Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ginning Up a Fight With Benjamin Wittes and The Excuses For Lack of Publishing at "The Intercept"

This is just absurd. But it's also typical of the horrendously thin skins of those who are aligned with Greenwald, and their assumption that every parenthetical remark in every piece by one of their "enemies" insinuates something evil and is a smear.

(One thing about Greenwald's claque I noticed long ago was that neither they nor Greenwald actually knows what a real smear is, and so they use the hasbara tactic of claiming that practically everything their opponents or questioners ask, say or write is perforce a "smear," and thus unworthy of serious consideration. It's a neat propaganda trick, and it sometimes works. Ask the Israelis. When the "you're smearing me!" tactic doesn't work, just claim the opponent is "nuts.")

Marcy Wheeler is someone I've had a relatively high regard for, both for her independent blogging at and for her many efforts at FDL and elsewhere. She's extraordinarily bright, has a memory like no other, and has done some important and timely analysis of various matters of state in the news. She is generally able to suss out the real meanings of bureaucratic and legal ass covering gibberish, and her lengthy, detailed explorations of the various ways the Overclass subverts the nation are classics of their kind.

Nevertheless, she's taking to carrying the cudgel for Laura Poitras who, she claims, Wittes thinks "shouldn't be paid" for her journalism. This has to do with a current article in the NYT -- which I can't read because I've used up my monthly allotment of free articles and I don't want to become a subscriber. Aw. I find I can read the article so long as I arrive from a link on another site, in this case Emptywheel. So I'll read it anon.

[NOTE: Having now read the article, I mostly agree with Wittes' interpretation. There is no evidence that the NSA is conducting surveillance of privileged communications -- nor, unfortunately, is there evidence that they aren't --  but it appears that the Australians are doing so and they may be sharing that information with the NSA, though there is no direct evidence they are doing so, and if they are, there is no evidence of what they are doing with the information. In addition, this sharing, if it is going on, is not illegal, though it is certainly discomforting to lawyers and their clients. There is no indication in the story of what journalistic contribution Laura Poitras made, but there is no evidence she provided only the NSA documents and did not provide either notes or written copy to assist in the writing of the story. Since we don't know the extent of her contribution, I would not arbitrarily assume she only provided the NSA documents in exchange for a fee. I wouldn't call the story itself a "nothingburger," but it lacks important evidence and with that, the question of who is doing surveillance and what is being done with the data is an open question.]

At any rate, the story is rather amply described in Wittes' post, the post which has given rise to such ire on Wheeler's part.

Wheeler's sole objection (in the linked post), however, is Wittes' supposed insinuation that "journalists shouldn't be paid," together with his implied "smear" of Poitras suggesting that she (Laura Poitras) didn't provide anything to the story in the Times but certain documents she obtained from the Snowden Trove. In other words, she may have acted as a "source" not a "journalist."

For his part, Wittes denies he said or wrote any such thing. He said that instead he was concerned about the continued confusion over sources and reporters in this story.

From my perspective, that's not what he was saying or suggesting in his post either, but we may have to circle around to that topic another time.

He does point out, though, that the NYT story isn't about the NSA or illegality or the NSA spying on privileged communications between lawyers and clients. It's about the Australian equivalent of the NSA doing so, with an occasional consultation between the NSA field office in Canberra and its Australian counterpart. From the rather vague statements apparently in the documents Poitras provided to Risen, who apparently wrote the story with little or no journalistic input from Poitras beyond the provision of documents -- which I believe Wittes does imply, but being the lawyer he is, he doesn't state it directly.

The take away from the Wittes piece is that the Risen/Poitras story in the NYT does not say what many of the NSA's antagonists think it says. It does not say that the NSA is conducting this particular intelligence operation, but it does say that the NSA's Australian counterpart is. It doesn't say that the NSA is collecting privileged communications between lawyer and client (though I wouldn't be surprised if it were) and it doesn't say that any of this is illegal.

Focusing on Wittes' locution regarding Poitras getting paid or not, however, distracts entirely from those points, doesn't it? In fact, this is a typical tactic used by Greenwald and his confederates. If something appears in the media which just might raise some questions about interpretation (say) of an item which Greenwald or one of his cohorts has posted, a furious effort will get under way, led either by Greenwald himself or by one of his acolytes, to distract attention from the issues raised -- whether by smearing the writer or speaker, by calling them "nuts," by focusing on a minor word choice or error, or by bringing up entirely irrelevant points, or by launching relentless ad hominem and tu quoque attacks, or by using them in combination or all of them together, depends largely on the severity of the questions or points being raised by the opponent as well as the opponent's prominence.

This is guaranteed to happen to anyone who might be taken seriously; those who wouldn't be taken seriously anyway or who are not sufficiently prominent are ignored.

This particular incident, however, has the earmarks of being a false controversy, because it's obvious to me that Wittes deliberately inserted language into his post to initiate exactly the kind of hoo-hah eruption as has started. He knew that by suggesting that Poitras is "only a source" for this article, he would raise the ire of the Greenwald troopers. He must have known that this would distract from whatever point he's trying to make. Which leads me to believe he doesn't much care whether his point is made or not. He's just tweaking the troopers for sport.


Meanwhile, in a piece topped by a full face portrait of Pierre Omidyar, "Capital New York", an Albany political and media news outlet headed by Jim VandeHei (also head of Politico and formerly White House correspondent for the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal), interviews First Look Media's Executive Editor Eric Bates (formerly of Rolling Stone and former boss of both Matt Taibbi and the late Michael Hastings) regarding the more and more widely noted lack of content at "The Intercept," First Look's flagship magazine.

Bates is full of locutions and excuses, claiming that "The Intercept" postings will not be tied to a "hard timeline," and
"The timing of the reporting will be driven by the reporting itself. When they've got it nailed down and ready to go, they'll put out a story,” First Look’s Eric Bates told Capital on Tuesday. “I think it's by virtue of the nature of being in a philanthropic mode.”

If that isn't one of the more obtuse and opaque statements by anyone in the media since the WaPo's Deborah Howell, I don't know what is.

In one of the most astonishing statements from an Executive Editor I've ever seen -- and I've seen some doozies -- he seems to be saying that there is no new content at "The Intercept" because there is no news "nailed down and ready to go" that his reporters care to report. This of course is a complete contradiction to what Greenwald said to the Financial Times last week.

According to Bates, they are "in a philanthropic mode." Whatever that means. My take? The Movers and Shakers of Omidyar's startup new media node quite likely aren't being paid. They are the ones presently in "philanthropic" mode. Not their owner...

[Note: a couple of things I intended to write concerning the story about "The Intercept" in Capital New York got left out inadvertently.  In addition, when I tried to open the link to the story above, I got a 500 Internal Server Error. It took some doing to actually get back to the article, which could be due to any number of things...]

To continue:

The "philanthropy" that Bates appears to be referring to, however, is Omidyar's financial support of the enterprise, though it is not really clear, and why his financial support should actually be responsible for the minimal output at "The Intercept" is even more puzzling.

There is this surprising, indeed astonishing claim, for example:

 First Look Media debuts The Intercept in an interesting position: The need to release information obtained through Greenwald and fellow editors Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras' reporting, flowing from documents provided by Edward Snowden, is regarded as urgent enough to have required unshackling from the limitations and ensuing time constraints faced by Greenwald's former editors at The Guardian. At the same time, a massive media enterprise is envisioned that will take months and years to coalesce.
My emphasis. Was this the case with Gawker, with which Greenwald compares First Look in his FT interview last week? Was it the case with Politico or any of the numerous other online enterprises of people like VandeHei?  And what is being referenced here? The entirety of the First Look Media venture, or just "The Intercept?" As is the case of so many of the statements and so much of the reporting on the Omidyar effort, it's almost gibberish, and almost impossible to tell what is "really" being said.

Speaking of gibberish, Bates's quotes throughout the article are largely nonsense statements:

“We don't, at least initially, have to try to feed the beast at some frantic pace and that serves the journalism as well,” Bates said.
What is this "beast" of which he speaks, and is it too much to imagine at least one new post a day at "The Intercept?" Is that too "frantic" a pace? DoG knows, we wouldn't want to put anybody associated with it out after all...

"Part of the trick is you got so much material and this type of material doesn't necessarily readily reveal itself," Bates said. "So it really takes a lot of work to understand what is in there, so having this platform available will help answer that question. And getting that out there is really urgent."
Whu??? This statement truly is utter gibberish.  There's so much material, but it "doesn't reveal itself" and it takes a lot of work to understand it, so having a platform available will answer what question exactly? But there's no timeline or urgency to feed the beast, no timeline for publication of anything, so getting "that" out there is somehow "really urgent????" What the fuckity fuck? He's just babbling bullshit.

The rest of his statements are equally opaque and nonsensical.

"The Intercept" and its parent "First Look" will, apparently, not be tied down to any schedule, any timeline, nor any regular production, no matter what Greenwald says from Rio. This is, after all, "transformative media."  The fact that so little has been posted to date, and absolutely no "news"  has been posted that hasn't been extensively reported elsewhere in the past, is -- I guess -- the "transformation" of media that Omidyar and crew always intended. That there is no "there" there is the point. Eh? It is a platform for these enterprising journalists to... have a platform.

And thus, no "news" -- fit to print or otherwise.
Laura Poitras, as an example, has not, so far, written or posted anything for "The Intercept," but within the last couple of days, she has collaborated with James Risen at the NYT on a story hailed as "revelatory" of the perfidy of the NSA, based in part on Snowden docs no less , which is what "the platform" under Omidyar was/is touted to be for. But she's had nothing to say for it or about it since its existence was "leaked" last October.

If this is how Transformative Media is operated, we have been led down a very deep and dark rabbit hole indeed.


  1. Another way to read articles when you are over your limit is to use the "Private window" or whatever your browser uses for private browsing.


    1. Silly me, you are correct. I've been able to read pretty much anything I want at the NYT, but never remember how I got access once I hit the "limit"! (A limit that was actually quite arbitrary -- as few as three, as many as thirty triggering it...)

  2. i thought that laura poitras, *filmmaker* was hired to create videos. yes to the empty babble by bates. interesting that there were no comments at the Capital opinion piece, eh?

    i've tried a couple times to read at The Intercept, but the size plays havoc with my head. have you seen the number of comments there? oy.

    i haven't read either marcy' s or wittes' pieces, so i have nothing to offer on that, except to say that some of the Twitter Wars indicate that you may be right on the Tempest Constructions. (I haven't looked lately, no time to burn.) :)

    miz rock

    1. Poitras has been bylined by Der Spiegel and NYT, but she's been almost preternaturally silent about and for "The Intercept." Marcy continues her prodigious output for Emptywheel, and she has added in plenty of supporting snark and pot stirring on behalf of "Pierre's" venture, but no real news as such.

      Most of the other writers in "Pierre's" stable seem pretty quiet and some are silent.

      Greenwald seems to be leaving the Twit Wars up to Mona to handle. He rarely intervenes personally and generally has little of substance to add, but substance is not what Twit Wars are about.

      In fact, it looks like Greenwald is quite consciously remaking his toxic (IMHO) and combative online persona into something more rational and reasonable, given his FT interview in which he acknowledged that now that he's "arrived" he probably shouldn't be such an asshole, and his almost respectful response to Jonathan Cook's criticism.

      As I understood it at one time, Poitras was working on a feature documentary about Snowden, but I don't know what's become of it. She's posted some video outtakes of the NSA super-facility in Utah at her site, but what they have to do with the Snowden documentary is somewhat obscure. Of course, there are other movies in the pipeline which no doubt she and Greenwald are consulting on.

      Jeremy and Greenwald have been on the media interview circuit, so they probably don't have time to do much else, though Greenwald is supposed to get a book out soon and Jeremy will have to pick up his Academy Award. And then there's the Polk Award ceremony. I wonder if Gellman will be there....

      Yes, Bates had nothing substantive to say. This could indicate an internal problem, or maybe not. He's obviously hiding something, but who knows what? If I were to go out on a limb, I would say that he has tried to exert some pressure on Glenn and "the intercept" team to get cracking, and he's been told to fuck off.