MCP 11 (2) pp. 183–201 Intellect Limited 2015
International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics
Volume 11 Number 2
© 2015 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/macp.11.2.183_1
University of Sussex
This article investigates the methods of hegemonic framing of the NSA/GCHQ
surveillance scandal in a television interview of the journalist Glenn Greenwald
on the flagship BBC Television news magazine Newsnight. Having uncovered the
greatest mass surveillance project in human history, much of the mainstream media
and indeed many academic studies have focused on the debates over the ethics and
responsibilities of the journalists and news organizations involved. This research
investigates how a television news interviewer inflects the story and directs attention
to a series of ‘public concerns’, articulated primarily by those who caused the scan-
dal and mediated through the journalistic voice. The main focus for this article is
how a television news interviewer fails to articulate a set of concerns, instead being
led by the newspaper mediation of those in authority.
The television news interview is a crucial part of the circulation and contes-
tation of ideas in public media. It serves to provide an opportunity for key
figures to explain events, ideas and experiences, whilst giving the interviewer
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the opportunity to enquire and challenge received wisdom. Such is the role
of interviewing in the contemporary news environment that Ekström et al.
(2010) have referred to ours as ‘the interview society’.
As the interview became part of the news environment, it developed into
a central part of news consumption, circulating throughout a range of media,
most notably with newspapers and television news forming articles out of
interviews published elsewhere.
The techniques of interview should be considered crucial dialogic prac-
tices in terms of how lines of questioning – the ‘what to think about’ – and
rhetorical devices can frame events, ideas and experiences. The interview itself
is of course already set in a more general hegemonic framework of interpre-
tation, which impacts on how the interview itself might unfold, and through
which events and actors may be positioned, the boundaries of ‘legitimate’
questioning are set, and which influences interpretation. More recently tele-
vision interviews are circulated on video sharing websites and social media
networks for engagement, promotion and critique. These forms of circula-
tion have increased the significance of the already important interview in the
personality-focused news environment.
This article analyses a key television interview in the context of a signifi-
cant controversy – the US National Security Agency (NSA)/UK Government
Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) surveillance scandal. The interview
analysed here took place between Kirsty Wark, the long-time presenter of
the BBC’s flagship current affairs magazine programme Newsnight, and Glenn
Greenwald, the former WikiLeaks activist and then Guardian journalist who
broke the story. The twelve-minute interview took place on 4 October 2013,
following several months of intense media coverage of and political discourse
on the scandal.
It begins by identifying some of the key findings of researchers analysing
the power relations in television interviewing. It then moves to outline the
methods used to analyse the interview itself, drawing on Entman’s frame
analysis. Frame analysis here is used to consider how the questions are framed
according to different concerns and themes. In order to evaluate the framing
of the interview questions, the article identifies possible themes a journalist
might use. This approach follows the Glasgow Media Group’s (2004) concept
of thematic analysis, wherein they identify different possible thematic frames –
in their 2004 work, different histories provided crucial frames – within which
news events are understood and explained.
There are four possible frames identified in relation to this story. Given that
the interviewer and interviewee are both journalists, and given the treatment
of The Guardian, Greenwald and his associates by the British state, we might
assume the interviewer to express public concerns about ‘media repression’.
The context of the ‘War on Terror’ and previous scandals about the conduct of
the state in that context may lead to the foregrounding of an ‘abuse of power’
frame. As other scandals relating to state surveillance, especially of activists,
emerged in the preceding years we might consider ‘secret police’ to be a key
frame. As these themes are selected by the researcher, and given the relations
between television news and the press, the final thematic frames will be drawn
from the concerns articulated in the press. The intention here is not to provide
quantitative data, for discursive power is not simply quantified and moreover,
exacting quantitative data is unnecessary. Rather a selection of typical articles
written in the lead up to the interview express the concerns of key political and
institutional actors, alongside those of key columnists and commentators.
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
Jean Chalaby (1996) has argued that the interview is one of the distinguish-
ing features of Anglo-American tradition of liberal journalism that has
spread throughout the world. At the same time, Weiner (2012) suggests that
the interview is one of many ‘controversial’ changes that journalism went
through as ‘American’ or more correctly US forms of journalism came to
dominate, reflecting the ‘dumbing down’ and personalization of journal-
ism. John Lloyd (2004) makes a similar criticism, arguing that the inter-
view reflects the debasing of journalistic culture as the journalist becomes
the adversary of politicians, using the interview to cynically embarrass the
subject, prioritizing entertainment over information. Others have argued that
the interview reflects the sort of promotional culture that underpins public
relations (Davies 2002; Davies 2009).
Despite the disagreement as to purpose and impact, key moments in
social and political history have in fact been animated through the television
interview, so that by the time of the Frost–Nixon interview it had become
consolidated as a driver for news such that today whole programmes are now
built around interviews. Securing the exclusive interview has also become
both a financial driver and integral to journalistic culture (Kroon Lundell and
Eriksson 2010). Its significance for and influence on news discourses cannot
be underestimated (Montgomery 2008).
There has been some significant research into the forms, roles and prac-
tices of the news interview (Gelles 1974; Clayman 1988, 2002; Ekström 2002;
Ekström and Kroon Lundell 2011; Kroon Lundell and Eriksson 2010), under-
lining its import in drawing public attention to issues as well as some of
the rhetorical and discursive techniques through which they are conducted.
Clayman notes that the role of the interviewer can be multifarious,
When the question contains no explicit reference to a responsible party,
the IR (interviewer) is presented as acting on his or her own initiative.
Alternatively, when an official or expert is cited, the IR is presented as
an elite go-between, an agent of communication between powerful
political actors. Finally, when the public is invoked, the IR is cast as a
‘tribune of the people’, one who invites elites to address the concerns
of the citizenry.
However, at all times the concern of the interviewer is with the assumed
audience. It is this relation that forms the basis of legitimacy, because ‘to
insulate themselves from external pressure and more generally to maintain
a semblance of legitimacy, journalists draw on a variety of resources, one of
which is align themselves with the public at large’ (Clayman 2002: 197). In
this sense we can see that references to the public play an important role,
because ‘(i)nvoking the public has the additional benefit of legitimizing a line
of inquiry. By claiming that the public wants or needs to know about some
matter, the IR also implies that it is appropriate and justifiable to ask about
it’ (Clayman 2002: 201). It is in this sense that references to the public can be
used as a hegemonic anchor for the interviewer, by associating the interests
of the interviewer and his or her (institutional) agenda with the nefarious
concept of ‘people’, ‘the public’ or ‘viewers’. For Clayman (1988), in some
situations the interviewer is expected to at least appear neutral, but the more
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recent trend is for the interviewer to take a more adversarial role, which can
only be legitimized on behalf of ‘the people’ (see also Lloyd’s 2004 critique of
The Greenwald interview might be construed as what Montgomery (2008)
calls an ‘accountability interview’, that is, an interview that holds the interviewee
to account. In the main, accountability interviews are aimed at significant polit-
ical and institutional figures, so it is unusual for it to be used to hold a fellow
journalist to account for acting precisely as a fourth estate. Yet the account-
ability interview is important in terms of news discourses for two main reasons.
First, they ‘are cued or occasioned by the surrounding news item’ but they ‘can
also prime the news. In other words they not only develop out of a news item
but also have the potential to feed into subsequent coverage’ (Montgomery
2008: 265). In the case of Greenwald, the interview was most certainly situated
in an existing story, so was cued in, and it alongside other interviews with key
figures in the story can be seen to feed subsequent coverage.
However, the intention here is not to describe the process of the interview
as such, but to analyse the discursive power relations manifested in it, and in
particular how the framing (Entman 1993, 2004, 2007) of the scandal serves
to foreground certain aspects of it, and makes, alters and denies certain asso-
ciations, whether explicitly or implicitly, consciously or not. It is indeed the
nestling of the interview in the context of prior reporting that primes audi-
ences and frames the interview. Indeed the interest here is precisely in the
way that the interview is based on a particular framework that anchors under-
standing in a particular political world-view.
The notion of framing brings us to consider how the reporting of events
and situations may focus attention and limit public understanding. Cohen’s
claim that ‘the media may not be successful much of the time in telling people
what to think, but is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think
about’ (1963: 13, original emphasis) has become something of an organizing
principle in the study of media effects, yet it fails to recognize that ‘what
to think about’ can entail how to think about. Indeed, as Murray Entman
(2007: 165) suggests,
(Cohen’s) distinction misleads because, short of physical coercion, all
influence over ‘what people think’ derives from telling them ‘what to
think about.’ If the media really are stunningly successful in telling
people what to think about, they must also exert significant influence
over what they think.
To discern these possible effects, Entman identifies four functions of the
process of ‘framing’:
Frames … define problems – determine what a causal agent is doing with
what costs and benefits, usually measured in terms of common cultural values;
diagnose causes – identify the forces creating the problem; make moral judg-
ments – evaluate causal agents and their effects; and suggest remedies – offer
and justify treatments for the problems and predict their likely effects.
(1993: 52, original emphasis)
While this research does not emulate exactly Entman’s approach, the notions
of costs and benefits, causes, judgements and effects, and treatments will be
sought in the interview data.
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
The media repression frame
Before moving to The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald was a key figure in
WikiLeaks, and it was because of this link that he was selected to leak details
of the surveillance scandal. Although WikiLeaks was initially welcomed by
the western press, largely because ‘(i)t’s significant that their emphasis seems
to be on relatively closed societies rather than the U.S. or Europe, that have
a rather robust media sector’ (Anon. 2007a) this began to change when it
became apparent that western governments that ‘have a robust media sector’
would receive attention too.
The change is reflected in the attention given to WikiLeaks by the
US state before the Iraq and Afghan war leaks. A report for the US Army
Counterintelligence Center (2008) judged that WikiLeaks posed ‘a poten-
tial force protection, counterintelligence, OPSEC, and INFOSEC threat
to the US Army’. As such a possible response for the US military to this
perceived threat was to undermine its links to sources. The report states that
use(s) trust as a center of gravity by protecting the anonymity and
identity of the insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers. The identification,
exposure, termination of employment, criminal prosecution, legal action
against current or former insiders, leakers, or whistleblowers could
potentially damage or destroy this center of gravity and deter others
considering similar actions from using theWikileaks.org Web site.
The fate of Chelsea Manning appears to bear witness to this intent.
At the same time, private security agencies Palantir, HBGary and Berico
tech, which work as contractors for the US military, sought other means to
combat WikiLeaks and associates, including Glen Greenwald (Palantir 2011).
They sought to:
Feed the fuel between the feuding groups. Disinformation. Create •
messages around actions to sabotage or discredit the opposing organiza-
tion. Submit fake documents and then call out the error.
Create concern over the security of the infrastructure. Create exposure •
stories. If the process is believed to not be secure they are done.
Cyber attacks against the infrastructure to get data on document submit-•
ters. This would kill the project. Since the servers are now in Sweden and
France putting a team together to get access is more straightforward.
Media campaign to push the radical and reckless nature of WikiLeaks •
activities. Sustained pressure. Does nothing for the fanatics, but creates
concern and doubt amongst moderates.
Search for leaks. Use social media to profile and identify risky behaviour •
From this we may expect that the repression faced by WikiLeaks, in addition
to the threats faced by The Guardian, Greenwald, Snowden and others,
may have been a cause of concern for journalists interested in transparency,
accountability, freedom and the principles what journalism is expected to
uphold (Kovach and Rosensteil 2003).
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The abuse of power frame
The surveillance uncovered by Snowden had been framed in many of the
mainstream newspapers as necessary for security in the context of the ‘War on
Terror’. Yet the main ‘megaleaks’ by WikiLeaks over the past few years largely
exposed information on controversial if not illegitimate and illegal govern-
ment actions during that so-called war – especially relating to the invasions
of Iraq and Afghanistan. In this sense, we can see a complex and problematic
frame to the surveillance scandal and the fact that it was perpetrated by states
that presided over Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, ‘extraordinary rendition’, or
outsourced torture, and other human rights abuses and war crimes.
Beyond those immediate concerns a framing the surveillance scandal as
an abuse of state power might draw on a long history of the United States and
United Kingdom interventions, massacres and human rights abuses through-
out the world, such as in Northern Ireland, Chile, Nicaragua, Argentina,
Vietnam, Kenya, Panama, Egypt and many other countries, as well as domes-
tic interventions that afflicted groups as diverse as the Black Panthers and
Greenpeace. Given this known history, the question might be raised as to
whether the scandal exposes the United Kingdom and United States as
systematic violators of human rights over a long period of time.
The secret police frame
Another key theme raised by the spy scandal is the role of the state in respect of
citizens. In this sense we might expect the scandal to be framed by a history of
surveillance within the United Kingdom, but also comparing it with other states
that practice endemic surveillance today and throughout history, such as East
Germany, Iran or Chile under Pinochet. Such a frame may therefore draw on
notions of security in respect of the threat of the state to its citizens and an empha-
sis on the need to protect them from the state, using a civil liberties frame.
This frame may draw on the British secret police, MI5, has divisions set up
specifically for ‘political policing’ – such as ‘F Branch’, which focused mainly
on trade unions, Special Demonstration Squads and DS19, set up to counter
the threat of pacifists. Perhaps most ominously, Harold Wilson’s social demo-
cratic Labour government faced a coup plot by key figures in the establish-
ment, military and secret services in the mid-1970s (Wright 1988). Further
revelations have appeared more recently with the exposure of secret police
spies in the environmental movement, with secret police becoming so deeply
embedded into the movement, that one notoriously fathered a child with an
activist, all of which have received significant media coverage (Lewis et al.
2013; other examples can be found in Bunyan 1977; Wilford 2003).
The intensification of surveillance with new technology forms another
significant part of the context to the scandal. The Stop Echelon campaign
began in the early 1990s after the Echelon spy system was exposed in 1988.
The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 clearly showed the intent of
the state at the time, introducing a bill
to make provision for and about the interception of communications,
the acquisition and disclosure of data relating to communications, the
carrying out of surveillance, the use of covert human intelligence sources
and the acquisition of the means by which electronic data protected
by encryption or passwords may be decrypted or accessed … to
entries on and interferences with property or with wireless telegraphy
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
1. At the time of the riots,
the Prime Minister,
David Cameron blamed
social media for
playing a significant
role in orchestrating
the riots, eventually
calling for social
media services to be
shut down. However,
all of the significant
about the use of social
media during the riots
the opposite of what
Cameron thought – its
primary use was to
oppose the riots and
to track and prosecute
those involved in it
(Denef et al. 2013;
Gorringe and Rosie
2012; Guardian 2012).
It is for this reason
that Cameron was at
odds with the police –
social media makes it
easier to spy and any
restriction would have
stymied that capacity.
2. Stephen Lawrence
was a young black
man murdered by
racist thugs in London
in 1993. The police
investigation into the
within the London
Force. The investigation
was also undermined
by police collusion
with relatives of the
and to the carrying out of their functions by the Security Service, the
Secret Intelligence Service and the Government Communications
Headquarters; and for connected purposes.
Yet even this was nothing really new. As Hollingsworth and Fielding show,
MI5 has a long history of more or less discriminate data collection, sweeping
up information in particular on left-wing groups
Computerised indices are compiled for recording basic details about
individuals or organizations, on the basis that insufficient information is
known before a decision can be made on whether to open a file. Then
there are blue-covered Subject Files, intelligence on political parties and
subversive groups. In the recent past this included the Communist Party,
the Socialist Workers Party, the Militant Tendency, the Revolutionary
Communist Party, Class War, the British National Party and the
The surveillance scandal may also be framed in relation to the wave of political
repression that has swept across the country since the 2008 economic crisis
hit. The most recent crackdown intensified with the student protests of 2010,
and by the UK-wide riots of 2011 it was in full swing. Indeed in response to
the riots thousands of young people were swept up in a drag net and proc-
essed in what can only be described as Kangaroo Courts (‘fast-tracked’ is the
way the government and their allies in the media reported it), leading to, for
example, four youths being imprisoned for four years for making comments
on Facebook and a woman who’d not been in the riots being sentenced to five
months in prison for being given a pair of shorts.1
As the surveillance scandal involved the collection of data from private
companies and some degree of collaboration between them and the state, the
scandal it might also be framed within long-term trends in private-sector surveil-
lance. For example, the National Propaganda organization set up at the turn of
the twentieth century by the Conservative MP William Hall, alongside a range of
industrialists, to subvert workers’ organizations, playing a key role in opposing
the national strike and hunger marches of the 1920s. By the 1970s it had been
restructured into the Economic League, playing a key role in intimidating and
blacklisting political actors – it is now branded as The Consulting Association.
The Economic League functioned right up until the 1990s until exposed
by World in Action and the Daily Mirror – indeed, many of the main national
newspapers, including the Times and the Express had reported on its dealings
from the 1960s onwards. The ongoing programmes of private companies to
monitor subversion and dissent can be discerned in the recent uncovering of
blacklisting in the building industry (Chamberlain and Smith 2015). Of signif-
icant concern was the involvement of the police forces (who also spied on
supporters of the Stephen Lawrence’s family2). With the Mclibel case in 1997
it became clear that private-sector surveillance was such that, spies working
for McDonalds were so numerous they ended up spying on each other.
Dominant press framing
One of the key frames in the national press was the association of the state’s
actions with the interests of the assumed audience, ‘the people’. On one hand
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there is ‘us’, who are protected by the state; on the other we have ‘those who
seek to harm us’. Snowden and Greenwald were portrayed as the naïve unwit-
ting servants of the latter. As such they and their collaborators were them-
selves putting us under threat. Typical of this is a Daily Mail piece, published
on 20 August, that associated the surveillance with ‘patriotism’, titled ‘The
Guardian’s in murky waters where those love their country should not go’.
This concern with state security was to form the dominant press frame.
The newspaper reporting in the week before the interview generally
followed this trend: focused mainly on the threat of Snowden, attacking The
Guardian and ignoring the main human rights and state power theme.
The Daily Mail’s reports consisted of one article that is somewhat negative
towards surveillance (2 October), but only insofar as it uncritically reports an
admission of the NSA Director that ‘agency trawls Twitter and Facebook …
but insists they are Not building personal files on Americans’. The remaining
three do little more than ridicule Snowden. One reports on an innocuous
Tweet by ‘Russian spy Anna Chapman’ (1 October) that proposed marriage
to Snowden, thus creating a Russia spy frame. The final two (both 1 October)
centre on the comments of former MI5 chief, Stella Rimington, in which she
referred to Assange and Snowden as ‘twerps’, thus linking to WikiLeaks, with
the Mail adding that they are ‘holier-than-thou leakers’. It also reinforced her
suggestion that ‘public needs assurances that covert operations help prevent
terrorism’. This was also the subject of The Times’s only report in the lead up
to the interview (1 October).
The Telegraph printed five stories in the week before the interview. Two
of its reports focused on the EU and Belgium ‘demanding answers’ and
seeking a ‘bugging enquiry’ (both 4 October). There is also mention of some
of civil society groups and NGOs, Big Brother Watch, Open Rights Group
and English PEN. Although this is a noteworthy report, insofar as it does
present the possibility of a human or civil rights frame, it is pertinent that
such reporting takes place in the context of decades of anti-EU reporting.
Moreover the other three articles that mention the scandal are condemna-
tory of the leakers and The Guardian. One, like the Daily Mail, centres on the
comments of former Rimington (1 October), giving a fuller quote that they
are ‘self-seeking twerps’ and supports her charge that MI5 and MI6 ‘must
convince public they are working for them’. Another suggests that the leaks
have ‘resulted in … (Al Qaeda) cutting down communications between top
leaders in an effort to prevent eavesdropping’ (30 September). The remaining
article consists in ten ‘shocking details from The New Yorker’s love letter to
the Guardian’ (30 September) and does little more than ridicule the paper, its
Guardian and its journalists in ad hominem attacks.
More generally, in only a small number of stories outside The Guardian
were any associations made with the history or contemporary reality of
political policing and surveillance. Very few articles expressed concerns with
the security of citizens against the state, almost all of them foregrounded a
perceived threat to ‘us’.
Perhaps most importantly, there was hardly mention of alternatives to
mass surveillance as a way of combating terrorism. This was seen clearly in the
uncritical parroting of Stella Rimington’s assertion that the ‘solution’ to the
scandal is to convince citizens that they benefit. Terrorism itself was presumed
as a fact of the world that, as with 9/11, came from nowhere, accounts of
it are devoid of aetiology. The notion that the UK actions abroad may be a
contributory factor was simply not on the agenda.
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
Whilst the account above is not an exhaustive survey of all the press cover-
age, it does reflect the dominant press framing of the scandal. The scandal was
disassociated from other evidence of state repression and instead associated
with ‘our’ security – with no question of who the beneficiaries of that security
are. For instance, had the context included an association with political polic-
ing, the nature of the threat and its ‘victims’ would be changed drastically
as it would be clear that it is part of a chain of political repression that has
historically focused on the organized left, from workers to women to peace
and environmental campaigners. Concerns about state repression were in fact
excluded, or at best designated ‘mission creep’, and the benignity of the state
The BBC itself had set up a framework on its own web pages dedicated to
the scandal. Tellingly it highlighted the ‘NSA scandal’, using that term to title its
mini-site dedicated to it, wherein GCHQ surveillance is pitched as an adjunct,
a bit part role in which the United Kingdom is reluctantly led to wrongdoing
by the United States. In a sense the BBC has no choice but to report the story,
so it is important to understand the nuances in its framing. For example, the
BBC’s timeline of ‘spying’ (rather than ‘surveillance’) presents an account that
seems to normalize the scandal in a piece entitled ‘Roman Empire to the NSA:
A world history of government spying’. This backgrounder gives an account of
the history of spying and surveillance, looking at Rome, France, East Germany
and the United States, yet there is no mention of British spying beyond 1844.
There was no mention of any domestic surveillance in the United Kingdom or
United States. However, as is quite expected there was a significant mention
of East Germany’s surveillance programme,
Behind the Cold War’s Iron Curtain, surveillance of the population was
an everyday part of life. Nowhere was this more prevalent than in East
Germany, where for nearly 40 years the Stasi intelligence service moni-
tored and reported on the activities of its citizens, using the information
to stifle unrest.
Yet this was not associated in any way with the British case.
Kirsty Wark begins the 4 October interview with Greenwald by establishing a
‘security’ frame. The security theme here is not one that addresses the security
concerns of journalists or citizens in respect of what Greenwald has uncov-
ered but indeed asserts that ‘the public’ is here interest in state security or as
she puts it ‘national’ security, i.e. the security of everyone in the nation
First of all, why should you be the arbiter about what is in the public
interest and what is vital to national security?
Thus Wark begins the interview by attacking Greenwald on behalf of ‘those
concerned’ with state security rather than those concerned that they might
be the victims of human rights abuses. It’s curious that an actor in the fourth
estate would ask such a question, but this does reflect an overriding concern
in news as well as in academia with the tendency to flip the story to one
about journalistic responsibility (Coddington 2012; Hindman and Thomas
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2013) – curiously that journalists in liberal democracies should be loyal to the
Moreover this line of questing exposes a crucially important element of
the dominant forms of journalism as actually practiced, and is significantly
mirrored in the Daily Mail piece about ‘those who love their country’. In this
sense, ‘patriotism’ is conceived as association with the state rather than the
people, or in other words excludes a significant set of concerns that it might
be considered a journalist’s proper role to represent, reflecting other research
on news-state relations (Garnham 1978; Curran 2002; Hall et al. 1978; Morley
2004; Cardiff and Scannell 1987).
Wark’s continues this theme of security, suggesting ‘the people’ may desire
total surveillance. This in turn depends on the acceptance of the ‘common
sense’ (Allan 2004), hegemonically dominant presuppositions that enables
her then to draw on the strongest of the ideological tropes involved in hegem-
onic defence (cf. Clayman 1998, 2002) – an association of the “the majority of
people” with a desire for a particular form of safety and security:
for a majority of the population, perhaps, it actually might be quite reas-
suring. They might actually feel quite safe?
The security theme takes it for granted that the interests of the state are
presumed to be the same as those of ‘the majority of the population’ (presum-
ably those who are not visibly involved in broadly left-wing political activity).
The frame makes no allowance for the possibility that some viewers may be
victims of government surveillance and potentially harmed by it.
The security frame is disarming in one sense, wherein the notion of
‘spying’ is presented as normal and obvious:
But do you think it would be such a shock that spies actually do spy?
In making this point Wark effectively excludes an understanding of the situ-
ation as one in which people ought to be concerned. On one hand ‘spying’
rather than ‘surveillance’ conjures images of James Bond type figures, working
for ‘us’ against the ‘bad guys’. The notion of the spy tends to be outward
facing – spying on external threats to national security. It is in this sense neces-
sary and normal. Domestic surveillance, however, is quite different. It may be
portrayed, negatively, as wilful, normal and ongoing in, say, Iran and Cuba.
However, despite the opportunity to work with such a frame, domestic
surveillance in the United Kingdom is here portrayed as regrettable but neces-
sary: it is an expected exception to liberal democratic values in the context
of the ‘War on Terror’. The sense of exceptional circumstances that demand
surveillance is taken as given. That it is a breach of human rights is invisible.
It is thus at the same time an exceptional yet normal response to the stated
threat of terrorism. At the same time, the scandal itself is exceptional – in
effect the surveillance story serves merely to scandalize the normal. The scan-
dalization is blamed on the messenger rather than the perpetrator.
The hegemonic power of this ‘(ab)normalisation’ is also carried by its asso-
ciation with pre-existing, ready-primed beliefs. Wark can draw on concerns
expressed consistently through opinion polls and it is thus that her questions
take the side of ‘the people’. It is of significance that before the campaign against
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
ID cards began, 80% thought them to be a good idea (Detica/Mori 2004), with
the level of support for them never moving below 50%. As early as August
2005, 73% of the population was prepared to give up civil liberties for security
(Guardian/ICM 2005), in 2007 Liberty (Crossman 2007) reported that the major-
ity of the population believed that ‘holding of information by agents of the state
is a necessary prerequisite for the operation of national security’ and by 2013
54% believed the government should assassinate terrorists abroad and 52%
accepted the value of political assassinations at home (RUSI/YouGov 2013).
We see here the continuation of a general pattern of reporting human
rights abuses reminiscent of the findings of Bennett et al. (2006) and Jones
and Sheets (2009). As with official and with news discourse on death and
torture in the so called ‘War on Terror’, a kind of ‘get-real’ argument – people
do die in wars, overzealous ‘prison guards’ will torture inmates, secret police
will kidnap suspects. However, there is a strong tendency to disassociate the
known cases in which these things happen, they are individual exceptions,
(ab)normal exceptions, to otherwise benign behaviour. The ‘War on Terror’
frame is used as a licence for the state to act at will rather than evidence that
it is overstepping constitutional boundaries.
To better understand this process of (ab)normalization, it is worth drawing
on ‘crisis theory’. The continuous crisis in contemporary capitalist states
was analysed by Habermas (1976) and more recently by Braman (2006). For
Agamben’s (2005), the state of exception in which emergency powers and
repressive tools are employed by the state is simply no longer an exception,
they are normalized. Agamben suggests,
The state of exception has today reached its maximum worldwide deploy-
ment. The normative aspect of law can thus be obliterated and contra-
dicted with impunity by a governmental violence that – while ignoring
international law externally and producing a permanent state of exception
internally – nevertheless still claims to be applying the law.
In this sense, although such actions are to be considered normal, they are at the
same time exceptional, understood as regrettable but absolutely necessary.
For Wark there is no question of the necessity of surveillance or the inter-
ests it serves. The ‘majority of the population’ is reassured knowing that the
terrorists are stopped by surveillance of everybody, just as they are also stopped
by kidnap, torture, war and assassination by drone, proven by the plethora
of terrorist-related entertainment programmes on television such as 24. Such
associations would be significantly altered by a framing that would take include
a history of ongoing domestic political surveillance. The scandal may be more
keenly associated with the lives of citizens with such contextual understanding.
Greenwald responds to Wark’s questioning on national security by deny-
ing the assertion but simultaneously affirming the legitimacy of the line of
question. He demonstrates that the leaks have no bearing on national security,
against which Wark proposes, directly associating the viewer with the domi-
nant ‘security’ frame, making the claim that Greenwald has ‘gifted’ terrorists,
So it is very possible that you, actually, by your actions, make it easier
for terrorists to understand how to evade all the checks that are made
on them online.
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Greenwald’s response makes the very basic point that terrorists already know
they’re being spied upon, reversing the (ab)normalization argument,
The idea that terrorists didn’t know … that the United States and UK
governments were trying to monitor their communications is laughable.
Of course every terrorist who’s capable of tying their own shoes has
long known that the U.S. and U.K. governments are trying to monitor
Greenwald tries two tactics to raise the real issues at hand. His earlier response
in the interview, to the charge of being irresponsible, plays into Wark’s rhetor-
I think the broader point is that it isn’t how many documents The
Guardian or other newspapers around the world possess. The question
is what is it that they’re doing with those documents.
In a sense this is a question, but the question has nothing to do with what
they are doing with the documents, and everything to do with surveillance
and state repression. The substance of the issue and its context becomes
However, in a later response, Greenwald moves to impose a ‘secret-police’
frame with ‘the people’ as the victims of state repression,
The only thing we’ve informed people of is that the spying system is
aimed at them.
Walk responds by trying to close down this line of reasoning,
how can you be sure that your actions have not made it easier for terror-
ists to operate.
Greenwald notes the ridiculousness of the task and offers that spying on
Brazilian oil companies does not fit with Wark’s assertions (00:03:54.23).
In completing the inversion of culpability for wrongdoing, Wark spends
much of the interview asking Greenwald what he will do next, instilling a
sense of fear that it is Greenwald rather than the state who can’t be trusted
and presents the most significant threat, again asserting the dominant secu-
There is vast amounts of material I gather that you have that still has
not been revealed. I mean, do you have this? Is it in your bedroom
She again foregrounds the concerns of ‘the people’ who want to know about
him and the threat he poses, rather than the threat posed by the state,
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
But people want to know. I’ll tell you why people want to know. They
want to know, I suppose, that how can you guarantee that the material
you have you can keep safe?
Wark proceeds to repeat a false claim that Greenwald had vowed to leak
information in revenge for his partner’s arrest (00:07:20.04), which Greenwald
corrects. She then moves to again draw on ‘the people’,
You talked about revenge journalism being the wrong way of describing
it, but you can see how people think that?
Elsewhere Wark builds on existing security frames, evoking the threat of
Russia and China, drawing on decades- or even centuries-old Orientalist
understandings of the menace from the ‘east’.
In a sense, sympathy is expressed with the source of the leaks, Edward
Snowden, but only insofar as he also presents an innocent and naïve
And how do you know how he’s being treated, and how do you know,
more importantly, whether he hasn’t had to give up secrets if he’s under
and again half a minute later,
(Edward Snowden) has been through China, obviously in Hong Kong,
and he’s in Russia now. You can’t be sure that he hasn’t had to give up
Again, the threat is not that of the state spying on its own citizens, but is this
time from the traditional evil powers and their potentially traitorous collabo-
rators in the West. Such a trope works precisely because of the ease its historic
association. Take, for example Fleming’s observations of Cold War under-
standings of imminent threats:
Those who are in control of our destinies are greatly afraid of a power of
one huge Red state, the Soviet Union, and then of a second, China …
The drive to stamp out American Communism has been motivated in
part by a belief that the American Reds were all traitorous agents of a
Such fears have never gone away.
Greenwald uses two arguments to counter Wark’s claims in respect of
Russia and China. In the first case he again works within Wark’s frame –
responding to her demand that he assure ‘the majority’ that information will
not be leaked to Russia by referring to Edward Snowden’s assurances. At the
same time, however, he contrasts Snowden’s fidelity with that of the British
MCP_11.2_Salter_183-201.indd 195 9/29/15 8:55:37 AM
and US governments, undermining Walk’s presumption of the benignity of
the British state:
unlike the U.K. government and the U.S. government, Mr Snowden’s
statements have proven to be completely true in every single instance.
Here he reiterates a point made earlier on in relation to an inaccurate accusa-
tion made by Wark about Greenwald’s partner,
you should be aware that simply because the government makes a
claim, especially when they’re making that claim in the middle of a
lawsuit while they’re being sued for violating the law, one should not go
around assuming that claim to be factually true.
Indeed the power of this response was framed by his prior association of the
British and US governments’ fidelity now and during the run up to the inva-
sion of Iraq,
I would hope that we’ve learned the lesson after the Iraq War that
government claims are not tantamount to the truth.
He then moves to associate the government’s behaviour with that of tradi-
tionally understood repressive states when referring to the secret service raid
on The Guardian’s office,
I see a government like the UK barge into the newsroom of the news-
paper with which I work and demand that they destroy their computers,
something that you would expect to hear in Iran or Russia or China.
It is clear that the same concerns of the state and mainstream media are
those that frame the interview. State security dominates the interview, with
‘terrorists’, Russia and China being posited as the main threats. None of the
possible alternative frames listed above were even touched upon in the inter-
view, despite the clear relevance of these other contexts.
It is in some respects surprising to see a journalist from an organization
that strives so much to assert its independence from the state hold a fellow
journalist to account for ‘threatening’ the freedom of the state. No connection
was made between the surveillance scandal and prior surveillance and secret
policing scandals. Nor at any time other than at Greenwald’s instigation was
any connection made to evident abuses of state power during the ‘War on
The degree of press freedom that allowed The Guardian to publish some
of the reports in the first instance was evidently truncated by the secret police
demanding the newspaper destroy all computers that carried data on the
scandal, the chorus of opposition from the rest of the media, and not least
MCP_11.2_Salter_183-201.indd 196 9/29/15 8:55:37 AM
Framing Glenn Greenwald
Greenwald’s resignation from The Guardian due to his perception of its capit-
ulation with the state.
At its crudest, there is evidence of affinities between senior actors in the
media, government, secret services and senior economic leaders (Dorril 2001:
787–88). During conditions of crisis there is a tendency for such groups, or
class, to close ranks and defend those interests. It becomes clear, when look-
ing at spying and surveillance operations who the in and out groups are: the
targets are political actors seeking to challenge and change the system. Self-
defence is organized around to the generalization of particular interests and
appeals the population to share those interests.
This is not to suggest that Walk is necessarily part of that milieu, though
perhaps her position is reminiscent of that of Chomsky proposes to Andrew
Marr in an exchange over the propaganda model. Marr challenged Chomsky
on his Propaganda Model (Herman and Chomsky 1994), suggesting that Marr’s
will was strong enough to avoid self-censorship. Chomsky replied ‘I don’t say
you’re self-censoring – I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying; but what
I’m saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where
you’re sitting’ (The Big Idea – Interview with Noam Chomsky, 1996).
It is of great significance that while the interview does seem to have been
framed by the concerns of officials mediated through a largely compliant
press, that press went on to repeat many of the concerns articulated in the
interview. The Daily Mail did later note possible associations between the
actions of GCHQ/NSA and those of East Germany and North Korea, but did
so negatively, or more accurately as a disassociation, wherein the head of MI5
distanced the broadest and deepest spying operation in history from the ‘bad’
forms of surveillance in ‘bad’ states,
The idea that we either can or would want to operate intensive scru-
tiny of thousands is fanciful. This is not East Germany, or North Korea.
Knowing of an individual does not equate to knowing everything about
(Daily Mail, 8 October 2013)
A later Daily Mail Online headline on 8 October asserted ‘The Guardian has
produced a “handbook” that will help fanatics strike at will’, giving the entire
article over to sources from the security services. On the same day, in an arti-
cle titled, ‘“Guardian has handed a gift to terrorist”, warns MI5 chief: Left-
wing paper’s leaks caused “greatest damage to western security in history”
says Whitehall insider’ it also acted as a mouthpiece for the head of MI5,
amplifying his claims that The Guardian had presented ‘a gift’ to ‘UK-based
extremists’, a ‘“guide book” for terrorists’.
The foregrounding of the ‘security’ threat posed by terrorists was rein-
forced the day before the above report in a headline titled, ‘Clegg: Guardian
Snowden leaks “gifted terrorists ability to attack”’. Of interest, this piece itself
drew from an earlier radio interview on LBC Radio wherein Deputy Prime
Minister Nick Clegg suggested that the leaks ‘would have been immensely
interesting for people who want to do us harm’ (Telegraph, 10 October 2013).
We can see here that the ‘gift’ rhetoric is shared by politicians, secret police
and journalists. The terrorist rhetoric indeed uses the hegemonic framework
outlined by DIMaggio (2010). Indeed the very phrase ‘those who want to do us
harm’ is used extensively in material used by the US Department of Homeland
Security, which itself originated in George W. Bush’s crucial speech in Atlanta
MCP_11.2_Salter_183-201.indd 197 9/29/15 8:55:37 AM
on 8 November 2001: ‘your government is on high alert and to add your eyes
and ears to our efforts to find and stop those who want to do us harm’.
Curiously, as it had been such an outspoken critic of press regula-
tion during the Leveson Inquiry, the Daily Mail amplified the British
government’s condemnation of Greenwald and his partner as ‘terrorists’
in its headline, ‘Glenn Greenwald’s partner “is a terrorist” for transport-
ing Snowden’s documents through London airport, say British officials’
(2 November 2013). While it may be argued that reporting the accusation
doesn’t necessarily equate to amplification as such, the broader context in
which it was reported lends weight to a supportive reading. Soon after
the terrorist accusation, the Telegraph moved to make a striking associa-
tion with the worst forms of criminality: ‘Paedophiles may escape detection
because highly classified material about Britain’s surveillance capabilities
have been published by The Guardian newspaper, the government has
claimed’ (6 November 2013).
The Telegraph (11 November 2013) reported the former head of GCHQ’s
warning that the leaks represented the most ‘catastrophic loss to British intel-
ligence ever’. It reported, ‘He said it was “pretty much inconceivable” that
Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies had not hacked into Mr Snowden’s
computers and copied the material he had taken from the US’.
Whilst it would be folly to suggest any sense of coordination in this
framing, it is clear that when such threats to the state arise, discursive closure
is almost total. The scandal must be reported because of its gravity but it is
clear that its reporting takes the view of the state above all else.
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Framing Glenn Greenwald
Lee Salter is a senior lecturer in media and communications at the University
of Sussex. His research into news and journalism has been widely published
in books and journalism, including Digital Journalism with Janet Jones. His
research interests focus on dominant and subordinate powers in the media,
political economy, state–media relations, technology and activism. Lee is also
an established film-maker, having made the award-winning Secret City with
Michael Chanan and most recently The Fourth Estate.
Contact: School of Media, Film & Music, University of Sussex, ARTS C C110A,
Brighton, BN1 9RG, UK.
Lee Salter has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents
Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work in the format that was
submitted to Intellect Ltd.
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