Tag Archives: Glenn Greenwald

EXCLUSIVE SYNDICATED COLUMN: What Really Went Wrong at First Look Media

Just over one year ago, billionaire eBay cofounder Pierre Omidyar issued one of the most dramatic announcements America’s beleaguered journalists had experienced in their lifetimes. After decades of closing newspapers, shrinking newsrooms, vanishing foreign bureaus and the near extinction of investigative reporting due to brutal, relentless budget-cutting, Omidyar would endow a new company, First Look Media, with a staggeringly large sum of cash – $250 million – to be deployed in the service of a breathtakingly ambitious attempt to reinvent advocacy journalism in everything from investigations of financial corruption to sports coverage.

Even better, from the standpoint of progressives living in the political wilderness since the rise and fall of George McGovern, First Look Media would be edited by leftist pundits and advocacy journalists like the legal columnist Glenn Greenwald, to whom former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked more than a million classified US government documents, the documentarian Laura Poitras, also involved intimately in the Snowdon saga, and the respected anti-militarism critic Jeremy Scahill.

As some cynics opined, it all sounded too good to be true. (Disclosure: for just shy of a month earlier this year, I worked for Pando Daily.) Why would a billionaire like Omidyar bankroll a bunch of antiestablishment types like the financial reporter Matt Taibbi – hired away from Rolling Stone – whose mission in life is in large part to undermine global capitalism?

Although it’s too soon to declare First Look dead and gone, and Omidyar claims to be as committed to his utopian company as ever, things have gone from bad to worse over the last year. Omidyar’s $250 million pledge shrunk to $50 million. The mission to fund hard-hitting journalism and commentary was recast as, among other things, possibly a “platform” expected to generate significant revenue. Tales of shrinking budgets, diminished expectations, shrinking ambitions and staffers leaving after complaining of managerial incompetence appeared with increasing frequency in the trade press.

From the outside, it quickly became clear that First Look was less than a well-oiled machine, or even a reasonably functional journalistic startup. Fellow writers and cartoonists who responded to First Look’s repeated calls for resumes (disclosure: I was one of them) described treatment ranging from unprofessional snubbing of award-winning pros to outright rude, such as going silent after asking them to come in for an interview.

Even more damning was the company’s egregious violation of Jeff Bezos’ axiom: always underpromise and overdeliver. One year after declaring itself a left-wing media monolith to rival Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, all First Look has to show for itself is a crappy WordPress blog with less basic functionality than many private individuals feature on their personal cat-photo websites. Updates have been scattershot and infrequent. Coverage has been anything but wide-ranging. And the journalists gone wild implied by Omidyar’s original big splash either never got hired or, if they did, never saw print.

Where, everyone wanted to know, did the $250 million go?

A couple of months ago, a First Look staffer emailed me to find out how much it would cost to run my syndicated cartoons. When they got the quote – which was lower than much larger websites pay, certainly we’re not talking about websites backed by a quarter billion dollars – they said they wouldn’t be able to afford cartoons. I’m paraphrasing here, but not by much: we were under the impression, the staffer replied, that cartoon content is cheap.

Aside from the terrible politics – if a billionaire can’t pay decent prices for content, who can? – I began to wonder whether Omidyar was starving First Look.

Media outlets, understandably interested in an experiment that, if successful, might have led to a new model for public interest and advocacy journalism in the digital age, have speculated and reported obsessively on last week’s departure of Taibbi, hired to run what was going to be First Look’s second “magazine,” or “vertical,” in industry vernacular, after The Intercept, where Greenwald writes about the Snowden revelations.

As always, when there’s a disaster there are numerous causes. But all of the coverage I’ve read so far has missed the biggest flaw of all in First Look’s business model: the fact that Pierre Omidyar kept, and is still keeping, tight control of the purse strings.

It amazes me that people as savvy as First Look’s top editors didn’t insist, before leaving respectable publications like the UK Guardian and Rolling Stone for a start-up, that Omidyar put the $250 million (or $50 million, or single-digit millions now) in escrow, or at least under the control of a group of trustees of whom Omidyar would be just one, and would include top editorial staff like Greenwald.

I met with a high-level First Look official during the summer to discuss the possibility of working together. I asked: “Where’s the $250 million?” He didn’t know. He couldn’t say.

A structure that allowed Omidyar complete control of the company’s finances was bound to put a crimp on editorial independence, which was apparently the main reason Taibbi left. Who wants to be a billionaire’s plaything? No matter how well the job pays, it only ends badly. Given Omidyar’s reported authoritarian control freak personality, which apparently even extends to personally signing off on – and denying – taxi receipts, it seems even more insane to take a job leaving him in complete charge of the money.

I wasn’t there (though I would’ve loved to have been), but this looks to me like a group of writers working in a profession that had been mistreated for so long that they were exceptionally vulnerable to the seduction of a smooth-talking charmer who passed himself off as an angel investor in the future of liberalism and journalism. Of course, this might all work out in the end. I hope it does.

Hell, Greenwald is supposedly going to meet his boss Omidyar in person for the very first time.

Better a year late than never.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

SYNDICATED COLUMN: America’s “Moderates” Are Wild, Crazy — and More Extreme Than Any “Extremist”

http://fistfuloftalent.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/moderate-400x320.jpg

Every damn second of every stupid day in this brain-dead nation, the insipid overlords of America’s inane corporate news media put out the same message: extremism is extremely bad.

9/11? Carried out by Muslim extremists. The couple who murdered two police officers in Las Vegas this week? Right-wing, anti-government extremists. Washington gridlock? A Republican Party taken over by intransigent extremists (the Tea Party).

In this official narrative, unquestioned by left and right alike, moderation and centrism are equated with reasonableness. So Hillary Rodham Clinton describes herself as a middle-way realist who values compromise — i.e., a moderate and therefore a Very Serious Person, and thus qualified to be president.

To be feared and marginalized, by contrast, are those the system defines as “extremists.” (Some might call them men and women of principle. But that would be on funny little blogs no one reads.)

If you criticize the mainstream (the current government, the biggest corporations, the most well-connected journalistic elites) in a sustained way — especially if you call those in charge out for breaking their own rules and laws — you will be categorized as one of these horrible “extremists.”

A recent example: Michael Kinsley, lately of Slate and The New Republic (the most centrist of moderate magazines), comparing Glenn Greenwald to Robespierre (within the context of the pretty extreme French revolution, extreme) in the New York Times (down to the tone of any given sentence, the most centrist of moderate newspapers), for the sin of complaining about NSA spying, drone assassinations, Guantánamo and other (when you think about it, extreme) U.S. government activities that violate — U.S. government laws.

Though, actually, “violate” doesn’t quite go far enough. Bombing countries without bothering to declare war against them pees all over the Constitution, numerous federal laws — the whole spirit of the American endeavor. Extreme, no?

This is some bass-ackward shit.

For asking that political elites obey their own laws on domestic spying and not assassinating American citizens on American soil — even being willing to mount an actual filibuster over it — Rand Paul gets portrayed as a wacky fringe loony-toons extremist. For listening to our calls and reading our email and dropping Hellfire missiles on American citizens — and children! — without a warrant, Barack Obama is a moderate.

What the “moderates” call “mainstream” is, in truth, about as extreme as it gets.

Ex-Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, formerly of Goldman Sachs and thus the embodiment of reasonable centristness, is pushing a book in which he claims a tough-call-but-had-to-do-it middle ground for an action that was in reality about as extreme as can be: his reaction to the 2008-09 economic collapse. Geithner gave $7.77 trillion in taxpayer money to the banks and their top executives, no questions asked, and $0.00 to the homeowners and unemployed people whom the banks screwed. (Also, there’s this: he failed. The economy is still tens of millions of unemployed behind; consumer confidence is still shit. NPR still asks his opinion.)

Speaking of books, Hillary’s latest brief, called “Hard Choices” — a phrase meant to conjure Solomonic wisdom — kinda sorta admits she “got it wrong” by voting for the U.S. war against Iraq.

Democrats voting for Republican-led wars — that’s the “crossing the aisle” “bipartisan” “seriousness” Manhattan and Beltway pundits like Thomas Friedman and David Ignatius, both of whom did the same, approve of.

Moderate.

The war, of course, was an extreme affair. Between $2 trillion and $6 trillion down the shitter. 4,500 dead American troops. Hundreds of thousands whose brains will never be right again. At least a million — more like two million — dead Iraqis. Who can count them all? A Second World oil state, secular socialist and authoritarian, reduced by ten years of American occupation to civil war and total societal, political and economic disintegration, Third World going on Fourth.

And what about the way it began? Ginned up out of whole cloth. Even by U.S. standards, it takes some big stones to justify attacking a nation that never attacked, or threatened to attack, you. Pretending that you know about WMDs, and then getting caught lying, and then not only not apologizing and immediately withdrawing, but doubling down (c.f., the “surge”)?

Pretty damn extreme, if you ask me. (No one does. Cuz, like, my saying so makes me extreme.)

Hillary’s “hard choice”? In 2003, Bush was popular, so was invading Iraq. She assumed that, when she ran for reelection to the Senate in 2006, Bush and his war would still be the bee’s knees.

Sorry, Iraq.

Hard choice, you see.

With “moderates” like this…

Yet the Moderate Class is so loud about the evils of extremism. Writing in the very moderate Washington Post opinion pages, a forum that promoted the Iraq War and publishes the full range of editorial opinion from center-right Democrat to center-right Republican, Paul Waldman asked “How much does right-wing rhetoric contribute to right-wing terrorism?” after the Vegas cop shooting.

Here’s a taste: “When you broadcast every day that the government of the world’s oldest democracy is a totalitarian beast bent on turning America into a prison of oppression and fear, when you glorify lawbreakers like Cliven Bundy, when you say that your opponents would literally destroy the country if they could, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that violence is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.”

Mmmaybe. But how about a little context? Assuming that “the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns” inspired the Vegas shooters, shooting cops isn’t good. But: (only) four people died, including the killers, in Vegas. Four dead due to right-wing extremism.

Millions died in the Iraq War. This slaughter wasn’t inspired by, but directly carried out by a bipartisan Congress coming together to support an attack editorial writers on both the Right and what passes for the Left agreed upon.

Why doesn’t anyone at the Post ask “How much does mainstream Democratic-Republican rhetoric contribute to U.S. state terrorism?” Here is how Waldman would write if he or his editors were sane:

“When you broadcast every day that an isolated Middle Eastern dictatorship is a totalitarian beast bent on reducing America to ashes and irradiated rubble, when you appease lawbreakers like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and John Yoo, when you say that antiwar activists would literally destroy the country if they could, to score cheap political points, you can’t profess surprise when some people decide that war is the only means of forestalling the disaster you have warned them about.”

When you run an extremist government that markets itself as realistically moderate, your smartest move is distraction.

See Huge Crazy Extremist Kettle point at tiny extremist pot.

Like, even when a politician considered extremist within the bounds of the two-party “mainstream” gets defeated by an even more extreme extremist, mourn the loss of the slightly less extreme extremist as “A Bad Omen for Moderates.”

And ask things like this:

Why on earth would a 22-year-old from Florida with a “passion for Islam and teaching children about the Quran turn into something more disturbing”?

The New York Times approvingly quotes Veronica Monroy, a friend of a man who carried out a suicide bombing against Assad government forces in Syria: “He deplored any kind of negativity, and was always the first to lend a hand if you needed one. He was religious, but definitely not an extremist,” Monroy said. “He was loving and caring, and I know he came from a strong, loving, supportive home.”

Get the message? Jihad is extreme. Fundamentalists are severe and cold, not loving or caring — and they’re usually the damaged products of dysfunctional families. Extremism is “negative.” Follow a religion. Just don’t really follow all its tenets.

Like that stuff about giving up all your stuff and joining the poor: that would be extreme.

If you step back from the media maelstrom, it isn’t all that hard to frame another narrative: here was a young man, his father from Israeli-occupied Palestine, politicized by the global onslaught against and oppression of Islam, led by the U.S. Done with “doing typical adolescent things, such as playing video games,” he put his ass on the line and made the supreme sacrifice for his coreligionists.

Moner Mohammad Abusalha’s wasn’t my brand of “extremism.” Nevertheless, unlike Hillary’s vote to destroy Iraq, carefully calibrated to maximize her centrist warmongering cred as a “realist” “moderate,” it’s one I can respect.

(Ted Rall, Staff Cartoonist and Writer for Pando Daily, is the author of the upcoming “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

 

ANewDomain.net Cartoon: The NSA’s “Star Wars” Fantasy

When he was running the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command, NSA leader General Keith Alexander had architects design an “Intelligence Dominance Center” in full-on “Star Trek” geek mode, like the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Check out my cartoon about it at ANewDomain.net.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: A President Who Doesn’t Even Try

Is Obama Kowtowing to the Right? Or Is He One of Them?

The President’s progressive critics blame him for continuing and expanding upon his Republican predecessor’s policies. His supporters point to the obstructionist, Republican-controlled Congress. What can Obama do? He’s being stymied at every turn.

The first problem with the it’s-the-GOP’s-fault defense is that it asks voters to suffer short-term memory loss. In 2009, you probably recall, Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. By a sizeable majority. They even had a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the Senate. His approval ratings were through the roof; even many Republicans who had voted against him took a liking to him. The media, in his pocket, wondered aloud whether the Republican Party could ever recover. “Rarely, if ever, has a President entered office with so much political wind at his back,” Tim Carney wrote for the Evans-Novak Political Report shortly after the inauguration.

If Obama had wanted to pursue a progressive agenda—banning foreclosures, jailing bankers, closing Guantánamo, stopping the wars, pushing for the public option he promised in his healthcare plan—he could have. He had ample political capital, yet chose not to spend it.

Now that Congress is controlled by a Republican Party in thrall to its radical-right Tea Party faction, it is indeed true that Obama can’t get routine judicial appointments approved, much less navigate the passage of legislation. Oh-so-conveniently, Obama has turned into a liberal-come-lately. Where was his proposed Buffett Rule (which would require millionaires with huge investment income to pay the same percentage rate as middle-class families) in 2009, when it might have stood a chance of passage?

Team Obama’s attempt to shore up his liberal base also falls short on the facts. Progressives were shocked by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling, along party lines, that legalized strip-searches and body cavity rapes by police and private security firms who detain people suspected of any crime, even minor traffic infractions.

“What virtually none of this…commentary mentioned,” reported Glenn Greenwald in Salon, “was that that the Obama DOJ [Department of Justice] formally urged Court to reach the conclusion it reached…this is yet another case, in a long line, where the Obama administration was able to have its preferred policies judicially endorsed by getting right-wing judges to embrace them.”

No wonder Obama stayed mum.

Which brings us to the biggest, yet least discussed, flaw in the attempt to pin Obama’s inaction on the heads of Congressional Republicans: the bully pulpit.

Whether Donald Trump likes it or not, Barack Obama is still president. If he calls a press conference to call attention to an issue, odds are that reporters will show up. But he’s not walking tall or even talking big.

Responding to fall 2011 polls that indicated softening support among the younger and more liberal voters who form the Democratic base, Obama’s reelection strategists began rolling out speeches inflected with Occupy-inspired rhetoric about class warfare and trying to make sure all Americans “get a fair shot.” But that’s all it is: talk. And small talk at that.

Instead of introducing major legislation, the White House plans to spend 2012 issuing presidential orders about symbolic, minor issues.

Repeating Clinton-era triangulation and micro-mini issues doesn’t look like a smart reelection strategy. The Associated Press reported: “Obama’s election year retreat from legislative fights means this term will end without significant progress on two of his 2008 campaign promises: comprehensive immigration reform and closing the military prison for terrorist suspects at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Piecemeal presidential directives are unlikely to make a sizeable dent in the nation’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate or lead to significant improvements in the economy, the top concern for many voters and the issue on which Republican candidates are most likely to criticize Obama. In focusing on small-bore executive actions rather than ambitious legislation, the president risks appearing to be putting election-year strategy ahead of economic action at a time when millions of Americans are still out of work.”

Of course, Obama may prevail. Romney is an extraordinarily weak opponent.

For progressives and leftists, however, the main point is that Obama never tries to move the mainstream of ideological discourse to the left.

Obama has been mostly silent on the biggest issue of our time, income inequality and the rapid growth of the American underclass. He hasn’t said much about the environment or climate change, the most serious problem we face—and one for which the U.S. bears a disproportionate share of the blame. Even on issues where he was blocked by Congress, such as when Republicans prohibited the use of public funds to transport Gitmo detainees to the U.S. for trials, he zipped his lips.

It isn’t hard to imagine a president launching media-friendly crusades against poverty or global warming. FDR and LBJ did it, touring the country, appointing high-profile commissions and inviting prominent guests to the White House to draw attention to issues they cared about.

In 2010, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez invited flood victims to move into his presidential palace. Seven years after Katrina, Gulf Coast residents are still waiting for help. What if Obama opened up the Lincoln Bedroom to a homeless family? The media couldn’t ignore a PR stunt like that.

Obama has mostly shunned the time-honored strategy of trapping your opposition by forcing them vote against your popular ideas. In 2009, for example, it would have been smarter politics—and better governance—to push for real socialized medicine, or at least ObamaCare with the public option he promised. He would either have wound up with a dazzling triumph, or a glorious defeat.

Liberals don’t blame Obama for not winning. They blame him for not trying. When he does crazy things like authorizing the assassinations of U.S. citizens without trial, progressives have to ask themselves: Is this guy kowtowing to the Right? Or is he one of them?

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)