It’s something of an understatement to say that Glenn Greenwald and Pierre Omidyar’s new journalism organisation has caused internal debate here at Pando.
On the one hand, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine have expressed serious concerns over Greenwald’s monopolization and privatisation of Snowden’s Secrets (TM), and have also questioned his unwillingness to address aspects of Omidyar’s previous business dealings.
Meanwhile, David Sirota has described Greenwald as “a swashbuckling muckraker” who is putting the fear of God into the old media guard.
As editor to Mark, Yasha, and David, I’ve been incredibly surprised by the reaction to Pando’s willingness to publish both sides of the debate. Perhaps it’s the success of cable news, perhaps it’s the rise of the uber-partisan blogosphere — whatever the cause, at some point it seems to have stopped being standard practice for media organisations, particularly online media, to offer their readers a range of different opinions and trust them to make up their own mind.
To be clear: offering a range of positions is not the same as offering no position. Mark Ames very clearly has a position on the Omidyar/Greenwald story, as does David Sirota, and as do most of the reporters here on Pando on most the stories we all cover. Sometimes all happen to agree with each other on a particular story, other times we don’t. As far as the pieces I edit, the only rule I have is that, if you’re going to express a point of view then a) it most be sincerely held and b) it must be backed up with reporting and facts.
I also encourage the most contentious debates to play out in public wherever possible, so as to better give readers an idea of the thinking behind publishing any particular story.
On Monday, during NSFWCORP’s final live radio show, David Sirota and I talked for half an hour or so about his recent column about Greenwald. For the most part in the conversation, David argued that Glenn should be given a chance to prove his new project before we assume the worst. I took a much more incredulous position, arguing that Glenn should answer questions now about his backers and his process in deciding what not to publish, especially as he continues to release material to other outlets as a “trailer” for his NewCo.
It was, I think, an interesting debate, and one that illustrates quite neatly how we do things here at Pando. Below is the full audio of the discussion, with me in the studio and David calling from his home in Colorado. A lightly edited transcript follows too.
Update: as I was about to hit publish, Dave Winer (a writer with whom I’ve frequently disagreed in the past) published a blog post about his own back-and-forths with Greenwald. The killer opening paragraph:
I’ve now had two back-and-forths with Glenn Greenwald on Twitter, and I gotta say this guy stonewalls like Nixon. Like a politician who’s hiding something and who is trying to confuse matters so that you don’t know which end is up.
David Sirota: The piece that I’ve been working on is about the NSA disclosures and Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald that I think hasn’t been covered all that well. I think there’s the top‑line story of what the disclosures mean and what they say about the US government’s relationship to, well, really, I guess, everybody across the world.
There’s the story about what the reaction to Snowden and Glenn Greenwald and whistleblowers in general says about the US government’s attitude towards whistleblowers and towards the first amendment.
I think those two stories have been covered pretty well. But I think the story that hasn’t been covered very well is what the disclosures and how they’ve gotten out there says about the changing structure of media and the power relationships that have defined media up until really, really right about now.
What I’m talking about is that basically Glenn Greenwald — you can love him, you can hate him, you can like what he did, you can hate what he did. He definitely embodies a new dynamic in journalism whereby the content producer, in this case a journalist, is as powerful and in some cases more powerful than the particular publishers, individual publishers and media organizations he may be working with.
Specifically, this is a person who had a scoop and has gone to publish it in multiple news outlets, multiple news outlets that are outside the scope of what you would traditionally consider to be the core establishment media in the United States. By that I mean the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the broadcast networks. He’s operated completely outside of that.
In the past, if you tried to do that, it was hard to find an audience. Because of the way media was structured, you had to either get into these big publications or you were basically at the margins.
Glenn Greenwald has circumvented those media institutions and has created a global audience with global reach for these disclosures. That represents, again, whether you love him, whether you hate him, I think that represents a huge change in the media architecture in the world right now.
I think part of the reason that he has faced such blowback from the establishment media, from politicians, from the government, a different kind of reaction than Barton Gellman at the Washington Post experienced, is in part because his disclosures don’t just call into question the national security state.
The way he has disclosed these things and gotten so much tension for them is a threat to the very establishment media power structure that still exists and that still serves, in many cases, to prop up the government and not question the government. He embodies a threat to a very powerful media architecture.
Paul Carr: But the question has to be, even accepting all of that, is he not a threat in another way? Is he not a threat insofar as, by being both source and publisher in many ways, and certainly journalist and publisher, is there not also a legitimate concern that he has such control over this material that the rest of us have to just trust him so blindly that there are no real checks and balances, there are no checks on what he’s not publishing?
We just have to blithely say, “Oh, well, we trust him to have read this information, to have edited this information, and to have published this information.” What if there’s stuff in those documents that Glenn Greenwald doesn’t want out there? Do we just assume he would never do such a thing?
“Is there not also a legitimate concern that we have to just trust him so blindly that there are no real checks and balances?”
David: Well, I think, look, I think that’s always the case with any media institution, whether it’s one person or whether it’s the entire New York Times. The New York Times didn’t want, unfortunately, other NSA information out there because the US government went to the New York Times in 2005 in that AT&T case, and the New York Times sat on the story for 13 to 15 months, because it made the decision that it had the information, and it didn’t want to put it out there, I guess, because it wanted to show deference to the Bush administration at that point.
I bring that up just to say that I think that, as news consumers, we’re always in a position where we have to trust the, I guess news judgment, the judgment of “release” or “not release,” “publish” or “not publish” of various media institutions, and that each scoop that exists is typically the exclusive purview of the journalism organization that has the scoop. The Washington Post had the Watergate scoop. They decided what to release, what not to release.
I think we’re always in a position to trust. I think it’s fair to question what is being released, what’s not being released. I think that’s entirely fair. I think that Glenn Greenwald acting as a journalist is under constraints from his own source. I think there is a unique situation in which I think, maybe it’s not unique, but it’s certainly, it’s… I can’t think of a precedent.
Paul: If it’s not unique, it’s rare.
David: Yeah. Well this source comes to him and says, “Look, I have this tranche of documents. Ostensibly, I don’t want you to release all of them. I want you to make the journalistic decision about what is responsible to release and what is not responsible to release when it comes to national security questions, endangering people in the field, et cetera, et cetera.”
I think that, usually the sources comes to you and says here’s a document, go publish it and write about it. This is a little bit different. But I think Glenn has made the argument that Snowden has basically said, I don’t want you to be WikiLeaks. I don’t want you to just dump all of these documents out there without any consideration for really anything that we would journalism and national security ethics.
How do we know what he’s releasing and not releasing? Fair question. I don’t think we can know that. I’m not saying that we should trust it. I’m just saying that what’s the alternative?
Paul: The difference for me between the Washington Post with Watergate is the conversations that you see between Woodward and Bernstein and Ben Bradlee and Katharine Graham and all of the different people at the Washington Post who collectively made the decision about what would be published.
You had Woodward and Bernstein pushing to publish, and you had Ben Bradlee saying no, you don’t have it yet. I accept almost everything you’ve said, but the danger in my mind is when all of those conversations are happening in one man’s head.
If the New York Times decided not to publish something, and it’s a huge scoop, there is always going to be somebody at the New York Times who says, “Hang on a minute, I cannot sit by while we don’t publish this thing.” There is always at least a chance that happens. Like, Glenn Greenwald is not going to have a falling out with himself.
Glenn Greenwald is not going to make a decision, and another part of Glenn Greenwald’s brain says, “Now wait a minute, other part of Glenn Greenwald, this is not right.” I’m going to spread this. But equally, you say Snowden, he is being guided by his source. Even on that, we’re having to take that as a matter of trust, because his source is very limited by what he can say directly and what he has said directly. We’re even trusting Greenwald on what his source is telling him.
David: Although I do think there is one check. Look, I think that your argument would be airtight had Snowden not also provided the documents, the same set of documents as I understand it, to Bart Gellman at the Washington Post. I think one check on Glenn Greenwald is whether it would have been Bart Gellman himself individually or the Washington Post as an institution, Glenn Greenwald knows that the Washington Post ostensibly has the same tranche of documents. He has a competitor.
Paul: But do we know that? Because Greenwald says that only him and Laura Poitras have them now.
David: The way I understand it is that Snowden reached out to both Gellman and Greenwald and that both Gellman and Greenwald knew that each other were getting… Again, maybe it’s not identically the same. But the way I understand, it is a very similar sets of documents. So I think there’s some sort of check there. I would also say that the Watergate question was a different question. Do you have this story, do you not have this story?
We know Greenwald and the document, that the story is the documents, so he has the story. But there are other, I think, checks and balances. When he goes to a different newspaper, ostensibly those newspapers have some modicum of standards and a process by which to go through publishing material knowing that they’re going to be on the hook for…
“I think that your argument would be airtight had Snowden not also provided the documents to Bart Gellman at the Washington Post.”
Paul: No, we definitely know when Greenwald says, “Hey, here’s a document,” to the Guardian… At that point, yes, the Guardian or CBC or whoever can say we don’t think this is something that we should publish. Of course, they can, and he’s free to go somewhere else or publish it himself or get a quarter of a billion dollars from Omidyar and publish it there.
But I actually do want to go back to that Washington Post question, because Greenwald has said recently, “Only Laura and I have these documents.” They said we are the only ones who have them. What the Washington Post has, I don’t know. Again, this is because Greenwald won’t tell us.
I don’t think the Washington Post does have the full set of documents. That’s certainly not the statement that he’s made. If that was the case, then I agree with you. If he shared all of the documents, if Snowden shared all of the documents with the Washington Post, that’s a different thing. It doesn’t seem to me that’s Greenwald’s position.
David: Yeah, you’re right. We can’t know.
Paul: We don’t know, because he won’t tell us. This is where I think it gets murky is there’s just a lot of stuff that we all collectively shrug our shoulders and say we don’t know. Well, we don’t know, because Greenwald won’t tell us. Why not? I don’t get it.
David: I would ask you the question. Let’s, just for argument’s sake, take him at his word that Edward Snowden is asking Glenn Greenwald to be both essentially his delivery system for these documents and also the reporter reporting on these documents. That’s the position he’s in. What is he supposed to do under those circumstances?
Paul: I think that’s a legitimate question. Certainly Greenwald has been given the information from Snowden under a set of rules that we don’t know, because, again, we don’t know. We just have to trust that Greenwald says, “Well, look, trust me. I’ve been told by my source I can only do certain things.”
David: I would also say this, I would also say that the other check on Glenn Greenwald, the other check on him is, hypothetically, there’s some document that Glenn Greenwald doesn’t want to come out. Well, there is one other institution that has that document.
Paul: The NSA.
David: The NSA. I guess the issue here is, for me on this set of questions is, you’re right, we don’t know all of the documents that Glenn Greenwald has been given. We know he has been empowered to be the person making the news judgment and redaction judgments about what is to come out. We know that his source has given him that discretion and that power, and that that’s a lot of power and that’s certainly the definition of privilege.
But I would say on these set of questions, at least the information, what information is coming out, is coming out, because without it we wouldn’t know any of this.
I want to make a distinction. I think that questions about Pierre Omidyar and what he’s actually buying and what the new media organization is funded by, and is there an agenda behind Glenn Greenwald’s new media organization? All of those are totally legitimate questions.
I make a distinction between those questions and the really vitriolic attacks that you’ve seen come from establishment pundits in Washington, government officials, and the like reacting almost hysterically to try to delegitimize him even as a journalist.
“I would also say that the other check on Glenn Greenwald: the NSA.”
I think that set of attacks really represents, it really has less to do with the fact that he’s breaking this news and more to do with the fact that the way in which he’s breaking this news represents a deeper, more systemic threat to the ability of governments and old media institutions to effectively control the news. They cannot control…
Glenn Greenwald embodies a new method of journalism in which the individual content producer really can circumvent the old control. They don’t have to rely on the New York Times or the Washington Post. That’s scary to government officials, because in the old days, the government officials could say, “Listen, if we convince five or six editors at the top newspapers and top TV stations not to publish something, then that thing, whatever we don’t want to get out there, is not going to be able to get out there.”
Now, you’ve got places like WikiLeaks, you’ve got individual independent reporters like Glenn Greenwald able to use a multichannel media architecture to basically say you can stop me over here but you’re never going to be able to stop me over there.
Paul: Right. This is the thing. Having read the piece that we’re putting up tomorrow, I completely agree with that thread. I think, though, it’s a minefield of a discussion, and I do think Greenwald’s taking advantage of that.
Greenwald either deliberately or inadvertently is seeing everyone who says, “Hold on a minute there, we have some legitimate questions,” as this NSA sympathizing group who are scared of the truth, who are scared of independent journalists, who don’t want these revelations to come out.
But actually, because Greenwald has so much power and because no one wants to say, because none of us as journalists believe it, no one wants to say that whistleblowers shouldn’t be stopped or that people like Greenwald should go to jail, and he’s tried to throw all these allegations at certainly at us publishing the stuff we publish. He’s tried to make it sound like we’re saying that he should go to jail or he shouldn’t get paid for his work.
No, of course we would rather he was not putting those secrets out there. The things that we have learned are vitally important in understanding what the NSA is doing to the American people and what security services around the world are doing to people.
“I think it’s a minefield of a discussion, and I do think Greenwald’s taking advantage of that.”
But that doesn’t give him carte blanche to not answer questions or to smear as NSA sympathizers anybody who says no, we get that, Glenn, but what about what you’re not telling us? Or, can you assure us there is nothing you are not telling us?
I don’t know whether he has been attacked by so many people that he sees everybody as that or whether he is deliberately taking advantage of his status as somebody who is this very powerful figure now and who has got all this information and who is, in many ways, doing such good in terms of our public understanding of the surveillance state to basically say no, I just won’t answer any of your questions. I won’t talk about Omidyar. I just won’t. I won’t. Fuck you.
David: I do think that making a distinction between legitimate questions and a smear campaign. First and foremost, sometimes the line can be blurry in the sense that the best smear artists, and I’m not saying that you or anybody who’s asked legitimate questions about him are smear artists. But basically in a PR sense, the most effective smear artists, the most effective NSA sympathizers are the ones who are able to shroud their smear artistry in the veneer of, hey, I’m just asking legitimate questions. I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing…
Paul: I agree with you, and I’ve had that done to me and people like Mark Ames have had it done to him, and I accept that that is what some people are doing to Greenwald.
David: I’ll give you an example. Walter Pincus at the Washington Post, if I remember correctly, wrote this really disgusting column in which he was purporting to ask all of these kind of rhetorical, high‑minded questions. When you read between the lines, it was basically that anybody with an opinion is an activist and not a journalist and can never be trusted.
Walter Pincus was rubbed the wrong way because of the nature of the revelations that were coming out. He didn’t like, as somebody who’s worked in Washington for a thousand years, he didn’t like the idea that the national security establishment was being embarrassed.
I think that, I would say that… Look, I can’t get into Glenn’s head. I can say this. I’m sure a lot of these attacks seem similar to him, if you’re in the middle of the vortex.
I think it’s important to say exactly what you said and to say what I think I said in the piece, which is that we need to try to make a distinction between earnest, honest, legitimate questions about what documents are coming out, what documents are not coming out, what did Pierre Omidyar, what is his agenda. All of those are fair questions.
Even Glenn in his response to the Pando piece that Mark wrote, he says at the bottom there, I would be asking these questions too. I think these questions are appropriate. I think it goes to the…
Paul: Then why won’t he answer them? If he thinks they’re appropriate, and he says he would be asking them as well, doesn’t it make him a hypocrite if he’s not answering them?
David: The way I read it is, I think he wants his new media organization’s product to speak for itself. He’s in a weird situation where everybody knows he’s got a new media product coming. Yet, he hasn’t produced anything, so we don’t really know what it’s going to be. My guess is, instead of answering hypotheticals, he would prefer to try to let the work of that organization speak for itself.
My take is, your question is absolutely right. You’re right to ask the question. What is the answer to is he going to cover Pierre Omidyar? Good question. Glad you’re asking that question. What is Pierre Omidyar’s potential agenda? Glad that that article was written, so that there’s more information out there about what potentially his agenda is.
Will we really know what his new organization is going to be doing until we see what it actually does? I think the answer is no. I think that, actually, there’s a good dynamic set up where these questions are floating out there, which you hope will prospectively keep that new organization as honest, as earnest and as transparent as possible.
Paul: I think that’s great. I will note, of course, that another thing that Greenwald did was he cried foul over Mark asking about the quarter of a billion dollars he got from Omidyar, but couldn’t resist putting in not one but two digs about how Peter Thiel invested in Pando.
David: You and I have had that conversation. My take on that question is very simple. It’s really simple. When you are in the world of major media, major media requires major resources. There is no such thing as major resources that come with what you might describe as purity. It just basically doesn’t exist.
Actually all people, but in particular people with lots of money, have ideologies, they have opinions. When you have a lot of money, you tend to have vested financial interests in things. In a sense, every major media operation is a Faustian bargain. It’s in some ways a deal with the devil. I don’t like to use the word devil, but it is a deal with…you’re making a bargain.
Paul: It’s definitely a bargain.
David: Yeah, and it doesn’t mean that you can’t do honest journalism.
Paul: We all know there’s this bargain. At NSFWCORP, we raised a million dollars. We didn’t raise it from poor people. We raised it from a bunch of people who we proceeded to write about, I will say that. At the same time, no one is saying that Glenn Greenwald should be funding this out of his own pocket. No one is even saying Omidyar shouldn’t fund it.
But what we’re saying is, if Omidyar is going to fund this, then we should talk about things he has done, which I think we’re doing, and we’re all agreed that’s a good thing. I don’t think even Glenn is arguing that we shouldn’t be doing that. I think, though, that at the same time, it isn’t a very difficult question to ask. If asked, look, in principle, in theory, hypothetically, will you cover Omidyar with the same ferocity as you will cover anybody else?
I said, look, Pando has received a very small amount of money compared to its total investment, from Peter Thiel, and lots of people have strong feelings about Peter Thiel. It costs me nothing, because it’s an obvious statement, and I happen to think it’s a silly statement to have to make, but it costs me nothing to say, yes, as we have always done in the past, we will cover Peter Thiel as aggressively as anyone else.
That doesn’t lock me into some… It doesn’t mean I have to describe my entire editorial mission. It’s really simple for me to say, if we discover that Peter Thiel is doing something terrible, we will be the ones who break that, just as would with anybody else, because we are journalists without fear or favor.
It just seems, I understand that Greenwald doesn’t want to lay out his whole business plan. From what I understand, it doesn’t seem that he has really finished making his whole business plan yet. But it doesn’t cost him anything to just go, oh, yeah, I will a hundred percent cover Pierre Omidyar in the same way I will cover anybody else. I don’t understand why that’s hard for him to say.
David: All we can do is speculate, and I’ll offer up a few opinions on that. My speculation would be that it is still so in the conceptual phase and my guess is that they don’t know Omidyar all that well. That…
Paul: Which is a little worrying.
Paul: You don’t really take 250 million… Jack was an idiot for taking magic beans in return for a cow from somebody he didn’t know. If you take $250 million…
David: But hear me out. My guess, and this is just pure speculation, and I don’t usually do this, but my guess is that they would rather, and Glenn in specific, would rather not talk hypotheticals until he has a better sense of what concretely this is going to be.
I’ll add this. I have, based on my knowledge of Glenn’s work based on my… I mean, I know Glenn, I’ve known him for years. I have every confidence, and I’m not saying I trust this idea without any verification. We’re always going to have to see whether it is in practice.
But what I know of Glenn Greenwald, I have every confidence that the agreement that he made with Pierre Omidyar is an agreement that preserves total editorial independence for, at minimum, himself, and more likely for the core team of journalists that he is putting together, because the core team of journalists that he’s putting together are people who had a record of really, what I would say is not tolerating ideological interference from editors.
I think there can be two things happening at once. I think you can have a core team of journalists working on a conceptual, new publication who don’t know well interpersonally over a number of years the person who’s funding their venture. So they’re a little bit nervous to make public declarations about him, et cetera et cetera. But who simultaneously…
Paul: But not about covering him. I don’t know Peter Thiel. I’ve met him once for three minutes. But I can easily say without any hesitation that I will treat him exactly the same as I would treat anybody else. That doesn’t require me to know anything about Peter Thiel because, like, I’m going to discover something terrible about Peter Thiel, and I’m going to be like, oh, I’m glad I didn’t say I was going to cover him, because I’m definitely not going to write that. Like, of course, not.
I don’t get what… Like, Glenn is worried that he’s going to find out something bad about Omidyar, and then he’s going to have locked himself into a corner of having to tell people that? I don’t know. What’s he going to discover?
David: Look, when I first started out working in politics, before I went into journalism, the first thing you learned in politics is never answer a hypothetical. This is why you hear, if you ask a politician a hypothetical, most politicians will say, the first thing they’ll say is I don’t deal with hypotheticals, because… It could just be as simple as that.
I totally agree with you that the principle should be, and it shouldn’t be a hypothetical, the principle should be…and by the way, I have every expectation that it ultimately will be once Glenn’s publication exists, that they will cover the news without fear or favor. I have every confidence in that, and I certainly have every confidence in that on the specific issues, for instance, that people like Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill specialize in.
There’s no way that, I just can’t imagine that Glenn Greenwald is going to write differently about civil liberties if some editor or some owner says I want you to write… He’ll just say goodbye. I’ll go write somewhere else.
Paul: I think if Omidyar is calling up Greenwald and saying, “Hey, I don’t want you to write about civil liberties,” or “I want you to be pro something you were previously anti,” I don’t think anyone thinks Greenwald is that much of a… even those who think Greenwald is a sellout or think he’s shifting morals or whatever else, even people who really hate him, I don’t think they think it’s as simple as Omidyar calls up and says, “Right, I need you to write these things.”
No, I think the question is… Omidyar is, as far as I can tell, certainly has very strong Libertarian sympathies. As far as I can tell, Greenwald is at least decently sympathetic to Libertarian positions. Given that, I don’t think that they are massively different pages on a lot of stuff.
David: That’s right. I think you’re right. I think I said this to you when we talked a couple days ago. I said, look, there are a lot of issues in which the Libertarian right and the left agree on ‑‑ the drug war, the national security state, civil liberties. That set of issues, it’s hard to know where the differences are between Libertarians and the left.
I think to me with Pierre Omidyar’s news operation the most revealing hires will be the people that are hired to cover and specialize in the set of issues in which there is a real difference between the left, the center, and the Libertarian right. I’m speaking specifically about economics. If you’re an owner of a media publication, and you’re ideological, and you want to get your ideology across, the worst way to do that is to hire people and then essentially tell them what to write, ideologically speaking.
That’s not the way it works. I wrote a big Harper’s article about this. It’s just not the way it works. The way media ideology can trickle down from an owner into the newsroom is in the decisions that the owner makes in hiring editors and then in hiring specific beat reporters.
By the time your media operation is up and humming, you have people put into place in strategic positions who already agree with your ideology, and you don’t have to call up and tell them, “I want you to write about this or write about that.” They already know, because they’re already on your wavelength. Those hiring decisions I think are quite revealing. I want to be very clear about this.
Part of the reason why I am in the “I’m glad questions are being asked, but I’m also looking forward to seeing what Pierre Omidyar’s operation actually produces” camp. The reason I’m there, as opposed to “Pierre Omidyar has an agenda and I’m really nervous about it, and I think we should be really, really scared,” and I’m not necessarily in that camp, is because the core team that he has hired so far are people that I very, very much respect, and I think are truly independent voices who have the best journalistic intentions at heart.
Paul: I think I would add one thing, and then we should wrap this up. Because I think it’s been a really interesting discussion.
I will say one thing. I agree with you that putting people in place, editors in place, then you have the trickledown effect with the beat reporters. That trick, is one of the two ways in which the ownership of a publication of the major investor in a publication can have that impact. I think what we’ve seen with Omidyar, who as I’ve said appears to be a Libertarian, hiring Glenn Greenwald, who certainly is. I think the danger is that that’s what we’re seeing there.
But I think there’s a second danger. I think the second danger is when…and this is a very big hypothetical, and this is such a reach, but I’m just giving it as a hypothetical. A hypothetical is Greenwald has these documents, he’s going through these documents. Oh, look what Yahoo did, they’re evil. Look what Google did, they’re evil. Look at Palchat or whatever the fuck, Paltalk did, oh, that’s terrible… Oh, here’s something about eBay. Hmm.
Okay, Glenn has two documents in his hand. One is a mean thing about eBay, one is mean thing about Google. If the guy who’s funding you gives you $250 million, I don’t think that Greenwald’s thought process might be, “Oh, I should be nice to Pierre.” But he thinks to himself, why would I give my critics the ammunition to go after our major backer, the guy who allows me to do all this wonderful, important work? I’ll just leave this one on the shelf for now.
I think the reason why I was so keen to say you have my word that if Peter Thiel, if I discover something about Peter Thiel, I will be the first to break it. It’s not because I particularly want to go after Peter Thiel, but because I want it to be known, I want it to be said, I want it to be stated so that I can be contradicted on it and that I’m putting my entire integrity on the line.
I want it to be known that it will never happen that I will hear something about Peter Thiel that would I write about somebody else, and I will not cover it, because if it ever came out, it would destroy my integrity.
I worry that by Glenn not making that statement, it’s troubling. I worry it’s because he said, well, hypothetically, maybe I will do that one day, because maybe this big project is so important to the world that who cares if I don’t write something about eBay one day? Who cares? It doesn’t matter. That’s when you end up with the trickledown effect of the owner, you don’t want to…like me going after a Pando investor.
I did this at NSFWCORP. It’s an exact example, and it’s one of the reasons we’re sitting here right now and selling to Pando. Although, again, very happy that we’re doing that. But I think one of the reasons we failed to raise money from Vegas tech fund was decisions that I made in terms of… there’s this story about something that we’ve discovered about the Downtown Project, because we’re part of it. It’s this guy who is in charge of women’s safety who used to be a pickup artist. It’s going to really embarrass the Downtown Project. It’s going to cause a lot of shit. It’s going to probably mean that I’m not going to get the meeting I need to get with some of the people there, and it’s probably going to mean we don’t raise another half million dollars from them. It could ruin the entire project.
Now, do I really care about this story about this pickup artist guy? Do I really give a fuck? It’s not that important. It’s not Watergate, so I’ll just leave it on the shelf, because that way I get money and I get to write about the real big, bad guys.
I didn’t do that. I said, “You know what? No, no, no, this is a horrible way of think. It leads to hell.” I wrote the story. I didn’t just write the story once. I wrote four pieces on this story. Lo and behold, they didn’t invest in the next two rounds, and lo and behold we’ve just sold to Pando.
There are consequences, and there are consequences if somebody like Greenwald hypothetically gets a document about something to do with something that’s very close to Omidyar, and he publishes that and Omidyar says, “You know what, Glenn? Fuck you.” Like, that’s a problem, because Glenn then doesn’t get to tell us all the bad stuff the NSA is doing through this well‑funded, great thing that’s hiring all these wonderful people. That’s what’s scary. That to me is the…
David: I think you make a really good point, and I think that it’s actually a bigger point than just the NSA documents.
Look, it could be something in the future. It could be somebody sends Glenn or the new company, something about, it doesn’t even have to be about eBay. It could be about some group that Pierre Omidyar is philanthropically or philanthrocapitalistically funding that is embarrassing and could trickle up to the people who are funding the micro lending story that Mark Ames published.
I think you’re right. I think, unfortunately, there’s not a good answer. By the way, even if Glenn says I’m going to cover him… There never is a good answer.
In fact, the only answer to all of this, and actually it comes full circle, the only answer to all of this, and it was a very frustrating answer I came up with, when I reported that really long story about all this stuff at the local level in Harper’s and media monopolies, et cetera, et cetera.
The only answer is more competition. More media competition, so that there is a check on power, so that there isn’t just a new monopoly replacing an old monopoly. I don’t think Pierre Omidyar’s publication necessarily is “New boss, same as the old boss.” I actually think it represents a threat to the old bosses, and that the proliferation of… Look, from Pando to Glenn’s organization to a bunch of other new media organizations, this actually represents more competition.
I would agree with you that I think it would have been better had Snowden given a set of documents, identical documents to two or three or four publications to create that check on power. But I think that in general, the more competition there is, the more we can feel more comfortable that no one media organization can use its monopoly power to essentially hide the truth.
Paul: I 100 percent agree. I think, and I hope we’re going to keep asking questions of Greenwald. I hope others will keep asking questions of us. It annoys me when people suggest that, like Glenn did, that Peter Thiel has bought and sold us, given that it was Founders Fund two years ago, invested $200,000.
But I’ll take it, because it’s important, and I’ll answer it, because it’s important. People should be asking us those questions. People every day should be reading everything we write and saying and asking us, do your backers influence what you do? Every day, I’m happy to say, “No, they don’t,” and I’m happy to do everything I can to be as open and transparent about how…
David: So in a sense when Glenn brought it up, he was just keeping you honest, and when you bring up the stuff about Omidyar, you’re keeping him honest.
Paul: I agree. The only…
David: …we’ll all be a check on each other.
Paul: Agreed. The only difference between the two is that I have answered the question. He hasn’t yet. But I will end this on a charitable note to Glenn, which is not something I do a lot. I’ll say the difference is, of course, we’ve already launched, and so it is easy for us to talk specifics. He hasn’t yet.
We’re not going to stop writing about it until he launches, of course. But I will accept that if he launches this thing and early on, that one of the first things he publishes is like his contract of employment or whatever it is that shows the editorial independence, or if early on…maybe there is nothing bad about eBay, possibly. It seems a stretch, but maybe there isn’t. If we see him aggressively going after the people who fund him, if we see Omidyar hiring somebody, as you say, on economics, that isn’t rank and file :ibertarian, blah, blah, blah.
David: You’re right. The questions being asked are the right thing, and the proof will be in the pudding.
Paul: I think that’s the point.
David: We shouldn’t trust, but we should also verify.
[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pandodaily]