Friday, October 18, 2013

Billionaire's Butt Boys -- Or The Other Way Around

By now, everyone knows that Greenwald is leaving -- or has already left -- the Guardian to "pursue other opportunities," as they say in the Media Business, and become the editorial head of a new media venture along with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill (among unnamed others) to be funded handsomely by none other than Billionaire Pierre Omidyar, chair and co-founder of eBay.

Well then.

Something like this was almost bound to happen, as Greenwald has made clear throughout his media career (as apparently he did as early as law school) that he had no problem whatsoever hooking up with and serving the interests of corporate masters, the higher the profile, the better.

Of course, he and his crew will be "independent." That's part of any deal he makes -- he is always "independent" to do and say whatever he wants, and no one is ever allowed to edit and control what he writes.

That self-authority seemed to break down at the Guardian when it was obvious that all of his by-lined NSA stories were being heavily massaged, indeed re-written, by people at the Guardian who knew how to write jouralistically as opposed to emotionally as Glenn always has. There is no way on earth that he could have changed his style so completely in such a short time as seemed to happen between his columns and his by-lined news articles.

So he was being edited heavily at the Guardian, and no doubt he chafed. All the other outlets which handled his trove of NSA documents and by-lined his stories about them also seemed intent on editing his brilliant prose. And then there was the Reuters interview in which he was revealed to be a brass plated asshole seemingly intent on threatening (not simply denouncing) the governments which were in his sights for spying and all other sorts of misbehavior.

When his apparent threats became the issue rather than government/corporate spying, the hissy-fits and backtracking (and claims that he had been mistranslated/misquoted) flew thick and fast to obscure the issue as much as possible, but at that point, it became clear that Greenwald's mouth was a liability to the Guardian, and from then on, his exposure (shall we say) diminished.

Which must have chafed even more.

Then to have the Syria Thing and The Debt Crisis Crisis overwhelm his NSA stories must have been the last straw.


He found a billionaire to fund a start up media empire to be headed by he himself.

Thus no more kow towing to extant media princelings; Greenwald would become a princeling his ownself, and everyone else could bow down to him. Thanks to the god-like Omidyar.

Heavens above.

How long that will last before the inevitable implosion is anybody's guess.

While Greenwald has been loathe to say much about it, Scahill has been interviewed fairly extensively in Germany, and Omidyar has spoken to Jay Rosen in this country, so there is at least an outline emerging of what sort of enterprise is being formulated.

Traditional media shall quake and tremble at the brilliance of it all. Triumph of the Will and all that.

There are several things about Greenwald that make this media startup likely to implode, first being his towering ego together with his anger issues, second being his insistence on being the dominant alpha-male of a cult of worshipers no matter what. He may be able to maintain that position with the dozens of rescue dogs he has at home in Rio, but his authoritarianism and dominance demeanor seem to get him into trouble with more or less rational human beings. I've long thought he has a serious substance abuse issue as well, one which he manages to control most of the time, yet which seems to take over more than anyone (again, anyone more or less rational) could be comfortable with. So long as he has a cult of worshipers, it hardly matters how fucked up he is in his personal life, but people like Scahill aren't going to put up with that shit for long unless they can maintain a certain... distance... shall we say. Because of Greenwald's apparent need to be worshiped above all, that distance is unlikely to materialize.

Which puts Omidyar in a potentially explosive position.

I don't know this person, Omidyar. Those who say they do know him say he is a brilliant man of great generosity and loving kindness. Well, not in those terms, exactly, but that's the impression I get. Sounds pretty cultish to me, but since I know nothing of him at all -- except for his connection with eBay, and even that is somewhat mystifying, although I understand he created the precursor to and stayed in charge of what is now the eBay most people know and either love or loathe; Meg Whitman's little money maker, etc -- I have nothing much to say about him.

I keep reading hints -- no more than that -- that he's a libertarian asshole. But I've seen no real evidence of it, not even any real testimony. So that's yet to be demonstrated.

But I wonder. Much of the criticism of Greenwald, especially during the NSA Summer Shark Story, has been over his tendency to behave like a "state actor," rather than a media personality, something that may not be entirely clear unless you've been following him and the story closely. The way I've tended to characterize his behavior is that it's analogous to that of an Old Testament Prophet. Not a "state actor" as such -- but ostensibly someone with the power to affect the course of history as much as any king or emperor.

If Omidyar really is putting up $250 million or more to fund this media startup with Greenwald at its head, I wouldn't be surprised at all if "affecting the course of history" as if it were a "state" itself becomes the chief interest of the operation, much as WikiLeaks tried and failed to do.

On the other hand, if Omidyar attempts to directly use his money and the power it gives him on behalf of this purpose, I suspect he won't like the consequences. He may not like the consequences anyway no matter what. Greenwald, Scahill and Poitras all have some sort of targets on their backs, so I wouldn't be too sure or too sanguine about what'll happen to them.

We'll see where this goes.

The NSA story has faded like any other Summer Shark and Missing White (Woman/Girl/Boy) story fades after Labor Day. But it seems to have had something of a shock value nevertheless, enough of a shock value to upset routine diplomacy and the actions of some nation-state leadership (Brazil comes to mind, I wonder why.)  We hear that the NSA super-honcho and his deputy are leaving the Agency in the spring, and that the NSA and CIA are and have been cooperating on the extermination of various foes, something we were never quite sure of during the course of the Story of the Summer. No, back then, the story seemed to carry more than a hint of the CIA doing a hit on the NSA for cause. The Agencies seem to have patched up their rivalries -- if that's what they were -- and seem to be moving on, hand in glove as it were.

NOTE: I watched "Dirty Wars" a little while ago, and I see now why there have been such criticisms of it, or rather of its "style."

It looks and sounds a lot like the hard-boiled detective/reporter genre out of the late 50's/early 60's. It's not a bad thing, necessarily. In fact, it can be a good thing.

But there are things about this picture that are simply unbelievable. The leading aspect of unbelievability is that Jeremy says that when he was reporting from Iraq and had "no idea" that JSOC was operating there, that he somehow thought the JSOC murder squad was a military innovation in Afghanistan much later. That's bullshit, complete and utter bullshit.

Anybody who was following the news from Iraq could surmise the minute John Negroponte was assigned there that murder squads would be deployed, and sure enough, within literally days of his arrival, some high profile wet work was under way. And being reported. American "Special Operations" were in the van. If he didn't know about it when he was in Iraq, he wasn't paying attention. But we know he does pay attention.

For Scahill to claim he didn't know anything about the murder squads loosed in Iraq is unbelievable.

False reporting, or something else?

I don't know, but I would be careful about taking very much of what he's going to be reporting for the new venture at face value.

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