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Things are Getting Weird at First Look Media – UPDATED

We like Edward Snowden and his broadside against the NSA’s Secret Squirrel State.

We are glad that DNI James “the Clapper” Clapper is moaning that the NSA can’t stop another Snowden from blowing their cover.

And we really like Glenn Greenwald for speaking truth to power, and for leveraging those revelatory documents into a whole new venture–First Look Media and The Intercept–with Jeremy Scahill, Matt Taibbi and noted FDL alum, Marcy Wheeler.

But there is a problem.

Ironically, it’s a problem Marcy Wheeler postulated about broadly, but didn’t realize how specifically close to the truth she really was.

Today, Mark Ames at wrote:

Just hours after last weekend’s ouster of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, one of Pierre Omidyar’s newest hires at national security blog “The Intercept,” was already digging for the truth.

Marcy Wheeler, who is the new site’s “senior policy analyst,” speculated that the Ukraine revolution was likely a “coup” engineered by “deep forces” on behalf of “Pax Americana”:

“There’s quite a bit of evidence of coup-ness. Q is how many levels deep interference from both sides is.”

These are serious claims. So serious that I decided to investigate them. And what I found was shocking.

Yeah, it is shocking. It turns out that the eBay founder-billionaire backing First Look also funded anti-government forces in Ukraine. Ames reports:

What’s shocking is the name of the billionaire who co-invested with the US government (or as Wheeler put it: the “dark force” acting on behalf of “Pax Americana”).

Step out of the shadows…. Wheeler’s boss, Pierre Omidyar.

Yes, in the annals of independent media, this might be the strangest twist ever: According to financial disclosures and reports seen by Pando, the founder and publisher of Glenn Greenwald’s government-bashing blog,“The Intercept,” co-invested with the US government to help fund regime change in Ukraine.

So. Here we are…looking for great reporting, cutting-edge journalism and something to rely upon in this ever-evolving news scrum of the 21st Century, and it turns out that Mr. Moneybags not only has his hand in journalism, but he’s got his other hand in covert regime change with cohorts who might make some of us a bit squeamish. Ames continues:

When the revolution came to Ukraine, neo-fascists played a front-center role in overthrowing the country’s president. But the real political power rests with Ukraine’s pro-western neoliberals. Political figures like Oleh Rybachuk, long a favorite of the State Department, DC neoconsEU, and NATO—and the right-hand man to Orange Revolution leader Viktor Yushchenko.

Last December, the Financial Times wrote that Rybachuk’s “New Citizen” NGO campaign “played a big role in getting the protest up and running.”

New Citizen, along with the rest of Rybachuk’s interlocking network of western-backed NGOs and campaigns— “Center UA” (also spelled “Centre UA”), “Chesno,” and “Stop Censorship” to name a few — grew their power by targeting pro-Yanukovych politicians with a well-coordinated anti-corruption campaign that built its strength in Ukraine’s regions, before massing in Kiev last autumn.

And that’s where the Omidyar’s money enters the picture:

According to the Kyiv Post, Pierrie Omidyar’s Omidyar Network (part of the Omidyar Group which owns First Look Media and the Intercept) provided 36% of “Center UA”’s $500,000 budget in 2012— nearly $200,000. USAID provided 54% of “Center UA”’s budget for 2012. Other funders included the US government-backed National Endowment for Democracy.

In 2011, Omidyar Network gave $335,000 to “New Citizen,” one of the anti-Yanukovych “projects” managed through the Rybachuk-chaired NGO “Center UA.”

In fact, Ames points out that the Omidyar Network even bragged about their involvement in Ukrainian politics. Of course, like George Soros, Mr. Omidyar is super-rich and super-free to do what he wants with his money. But, like critics of politically-active Rupert Murdoch, we have a duty to question whether or not a source of journalism is in some ways compromised when the founder and chief funder is screwing around with government agencies, political agendas and playing covert fun and games around the world.

Ames is scathing in his criticism of the “fawning” indy media cadre Omidyar has assembled around himself. And rightly so. But the stuff coming out of The Intercept–like Greenwald’s terrifying exposé of the GCHQ playbook for destroying the reputations and lives of critics, dissenters and political opponents–has so far been stellar and much-welcomed by me, particularly after my own scrapes within the mainstream media. But these questions have to be asked, and Ames is doing his journalistic best to keep the truth flowing. Ultimately, First Look is going to have to find a way to keep Omidyar’s hands out of its day-to-day business if he wants to play kingmaker in other nations.

If he wants to keep his hands in journalism, he’s going to have to keep them solely in journalism–that is, if he wants to keep ’em clean and keep First Look trustworthy.

UPDATE: Here is Glenn Greenwald’s quite thorough response to Pando:  “On the meaning of journalistic 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 Jermey 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.

re: Omidyar’s access to NSA docs:

Other than generally conveying that there is much reporting left to be done on these documents – something I’ve publicly said many times – I don’t believe I’ve ever even had a single discussion with him about a single document in the archive.

re: the independence if First Look staff:

But what I do know is that I would never temper, limit, suppress or change my views for anyone’s benefit – as anyone I’ve worked with will be happy to tell you – and my views on such interference in other countries isn’t going to remotely change no matter the actual facts here. I also know that I’m free to express those views without the slightest fear. And I have zero doubt that that’s true of every other writer at The Intercept.

Ultimately,  I suspect that these questions–like those raised by Ames–will continue to pop up until First Look publicly establishes an organizational structure that shows/establishes a clear divide between GG & Co. and Omidyar.  In journalism it’s long been called “the separation between church and state”–meaning an organizational independence between the editorial folks and the money. Clarifying that with an organizational disclosure could end these speculations for good.

Photo from OnInnovation licensed under Creative Commons

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JP Sottile

JP Sottile

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