog the inlet that useful information comes through. It claims “secrecy within the intelligence world hampers effectiveness”.

The evidence is reliable because its from a credible news source like the Washington Post. The quote is misleading in the Greenwald piece, however, because it leads the reader to believe that the Washington Post supports Greenwald’s claim. This is not necessarily true because the Washington Post never addresses that claim and goes about the issue of government secrecy in an entirely different direction. Therefore, the quote’s reliability is compromised because Greenwald evidently manipulates it to fit his claim, which is not the purpose it was originally intended to serve.

2 thoughts on “Government Secrecy: Bad or Bad?”

  1. Don’t you think it’s possible that Greenwald leaves out the third item in that list not because he intends to mislead or to advance a hidden agenda, but instead to make the style of the sentence hold together? I notice the original passage reads like this:

    As a 2011 report from the ACLU argued, “Today much of our government’s business is conducted in secret. So secretive is this shadowy world, “so large, so unwieldy,” as the Washington Post reported, that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work.”

    As I type that, I see that there is an orphaned quotation mark at the end, so I think there’s some kind of typo in the original passage. Still, don’t you think the prose would get overly repetitive if Greenwald included “and so secretive” in his quotation?

    1. If the rest of the passage was left as is, I agree that it would, as a whole, be overly repetitive if Greenwald included “and so secretive”. Still, I feel that he shaped the passage in a way that emphasized the secretiveness over the other factors. If Greenwald instead left in the “and so secretive”, but removed the quote from the ACLU report, it would no longer be repetitive. I do, however, think that the quotation marks should be taken into consideration.

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