Tag Archives: Matt Taibbi

Billionaires Who Promise to Save Journalism and Then Default: It Ought To Be a Crime.

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Let’s talk about fraud: “a person or thing intended to deceive others, typically by unjustifiably claiming or being credited with accomplishments or qualities,” the dictionary calls it.

Let’s also discuss breach of contract. “A breach of contract occurs when the promise of the contract is not kept, because one party has failed to fulfill their agreed-upon obligations, according to the terms of the contract. Breaching can occur when one party fails to deliver in the appropriate time frame, does not meet the terms of the agreement, or fails to perform at all,” says a random legal website I googled. Sounds right.

Pierre Omidyar cofounded eBay. He became a billionaire at age 31 when eBay went public. Forbes says he’s now worth $12.8 billion.

As you know, journalism is in trouble. So it sounded almost too good to be true when Omidyar lured Glenn Greenwald, who famously received the Edward Snowden stash of secret documents that proved the U.S. government is spying on us, away from the UK Guardian in order to helm a new, fearless, left-leaning journalism organization by the name of First Look Media.

Best of all, Omidyar promised to fix the biggest problem faced by 21st century journalists: shrinking budgets. First Look Media, Omidyar said, would get a whopping $250 million in order to support “independent journalists in a way that leverages their work to the greatest extent possible, all in support of the public interest.”

Geld macht frei.

Watch this crazy announcement video from 2013. No, really, watch.

First Look Media, Omidyar promises in his video, would feature a “flagship” online magazine—The Intercept, edited by Greenwald—that would “cover news and stories from entertainment and sports to politics and business.” In addition, he pledged, there would be “a family of digital magazines.” (Spoiler: the sports, business and entertainment stuff never materialized.)

One of First Look’s “verticals,” in publishing vernacular, was to be called Racket, “a hard-hitting, satirical magazine in the style of the old Spy” to be edited by Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone. (Disclosure: I met with Taibbi to discuss the possibility of working for him. Another disclosure: I talked to a reporter at The Intercept about covering my lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times. He was excited but went cold after he pitched it to his editors.)

According to Taibbi and also Greenwald, Taibbi chafed under Omidyar’s incessant micromanaging on everything from whom he could hire to where they would sit. Taibbi quit and returned to Rolling Stone. That was the end of Racket.

Then the fickle billionaire pulled the plug on his other playthings. “Omidyar made clear that there were no plans to launch any more digital magazines in the near term,” Greenwald wrote in 2014. First Look did pick up the cartoon site The Nib in 2016 and added the nonfiction storytelling publication Topic in 2017, only to cancel both and fire their staffs as part of “cost-cutting moves” in 2019.

Omidyar did not explain why an organization backed by a man worth $12.8 billion needs to cut costs, nor how he reconciles his fickleness with that I’ve-got-your-back video. Really, watch it! (To put this in terms a normal person can understand, if you’re worth $500,000, Omidyar’s $250 million pledge is equivalent to $9,000. If you have $500,000 and you can’t spare $9,000 you’re doing something wrong.)

Earlier this year, Omidyar decided to shut down First Look’s maintenance of the Snowden archive. Given that that trove was the company’s original raison d’être, alongside its dedication to investigative journalism, it left loyalists like First Look cofounder Laura Poitras scratching their heads. In March the company laid off its team of researchers.

The point of First Look, remember, was to give good reporters plenty of cash so they could focus on writing and research.

According to Columbia Journalism Review Omidyar has made good on just $90 million of his $250 million commitment. Which is still a lot of money, but it won’t last forever when you’re burning up cash paying exorbitant wages to editors like Greenwald. He collected $1.6 million between 2014 and 2017 while entry-level grunts are making do with $55,000 in a Manhattan where one-bedroom apartments go for $3,500 a month.

Left-leaning journalism types have been whispering about the shenanigans at First Look for years. But few are willing to speak out in public. Omidyar is powerful and wealthy. What if you might want to work for him someday?

Billionaires are purchasing social good will in the hope that they will be “credited with the accomplishments or qualities” of contributing to the “public good,” as Omidyar says in his over-the-top video.

And I’m fine with that—as long as they don’t breach their contract with the public. Omidyar promised us a passel of verticals/online magazines. Where are they? He promised journalists virtually unlimited freedom to investigate, travel, whatever it takes to do their jobs. Budget cuts and mass layoffs are a clear violation of that pledge. He cheated us. He should be held accountable.

Dr. Pat Soon-Shiong is another billionaire, this one from biotech, who has burnished his image as a savior of American journalism by purchasing The Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper. Soon-Shiong is purportedly worth $7.1 billion.

But there’s already a stink, and I’m not talking about the smell of jet fuel raining down on the Times’ new low-budget office building in El Segundo, directly under the flight approach to LAX. The Times previous home was an art deco gem downtown on Times-Mirror Square. Why, one wonders, can’t a man worth $7.1 billion shell out the $50 million-ish cost of a downtown office building rather than move reporters a three-hour drive away from some parts of the city they’re supposed to be covering? (That’s $3,500 for someone worth $500,000.) Why do so many of his new hires skew so young, Millennial and thus so cheaply five-digit?

Despite slavishly sucking up to him in public statements, the union representing Times employees has been rewarded with contempt by Soon-Shiong, who refuses to negotiate in good faith.

Jeff Bezos, self-proclaimed savior of The Washington Post, has a similar attitude toward workers at his newspaper.

I don’t have a problem with derps derping, even when they’re running major news outlets. What seriously pisses me off is when those derps are billionaires who market themselves as saviors to be admired, when they’re anything but.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

I Told You So: Only Idiots Believed in Russiagate

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There they go again.

In 2002 and 2003 corporate media idiots speculated that secular socialist Saddam Hussein might give nukes that he didn’t and couldn’t have to radical Islamists who wanted to kill him. That story wasn’t true. Worse than that, it couldn’t have been true. I said it over and over and over. So did others.

But we skeptics were outsiders. Corporate media’s strict idiots-only hiring policy keeps journalists-as-stenographers, propagandists and broken-brain logic-haters employed by censoring those of us who are always right. The idiots’ idiotic lies about WMDs justified a war that left more than a million Iraqis dead.

Corporate media didn’t fire their idiots after the WMD fiasco. Why would they? They were in the war business and the suck-up-to-government business. Had they been in the truth business, losing their credibility might have mattered.

Idiots gonna idiot. So it’s no surprise that in 2016 the same corporate media morons fabricated another conspiracy theory so outlandish that not only was it obviously untrue, it could not possibly have been true—and that it would again have devastating real-world consequences.

Russiagate was a propaganda campaign waged by the Democratic Party and its media allies with a daily blizzard of overheated speculation that Russia installed Donald Trump as its stooge by hacking the 2016 presidential election. Several years and millions of dollars later, special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that it didn’t happen.

Of course it didn’t happen. It couldn’t have happened.

As I wrote last year: “You’re asking us to believe that Trump’s people met with Putin’s people, not to discuss Trump’s sleazy real estate developments in the former Soviet Union, but to encourage Russian hackers to break into the DNC, steal Hillary’s emails and funnel them to WikiLeaks with a view toward angering enough voters to change the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. Trump doesn’t even read one-page memos. Yet we’re being asked to believe that he supervised a ridiculously complex Machiavellian conspiracy?

“WikiLeaks didn’t get the DNC documents from Russia or any other state actor. They got them from a disgruntled pro-Bernie Sanders staffer at the DNC. Anyway, the intelligence community — you know, the friendly folks at the CIA, FBI and NSA whom Democrats worship the way Republicans revered firefighters after 9/11 — says whatever Russian hacking occurred did not affect the outcome of the election.

“Then there’s this: Trump didn’t actually want to win. Why would he go to such lengths to steal something he didn’t want?”

As Chris Christie pointed out January 28th, how the hell could a shoestring operation like the Trump campaign, which was “just trying to figure out how to get field people hired in places like Pennsylvania” be so internationally sophisticated as to “run some sort of Tom Clancy operation”?

My colleague Matt Taibbi writes, and he’s right: “Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media.” Whatever credibility U.S. media still had after pimping those imaginary Iraqi WMDs, The Los Angeles Times allowing its stock to be sold to the LAPD and then taking orders from the police, and “experts” repeatedly reporting that Donald Trump had no chance of winning, lies in tatters.

The media idiots’ WMD BS cost a million-plus Iraqis their lives. Their Russiagate crap has vastly increased the chances that Trump will win reelection. Russiagate will make it all but impossible to impeach the bastard as he deserves and as the country desperately needs.

As I said on the radio after the Mueller news broke: “Business corruption would have been, should have been the focus of Democrats looking for legal means to remove this president. That’s the low-hanging fruit; that’s where something actually happened. Instead, they went after the president for something he didn’t actually do, and so they look really foolish, and Trump is going to beat the Mueller report over the heads of the Democrats all through next year, and it’s going to be hard for the Democrats to put this behind them.”

Trump is a corrupt real estate magnate with ties to the mafia and sleazy autocrats around the world. Anyone out to get him should have started by following his misbegotten money. Instead Democrats tried to do three things at once: get Trump, destroy U.S.-Russia relations to provoke a new Cold War that would profit the military-industrial complex and explain away the bankruptcy of Hillary Clinton’s brand of centrist corporatism.

Democrats are now turning their attention to the New York-based investigations of Trump and his business affairs by U.S. Attorneys. The president faces significant legal jeopardy on several fronts, including abusing a charitable organization to evade taxes and the likelihood that his hush-money payoffs to Stormy Daniels violated federal campaign finance laws. When he leaves office, Trump might even face jail time.

But none of that matters. Trump is so old and fat he’ll probably die before facing prosecution. The real threat to Trump from New York is current and political. Thanks to Mueller’s exoneration on Russiagate, Trump is largely politically inoculated from the New York stuff even if the Department of Justice files major charges. “Just another witch hunt,” he’ll say—and voters—not just his base—will nod their heads. The media will go on and on about wrongdoing that under normal circumstances would amount to one hell of a scandal—but who will listen other than partisan Democrats?

The second Trump Administration that just became likelier will hasten the destruction of the planet by pollution and climate change, widen income and wealth disparity and gut the Affordable Care Act. The U.S. system may never recover. All because the corporate media idiots went after a serial criminal for the one crime he didn’t commit.

Wanna know the richest irony? Trump knew how this would turn out. He knew what the Mueller Report would say. For two years he’s been watching DNC mouthpieces like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow rant about Russiagate. He knew he’d use those clips for one attack ad after another.

Actual collusion! Democrats and their media outlets conspired to install Donald Trump as president in 2020.

(Ted Rall, the cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

 

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.)

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