I know. Old news, right? It happened last Tuesday after all, at least that's what we're led to believe.
Matt Taibbi, superstar media rabble rouser against the titans of finance (among other malevolence), blew that pop stand called First Look Media, Pierre Omidyar's shrinking, vanishing, evaporating Transformation of the Media Entire, though some of the reports seem to indicate that the Taibbi run operation (to have been called "The Racket," heh) ground to a standstill during the summer.
Of course many people noticed that when Taibbi left Rolling Stone in February, his voice against the malefactors of great wealth was all but silenced. He put a book out, true, but his regular postings and articles pretty much disappeared. It was as if he'd been sucked into a black hole, not unlike the case with many of those intrepid journalists acquired by Pierre Omidyar for the sole publication of his New Media start-up venture called The Intercept (what an interesting name.)
The excuse for their long silence was that they were doing something completely unprecedented, and "it's hard." Yes, well... that's no excuse at all. We knew it was "hard" long before Pierre was a gleam in his parents' eyes in Paris. Pierre knew it was "hard" long before the First Look venture was launched, since he'd been running a news outlet in Hawaii for years. The participants knew it was "hard" -- or should have -- since all of them had been part of media institutions and start up ventures for years. Nothing about what they were doing or planning was either mysterious or unprecedented in the least.
Matt Taibbi, among all of them, had had some of the most intimate experience with the genre of muckraking, polemics, and going toe to toe with the gub'mint, dating from his days at The eXile in Moscow.
These people knew what they were about, and they knew what this venture of Pierre's could be if he stayed out of the way. But apparently he didn't.
Back during the Days of Silence, Jeremy Scahill (remember him?) posted something that strongly suggested that Pierre Omidyar was a constant bugbear in the then non-existent "office" of First Look Media. He was, according to Jeremy, the most prolific and most persistent of the users of interoffice communications. This was dismissed at the time by apologists and interference runners like Glenn Greenwald as nothing more than the ordinary and expected interest by the chief (actually only) investor in this Startling and Revolutionary New Media Venture that was not publishing anything, but would be. Soon. Eventually. One day.
Critics nodded off and allowed as how First Look was finding its feet, yadda yadda, and we, the Rabble, should think nothing of the reports periodically filtering out of its shrouded confines that all was not happy or well within.
Marcy Wheeler left, not so much in a huff it seemed as she was in a state of utter ennui. She said she would write in more detail about the reasons why she left, but she never has. In fact, after the initial flurry of interest, she seems to have dropped the subject altogether, focusing on her blog which never stopped publishing during her brief fling as a -- something undefined -- within First Look. My impression was that she was kept on call but her skills were practically never utilized by an outfit that was having immense birthing pains due to conflicting egos among the power players.
Until they duked it out, there was no point...
And who were "they?" Greenwald and Pierre primarily. It was interesting to me that only in April did Pierre do the "visioning" thing that all start-ups in my experience do long before they actually Start. Up. Only in April did Pierre and his team get around to this "visioning" process, and apparently, none of those already working (sort of) at the New Media Venture (ie: the WordPress group blog known as The Intercept) were included.
Not even the invaluable exGawker hoo-hah known as John Cook whose contributions to The Intercept at that point were frankly bizarre. No one already involved with the Venture was involved with the "vision thing" apparently. Fascinating.
Soon enough -- sometime in the summer -- and announcement was found in Pierre's blog at First Look that His Vision had been pared back substantially, that basically he was pulling the plug and that multi-magazine format for news and whatnot was not going to happen. The start-up New Media Transformation Thing was essentially over with. It was too "hard." Yes, well...
At that time, The Intercept was still not publishing more than sporadically, and what it did publish was generally Old News, recycled from other publications that had the scoop well before anyone at The Intercept noticed. Jeremy Scahill had disappeared altogether. Greenwald and Devereaux were essentially the only ones bothering with The Intercept, but most of the others on the masthead weren't publishing anywhere, not The Intercept, not anywhere else. John Cook said that it would take as long as it took to get the thing up and running, and until it was up and running, The Intercept would be functioning essentially as Greenwald's blog, so everyone could just sit down and shut up.
For many, that was the point at which The Intercept ceased having any interest. Regardless of what they would eventually publish, it didn't matter anymore, in part because of John Cook's hostility toward his ostensible audience, in part because The Intercept had become a running gag, a joke. It has not recovered.
Although it has now "launched" -- at least we assume that what is up and running now is the "launch." Hard to say. There was no announcement, no fanfare, no high-stepping marching bands. One day, a re-designed and much fuller "product" appeared. All kinds of other writers, some of whom had never been announced, bylined the almost daily posts, sometimes multiple posts a day, not unlike Gawker, in fact. Well, how about that.
OK. Now what? Specifically what of Taibbi's Thing? Nothing. No word, no product, not even an occasional update. Literally nothing. Fall -- the proposed launch season for Taibbi's Thing -- approached, and there continued to be nothing. Fall arrived. Nothing.
Oh dear. Here we go again. All that fanfare leading nowhere. Pierre was turning into quite the Pied Piper, eh?
And then word came, finally, at the end of October that Taibbi had walked. The End. Over With. Done.
Shortly, within a day or so, Taibbi was announced as back at Rolling Stone and he would have a piece in next week's issue.
What is so startling about this is that the endless silence and delays at First Look contrast sharply with Taibbi's instant re-emergence at Rolling Stone. This confirms what I've long suspected: delay and silence is the policy at First Look, the veritable point of it. This is the media "transformation" Pierre was nattering on about. In other words, rather than providing news and information, string your audience along and provide... silence. Say nothing, do nothing. Pretend that's the Future you envisioned all along.
Well, maybe it is. The No-News Transformation...
True enough, The Intercept has been churning out content regularly for several weeks now. Some of it is substantial. But they seem to have lost their audience along the way. I check it maybe once a week or so. Nothing much strikes me as all that important, but I'm sure there are those who think every word is golden. That's fine.
On the other hand, Taibbi's Aborted Thing might have been kick-ass if it had ever launched. But it didn't and from the sketchy and self-serving reports about what happened, I suspect it was never intended to launch. It was intended as a holding pen for Mr. Taibbi while other, more important things were attended to.
Such as the New Zealand Thing, the Ukraine Thing, and perhaps most importantly for Pierre's fortunes, the India Thing. I'm sure there are many more Things in Pierre's repertoire. First Look is among the least important of his many Things.
Regime changes favoring his business plans are far more important and immediate, and despite its long-term propaganda potential, First Look does not serve those interests and plans. Not yet anyway.
Taibbi's Thing never would in any case. Not if he were pursuing the Oligarchy. Of which, never ever forget, Pierre is a part and a player.
The self-serving "inside story" posted by The Intercept confirms a lot of the speculation regarding Pierre's interference in the First Look projects, while insistently denying that his constant interference was in any way directed at shaping the editorial content of the projects. It's self-evidently false on its face, as anyone who is determining who is hired/fired and what they can and can't spend money on is shaping editorial content thereby. He or she doesn't need to issue directives from the Corner Office to get what he or she wants. If one doesn't know that about the executive suites, one doesn't know much of anything, does one?
The "inside story" proposes to cast Pierre as a naif and incompetent -- which is absurd. He is neither. He knows exactly what he wants and he knows how to get it, long and short term, and he's doing it. He has the money to get pretty much anything, and he seems to have the will and intent that goes well beyond petty interests like Transformative Media.
What he's doing is utilizing his wealth and his power the way much of the Oligarchy does, to shape and control the forces of society and government to his liking. He's literally creating or recreating societies and governments; in that he's much like the rest of his class. Of course the God Complex only goes so far, but Pierre has barely begun his quest for divinity.
First Look is little more than a side show in that project. And Taibbi never would have fit into it.
The question I have now is whether he will defy Pierre and tell all. I suspect not, partly because of the implict threats in the "inside story" to go after him hammer and tong if he gets too uppity. The whole point of the "inside story" was to get the approved narrative out there before Taibbi can do anything, and to make sure that Taibbi understands who's the boss of him. Basically, it was a threat.
By juxtaposing The Intercept's (ie: Greenwald's) "successful" negotiations with Pierre versus Taibbi's "unsuccessful" ones, and by pointing out that it was Pierre who determined what and who would be successful and what/who not, and that a "case" can be brought against Taibbi if Pierre decides to (and it can be dropped, too) Taibbi is put on notice to play nice -- or else. It wasn't even subtle.
These boys play dirty.
They play to win. And in this case, Pierre has won.
That may change, but I won't hold my breath.
Whatever else he is, Taibbi is no fool. Those who have gone up against Pierre, such as Matt's former colleagues over at Pando have found out they don't get very far, and it can be very much to their advantage to play ball... the smears are prepped for launch...
Taibbi, if he knows anything, knows this.
Nice to know that he's back at Rolling Stone. Will his voice be muted?
We'll know soon enough.
Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but the Omidyar exposé promised has now been published by New York Magazine. The title is evocative: "The Pierre Omidyar Insurgency." Given the apparently numerous examples of Omidyar's meddling in governments in many parts of the world, it seems a fitting title.
Have now read the Omidyar puff-or-hit piece in New York Magazine. Those who have been following the Omidyar saga (at least since the announcement last October that Greenwald would be moving on to his turf) know most of the stuff in the article -- and a probably a great deal more, as Andrew Rice says essentially nothing about Omidyar Network's involvement in regime change. In fact, the "insurgency" of the title is more of an abstraction than a concrete reality.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Rice was bought off, but he seems to be treading on eggs. Nevertheless, partisans will call it a hit piece (everything that isn't perfectly aligned with the current party line is a hit piece) whereas those who don't fall at Omidyar's feet will likely call it a puff piece.
Those who have been following the saga all along, though, will learn next to nothing.