This week's Sunday Long Read is Ken Silverstein's amazing expose' of Glenn Greenwald and the clowns at The Intercept, who got high on their own egos and hired a bunch of crack journalists...and nobody who actually knew how to run a investigative news website.
Back when I was hired, First Look and The Intercept were just getting started. It seemed like it was going to be a fantastic opportunity for journalists. I was told that I could basically create my own job and write investigative stories about anything I wanted. I knew at the time little about Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire who founded and funded First Look, but he wasn’t a big part of my decision-making.
I assumed Omidyar must be a decent guy if he was going to pour $250 million into a new journalism venture, as he promised. Given that the organization had been founded in the wake of the NSA surveillance scandal that Snowden had launched, it was clear from the start that First Look Media would be a muckracking, confrontational publication with a libertarian streak—distrustful of government power and moneyed interests. To start it, Omidyar promised $50 million to get it off the ground. With resources like that, it had tremendous promise.
Plus, I figured, it couldn’t be worse than my last job.
How wrong I was—on both counts.
During the summer of 2013 I had been offered a job at Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, where I’d been promised full independence. I took the job because I was worried about the future of journalism—and especially my future in it. It hadn’t worked out as promised; I only lasted two months, quitting after I came to believe that the network’s political agenda in the Middle East compromised my ability to do journalism.
First Look couldn’t be any worse than that, right?
The selling point to those who were recruited to First Look was tremendous resources and tremendous freedom to pursue “fearless, independent journalism.” An editor I’d worked with before, Eric Bates, recruited me—asking me to write up a memo describing my dream job, an investigative position that combined long-form work with quick hit pieces oriented to the news. Then First Look hired me and told me to do exactly what I’d laid out.
That much happened—I was able to pursue all sorts of great stories. Where First Look faltered, though, was actually publishing my work and the work of the other journalists it hired.
Over the next six months, First Look became a slowly unfolding disaster, not because of editorial meddling from the top, but because of what I came to believe was epic managerial incompetence. What I observed was that the Omidyar-led management could not complete the simplest tasks—approving budgets or hires—without months of internal debate and apparent anguish. The Intercept didn’t even begin publishing until last February. (We weren’t supposed to call it “Glenn Greenwald’s The Intercept” because a lot of other people worked there, including me for a bit, but everyone knew Glenn was the anchor of the project.) After a pause ordered by editor in chief John Cook to address its internal dysfunction, the site relaunched in July with a good, complicated story about how the NSA and the FBI had been monitoring a few Muslim-Americans in the United States. Yet I saw how difficult the story was to birth for its chief editor, John Cook, and he didn’t end up lasting long—before quitting and returning to Gawker.
I was ready to start writing, too, but the day-to-day at First Look was anything but functional. I would find and begin researching stories that Eric approved, but there was no way to publish them—the organization’s editing structure was so lacking and insignificant, and on at least three occasions I saw stories that I had the inside track on get published in other outlets. (For example, this story about a New York hedge fund wrapped up with brutal African dictator Robert Mugabe. This was, as I recall, the first story approved by Eric—but we lost it many months later.) Not only did we produce virtually no work, but there was no real push to produce work from management. For all of the bean counting and expense account-approving that Omidyar’s organizational structure imposed on us, they were shockingly disinterested in the actual journalism.
But, as Silverstein goes on to point out, they were very, very interested in the cult of Pierre Omidyar and the massive egos of Glenn Greenwald and the fiercely anti-establishment, anti-government culture. Everyone wanted to be the superstar that was going to somehow take down the "corrupt" US government.
Instead, these idiots took themselves down. Read the whole thing. At this point, Greenwald is a complete joke, more interested in petting Laura Poitras's documentary Oscar for their self-aggrandizing paean Citizen Four then real journalism. And Silverstein is just the latest to come clean on the feast of ego where everyone leaves hungry.