Early last week, Ken Silverstein — former Harpers editor and co-founder with Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch — quit Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media, citing management incompetence. By the end of the week, he went a step further, publishing a searing takedown of First Look on Politico.
[A]t First Look, we were never able to be fearless. We couldn’t do anything, because we spent so much time in pointless meetings and being slowed down, when we wrote anything, by a lack of support from management and the dire shortage of editors to actually oversee and work with the writers. We were just lost.
But, Silverstein assures us, it wasn’t his fault he was taken in by Omidyar. After all, despite earning the reputation as one of American’s foremost investigative journalists, Silverstein never quite got around to investigating his new boss before taking the First Look Media gig:
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.
Silverstein’s claims might seem laughable were he the only Omidyar hire to protest his ignorance at the eBay founder’s background. In fact, it turns out that almost everyone involved in First Look — particularly those who have since resigned — entered into Omidyar’s employment without bothering to do any background reading.
Take Glenn Greenwald — fiercely independent, lawyer by training, famous for the lightening speed with which he has been able to dig up piles of incriminating research material on his adversaries and turn it around into published material. Even this maestro of muckraking claimed to have been blindsided last year when Pando reported on the role Omidyar played co-financing the groups and figures that organized Ukraine’s Maidan revolution. Greenwald’s response:
I was not previously aware that the Omidyar Network donated to this Ukrainian group [that helped organize the February 2014 Ukraine revolution]. That’s because, prior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me…
Or consider Matt Taibbi, muckraker extraordinairre with nearly two decades of adversarial journalism experience exposing billionaire oligarchs and their power over politics and media. A year ago, Taibbi personally vouched for First Look Media’s uniqueness among billionaire-backed media projects:
“This is clearly the future, and this was an opportunity for me to be part of helping to found something and create something that might carry us into the next generation.”
He then quit First Look a few months later before publishing a single word after it transpired that Omidyar’s management style made it impossible for First Look’s journalists to do their job. Again, Taibbi had no reason whatsoever to suspect that Omidyar—who had been investigated by Congress and sued for “stock spinning” IPOs with Goldman Sachs—had anything in common with every other billionaire he’d ripped apart.
So how is it possible that Omidyar fooled so many of America’s best and brightest reporters? To answer that question, we need look no further than the explanation given by Glenn Greenwald to the Washington Post. To Greenwald and his fellow 21st Century Ida Tarbells, the fact that Omidyar hired them was proof positive that he was a good egg:
Pierre is adamant that he wants to support independent journalists and exert no editorial control of any kind over what they write. Everything I’ve seen has been consistent with that. The most compelling proof of his authenticity is that he has thus far hired exactly those journalists who have proven themselves the most unwilling to accept any sort of control – from Jeremy Scahill to Laura Poitras to Matt Taibbi and plenty of others. Pierre is well aware of the fact that none of them would tolerate for even a second having anyone tell them what they are or are not permitted to write about.
So when longtime Intercept investigative reporter Silverstein realized that Omidyar and his pals “were shockingly disinterested in the actual journalism” how can we possibly blame him for being duped? How could he possibly have known?
Like many of you, we at Pando are deeply disturbed by the sight of Omidyar fooling so many journalistic superstars. What’s done is done, of course, but hopefully we can save what’s left of journalism. To that end, we’ve produced the following handy Pierre Primer, ready to be cut out and pasted on the walls of First Look Media where it can easily be read by new hires…
10 Things Every Fearless Adversarial Investigative Reporter Should Know About Pierre Omidyar
1. Pierre Omidyar, his wife, and his top Omidyar Network director have logged in over a dozen visits to the Obama White House to visit senior officials and members of Obama’s National Security Council.
2. Between 2011-2013, Omidyar Network co-funded with USAID regime-change groups in Ukraine that organized the 2014 Maidan revolution. In India, the head of Omidyar Network’s operation, Jayant Sinha, concurrently worked for the far-right BJP Party leader Narendra Modi helping him take power in 2014, after which Modi appointed the Omidyar Network partner as his junior finance minister.
3. Pierre Omidyar is a free-market libertarian loon who told Nobel Prize winner Mohammed Younus he refused to donate to the poor unless he could personally profit off of it. A few years later, hundreds of poor rural Indians committed suicide to avoid debt collectors working for one of Omidyar’s for-profit microfinance lenders.
4. Omidyar is the chairman of eBay/PayPal, which boasts of its own private global police force that works “hand in glove with law enforcement agencies,” including the DEA, to whom eBay provides user data “on a silver platter” without subpoenas. Omidyar’s eBay executives boast of arranging thousands of arrests around the world.
5. Although Omidyar allegedly does not interfere in his journalists’ editorial, he does control all hiring and firing, budgets, approval of expenses for taxi rides and cocktails, snuffed months worth of investigative stories from leading investigative journalists, forces editorial staff to attend countless meetings, imposes task-management software on editorial, and “writes more internal messaging than anyone else.” But he does not interfere in editorial.
6. Omidyar believes that journalists should help police arrest sources who leak stolen information from private for-profit companies. Omidyar supported the persecution of the PayPal 14 because he believes that free speech rights should be subordinate to the rights of private enterprise’s mission to maximize profits for shareholders.
7. Omidyar is a committed prepper whose fear of pandemics and epidemics is so great, he has invested large sums into ensuring his own personal food supply, and has buried several months’ worth of food in storage facilities in properties around the world, from Hawaii to Montana, Nevada, and an island off the coast of France. Omidyar keeps a private French jet, and pays a private security detail made up of former Secret Service and State Department officials to help him survive his apocalyptic fantasies.
9. Omidyar loved Second Life so much he invested in Linden Lab and communicated with its CEO through his Second Life character, “Kitto Mandala,” a tattooed black man who rode a Segway and wore a T-shirt that read “KISS ME I’M LAWFUL EVIL.”
10. Omidyar was investigated by Congress and sued for secretly “spinning stocks” — insider trading on IPOs — with Goldman Sachs. Omidyar was also accused by Craigslist and a Delaware judge of stealing the “secret sauce of Craigslist’s success” and passing those secrets to eBay in violation of contracts, fiduciary duties and securities laws.
Bonus: Pierre Omidyar arranged an interview with two “fiercely independent” journalists on Omidyar’s payroll at The Intercept, in which he revealed to them what tea he drinks in the morning. When asked to list his daily reading habits, The Intercept came in at number five, lower down on his reading list than the New York Times.