omidyar-white-houseYesterday I revealed a series of meetings between representatives of Pierre and Pamela Omidyar’s Omidyar Network and high ranking White House officials, including the President and First Lady, a director of the National Security Council and a senior White House aide who was subsequently hired by an Omidyar Network subsidiary.

As I wrote, records of the meetings contradict previous statements by staffers at Omidyar’s First Look  Media, including Jeremy Scahill, that First Look is differentiated from mainstream media organizations by its total lack of White House ties.

Omidyar’s closeness with the White House is particularly problematic given First Look’s adversarial relationship with the Obama administration, and the fact that Scahill had previously remarked that Omidyar was in daily contact with First Look’s newsroom via their internal messaging system.

Separately, sources close to Omidyar and familiar with his thinking had told Pando that Omidyar  intended to take an active role in setting the company’s editorial policy, as he had in his previous journalistic startup, Civil Beat. This, coupled with the fact that Omidyar is responsible for hiring and firing all reporters at First Look Media, suggests a potentially serious conflict of interest between Omidyar’s private relationship with the White House and First Look’s reporting.

The answer, we have long been arguing, is for First Look to make an unambiguous statement, either acknowledging the conflict of interest, or confirming that Omidyar will no longer play a role in the First Look newsroom.

Today, apparently in response to Pando’s reporting, they did the latter, publishing a statement confirming that Omidyar will have no day-to-day role in the newsroom. The statement is reproduced in full below.

While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it should be noted that Omidyar will apparently still be responsible for hiring (and firing) journalists at First Look, something which might still give reporters pause when considering whether to investigate Omidyar, eBay or his other international business and political interests.

Previous inquiries to First Look staffers as to whether editorial independence is guaranteed in their employment contracts  have gone unanswered. A request to First Look for comment on this story (~45 mins ago) had not been answered at press time, but First Look’s Jay Rosen confirmed via Twitter that the independence statement is new.

Here’s First Look’s new statement…

 

Editorial Independence at First Look Media

First Look Media is deeply committed to editorial independence. In fact, we have structured both our flagship organization and our growing network of digital magazines to provide our journalists with the kind of autonomy that is too often undermined by the demands of advertisers and investors.Our organization, First Look Media, is a 501c3 nonprofit. While we will vigorously seek out revenues as a way to sustain our work, the not-for-profit structure ensures that our journalism comes first – and that our writers have the freedom they need to pursue their reporting wherever it leads them.

Our founder, Pierre Omidyar, serves as CEO and publisher of First Look. He brings a wealth of experience to the organization as an entrepreneur and technologist, and he is deeply engaged in setting up the company and working to ensure its future. Pierre has no involvement in the newsroom’s day-to-day operations. All editorial decisions at First Look – from story assignments and blog posts to headlines and style guides – are made exclusively by our team of editors and reporters. Questions of journalism – what issues to cover, and how best to cover them – belong entirely to our journalists. Each editor in our network of digital magazines will answer those questions for themselves.

We are proud that our insistence on editorial independence has already attracted some of the most fiercely independent journalists of our day. We look forward to the outstanding work they will create with the autonomy and resources we’re providing them – and to the many other talented professionals who will join us in making First Look a model for great journalism, free from financial and political interference.