Skip to main content

Another One Bites the Dust: John Cook Leaves First Look Media, Goes Back To Gawker

They're dropping like flies.
Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 8.47.23 AM

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Taibbi departed First Look Media in a torrent of bad blood, leaving Pierre Omidyar's $250-million online journalism start-up to go back to the stability and apparent sanity of Rolling Stone. Just yesterday, Taibbi seemed to breathe a very noticeable sigh of relief at returning to his old job, saying on Twitter, "It's been so good to be back there these last weeks." Well, now First Look Media has lost another of its celebrated early hires: John Cook has left The Intercept, making the decision to go back to his previous place of employment -- Gawker.

Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison said just a little while ago that Cook will return to Gawker to handle the site's investigations.

In title, Cook was the editor-in-chief at The Intercept, the investigative site that's home to Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, Laura Poitras and, in spirit, Edward Snowden. From the very beginning he seemed like a decent fit at least philosophically with the outlet, given that his hobby at Gawker was filing Freedom of Information Act forms and one of his personal mantras is "Always err on the side of the data dump." But by all appearances, whatever internal disaster has taken hold over at First Look, it's not worth putting up with by anyone who isn't part of the Greenwald troika.

While it's impossible to know exactly what happened, it's noteworthy that Cook's name was attached to the byline of a really disreputable hit piece published by The Intercept and aimed at Matt Taibbi in the wake of his departure from First Look. While the lengthy column mentioned some ongoing struggles with Omidyar and First Look's management, it put the blame for Taibbi's exit directly on Taibbi, calling him abrasive and combative and alleging that he might have tormented a female coworker specifically because she was female. What was interesting, though, is that despite the co-byline, just a couple of days previously Cook had posted this to Twitter:

In other words, one day John Cook is personally expressing his frustration and sorrow and absolving Taibbi of any responsibility in the matter -- and two days later his name is on a piece that rips Taibbi to shreds. The timing of Cook's departure might indicate that this miasma played a role in his decision to finally leave.

Of the high-profile non-Greenwaldian media hires First Look touted during its initial roll-out, this leaves only Alex Pareene, formerly of Gawker and Salon. He's already not only defended Taibbi publicly in the wake of The Intercept's scorched earth attack but called out Pierre Omidyar and First Look management in the most direct way possible.

Here's what he wrote in response to the Intercept piece:

Working with Matt Taibbi was one of the best experiences of my career and I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to do so again. From my perspective, the management of First Look Media repeatedly took incidents that should’ve been minor hiccups of the sort experienced at any media company or startup and, through incompetence, escalated them into full-blown crises. Having worked closely with Matt since he hired me, I witnessed no behavior on his part that I would characterize as “abusive,” and his hostility was reserved for his superiors, not his subordinates. He certainly was no more “combative” than any number of other editors I’ve worked with, including Intercept editor-in-chief John Cook. I also categorically reject the allegation that there was a gendered component to his managerial issues. We were successfully working to address those issues when First Look once again stepped in to fuck things up. I regret that the world won’t get a chance to see Matt Taibbi’s Racket.

So how long before Pareene's out the door as well? I'm betting he's negotiating a new position somewhere far away from First Look Media at this very moment.

Update:The Interceptpublished a story (issued a press release) this morning that explains Cook's departure. It's significantly kinder than the send-off Taibbi got, and for his part Cook is being as charitable and professional as possible.

“Working with my Intercept colleagues has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve done in my career, and my decision to leave was a painful one to make,” Cook said. “But I feel comfortable leaving in the knowledge that it is now perfectly situated to become a powerful journalistic force under new editorial leadership.”

Hope your galoshes were on for that, folks.