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Prepare to Be Shocked! The Irritating Craft of Scoop-Teasing

Glenn Greenwald has another scoop for us. He can’t tell us yet what it is, exactly, although he will say “that there are vast programs, both domestic and international spying, that the world will be shocked to learn about.” In fact, he will say it a lot. Greenwald has spent the past couple days hyping a story about—well, “Just wait a little bit, you’ll have it.”

Scoop-teasing like that—and that is some fine scoop-teasing on Greenwald's part—is what you get when the media's capacity for bullshit has so greatly expanded that it can accommodate news about the news. There's nothing fundamentally gross about Greenwald's whistle-stop tour of titillation—a story is a commodity, after all, and baiting readers and insatiable media outlets when they'll fall for it is just good salesmanship—and of all the ways in which the modern reporter can be seduced into narcissism, it ranks pretty far below a practice like reporting on your own reputation.

Still, if watching Greenwald, a reporter, report that he has something to report—if seeing "Greenwald: New bombshell coming" take up a slot on the Politico homepage—leaves you with a twinge of mortification, here's why. (And the same will go for other serial teasers. To name one, in the hours leading up to a Mother Jones scoop—memorably before the website published the full 47 percent video obtained by David Corn—co-editor Clara Jeffery’s Twitter feed tends to be one big paroxysm of scoop-teasing.) The same airwaves and political Twitter moshpit—sometimes, the very same publications—hyping Greenwald's next scoop gave play to such nothing-stories as the secret Obama tapes Drudge “discovered” last year. Do you vaguely remember when, for weeks last March, the Breitbart site Big Government promised evidence that BuzzFeed had covered up Obama’s radicalism? Turns out, BuzzFeed's big sin was splicing a hug out of a not-very-shocking video. In October, the Drudge Report, the Daily Caller, and Sean Hannity spent several aggravating hours hyping “the accent” and “the anger” of a stunning “new” Obama video—from an event which had been covered by major news networks at the time. Scoop-teasing's reappropriation has even reached the low ranks occupied by Donald Trump (whose big reveal consisted of asking Obama for his college transcripts, or else he wouldn't donate $5 million to charity). 

It's noise like that that makes Greenwald's peep show more aggravating to watch than it would be otherwise. There'd better be something pretty appealing under all those layers.