Saturday, November 1, 2014

Taibbi Decamps First Look

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.

OK then.

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.


  1. So the plan was to silence the most out-spoken and prominent left-leaning dirt diggers? And how long did Omidyar think that could last? I sure hope Taibbi gets back his mojo and relates what happened here.

  2. Well, Omidyar did manage to privatize the Snowden NSA leaks - he immediately signed on the only two people who have the whole cache (Greenwald and Poitras). Roughly 5% of the material has been released, and most of that heavily redacted. That this material belongs to the public should not have to be said; the public, however, will never see the vast majority of it. And that may been (I think it was) the whole point all along. (And BTW, Omidyar cut the funding for FL/Intercept way back and has even given up on the other parts of the First Look venture except for Intercept, so getting the Snowden cache out of circulation did NOT cost him the $250 mm he originally said he would invest.)

    Couple of other interesting things, now that I have allowed myself to be drawn into the story...

    In the Intercept article about Taibbi's leaving, the authors of the piece say this, "early on, Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill all opted to be independent contractors rather than First Look employees in order to maximize their freedom to speak out and act.” So what they are saying is that if a writer wants to maximize his freedom to write and act, he should not work for FirstLook/Intercept. That should tell you all you need to know about Omidyar's "adversarial approach", " fiercely independent reporting", and all that other bullshit. And the fact that Greenwald, Poitras, and Scahill do not bother to write anywhere else, despite being independent contractors who have the freedom to, and in fact write very little at Intercept either, should tell you how important they actually find it to "speak out and act".

    Another thing; Yves Smith has a couple of articles up at NakedCapitalism on the Taibbi/Omidyar divorce. She points out the discrepancy between what Taibbi thought he was going to be doing and what Omidyar thought he hired Taibbi for.

    "[...] Update: Pando flagged the probable basis for the outtrade months ago, that Omidyar discovered journalism is hard and costs money, and appeared to want to steer Taibbi towards doing satire, which to him may have meant fluff. This is pretty much what we surmised. Hat tip CEA:

    Omidyar is both sole investor and publisher. And apparently he’s just realized that, even with a $250 million dollar budget and a big pile of NSA leaked documents acquired along with Glenn Greenwald, creating a serious journalistic enterprise is hard.  A platform, on the other hand, is something Omidyar has built before and clearly believes he can build again. Someone else can take care of actually fixing American journalism and delivering on all the promises he made in his weirdly Pierre-centric launch video.

    But while others discuss Pierre’s pivot, and what it means for Greenwald’s future at the project, there’s another pivot tucked away in the announcement that most people seem to have missed. Here’s the line (emphasis mine):

    “[W]e’ve partnered with the talented Matt Taibbi to plan and launch this fall a new digital magazine with a satirical approach to American politics and culture.”

    “A satirical approach to American politics and culture.”

    Now compare that with Taibbi’s original plan on joining First Look, as reported in the New York Times back in February… (again, emphasis mine):

    "Mr. Taibbi will start his own publication focusing on financial and political corruption, he said in an interview on Wednesday. First Look is financed by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who is worth $8.5 billion, according to Forbes. Mr. Omidyar has pledged $250 million to the project."

    Even the Times couldn’t resist pointing out the juxtaposition. Were we really supposed to believe that Taibbi would be allowed to investigate financial corruption, and Wall Street hi-jinx, when his boss is one of the richest men in America?"

    And her other article is here:

  3. Taibbi is lucky he got his gig back at Rolling Stone.

    The hedge fund elite and their co-conspirators at Wall Street set about to destroy the American Newspaper industry using the convenient cover story all news papers were losing millions hence they should be done away with.

    Long Story short Andre Schiffrin makes a very good case in his 2010 book Words and Money how at least 20% to 40% of the now closed American newspapers could have been saved had traditional profit rates of 5-6-8% return been allowed to continue at newspapers just above going into the red.

    But because of other convenient changes in ownership laws and other changes made at the FCC radio and TV conglomerates with hedge fund backing bought these 600 odd newspapers and closed every single one using the excuse they should show a 20% return even if they were still running in the black.

    Try new web based models, new advertising rates, and new shorter runs combined with membership and web based marketing campaigns.... NO just kill them all - out all those nabering-Kneebobs on the streets.

    Seems to me it really was a politically motivated prevent Watergate from ever happening again by very right and very rich people in the shadows who really do hate Democracy. And Last but not least these elites really are human filth as they only believe in wealth and nothing else. Our species will pay for it as they have no desire to head off climate change catastrophe - they think they can ride it out.

    Deceitful and very rich and very powerful, but over the top fruit-loops Liberian ideologically insane.

  4. Thank you all for these excellent comments. There will be more about this story shortly.

  5. Thank you, teri. You put it all in sharp focus.

  6. lea-p,

    The Intercept bothers me. It is a "non-profit-for-profit", according to Omidyar. I don't know what that means, but as a bookkeeper I can tell you that no such thing exists in IRS Land. The Intercept tracks their commenters and I can only guess that that is the "for-profit" part, since there are no ads. People's data is being sold. To someone. This tracking has been pointed out in the comment section, but the response from other commenters is pretty much that they'd rather Greenwald and Co. be doing it than anyone else. A fairly wacky response in my estimation, but maybe it's just me. Although I do enjoy the irony of a website devoted to "exposing" the dark forces of the spying apparatus being used to collect readers' data. The fact that the advertised "major writers" very seldom write, even after all this time, indicates that something is wrong with this news venue. Especially if Greenwald, et al are indeed outside contractors, as they have now stated publicly. An outside (or independent) contractor is allowed to work for themselves and/or for anyone else they choose to accept a job from. The Intercept would therefore be only one of any number of places where these guys could have published their work. That, at least, is the IRS definition of outside contractor. I will add that it is possible that Omidyar made them statutory employees working under some kind of contract and they are simply using the wrong term. Anyway, the output at Intercept is not impressive. Oddly, Omidyar has been running an on-line media outlet for some time, so the excuse that this is all new to him or that he didn't have a crack tech team is utter bullshit. (He runs Civil Beat out of Honolulu, and has for some years. Fairly recently added Arianna Huffington on as a partner in that venture.)

    The loss of the Snowden documents bothers me. While he has claimed that he wants "the people" to weigh in on them and on NSA spying in general, he decided to hand over his entire cache to only a couple of individuals, who are hoarding them. Because we will never see the entire archive (someone figured out that at the current rate of disclosure, it would take over 30 years for all of the documents to be revealed - and by that time, the technology will have moved on to reading our thoughts or something, so it won't matter any more), we do not have enough information to "vote" on it or "debate" about it. Also, the slow release has caused people to lose interest. In any case, I don't think that even if a majority of brain-washed idiots wants the NSA to "keep us safe" this way, it would be okay for the NSA and other agencies to keep doing what they are doing. Majority wishes or no, we have already broken the Constitution and Bill of Rights with this. To give a different example, a majority of Americans may now agree that the US should torture the "terrorists" - yet that opinion does not make torture right, either. We taxpayers paid the salaries of the people who have been spying on us, and we paid for the technology. The documents belong to us. Hand them over already. And, no, no-one should get to make a profit by publishing some of them in a book.

    Omidyar deeply bothers me. He is involved in any number of unsavory pastimes, most involving messing around with the way countries are run and laws are written. Dark money there, dark motives, and dark maneuvers. He stays out of the limelight, but what I have learned about is disturbing. What he is doing in Hawai'i alone is enough for me to have a profound dislike of the dude. These rich jerks need to go play golf and stop ruining and manipulating our lives in their efforts to maximize their profits and grab all the assets. I won't go on further, but will simply say that no matter his appearance, Omidyar is a dangerous and greedy individual.

    - Teri

  7. Jeez, Che,

    I meant to cut that comment down to a reasonable length and published rather than previewed. Do I run on at the mouth or WHAT?

    I'm sorry, mijo.

    And apologies to you too, lea-p. I'm embarrassed at myself.


  8. Teri, you can run off like that all you want. But then, this is not my blog-space. Pixels are cheap. Pixel arrangements (words/thoughts) are not, and what you put out there is greatly appreciated. I bet Ché doesn't mind. None of what you say is superfluous to those of us who do not have the knowledge you do. Thank you!

  9. Teri- You can run on all you like, especially about this topic. We were out most of the day and I haven't been able to catch up with further developments. It looks like New York Magazine hasn't published the big Omidyar exposé they were promising for today, though. Interesting. Wonder if someone got to them...

  10. The New York Magazine profile-exposé of Mr. Pierre Omidyar, titled "The Pierre Omidyar Insurgency" has now been published online.

  11. Thank you for being so kind, all.

    Che, I have read the NY Mag piece you link to in your update. It appears with the title "How the Snowden Leaks Gave Pierre Omidyar a Cause — and an Enemy"; it took me a bit of searching to figure out why the titles are different. The NY Mag has it with the "Insurgency" title on its front page, but when you click on that (or on your link), it takes you to the article, which actually has a different title.

    As to the article itself, well, my stars. The author, Rice, was probably not bought off, but he is clearly too tickled at finding himself in such august company to do any sort of research into any of these wealthy globe-trotters, unless you count the blah-blah of recounting Omidyar's preference for veganism and clean beaches as investigative journalism. (I could tell you a story about how Omidyar cleaned one beach in Hawai'i by removing all the poor people, but, meh.)

    You are right; some of us know way more about Omidyar, Clinton, eBay, PayPal, USAid, Omidyar Foundation, etc. than Rice does. I was struck by a few things and will only mention some of them briefly, and won't even get into others:

    1. These guys, Omidyar in particular, are extremely secretive, almost paranoid, and hide behind shell corporations, off-shored hedge funds, and layers of corporate legal gobblegy-gook to cover themselves with plausible deniability. Yet they claim to stand for transparency and openness. Omidyar's claim is particularly egregious in this regard.

    2. Everything is for a profit. Rice claims Omidyar wants to "give his money away", but Omidyar himself has stated that all his ventures are geared to making a profit and that he wouldn't bother with them otherwise. He has never been involved with anything remotely resembling true altruistic charity and all his deals come with webs of strings designed to give him more money and more power over the little people's lives.

    3. Omidyar may not like governmental tracking, but he is certainly interested in tracking user data and information himself. (Loved the throw-away bits in the article about the company Omidyar tried to start up which would "track the information coursing through Twitter" and his joking about an RFID chip embedded in his business card, and let's not even start any talk about paypal and ebay tracking and data-mining.)

    4. Rice mentions that "The Intercept has become the custodian of Snowden’s immense archive of classified documents, which it continues to mine for stories," without any examination of what that implies. (In another part of the article, Rice points out that Greenwald has never personally met Omidyar. He signed himself, and the Snowden cache, - AND THE SNOWDEN CACHE, you savvy? - over to a man he never even met? Are you SHITTING me?)

    5. And my favorite, which is at the end of the article, where Rice discloses that Greenwald, Omidyar, and a bunch of big hoo-hahs in the news biz (will Rupert Murdoch be there? How about the CEO of GE?) are going to have a secret meeting to discuss “reimagining the future of the news" and the event is sponsored by fucking GOOGLE. Okay, you can slap me on the ass and call me Betsy, but I do not see how any part of the preceding sentence could leave anyone feeling remotely comfortable. Read it again if you don't get what I mean. I am sure the cult will put a mighty effort into explaining how Greenwald is still not a total sell-out, but I have zero patience for that crap any more.

    I will spare you my other thoughts on the matter. (See? There is a God.)

    - Teri

    1. Teri -- Bueno. My thoughts pretty much exactly regarding this highly touted "exposé" and its contents.

      Thanks for detailing some of its manifest superficiality.

      Pierre is in it for the money and for the power; there is no altruism that I can see in any of his ON activities -- and everyone should be aware that he and his wife personally direct and select ON's myriad projects. It's not left to the staff to do it as is typical of most charitable foundations. (At least that's my understanding...)

      The upcoming transformative-future meeting in which media will be reimagined (cough) may or may not be all it is touted as. I've seen and heard way too much cheering about these things to be anything but skeptical. On the other hand, it's clear that the Global Oligarchy is carrying out a long term project in which we, the Little People, are either users/consumers of product they determine we shall pay for -- forever -- or we're in the way and to be disposed of. It's a very simple world view. Greenwald whose side he's on. It ain't ours.

    2. Edit -- "Greenwald has let us know clearly whose side he's on."