Another Journalist Quits Omidyar: 'Blocked at Every Turn by Incompetence, Bad Faith'
Ken Silverstein is the latest to resign from Pierre Omidyar's 'First Look' (FL). These are some excerpts from his statement published Feb 20-22, 2015 on his FaceBook page:
...You know what’s cool about being a former employee of First Look/The Intercept? That Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Betsy Reed and Pierre Omidyar all believe in Free Speech and the First Amendment so they won’t mind my writing about my time working for and with them. Tentative title: “Welcome to the Slaughterhouse.” ...
...you know what my favorite part of working for First Look was? Last year’s holiday party when two of our fiercely independent staffers “interviewed” Pierre Omidyar and asked him what he did in the morning. Since you are all hanging on the edge of your seats, he drinks tea and reads stuff, the NYT and other things and then The Intercept was about #5 (he claims). And for the record, I boycotted this embarrassing affair and sat in a conference room with two other people, one who no longer works there and one who may or may not. It’s hard to keep track. What a joke....
...one last comment on First Look Media: The fact that that it hired so many talented people to create Racket and spent millions of dollars on it and in the end fired everyone and Racket never published a single story is probably the greatest squandering of money and example of criminal ineptitude in the history of modern journalism. Again, what a pathetic joke....
...my anger and disillusionment is shared by many former employees. I am one of a many employees who was hired under what were essentially false pretenses; we were told we would be given all the financial and other support we needed to do independent, important journalism, but instead found ourselves blocked at every step of the way by management’s incompetence and bad faith....
...I started at FL on December 30, 2013 and was barely able to publish last year and even when I began publishing more often —starting only last December — it was a struggle every step of the way. The problems were partly due to mismanagement but even more, as I have suggested, to the dishonesty of the leadership and its willingness — even eagerness — to shamelessly lie to its own employees....
...Glenn (Greenwald)’s role at FL is troubling in some ways, especially standing by silently (as far as I can tell) and tolerating the terrible actions of corporate management....
...When we were all at Racket, we joked that we should have the courage to write whatever we wanted and not worry about whether FL liked what we did or whether we offended potential future employers. And at bottom, that is the true formula to produce fearless, independent journalism. You will never produce fearless, independent journalism if you live in fear of angering your media boss and pull your punches to please him/her, or to please your sources or even your friends....
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Silverstein: First Look: Where Journalism Goes to Die
To start it, Omidyar promised $50 million to get it off the ground. With resources like that, it had tremendous promise.
Plus, I figured, it couldn’t be worse than my last job.
How wrong I was—on both counts.
During the summer of 2013 I had been offered a job at Al Jazeera’s investigative unit, where I’d been promised full independence. I took the job because I was worried about the future of journalism—and especially my future in it. It hadn’t worked out as promised; I only lasted two months, quitting after I came to believe that the network’s political agenda in the Middle East compromised my ability to do journalism.
First Look couldn’t be any worse than that, right?
...From top to bottom, the company’s culture centered on Omidyar, an odd reverence that I thought not only undeserved, but outright embarrassing. This is a guy who got rich mostly through good timing in the tech business, not because he has an outstanding track record in journalism. Now that he’s rich, he is surrounded by Yes Men and Women who tell him he’s a genius—and while that might be fine in the business world, it’s not good for journalism. He was good at staying out of the journalism itself, but a cult of personality existed around him internally that disrupted the whole organization....
The beginning of the end for me...came as The Intercept launched into what would turn out to be basically the biggest story of its short existence: The Serial chronicles.
In my final months, I helped edit and write a few stories for The Intercept with Natasha Vargas-Cooper about the wildly popular podcast Serial. Natasha landed two key interviews with figures in the murder case and she wrote a series of stories that I helped edit and shared a co-byline on two of them. The stories challenged, directly and indirectly, the narrative laid out in the unexpected podcast hit by the makers of This American Life. The podcast’s narrative followed the investigation and prosecution of Baltimore teen Adnan Syed, who was convicted and is serving a life sentence for the murder by strangulation of a teenage girl (and who dumped her body in a park in Baltimore). Serial’s thesis was straightforward: Syed did not get a fair trial.
Our stories, though, showed the opposite—documenting the work of the prosecutor and the star witness. Given the viral success of the show, our follow-up stories were a huge success—possibly the biggest thing The Intercept has ever published. They were, though, hugely controversial inside our organization. Why wouldn’t a huge editorial success be celebrated inside The Intercept? Because we were siding with The Man.
Now I believe the American justice system is badly flawed and often racist, but in this instance, I firmly believe, the system worked. I believe Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee and was rightly prosecuted for it.
But I came to realize that the system working correctly—and the right people going to jail—isn’t a good narrative to tell at The Intercept.
Publishing the Serial stories was a huge headache: There were constant delays and frustrations getting them out, even after it became clear they were drawing huge traffic. Our internal critics believed that Natasha and I had taken the side of the prosecutors—and hence the state. That support was unacceptable at a publication that claimed it was entirely independent and would be relentlessly adversarial towards The Man. That held true even in this case, when The Man successfully prosecuted a killer and sent him to jail.
Some colleagues, like Jeremy Scahill, were upset after the first installment of Natasha’s interviews with Jay, the state’s flawed-but-convincing key witness, and our co-bylined two-part interview with the lead prosecutor, Kevin Urick, both of whom had refused to speak to Sarah Koenig for her Serial podcast. Jeremy even threatened to quit over the second installment, according to two of my colleagues who witnessed what they described as his “temper tantrum” in the New York office. He told them he couldn’t believe that we’d so uncritically accepted the state’s view of the murder—even though our stories were backed up by our own research, our unique reporting and our reading of court documents. One day at the office, frustrated, Natasha wrote “Team Adnan” on a sign on Jeremy’s office door.
The internal objections delayed the second installment of our interview with Urick by a full week. And even though both Glenn and Jeremy aren’t technically editors, they reviewed the second article in advance of publication. I asked them by email to cease and told them it was inappropriate for them to review our work—we answered only to our editors, not to them. Meanwhile, as the delay mounted day by day, Natasha and I (and the prosecutor, Urick, whose exemplary work we defended) were hung out to dry—our story only partially told—as social media falsely but relentlessly attacked it on the dumbest grounds.
Natasha left The Intercept within weeks of the Serial chronicles. I wouldn’t be much longer. The Serial saga was just a sign of things to come.
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