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Intelligence Discourse: At David Carr’s Final Interview, With Edward Snowden, Glenn Greenwald, and Laura Poitras

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The talk.

Last night Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Edward Snowden (via Google Hangout) took the stage with moderator David Carr at a New York Times TimesTalks at the New School that would amount to a last interview for Carr, who collapsed at the Times newsroom an hour after the talk concluded and was later pronounced dead at age 58.

I’d been assigned to cover the panel because the work of Poitras–whose film Citizenfour is nominated for an Academy Award and who currently has a show at Artist’s Space–plays with a post-9/11 aesthetic I’ve followed for some time. With his untimely death, Carr, who’d described himself as “not what you would call the classic Timesman,” became the story, which was at least fitting in that it is perhaps the last thing a Timesman is ever supposed to do.

On stage Carr was typically irreverent with his three panelists (though Greenwald later tweeted that Carr introduced them to his daughter backstage), even the one who is the world’s most famous fugitive.

“Look at him,” Carr said, and gestured at the projected Snowden as the group discussed the tactic of his coming forward as the source of the leaks. “He looks like the grandkid of every Midwestern couple.”

“We didn’t have a real model, whether it was the journalists, whether it was me,” Snowden said at one point, on the impromptu nature of the panelist’s actions in Citizenfour. But, he said, “burning bridges is a great way to drive you forward.”

“That’s one way,” Carr deadpanned, to laughter, then jumped right into another hit, about Julian Assange’s help in Snowden’s exfiltration from Hong Kong: “Was there any part of you, Ed, that, when you were stuck at the Moscow airport for–what was it, 39 days?–where you said, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t ask for travel advice from a guy who’s stuck at the Ecuadorian embassy?'”

Carr began the talk with a compliment for Poitras, saying that he’d just watched the film for a second time recently and was unable to sleep, a credit to her filmmaking and “the revelation that we live inside a turnkey security apparatus.”

“Once you become aware of it or become targeted by it, it does give you a sense of not being able to sleep,” Poitras said. “Because they’re in the shadows, they get in your head.”

Carr did not pander to the audience, which gave Snowden two standing ovations, and despite the fact that he started the Times‘ award season feature called The Carpetbagger, he elevated the discussion well beyond that seen at a normal stop on the Oscar circuit. He turned talk to President Obama’s campaign pledges for transparency, and why they they seemed so quickly abandoned.

“Ed, you’re kind of a spook,” Carr said. “Did the spooks get to him?”

Snowden said yes, that even a two-term president has little to say to those with 30-year careers in intelligence. “Regardless of who the next president is, they’re going to give them a briefing as soon as they come in that’s going to scare them to death,” he said.

“I’m just gonna channel all the moms in the audience for a sec,” Carr said in his final question, which was for the 31-year-old Snowden. “You’re in Russia, now you’re able to stay for three years right?” He waited a beat. “So are you getting enough to eat? You look good!”

Snowden said he was working a lot, but that he was “much more fulfilled” than ever before. “At the end of the day,” he said, “as long as I’m able to support the relationships I have with the people I love and work on things that matter to me, I’ll have a fulfilled life.”

Carr then thanked everyone for coming. “We’ve had so much fun talking here,” he said, just before the second standing ovation.

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