One of the most troubling aspects of Glenn Greenwald’s new yet-to-be-named media company is the man behind it, Pierre Omidyar. The billionaire founder of eBay is a hardcore libertarian who believes fervently in privatization and the power of the free market, and will soon own a media company that purports to want to attack the establishment.
As I’ve argued before, billionaire oligarchs don’t get into the news business to, a) lose money or, b) undermine their own vast financial interests. So it’s fair to ask Omidyar and Greenwald whether their “adversarial” news company will be adversarial to people like, say, Omidyar himself, or whether it will release the reported NSA leaks pertaining to the government’s collaboration with PayPal (another Omidyar backed venture).
So far, we only know that “NewCo” (the temporary name the principals are using for the outlet before it launches) will be focusing on the government. Jeremy Scahill, another journalist involved in the project, stated in an interview with Democracy Now! that:
It was clear that Pierre’s goal with this, which was to build a news organization that would have an inherently adversarial posture toward the state and those in power, was in line with what we wanted to do.
With no mention whatsoever of going after private power, is it safe to assume they won’t?
Pando Daily writers Paul Carr, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine have asked Greenwald to state whether he will hold Omidyar to the same standards he holds everyone else to, particularly given the fact his new boss supported going after journalists who leak documents from private companies. Back in 2009, Omidyar tweeted this after TechCrunch published leaked documents from Twitter:
Given his support for the Snowden leaks, it seems Omidyar’s position on the act of criminal leaking is completely contradictory: it is apparently fine to attack those who stole and leaked documents from private corporations, but not when it comes to those who stole and leaked documents from the federal government. What is Greenwald’s position on this? Will he adhere to Omidyar’s definition of what is and isn’t acceptable leaking? What happens if an eBay employee sends to a NewCo reporter files that prove eBay is illegally spying on its customers?
Omidyar tweeted the following to Paul Carr on December 8:
Great! Now let’s have a pledge from Greenwald that he will indeed cover his investor once NewCo goes live (as Paul Carr did at Pando Daily), particularly given it’s highly relevant to the issue of surveillance and corporate collaboration with the state.
So far, we’ve just heard the following from Greenwald on the reported PayPal NSA files:
What exactly does this mean? Greenwald seemingly accepts that his investor has a very serious conflict of interest, but is implying he won’t hold back leaking NSA files that show PayPal’s relationship with the NSA. So let’s have them then, or show the public they don’t exist. Given Greenwald has unfettered access to the remaining files and has stated over and over again that his sole aim is to inform the public of the wrongdoings of our government, surely he is obligated to release the ones relevant to his new business partner.
If Greenwald is at all concerned with transparency then he shouldn’t have a problem with this.
Omidyar and Greenwald’s new organization isn’t a concern of only those who are critical of Snowden and the NSA leaks. WikiLeaks staffer and Snowden collaborator Sarah Harrison told the German news outlet Stern: “How can you take something seriously when the person behind this platform went along with the financial boycott against WikiLeaks?”
“His excuse is probably that there is nothing he could have done at the time,” she went on. “Well, he is on the board of directors. He can’t shake off responsibility that easily. He didn’t even comment on it. He could have said something like: ‘we were forced to do this, but I am against it.'”
“If you set up a new media organization which claims to do everything for press freedom, but you are part of a blockade against another media organization, then that’s hard for us to take it seriously.”
To summarize, here are the questions Omidyar and Greenwald have yet to answer:
1. Will Greenwald accept that there’s a conflict of interest in entering into a business partnership with Omidyar whose existing business is in an alleged partnership with the NSA?
2. If so, will Greenwald release any and all documents pertaining to PayPal’s collaboration with the NSA, if they do indeed exist?
3. Are there any contractual agreements with Omidyar about the release of the remaining NSA files and NewCo? Will Omidyar and Greenwald publish them for the public to see?
4. Will Greenwald pledge to cover any potentially corrupt Omidyar’s business practices and hold him and his NSA collaborating business to the same standards he has everyone else?
Greenwald is an expert at applying ludicrously high standards of transparency and accountability to anyone he chooses to focus his laser-like attentions on. When it comes to himself, not so much evidently.
This is how he responded to Sibel Edmonds, founder and president of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition, when she asked him to clarify exactly what he knew about Paypal’s cooperation with the NSA:
If that’s Greenwald’s understanding of accountability, we might be waiting a long time for any meaningful answers. Greenwald has repeatedly mocked criticisms aimed at his new organization’s apparent conflicts of interest, stating that all journalists make money and all media organizations have wealthy owners. This is true, but it’s also a lawyerly trick to deflect attention away from himself and not answer any questions.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.