A few random thoughts on the imbroglio over Matt Taibbi leaving the media stable of oligarch Pierre Omidyar — and the remarkable response to this by the oligarch’s remaining celebs, led by Glenn Greenwald.
1. The Intercept article on Taibbi’s departure — bylined under the names of Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and John Cook, but almost certainly written mostly by Greenwald — is, at its core, a scurrilous piece of work. Purporting to be a boldly transparent piece — it even (lightly) criticizes the Boss! — it is instead, transparently, an attempt by the oligarch’s organization to get its side of the story out first before the famously acerbic Taibbi makes any statement.
2. It is also a means for the authors to laud themselves as “fiercely independent journalists” (yes, Greenwald actually wrote that about himself) who, despite being radical bohemians who “view corporate cultures and management-speak with disdain,” were able to heroically grapple with their employer and procure for themselves “a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists working collaboratively and freely in the manner its founders always envisioned” … unlike that loser Taibbi, who obviously lacked their moxie and got slapped around by the Big Boss Man.
3. The poison shiv of the article is buried deep in the acres of Greenwald’s ever-deadening slabs of prose (as well as deep in Taibbi’s back): the accusation of sexist behavior on Taibbi’s part when he was upbraiding one of his staff. To be sure, the Interceptors make great show of saying that an internal investigation of the charge found that his action did not rise “to the level of legal liability” (libel-dodging weasel-wording at its best!) — and added, as an appendix, an encomium from another Omidyar stablemate as to Taibbi’s good character and lack of sexism. But the damage was done, as was obviously intended. The quick takeaway of anyone wondering about the situation will be: “What happened with Taibbi and First Look?” “Well, he was facing some kind of sex abuse charge or something, wasn’t he? Abusing the women there, threatening or yelling at them, something.” “What an asshole. They were right to get rid of him.” Or maybe just a quick headline in the NY Post or Drudge Report: “Taibbi Leaves First Look After Sexism Row.”
4. Anyone who has ever known or worked with Taibbi — as I did in Moscow years ago — knows that he is indeed a combative, abrasive personality. The Interceptors point this out repeatedly, ostensibly in his defense, as if to say, “Well, Taibbi’s volatile ways were a known quality, part of what made his work so powerful; no wonder he clashed with the corporate structure of the organization.” But this too is actually a subtle defense of the Big Boss Man, carrying a counter-implication: “Look, everybody knows Taibbi is an angry jerk; no wonder the Boss had to come down hard on him.”
5. I have no way of knowing how Taibbi behaved toward the staff he hired with the “multimillions” Omidyar gave him to play with. I certainly don’t know if he made a sexist remark to a staffer or not. I do know that when he and Mark Ames (whose work, like Taibbi’s, I’ve frequently referenced here) edited The eXile magazine in Moscow, it was filled with relentless misogyny — visceral, juvenile, contemptuous, and often highly personal, especially when directed at Taibbi’s female former colleagues at the Moscow Times. But that was a long time ago, and I assume that both writers have grown up a bit since then in regards to their attitude toward women. I’ve certainly seen nothing of that sneering contempt in any of their work since their eXile days. If there was some blow-up with a staffer at Omidyar’s shop, involving harsh and abrasive language, I would imagine it was more general then gendered. But in his editorship of The eXile, Taibbi did indeed give many hostages to fortune in terms of defending himself against later charges of sexism.
6. That’s why bringing up already investigated and apparently dismissed sexism charges is a doubly effective technique for the Inteceptors: the insinuation poisons Taibbi’s present reputation, while his past makes it harder for him to defend himself. “You say you aren’t sexist? What about all that shit in The Exile?”
7. That said, I know for a fact that Greenwald will tell lies — knowing, demonstrable falsehoods — to blacken a person’s reputation when it suits him. I know because he did it to me, just a few months ago. In response to some criticism of his journalistic methods, Greenwald spewed out a very nasty, petty, personal smear — an outright lie which he had to know was a lie when he wrote it. [See here for details.] He was willing to do this in order to discredit criticism from what, in his position, could only be considered the most marginal of sources. How much more might he do to defend the billionaire oligarch who has given him “a sizable budget, operational autonomy, and a team of talented journalists, editors, research specialists, and technologists” from a high-profile PR threat like the renegade Taibbi? In any case, when it comes to discussing matters such as Taibbi’s behavior, Greenwald has zero credibility.
8. As others have pointed out, the Interceptors’ article actually confirms many of the suspicions and criticisms that have been voiced about the oligarch’s media operation from the beginning. Contrary to the Interceptors’ insistent denials, Omidyar obviously has been deeply involved in the editorial operations of his “fiercely independent” hirelings, exerting control over personnel decisions, management — even the petty cash, such as taxi receipts. And now we learn from Greenwald’s latest slab that Omidyar is no longer interested in journalism at all, but in “products” — “new technologies for delivering and consuming news.” A techno-billionaire more concerned with enriching himself with more techno-product than forging a powerhouse of dissident journalism — wow, who could have seen that coming? Anyone and everyone — except, of course, for our leading dissident journalists.
9. In the end, this particular imbroglio is just a minor tempest in a celebrity teapot. There are more important — and more sinister — aspects to the oligarch’s growing empire of profit-seeking political influence. Mark Ames (as it happens) has just published a very important article on Omidyar’s continuing machinations in Ukraine and his continuing collusion with neo-fascists there and in India. I hope to take a closer look at his article and its implications soon. It certainly puts the Interceptors’ proud association with the oligarch — demonstrated by their hatchet job on Taibbi — in a new, darker light.
10. As for Taibbi himself, I can say only this: You lie down with dogs, Matt, you get up with fleas. What the hell else did you think would happen?