Greenwald in 2007: Journalists "know the work they do ought to be pleasing to the people who sign their paychecks."

By Paul Bradley Carr , written on March 4, 2014

From The News Desk

Last night brought an amusing (on the face of it) and horrifying (when you think about it) twist in Pando's ongoing coverage of Pierre Omidyar's $250m First Look journalism project.

For those coming to the party late: last week, Mark Ames wrote about how eBay founder Omidyar had co-invested with the US government in several of the opposition groups involved in the Ukraine revolution, a geopolitical closeness with Uncle Sam about which none of his reporters seemed aware.

The piece prompted a fierce, and lengthy, response from First Look staffer Glenn Greenwald. The thrust being that, despite him being an active presence in the company's virtual newsroom, Omidyar's wealth and political opinions couldn't possibly impact First Look's reporting. In fact, Greenwald argued, the accusation barely even warrants a response. (A position, incidentally, that the WaPo's Erik Wemple handily demolished here.)

Wrote Greenwald...

[T]he political ideology of those who fund media outlets, no matter how much you dislike that ideology, does not mean that hard-hitting investigative journalism is precluded or that the journalism reflects the views of those who fund it. Anyone who thinks that The Intercept is or will be some sort of mouthpiece for U.S. foreign policy goals is invited to review the journalism we’ve produced in the 20 days we’ve existed...

...But for me, the issue is not – and for a long time has not been – the political views of those who fund journalism. Journalists should be judged by the journalism they produce, not by those who fund the outlets where they do it. The real issue is whether they demand and obtain editorial freedom. We have. But ultimately, the only thing that matters is the journalism we or any other media outlets produce. These are strong words. The politics of media owners don't impact the work their reporters do. Journalists should be judged by the work they do, and nothing else.

And, of course, there's no reason to doubt that Greenwald genuinely believes what he says about his Omidyar background being irrelevant to First Look's reporting. No reason to think that it represents a dramatic change of position, prompted by a desire to keep happy a quarter billion dollar benefactor.


I say no reason.

Last night, reader Rob Bates sent me this incredible video from 2007, featuring a fresh-faced Glenn Greenwald debating the ethics of media ownership with Politico's Ben Smith. In it we hear a very different, and less well compensated, Greenwald taking Smith to task for the politics and wealth of Politico's owner.

Here are the highlights...

Greenwald ('07): I think it’s relevant who owns any journalistic outlet. The reason for that is obvious. The reason is people who work for companies know who signs their paychecks and know the work they do ought to be pleasing to the people who sign their paychecks. I guess, you know, you call it a conspiracy, which is a way to take an issue that’s raised and demean it.

Smith: No it’s not. Well let me clarify it for you. Am I a dupe, or am I lying?

Greenwald: I don’t think either of those things. I’m asking questions. I think that if Rush Limbaugh tomorrow purchased NBC news or if Michael Moore tomorrow purchased the Los Angeles Times, I think everyone across the spectrum would consider that to be an interesting fact, and an important fact to know about that.


Smith: I just think the details matter, the facts matter, there’s a reality underlying it that you can’t get from this sort of quickie… It’s just such a preposterous way to make arguments, and it’s so easy.

Greenwald: ...the point is that [Politico’s ownership] is relevant information in the context of everything the Politico has done. I mean, were you aware, for example, that person who signed your contract and signs your paycheck and controls the employer for which you work is a long time Reagan official and has strong ties to the Reagan family. I mean, whether you’re able in your super ethical way to bracket that out of your work, but was it something you're aware of or were aware of when you joined the company?”

Smith: I wasn’t actually aware of it when I was hired. I met him more recently. He was just the signature on my contract initially.

Greenwald: Uh huh.

Smith: And I am aware of it, although just in both my experience at the company. He runs it… Maybe that’s inappropriate, I don’t want to, yunno get into discussing things I don’t really know about in my company...

Greenwald: I suppose the fact that his fortune is inherited from a family which has longstanding right wing ties might be relevant too. I mean, he could be… that doesn’t prove anything about his politics but I think it’s relevant.

Smith: Absolutely, but go find some evidence, dig something up that proves it’s true… All I can tell you is I have no idea… and that’s great.

Greenwald:  I give up. I mean, there's never any mathematic proof or evidence standing alone that can even demonstrate that any journalistic outlet has a particular bias or more of a political purpose all you can do is look at the body of evidence.

Smith: …can we move on?

Greenwald: One piece of evidence is the ideological background of the people who own and fund it…

Smith: ….let’s move on before you get me fired.

Greenwald: I’m not trying to go person by person but you know I think that you want to make these statements that all the claims about Politico are wild conspiracy theories based on nothing but the person who owns it is a Reagan operative...

Smith: You just said something that isn’t true… you know absolutely nothing about my actual boss.

Greenwald: What I know about Politico’s structure is what I learned from Mike Allen’s article which is that Fred Ryan is it’s president and CEO. And CEO is an important position in a company, in general…” Yes, you're reading the above correctly. Greenwald ('07) is making the exact same points about Politico -- and demanding the exact same answers -- that Pando is making and demanding about First Look today. Greenwald ('07) even ridicules Ben Smith for trying to use the same defense as Greenwald ('14) is using today...

I mean, whether you’re able in your super ethical way to bracket that out of your work, but was it something you're aware of or were aware of when you joined the company?
Man. Given Greenwald's well-documented habit of smearing and attacking those who disagree with him, I'd hate to be in Greenwald '07 shoes if Greenwald '14 ever sees that video.

I reached out to both Glenn Greenwald (~10hrs ago) and Pierre Omidyar (~2hrs ago) for comment about the contents of the video. Neither had responded at press time. I'll update this post if they do.