Thursday, February 20, 2014

Further Thoughts on the Boy's Club (and a Few Gurlz) Assembled Around The Philanthropic Billonaire

Practically anybody with a Wordpress or Blogspot site produces more content than Pierre Omidyar's flagship entry into the New Media Market.

"The Intercept," so far, has proved itself to be essentially a self-indulgent, self-congratulatory bust. Gawker and Politico, to name but two, easily run rings around them in terms of content, but so do hundreds of thousands of, well for lack of a better word, workaday blogs.

There still is (practically) no "there" there, and it seems that's the point of it. To assemble as large and as previously productive a team of journalists and commentators as possible, to bring along as many of their fans as possible, and to have them all sit around admiring the furnishings, smiling and laughing and telling one another how wonderful they are, recycling stories of past glories, and wondering when the party will start.

Well, it hasn't started yet, that's for sure.

And we must ask why, if "The Intercept" is supposed to be the start of something truly transformational and amazing, it is so very weak and enervated. Almost as if the life had been sucked out of it even before it emerged on the 'Zine scene a little less than two weeks ago.

Was that the point all along? To have a kind of empty vessel, where various media contrarians could be assembled and offered a permanent safe haven to say and do whatever they wanted and get paid for it at whatever the going rate was (or more), and where they could party hardy if they wanted, or just kick back and relax if that was more their inclination, but where they would not be required under any circumstances to do anything they didn't want to, where there would be no schedule, no demands, no production expectations, and no need to... perform?

Is this the transformative media Omidyar and others associated with him in this venture had in mind all along, and are they laughing now that they could so easily bamboozle those awaiting with such breathless anticipation the debut of this Grand New Media Thing?

Well, in a way, pretty much the same thing worked for Obama, didn't it? Gin up a huge body of fans, work them expertly, suggest -- but not really promise -- something new was on the horizon, tell them hope and change was nigh, hold their attention, but either provide nothing at all, or actually take more from the bamboozled than even the flim-flam artists of the Cheney Regime, and call it wonderful?

Is that the model for Omidyar's New Media?

Why not? It works so well in the political realm. Obama neither invented it nor does he do it all that well, though he's better at it than House Cheney has been (viz: Liz's political implosion). It's basic to post modern PR and marketing.

As an experiment, I went back through the archives, my own and at Salon, to explore perspectives on the Citizens United Thing during the hoo-hah over the Supreme Court's ruling overturning a century of campaign finance regulation and permitting unlimited expenditures of luscious cash by corporations in furtherance of 'Free Speech' as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Recall, Greenwald was out front passionately defending the ruling, while dozens of legal minds took exception to his revanchist -- and in retrospect rather juvenile -- arguments in support of the Supreme Court majority opinion. He simply dismissed the weaker dissents out of hand and he ignored the more trenchant ones altogether, choosing to focus instead on the least informed  or least strenuously agued commentary against the Citizens United decision.

What is striking to me about it today, however, is not Greenwald's casual and dismissive attitude toward the dissent -- he never actually addressed Justice Stevens' well-argued and trenchant dissenting opinion at all -- it is rather his astonishing and surprisingly pre-figuring (again in retrospect) support for unlimited corporate political speech, no matter what the result, because "Teh Constitution."

No matter how cogently and succinctly it was pointed out to him that such a thing is NOT "teh Constitution," and how the SCOTUS majority twisted themselves into knots, and actually ruled on something that was not before them to get to the Citizens United decision, and no matter how often and well it was pointed out how truly malignant this thing was, akin in its own way to Plessy v Ferguson or even Dredd Scott, Greenwald dismissed or ignored the arguments, pressing ahead relentlessly with his ideological position that the Constitution and Bill of Rights required granting full corporate free speech rights and the elimination of campaign finance laws restricting those rights -- because (this is the truly juvenile part) the language of the First Amendment didn't specifically exclude corporate speech, aka: "money," from coverage under the First Amendment.

In other words, his self-declared absolutist and unwavering position was in support of the corporation no matter what the outcome, no matter what the arguments against it, no matter what the legal precedent had long been, and no matter how weak his arguments turned out to be. None of that mattered. What mattered was that corporations have unlimited and unfettered free speech rights based on their wealth and power, and that whatever resulted from their liberation from previous restrictions and legal restraints on them was... just too damn bad. Suck. It. Up.

Corporate rights are to be maximized and if the peasants don't like it, tough. It's constitutional!

Is it any wonder a billionaire might sit up and take notice?

Of course, I don't know that that's when Omidyar's gaze first landed on Greenwald, but it wouldn't surprise me if quite a few billionaires took an interest. The internal dynamic of Greenwald's posts on the matter of Citizens United is fairly obviously directed toward making a pitch for corporate/billionaire support of him and his endeavors. He cannot be dissuaded from his belief that corporate rights and interests are fully supported by the Constitution and that they cannot be restricted in any significant way by something as silly as "law."

This is obviously not a "lefty" position on these matters, and the fact that Greenwald was at the time considered by many to be a significant spokesman for "the left"  -- though he would routinely deny any such label -- his tireless (indeed, tiresome) advocacy on behalf of the Citizens United decision was a distinct outlier in "lefty" circles. His advocacy was strident, bizarre and it was unwavering. It was therefore sure to be noticed in the chambers and halls of money and power -- because it was so contrary to much professional legal opinion and to essentially the entire "leftist" political opinion. Greenwald was seriously out of step. And that can get one noticed.

I suspect he'd been "noticed" well before his strident and contrarian advocacy on behalf of Citizens United, however.

Those of us who noted his sudden appearance on the "progressive" blog scene and followed his meteoric rise from obscurity to "lefty spokesperson" seemingly out of nowhere were more than a little perplexed. It was obvious to many of us from the outset that he was no "lefty;" he was a highly verbose legal observer, one whose political inclinations, to the extent they could be characterized, were essentially reactionary and libertarian -- though he denied and decried such labels.

But then many of those who have been involved in the lefty blogosphere for any length of time recognized long ago that many of the prime movers and shakers in the field were almost all ex-Republicans with a strong libertarian/entrepreneurial bent who felt unwelcome in Republican political circles and who recast themselves as "progressives" -- they weren't really "leftists" in any case.  In that context, Greenwald not only fit right in, he was an almost instant celebrity -- because in addition to everything else, he was out and gay and living abroad with his Brazilian lover.

Wow! Perfect!

He was immediately adopted into the "lefty" blogosphere's A-List and heavily promoted therein. His use of sockpuppets and his frequent vicious attacks on all and sundry who didn't share his opinions or who questioned his perspectives, his honesty, and/or his sometimes reactionary legal and political statements and strategies were largely ignored by his more and more rabid internet supporters, including his backchannel ones.  Absolute submission and conformity of thought was one of the most striking aspects of Greenwald's more and more cult-like followers, many of whom, like he once did, seemed to utilize sockpuppets to bulk up the appearance of support and they were quite proud of it.

Once having secured his position in the "lefty" blogosphere, it seemed there was no mountain he could not climb. His career path seemed extraordinarily smooth as he generated an enormous amount of verbiage in his columns -- not to mention several best selling books denouncing the Bush administration's legal overreach, torture, a dysfunctional political system, the hypocrisy of others, and the routinely disparate "justice" system favoring the interests of the well-off.

He was picked up first by Salon media, then by the Guardian, where he used his ever louder megaphone to "inject" (his word) his contrarian, not infrequently reactionary, ideas and political points of view into liberal and lefty consciousness, and where he built a rabid following of internet fans, most of whom were of a similar libertarian and contrarian persuasion. Few of them showed any interest in or knowledge of actual leftist or even progressive politics, politics which Greenwald himself often denounced or declared irrelevant or an out and out failure.

He made his career denouncing the mainstream media (unless it provided him or those he favored an outlet, or otherwise conformed with his interests, in which case it was "doing its job" --  regardless of his denunciations), denouncing politicians and their hypocrisy, denouncing anyone who disagreed with him, denouncing.... well, you get the picture. He was instrumental in setting up numerous non-profits and political action committees, none of which actually accomplished much beyond raising lots of money. The financial and operational transparency of these outfits was close to opaque, so much so that he was given to lashing out at critics rather than providing the kind of transparency he demanded of others.

And then, once he had secured possession of the Snowden Trove of NSA documents, he (along with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras and a stellar media staff) plighted his troth with Pierre Omidyar, the founder and chairman of eBay, whose companies are primary beneficiaries and users of NSA and other (inter)national surveillance state data and security.

And, to a not particularly surprising degree, very little -- some would say nothing -- has come from this union of strange bedfellows. So far, it is barren.

Greenwald maintains a presence on Twitter, but for the most part, his infamous Twitter wars with critics and media personalities have pretty much ceased. He has published very little for "The Intercept," though it is substantially more than Laura Poitras has, as she has published absolutely nothing on behalf of the New Media Transformational Enterprise. Jeremy has posted one piece that rehashes old news about cell-phone targeting of militants -- leading to the occasional "oopsie!" by drone pilots and night raiders in America's endless wars.

"The Intercept" itself (often without attribution) maintains an active Twitter and Facebook presence, generally referring to other media stories about "The Intercept" since "The Intercept's" own content is so very sparse. Self regard and congratulations on how awesome it all is, of course, is de rigueur. 

The few others who have posted at "The Intercept" have broken little new ground, but they have managed a good deal of self-regard and congratulation as well. Most of what is there is recycled from other news sources or opinion about what's appeared elsewhere. Gawker or Politico it ain't.

"The Intercept" would be dismissed as nonsense and piffle but for its claim of being "transformational." If that is so, and this is what the transformation of media looks like, then we can only assume we are looking at the extinction of the genre.

If this is the transformational End of media, it's going out with barely a whimper...

Ohhhhhhh! Katie Bar The Door!  Now Pierre has picked up Taibbi! (h/t Pathman in comments, or I wouldn't a noticed it at all) Taibbi!!!!!!™ My doG in Heaven! (*Heavy breathing, heavy breathing, heavy breathing... huff huff huff huff...*) /s

Speaking of The Archives, there was a time, going on a decade ago or so, when I really did consider Taibbi, Greenwald and Scahill to be just about the only major media players with (ahem) balls, and I really did look forward to their patented eviscerations of the PTB. Sy Hersh was fading -- apparently due to knowing too much when you got right down to it. These New Kids on the Block (so to speak) were taking up the cudgel. I cheered them, and I sincerely wish they were still on paths of righteousness.

But too many questions have been raised and left unanswered. The work product at "The Intercept" is weak, and it's still almost non-existent. Pierre's (companies') activities in collaboration with and on behalf of the (Inter)national Surveillance/Security State are incompatible with notions of free inquiry, free press, and free speech. It simply doesn't scan, any more than any billionaire's personal financing of media enterprise does. No matter what your "contract" says, you're not going to have what you think you have -- not if you're honest with yourself and your audience.

When it's boiled down, it's not so much that Pierre is buying up so many of the principal antagonists to at least some of the factions of Power, it's the dishonesty and opacity of this operation. It's the near-silencing of the voices bought by Omidyar.

Greenwald himself was called out directly by Alexa O'Brien for his lies about her contacts with him in regard to joining First Look and her questions about Omidyar and the PayPal 14. Scahill's "Dirty Wars" may get an Oscar, but it's been criticized for its focus on Scahill rather than the real stories of the Dirty Wars being conducted by the United States and its allies.

Poitras is absent from Pierre's stage, as is Segura and Wheeler. What? The Gurlz have nothing to say? Nothing to show? Isn't that something...

And now Taibbi has left Rolling Stone to set up his own little shop under Pierre's wing. Given what's gone on so far, we can be all but certain that he won't be saying much for attribution and publication for the next few months, and if "The Intercept" is the model for what's to come, he won't have much to say after his own operation (under Pierre's wing) is up and running, either, nor will those he cajoles and brings along with him.

Many observers speculated that the point of Pierre's operation was to consolidate, tame and partially silence as many of the loudest media voices speaking out against Power and Money as possible, and so far, that seems to be the case.

Which leads me to speculate that others, witnessing the spectacle, will arise and take up the cause.

But that remains to be seen...


  1. They just picked up Matt Taibbi. They must have offered him a pile of money.


    1. Too bad Michael Hastings didn't survive long enough to see this day.

      Adding: Hastings would have looked into what's really going on with Pierre's baby and would have written about it.

      If Taibbi is as nearly silent as the rest of the "Intercept" stable, it's a fair bet the function of this outlet will no longer be a mystery.

    2. Oops. Just read the NYT story on Taibbi jumping the RS ship. Starting his own site at First Look, not joining up with Greenwald, et al.


    3. Hmm. Missed that. It's being advertised everywhere that he's "joining Greeenwald."