After CBC’s report three days ago that the National Security Agency (NSA) had set up camp at the American embassy in Ottawa during the 2010 G20 Summit with support from the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), The Wall Street Journal reporter Alistair MacDonald tweeted:

Paying for documents—either paper or video—is a hot topic right now, so the tweets garnered a fair bit of attention (more than 100 retweets and an inquiry from NPR’s media reporter).

But it wasn’t long before Glenn Greenwald, who has driven the NSA story, corrected him: the CBC had a freelance agreement with him and was paying him for his work—not for access to the documents (this should have been clear; Greenwald’s byline appeared on the CBC article). The broadcaster’s director of news content, David Walmsley, confirmed this in a blog post.

MacDonald clarified his original tweet yesterday:

…but could have been more emphatic about it (given the weight of claiming that a news outlet has paid for information, he could at least have labeled it a “correction”). And the clarification only came after Greenwald called him out on his blog and on Twitter.

Transparency being in vogue among journalists and journalist-watchers right now, MacDonald chose his words poorly when he wrote, “You campaign on transparency. I don’t.” (He was referring specifically to his salary, which Greenwald asked him about, but it’s terrible phrasing.)

Greenwald hasn’t exactly handled this with grace and aplomb, though. In the blog post (see link above) he wrote that attacks like MacDonald’s (was it an attack?) are “little more than means of doing the NSA’s dirty work for it,” which seems a bit much.

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About the author

Ronan O'Beirne was the Blog Editor for the Spring 2014 issue of Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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