Princeton historian Sean Wilentz’s blistering New Republic cover story attacking Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange came under heavy criticism from a HuffPost Live panel, including an allegation that his essay “borrows heavily” from three previous profiles of Greenwald and Snowden.
During a conversation on HuffPost Live about Wilentz’s piece, which warns liberal readers against supporting the trio, Snowden legal adviser Jesselyn Radack went further than critiquing the piece on ideological grounds, claiming that Wilentz lifted the research from three generally positive and more deeply reported stories about Greenwald and Snowden, only to use that research to write what she described as a "typical hit-piece smear that whistleblowers always get."
She told HuffPost Live’s Alyona Minkovski: "He heavily lifted from three major, well-researched articles in The Advocate, in BuzzFeed, and in Rolling Stone pieces that were favorable to Glenn Greenwald and to Edward Snowden. And he didn't do much independent research at all from what I can tell."
She also admonished Wilentz for failing to interview the key subjects of his piece in Greenwald and Snowden, claiming “he clearly had an agenda, which was to serve as a distraction and to give oxygen to the fire that Snowden is a Russian spy."
Host Minkovski noted that Wilentz was invited as a guest to appear on the panel, which also featured Nick Gillespie of Reason.com, Kade Crockford of the ACLU of Massachusetts, and Forbes Contributor Rick Ungar. Wilentz was unavailable to join the panel and did not respond when asked to comment on Radack's claims.
The profiles that Radack cited on-air and in a subsequent interview for which Wilentz “borrows heavily” are Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone profile of Greenwald and Snowden from December 2013, Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s profile of Greenwald in The Advocate from November of 2013, and Jessica Testa’s BuzzFeed profile of Greenwald in June of 2013.
The author of The Advocate profile, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, also took issue with Wilentz’s methods, saying, “Wilentz didn't directly lift from my Advocate piece. The paragraph where he talks about Greenwald's early days in Florida, that's from my reporting but he doesn't cite or link or reference me. It’s not unethical -- just rude.”
Janet Reitman’s 11,000-word profile, titled “Snowden and Greenwald: The Men Who Leaked The Secrets,” is a deep dive into the life stories of the two key figures behind the massive NSA disclosures which have been dominating the news and leading to calls for major surveillance reform. Reitman secured interviews with both of Greenwald and Snowden, and she weaves together a story about how both men’s backgrounds and sense of alienation led them into each others’ lives and into their collaboration.
Reitman, whose piece appeared in the Rolling Stone for which Sean Wilentz is also contributor, gave a much more diplomatic answer. She noted that she does not believe Wilentz “plagiarized,” but "obviously our interpretations of Snowden and Greenwald's motives and beliefs differ pretty dramatically."
BuzzFeed’s Jessica Testa, the third profile writer cited by Radack as providing all the research for Wilentz’s attack, declined to comment.