Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald speaks at First Parish in Cambridge church.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald speaks at First Parish in Cambridge church.
Chris Caesar, Boston.com

One of the world’s most famous journalists spoke to a sold out crowd in Harvard Square Thursday night, holding no punches as he discussed his views on the mainstream media, NSA surveillance, and American political culture.

Glenn Greenwald, the then-Guardian reporter to whom former government contractor Edward Snowden supplied tens of thousands of classified documents about NSA mass surveillance, was in Cambridge to promote his new book, “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State.”

In it, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist details his trip to Hong Kong to meet Snowden, the media frenzy that followed, and some new revelations about the NSA’s data collection programs.

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The former attorney said he wrote the book to correct what he described as popular misconceptions surrounding both Snowden’s motivations and his own reporting.

“So much has been said over the last year about Edward Snowden, about the reporting that we did, the documents we got...the ways we disclosed them, so much of which has been completely untrue,” Greenwald said. “I really wanted to take the opportunity to…[provide] the definitive set of events.”

He told those in attendance at First Parish in Cambridge church he’s heard criticisms from both sides of the aisle about his journalism—from those who feel he endangered national security by reporting on the leaks at all, along with others who feel Snowden’s primary source documents should be freely posted online in their entirety.

Greenwald said his approach, consisting of a steady trickle of stories over the past year, has been successful at keeping the debate in the public consciousness while allowing for closer analysis of the information.

One of Snowden’s main concerns was to avoid debates about “reckless disclosures” and other issues distracting from the substance of the documents, he added.

“[Snowden] was inspired by whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning, Wikileaks, Thomas Drake and others, and wanted to learn from the ways in which they have been effectively attacked, and the...importance of their revelations undermined,” Greenwald said.

“...[He wanted] to let the story unfold and say, credibly, that we are releasing these documents in a manner that is systematic so [critics] couldn’t demonize the disclosures.”

Greenwald also bristled at claims that Snowden was a narcissist or fame-seeker, noting the 29-year-old is bombarded with media requests for prime time television interviews he nearly universally turns down.

Snowden granted one television interview to German journalists last January.

“[Snowden] could’ve spent months and months and months on every major television network…[and] become the most famous person in the world, and yet he has steadfastly refused,” Greenwald said. “...He was completely uninterested in fame.”

For more information on the NSA’s surveillance programs, check out Frontline’s latest two-part special, “United States of Secrets.”