the-ukraine-intercept-kerfuffleIn the last few weeks, Pando has revealed corruption at PBS, reported on wage-fixing at some of the world’s biggest tech firms, exposed Uber’s deception around background checks, profiled Silicon Valley’s pet politician, and fought misinformation surrounding events in Ukraine.

Many of those stories have prompted actual changes, and most have been followed up by other news organizations. These follow ups are important because they ensure that others are digging the story, uncovering new facts, and furthering the debate. It doesn’t matter whether other journalists agree with our conclusions or passionately refute them — the important thing is that more people are exposed to the issues.

A great example of this process is Mark Ames’ story, published last week, about Pierre Omidyar’s donation of hundreds of thousands of dollars to groups involved in the Ukraine uprising.

That story has resulted in a flurry of press coverage, numerous back-and-forths between Pando and the Omidyar-owned First Look Media, and (as is often the case with stories involving Glenn Greenwald) countless invectives shared on Twitter.

For readers who have missed the back and forth, I gathered some of the more interesting responses below, including several commentators who are firmly pro-Omidyar/First Look, as well as some who are more inclined towards Ames’/Pando’s view.

To be absolutely clear: the intention here is to inform readers about the growing public debate that one of Pando’s journalists (and, then, a few of its editors) started on an extremely important subject: Who funds media organizations, and what influence those backers have on newsroom operations.

After I publish this post, I’ll continue to post new links via the PandoTicker (which resides on the right hand side of this page and every other page of the site). My only obligation in choosing what to share is to our readers, not to my colleagues or my bosses. My editors have given me total autonomy in what links to share.

The story

On February 28, Mark Ames reported that Pierre Omidyar co-invested in groups related to the uprising in Ukraine with the United States government. The story was based on a press release published by the Omidyar Group in 2011 and other documents that revealed donations from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It used the uprising in Ukraine and tweets from Marcy Wheeler, a First Look employee who appeared to be questioning the US government’s involvement with those uprisings, to provide context for those revelations.

Glenn Greenwald, founding editor of First Look’s Intercept magazine, responded to the story in a post titled “On the meaning of journalistic independence.” In it he alleged that Ames’ reporting misrepresented Omidyar’s donation, which wouldn’t matter anyway, because the Intercept’s staff all have complete editorial independence:

Despite its being publicly disclosed, I was not previously aware that the Omidyar Network donated to this Ukrainian group. That’s because, prior to creating The Intercept with Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill, I did not research Omidyar’s political views or donations. That’s because his political views and donations are of no special interest to me – any more than I cared about the political views of the family that owns and funds Salon (about which I know literally nothing, despite having worked there for almost 6 years), or any more than I cared about the political views of those who control the Guardian Trust.

There’s a very simple reason for that: they have no effect whatsoever on my journalism or the journalism of The Intercept. That’s because we are guaranteed full editorial freedom and journalistic independence. The Omidyar Network’s political views or activities – or those of anyone else – have no effect whatsoever on what we report, how we report it, or what we say.

Wheeler then said in a blog post that her tweets were taken out of context and repeated Greenwald’s assertion that the Omidyar Group’s investment had been misrepresented.

Paul Carr, the investigations editor here at Pando, has responded to these claims numerous times. He cited a quote from the Daily Beast’s interview with Jeremy Scahill, another founding editor at the Intercept, to show that Omidyar is more involved with the magazine’s editorial than others have claimed. He then cited a blog post and interview that show how Greenwald has changed his views since 2007, when he condemned Politico because of its owner’s politics.

The response

Ames’ story was picked up by several publications, many of which reported the back-and-forth between Pando and the Intercept like a journalistic boxing match.

The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple began with a post in which he cites Pando’s story, Greenwald’s response, and First Look’s refusal to respond to his requests for comment. Wemple writes:

Given Omidyar’s interest in the news, Greenwald’s policy of self-blinding on the boss’s business interests feels more like a dodge than a last stand for journalistic ethics. When it comes to such matters, ignorance, whether planned and willful or accidental and unintentional, serves no one. Not Omidyar, not Greenwald and not the readers of First Look. Greenwald, Scahill and their colleagues at First Look are radical transparentists, and they shove that credential in the face of anyone who questions why they would publish official secrets. Consistent with such a worldview would be a statement simply stating all of Omidyar’s projects, interests and investments, regardless of whether they surfaced in long-ago press releases.

Wemple writes in a follow-up story describing Pierre Omidyar’s Twitter dust-up with Carr and Sarah Lacy, the editor-in-chief and chief executive of Pando:

Omidyar is the publisher of First Look, and he has just laid down a standard that could sting his own people. How often will Greenwald & Co. enroll the National Security Agency or the CIA in the early stages of its reporting, as opposed to wrapping up a story and asking for comment just before publishing? We shall see.

Wemple also quotes Greenwald, who offered him an interview:

[Omidyar] has zero role or influence in my journalism or the editorial product of the Intercept. If he tried to dictate or control what anyone wrote, that would be a major problem and then your hypothetical might be relevant. But he hasn’t, and I don’t know of anyone at the Intercept who would tolerate such efforts. One of the things that we believe makes what we’re building unique is that it’s centrally based on the principle of journalistic independence: other than the demands of factual accuracy, nothing should constrain a journalist’s ability to write what she wants and how she wants, least of all the publisher.

USA Today’s Rem Rieder then weighed in on the back-and-forth, writing:

While there may be more to the story, at this juncture I hardly see a major media scandal here. But it does underscore that we are in very different waters.

For years, potential or actual conflicts of interest were off-limits in American journalism. Former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. went to the extreme of refusing to vote, on the grounds that that very act might compromise his independence.

[…]

So as the Omidyar venture, which has launched its first digital magazine, The Intercept, takes shape, it will be watched closely. But I continue to see it as source of hope, not alarm.

Then Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times, told WAN-IFRA:

‘Glenn Greenwald and I have had our differences over the practice of journalism, but I find it hard to imagine anyone, including his benefactor/publisher, tells him what to write.’

[…]

‘I don’t think there’s a financial model that, per se, guarantees the independence of journalists or the quality of their work.’

What’s next?

Speaking truth to the new power” isn’t a one way street, it’s an ongoing conversation during which we hope a variety of news organizations, business owners, and anyone else will demand accountability from those in power. We want Pando readers to see the entirety of that conversation as it unfolds.