Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Who pays for journalism?

A writer named Mark Ames, published by Pando Daily, has lambasted Glenn Greenwald for "profiteering" from the Snowden documents. Ames:
Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.
This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

Think about other famous leakers: Daniel Ellsberg neither monetized nor monopolized the Pentagon Papers....
Well, I could point out that the reporters who wrote stories based on the Ellsberg documents did, in fact, receive paychecks from large corporations. In particular, I'm thinking of Neil Sheehan of the New York Times, who published in defiance of a privacy agreement with Ellsberg. That was a semi-shitty thing to do, and I don't think Sheehan donated his paycheck to charity.

Greenwald's interesting response takes us well beyond the Snowden controversy...
But now, this week's attack has been seized on by various national security establishment functionaries and DC journalists to impugn our NSA reporting and, in some cases, to argue that this "privatizing" theory should be used as a basis to prosecute me for the journalism I'm doing. Amazingly, it's being cited by all sorts of DC journalists and think tank advocates whose own work is paid for by billionaires and other assorted plutocrats: such as Josh Marshall, whose TPM journalism has been "privatized" and funded by the Romney-supporting Silicon Valley oligarch Marc Andreesen, and former Bush Homeland Security Adviser and current CNN analyst Fran Townsend ("profiteering!", exclaims the Time Warner Corp. employee and advocate of the American plundering of Iraq).

Indeed, Pando.com itself is partially funded by libertarian billionaire Peter Thiel, the co-founder of Paypal and CIA-serving Palantir Technologies.The very same author of this week's Pando post had previously described Thiel (before he was funded by him) as "an enemy of democracy" and the head of a firm "which last year was caught organizing an illegal spy ring targeting American political opponents of the US Chamber of Commerce, including journalists, progressive activists and union leaders" (one of whom happened to be me, targeted with threatened career destruction for the crime of advocating for WikiLeaks)).
My take: In a capitalist society, you can't keep your hands 100% clean if you hope to use those hands to write journalism. Not if you intend to make a living.

When readers read something they don't like, they often ascribe malign financial motives to the writer. I've been accused of being "in it for the money" many, many times -- and, hell, I'm givin' it away here, except for the occasional donation. (My readers were kind enough to help me pay the veterinarian bill not long ago. I think about your kindness every time Bella licks my face.)

How many times have you heard a book's author dismissed with the words "Oh, he wrote that thing just to make a buck"? Anyone who writes any book for any reason becomes vulnerable to that accusation.

Personally, I'm not inclined to level that accusation against those writers who inconvenience the intelligence community. I'm more likely to say those words about those who scribble on behalf of that community. That's why I'm troubled to learn that Ames' angle of attack coordinates precisely with one launched by NSA chief Keith Alexander -- or so, at least, sayeth Greenwald:
That language didn't fall out of Keith Alexander's mouth by accident. This Pando post is not only reckless with the facts but espouses a theory very few of the journalists cheering for it could or would apply to themselves.
Greenwald notes that Bart Gellman of the Washington Post also possesses thousands of Snowden documents. The Post is now owned by Jeff Bezos -- yet another libertarian billionaire. (You can't escape 'em!) Yet nobody accuses Gellman of being motivated by money.
Or let's take the revered-in-DC Bob Woodward, who has become America's richest journalist by writing book after book over the last decade that has spilled many of America's most sensitive secrets fed to him by top US government officials. In fact, his books are so filled with vital and sensitive secrets that Osama bin Laden personally recommended that they be read. Shall we accuse Woodward of selling US secrets to his publisher and profiteering off of them, and suggest he be prosecuted?
No. Instead, I would suggest he be ignored, on the grounds that Bob Woodward became a stenographer to power during the Bush years. (And frankly, the guy was always kind of spooky -- as all readers of Secret Agenda can tell you.)
Over the last three decades, Seymour Hersh has received all sorts of classified information from his sources. So has Jane Mayer. They do not dump it publicly on the internet. They keep it inside the New Yorker or their publishing company - where they vet it, understand it, verify it, and then report on it: all for pay! Let's hear all of you step up and accuse Mayer and Hersh of criminally "privatizing" and selling the nation's secrets and the New Yorker and their publishing companies of purchasing them.
The governing media (as Peter Dale Scott calls it) does not go after Sy because every so often he (Sy) kowtows to the Establishment by publishing crap like The Dark Side of Camelot.

If we step back -- way back -- the Ames/Greenwald bitchfight may be regarded as but one illustration of a much larger problem. Professional journalists need payment. It's a fact of life. But in a nation increasingly run by libertarian billionaires, those paychecks will necessarily come from people we non-libertarians do not like. Thus, even a journalist who does great work stands open to charges of corruption.

Long-time readers may recall one of my favorite lines from Lawrence of Arabia: "The servant is the one who takes the money." If muckraking writers receive payment -- from anyone -- they are, in a sense, servants. Very often, the entity being served is an entity we have good reason to hate.

But if we want our muck raked, can we fairly expect the job to be done gratis?

Here's a related poser: How can we come up with one standard applicable to all writers?

Let me explain what I'm getting at. I like Greenwald. On the other hand, for decades I've been calling Edward Epstein (the media mouthpiece for the CIA's James J. Angleton) a sell-out of the worst order. And as for Ames -- well, frankly, that whole Ames/Thiel/Palantir thing carries a rather foul reek, don't you think?

All three men have been paid for their efforts. Should we damn all three? Excuse all three? Excuse one and damn the others? By what metric?

(By the way: I did not know that about Josh Marshall. Yow.)
The most famous journalist in the world in personal possession of tens of thousands of documents relating to the greatest leak in U.S. history has no other choice but to feed at the hand of an oligarch? Please.
Doing something for money doesn't make you a whore.

Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But on the other hand the Chartists had, as one of the planks of their platform, the introduction of a stipend for MPs so poor men could do the job without having to starve. I firmly believe that senior public servants should be paid much lower wages to inculcate a spirit of public service rather than a cut-throat mercenary ethic, but not so little that it become a rich man's game.
Very interesting read. I was just thinking yesterday about how during the start of the second Iraq War how Josh Marshall was really pushing on the story of the forged documents in Italy relating to the Niger yellow-cake uranium, never properly investigated by the FBI, and how these forged documents were being used to lead us into war. I was just thinking about how it seems unlikely that Josh would run those same stories today if the situation were repeated. This most definitely sheds some light on the sorry situation.
Cbarr, you got that right. The Josh Marshall of old was the king of all bloggers.
Josh Marshall has become a major-league disappointment.

When the Snowden story broke, TPM ignored the surveillance state aspect, focusing instead on whether Snowden was a traitor or just a tinfoil-hatted criminal.

TPM must have gotten pushback from their readers (myself included), because they now give NSA and Snowden little coverage of any kind.

But my disappointment reaches beyond the Snowden story. Except for an occasional essay in the editor's blog, TPM is no longer a go-to site for political reporting and analysis. Their focus now seems to be providing in-depth reporting on scandals and crackpots. It seems like they are trying to out-HuffPost HuffPost.

I realize Josh has to make a living somehow. It's a shame, though, that what was once a great personal blog is buried in clickbait.
Journalistic parasites on the hard work of bloggers need to be exposed by other bloggers, whether or not they agree with the ideas.

Mark Ames appropriated most of the ideas in his article from blogger Rancid Tarzie who has written *extensively* about this topic. Others who have written on this topic (see Arthur Silber and Cryptome.org) have had the decency to credit Tarzie.

It's the equivalent of somebody writing a book about Obama being CIA and not crediting your pioneering work in the area.

It's absolutlely worth reading Tarzie's response to Greenwald's reply to Ames.


- Anonymous

I certainly have a problem with Thiel; a guy who helped finance Facebook AND the NSA prisim development...

But from your link above, here's Pando's response:

"Peter Thiel has no involvement with the running of Pando. Zero. He doesn’t make hiring or firing or any other kind of decisions (nor do any other investors), Founders Fund isn’t Pando’s only (or even closest largest) investor and no one from Founders Fund has a board seat, voting rights or any other input in business or editorial policy. In other words, Thiel has less ability to dictate editorial policy here, in fact, than the guy who cleans the coffee cups (at least that guy has a key to the office).

Pierre Omidyar is personally hiring the journalists for his new project, starting with Greenwald himself. He is the venture’s sole backer. But, you know what? All of that would still be OK if Greenwald would make a simple, unequivocal, public pledge: to cover any bad behavior by Pierre Omidyar in the same way that he would cover someone who wasn’t backing him with millions of dollars."

Next point: Jeff Bezos has a firewall at the Washington Post with editors and ombudsmen. Hopefully he won't go all "Murdock" on us.

And here's the Ames hit piece on Omidyar from NSFW, pre Pando:


Just the end part, after all Omidyar's disasterous Libertarian projects in India, Cambodia and Latin America are detailed:

"Which brings us back to the wonderful words written about Pierre Omidyar last month: Where is the proof that he’s a "civic-minded" billionaire, a "different" billionaire, an "idealistic" billionaire who’s in it for ideals and not for profit? How is Omidyar any different from any other billionaire—when he is funding the same programs and pushing the same vision for the world backed by the Kochs, Soros, Gates, and every other neoliberal billionaire?

When you scratch the surface of his investments and get a sense of what sort of ideal world he’d like to make, it becomes clear that Omidyar is no different from his peers.

And the reason that matters, of course, is because Pierre Omidyar’s dystopian vision is merging with Glenn Greenwald’s and Laura Poitras’ monopoly on the crown jewels of the National Security Agency — the world’s secrets, our secrets — and using the value of those secrets as the capital for what’s being billed as an entirely new, idealistic media project, an idealism that the CJR and others promise will not shy away from taking on power.

The question, however, is what defines power to a neoliberal mind? We’re going to take a wild guess here and say: The State.

So brace yourself, you’re about to get something you’ve never seen before: billionaire-backed journalism taking on the power of the state. How radical is that? To quote "60 Minutes" producer Lowell Bergman:

"What has been adjudicated and established in the wake of Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement is the ability of the press to basically write or broadcast almost anything about the government.There's very few restrictions in that way. It's not true when we're talking about private power, especially major Fortune 500 corporations, or people worth more than, say, a billion dollars."
In other words: look out Government, you’re about to be pummeled by a crusading, righteous billionaire! And corporate America? Ah, don’t worry. Your dirty secrets—freshly transferred from the nasty non-profit hands of the Guardian to the aggressively for-profit hands of Pierre Omidyar—are safe with us."

Seems like a great game is being played out several levels above our digital shantytowns...

Anon and Dojo Rat, thanks for the info. I've been an avid reader of Greenwald, though the criticisms of him over the years have had some validity and don't blindly swallow all he writes. In this case though, his critics have VERY good points.....points that Greenwald seems intent on not addressing squarely.
DR, you make some good points. But we don't know what is being held back at this point. Also, some libertarians are very anti-NSA and some are very pro-. So we don't know what we are dealing with.

And frankly, if Greenwald is holding on to some cool shit because he wants to put it in his book, from which he hopes to make a couple of million and secure a comfortable retirement...

...well, I for one have no real problem with that.

(IF...if, if, if the material being withheld is not time-sensitive.)
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