Illustration by MATTHEW WOODSON
NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Earlier this year, Greenwald, Poitras, and a third comrade in arms — former Nation writer Jeremy Scahill — launched a website called the Intercept. It is meant to be the prototype for a fleet of publications funded by Omidyar’s flagship company, First Look Media, to which Omidyar has initially committed $250 million. “We have the luxury of doing something different because we have this kind of infinite-resource backer,” Greenwald told me on the phone from Brazil, where he is based. “We’re thinking about how to do journalism structurally differently.” At the time of Omidyar’s visit, a second site, Racket, was also revving up for its launch. Headed by the polemical magazine writer Matt Taibbi, it was going to offer scabrous satire of the financial industry and politics.
Omidyar’s organization operates a little like WikiLeaks, except it is staffed by well-salaried journalists and backed by Silicon Valley money. It aims to unite strident ideology with publishing technology, cryptography, and aggressive legal defense. The Intercept has become the custodian of Snowden’s immense archive of classified documents, which it continues to mine for stories. Greenwald says the site also plans to share them with outside reporters and is building a secure “reading room” in its Fifth Avenue headquarters building, where it is currently renovating three floors. The Intercept is encouraging others in the intelligence world to leak via an encrypted system called SecureDrop. Between its periodic scoops, it serves up regular doses of acidic commentary by critics of Obama’s national-security policies.
Omidyar was an admirer of Obama’s right up to the moment the Snowden story broke, and many people who know him well, the types you might meet at CGI, struggle to explain his sudden turn toward confrontation. “He’s a very serious and public-spirited person,” says General Wesley Clark, who has been friendly with Omidyar since he raised money for his 2004 presidential campaign. Clark has publicly dismissed concerns about NSA surveillance and told me he couldn’t really explain why Omidyar was so agitated. Omidyar is mellow by nature; he lives in Hawaii and is a devotee of Buddhism. “He’s not this hard-core, radical maverick,” Greenwald says. “Back before this all happened, he just seemed like the normal, average, amicable billionaire.” Omidyar has communicated little about his motivations beyond a handful of abstruse public statements. He remains a remote and somewhat mysterious figure, even to his collaborators.
“To this day,” Greenwald says, “I’ve never met Pierre in person.” MORE
RELATED: The Inside Story Of Matt Taibbi’s Departure From First Look Media
RELATED: The Intercept article on Taibbi’s departure — bylined under the names of Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and John Cook, but almost certainly written mostly by Greenwald — is, at its core, a scurrilous piece of work. Purporting to be a boldly transparent piece — it even (lightly) criticizes the Boss! — it is instead, transparently, an attempt by the oligarch’s organization to get its side of the story out first before the famously acerbic Taibbi makes any statement.
It is also a means for the authors to laud themselves as “fiercely independent journalists” (yes, Greenwald actually wrote that about himself) who, despite being radical bohemians who “view corporate cultures and management-speak with disdain,” were able to heroically grapple with their employer and procure for themselves “a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists working collaboratively and freely in the manner its founders always envisioned” … unlike that loser Taibbi, who obviously lacked their moxie and got slapped around by the Big Boss Man.
The poison shiv of the article is buried deep in the acres of Greenwald’s ever-deadening slabs of prose (as well as deep in Taibbi’s back): the accusation of sexist behavior on Taibbi’s part when he was upbraiding one of his staff. To be sure, the Interceptors make great show of saying that an internal investigation of the charge found that his action did not rise “to the level of legal liability” (libel-dodging weasel-wording at its best!) — and added, as an appendix, an encomium from another Omidyar stablemate as to Taibbi’s good character and lack of sexism. But the damage was done, as was obviously intended. The quick takeaway of anyone wondering about the situation will be: “What happened with Taibbi and First Look?” “Well, he was facing some kind of sex abuse charge or something, wasn’t he? Abusing the women there, threatening or yelling at them, something.” “What an asshole. They were right to get rid of him.” Or maybe just a quick headline in the NY Post or Drudge Report: “Taibbi Leaves First Look After Sexism Row.” MORE
RELATED: During a Q&A in Canada, Glenn Greenwald was asked why his colleague and NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, wasn’t on any of the social media platforms — i.e., Facebook — and Greenwald didn’t mince words. “He doesn’t use Facebook because he hates Facebook,” he said. “They’re one of the worst violators of privacy in history. Nobody should use Facebook.” MORE