Hack List 2017: The Drones of The Intercept


[We’re sort of on holiday until about January 3 or so, so I’m re-posting some old stories from last year. Enjoy, and if you can spare a dollar or two, or a million, please consider making a donation. We’d be very grateful.]

I’ve worked at a lot of shitty places in journalism — in fact, just about every place I’ve worked at, specifically meaning where I had to go to an office, has been pretty shitty — but I’d have to say that the absolute worst place I’ve ever been associated with is The Intercept, which is published by Pierre Omidyar’s First Look Media. And I worked from home in Washington, roughly 250 miles from The Intercept‘s HQ in New York, so that tells you a lot.

I worked briefly for First Look when it was painfully birthing The Intercept and Racket, which was to be led by Matt Taibii and which Omidyar pulled the plug on. In a typically classy move, he canned the entire Racket staff — except me; I moved to The Intercept for a brief, miserable time — right before Thanksgiving.

I have, of course, written about my wretched time at The Intercept and I’ll be recycling (again) some of that article, which ran in Politico, in this story. There’s just something powerful and palpable in the DNA of the place that is evil and dishonest, and trust me, everyone who has ever worked there knows what I’m talking about. When people quit or get fired, they often talk about going through a detoxification period, like former Scientologists, for example, or concentration camp guards.

I understand why people take jobs there; jobs in journalism are hard to find and just about everyone is desperate. The Intercept pays well so you get an offer and ask yourself, “How bad can this possibly be?”

If you have a brain and a soul, it’s bad beyond your worst nightmares and just about everyone — other than those willing to suffer any indignity in exchange for Omidyar’s gold, some of whom will be discussed below — ends up being miserable.

Again, let’s use the concentration camp guard analogy. No matter how logical it seemed in the short-term, it doesn’t look good on your CV or when you get to the Gates of Heaven.

Even worse, possibly, The Intercept is spectacularly boring. Every once in awhile it manages to publish something decent-to-good but given the resources it has at its disposal, it’s astonishing how infrequently it does so. And as I wrote in Politico, the fact that “First Look hired so many talented people to create Racket, spent more than a million dollars on it, and in the end fired everyone before Racket ever published a single story must stand as one of the greatest squandering of money and leadership ineptitude in modern journalism.”

As noted above, the only people who appear to be content at The Intercept are people who’ll do anything for money. (Hey, isn’t there a word for that?) The most prominent members of the Pierre Omidyar Squadron of Concentration Camp Guards are Frau Betsy Reed and Herrs Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. Let’s discuss them in order, shall we, but first let’s start with the repellent Omidyar — henceforth PO — himself.

I know PO and I can assure you he is not smart. He didn’t get rich because of an outstanding track record in journalism but through lucky timing in the tech business with eBay, but now that he’s loaded his minions and serfs tell him he’s a genius.

PO would sometimes attend Intercept staff meetings in New York or remotely by video. I think I only met him twice in person, but I remember invariably he would say during these staff meetings, “You probably want to know what I think” and then talk about something, usually how much he loves journalism and the First Amendment.

Actually, no one wanted to hear him talk about anything because his insights were utterly banal and of no interest. This was a man too stupid to know that as publisher, his job was to write checks and Shut The Fuck Up, to let people do their jobs and bask in the glory if there ever was any. But he’d clearly had his ass kissed for too long and had become delusional, thinking that people liked him for his brains and charm and not merely for his money, as was quite obviously the case.

The Intercept loves to talk about its “fearless” reporting, but that wasn’t a word that would factor into its corporate life (or journalism). At the 2014 holiday party, my first and, mercifully, last, two fiercely “independent” staffers “interviewed” PO and asked him what he did in the morning. Since you are all hanging on the edge of your seats, he drinks tea and reads stuff, the New York Times and other things, with The Intercept ranking about No. 5 (he claimed). The whole thing was sad.

[Digression, excellent shopping advice: I met an 18-year-old woman the other day when shopping at a vintage store and she said she tries hard, like me, to avoid buying anything at Amazon because it enriches the horrible Jeff Bezos, and similarly looks for smaller alternatives for all her shopping needs in order to try to avoid further enriching the plutocrat class. I never buy anything on eBay and she told me she avoids it too. She told me  that unless you were purchasing merchandise from China, prices on eBay are outrageous. To avoid giving money to shitty oligarchs and plutocrats, she recommended Poshmark.com for clothing; Mercari.com for books, electronics and accessories; and OfferUp.com for furniture and equipment.]

Turning to Betsy Reed. She was a friend for more than a decade who left The Nation in a rush to take a fat paycheck from PO, and is a good example of how formerly good people become tainted, and even evil, by association with The Intercept.

Again, I can understand why Frau Reed took the job, but what’s creepy is that she was secretly negotiating her new position just before and even after having told me how terrible The Intercept was, and how I should quit and move to The Nation, the publication she was getting ready to stab in the back. 

Then there’s Greenwald, No. 1 guard at the Pierre Omidyar Concentration Camp for Journalists and the boss’s top ass-kisser. A former lawyer, Greenwald sees the world in black and white and cannot tolerate any shades of gray, as I recently noted. His opinion is the only correct one and if you disagree you’re a whore or a liar.

Nothing he writes or says can be trusted, even when he’s right, because he doesn’t reach a single conclusion honestly. His conclusions are determined before he begins to report, and he does very little of that; he’s essentially a shrieking, uninformed op-ed columnist. 

And how much hypocrisy can Greenwald stomach? Quite a bit, it turns out. While portraying himself as being radically independent and the People’s Pundit — and not talking much or disclosing how much money he gets paid by tech oligarch PO, but I’m told it’s around seven figures when bonuses are factored in — Greenwald lives in a mansion in Rio de Janeiro.

He doesn’t have the balls to stand up to Omidyar and so he lends his name to the sad, sad Intercept. Omidyar wants regime change in Venezuela and Ukraine. No problem, Intercept staffer and Greenwald puppy Murtaza Hussain has a story coming right up. PO is a Democratic insider and Obama crony. Well, that’s not really newsworthy for The Intercept. PO privatizes Snowden’s NSA secrets and invests in a creepy cybersecurity startup. Nothing to see, folks.

To hear him talk himself, Greenwald is purer than the driven snow — and so is his pal Edward Snowden, who I’ve been writing about. What Greenwald doesn’t care to discuss is how much he has invested in the good vs. evil narrative he tells about himself and about Snowden.

In 2015, I heard Greenwald talking about Saint Edward at the 6th & I Synagogue in Washington, when he was selling his dreary book about Snowden and the NSA. I was with a few people who worked for The Intercept and I figured it would look good to buy the book, and at the time I didn’t realize Greenwald was such an uninformed blowhard. The book was so boring that I returned it a few days later to Politics and Prose, the bookstore on hand that night, and bought a graphic novel.

Anyway, it was that night that I realized just how much of a blowhard Greenwald was, and is. Because he couldn’t talk about the NSA or the issues that should have been central to the book, because he didn’t understand intelligence issues or have any sources. He had gotten documents from Snowden but didn’t know how to mentally process them and so he frequently made amateurish mistakes in his reporting.

So all night, Greenwald talked only about Snowden and what a perfect human being he was. As I mentioned before, Greenwald sees the world in black and white but in the case of Snowden he had another rather obvious incentive to portray him and see him as a giant among men. He was chasing a movie deal in order to become even richer and Hollywood doesn’t like gray.

Finally, let’s turn, briefly, as he doesn’t merit more, to Jeremy “Cap’n Jerkoff” Scahill, a man who became well know for writing an incredibly long, ill-informed and dry book (edited by Betsy Reed) about the military contractor formerly known as Blackwater, though he was too cowardly to call its CEO, Erik Prince.

By the way, I wanted to link the words Cap’n Jerkoff to a hilarious picture that Scahill posted on Instagram of himself at the helm of a boat, but he either removed the link or blocked me. But look at any photo of Scahill and you’ll see the same thing: A sad, insecure, rapidly aging, broadening-at-the-waist mediocrity from Wisconsin who poses as an intrepid journalist, but, I’m told, typically travels with plenty of protection when going off on an overseas excursion that looks so daring when he writes about it or it appears in one of his bland video projects.

(Update: Thanks to my great pal Seth Hettena, I now have the pic I referred to above of Cap’n Jerkoff. He actually posted this unflattering image of himself on Instagram, with the caption: “Amazing day captaining a boat (first time!) around the Kornati islands in Croatia. So beautiful!” Incidentally, Seth and I are not in agreement on everything, but you should definitely check out his amazing new website, TrumP Россия.)

I once had the mis-pleasure of eating dinner with a group of people that included Scahill and Sidney Blumenthal, a vile little man as well. All that’s worth saying here is that Blumenthal is an amoral sleaze but at least he’s smart. Scahill is not and Blumenthal shredded his arguments about private military contractors, which allegedly is Scahill’s chief area of expertise.  

But perhaps my favorite Scahill story took place following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, which he thought the perfect time to reminisce about how he was once – he claims — robbed at gunpoint in Baltimore by a member of the Black race that he claims to love so much. Scahill wrote a series of tweets about his scary but moving experience, which made him love and understand black people even more. “Yo, black dude,” he wrote. Please rob me and even kill me and I promise not to call the cops coz you had it so ruff as a young black dude:”

(Disclosure: Scahill didn’t actually write that, I did. It’s a composite tweet that encapsulates Scahill’s series of tweets about his moving experience and also encapsulates his empty liberalism. It would be a miracle if he had any actual Black friends and if he does they must be very boring.)

To close, I quit The Intercept because I hated working there and Frau Reed wouldn’t fire me, which I wanted so I could collect unemployment while I got back on my feet. (By the way, I’m back.) My decision to quit was disastrous from a financial perspective but I can honestly say, and the evidence backs me up here, that I’d rather risk starving than working as a concentration camp guard for PO.  

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