The social darwinism of the commentariat is such that the most clueless tend also to be the fittest. Therefore, it should be no surprise that as the embargo finally lifts on questioning the overwhelming social good of an alliance between saintly left celebrities and a toxic billionaire, the most prominent chatterers should glom onto the most far-fetched objection to it.
Mark Ames and Yasha Levine of NSFWCorp have written a mostly quite good and extremely readable account of how new journalism patron Pierre Omidyar does not differ appreciably from other billionaires in being a toxic shitbag. There are long, well-researched passages in the piece on Omidyar’s murderous adventures in microfinance (or as he and his fans call it, philanthropy) and on his generous patronage of havoc-wreaking ‘free market’ economist Hernando DeSoto and his Peru-based think tank, the Institute for Liberty & Democracy (ILD). Levine and Ames are also in fine form on how Greenwald/Poitras parlayed their monopoly on the Snowden leaks into a deal and sold them to Silicon Valley in the process, an idea that should certainly sound familiar to regular readers of this blog. (Thanks for reading, guys!)
This is is all great, and though Levine, Ames and I all hate each other, I am very much in their debt for finally poking a hole in the wall of sycophancy that has immunized Greenwald and Co from any criticism on their left side since June. But the piece is colored by NSFWCorp’s usual zeal to prove The Great Libertarian Conspiracy, predicated, as usual, on the beloved false binary of Corporate Power and State Power: Corporate power is bad. State power is the beneficent tempering influence upon it, which is why Omidyar and scary libertarians are state power’s alleged sworn enemies. Thus colored, the piece concludes that the new news venture aims for nothing less than an assault on the state’s legitimacy.
In summarizing the piece, a post on the web site Naked Capitalism has put this thesis in particularly silly terms, arguing that Greenwald, Scahill, Poitras and co, by virtue of their journalistic specialties, are unwitting accomplices in this plot:
It surely is no coincidence that [Omidyar’s journalists] are known for their antagonistic stances towards government: Greenwald for his intelligence reporting, Scahill for his unsparing critiques of US foreign policy, and so on.
Someone with a relentlessly antagonistic stance towards government who starts a project that is relentlessly antagonistic towards government will not be broken hearted to see popular trust in government wane.
What Ames, Levine and people like this Naked Capitalism scribe never comprehend is that the conflict implicit in neoliberalism isn’t between the state and government, it’s over the ends to which state power is put. People like De Soto can’t get any of their awful programs implemented without state authority. This is why privatization and shock treatments go so well with tyranny. Similarly, there isn’t a class of people that owes more to state power than billionaires like Omidyar — libertarian or otherwise — so why would they want to delegitimize it?
Trying to suss out Omidyar’s secret anti-government essence is one more variation on the good oligarch/bad oligarch nonsense that underlies our sham politics, where every two years we laboriously tweeze out the pube of difference between two corrupt political parties and where Koch Industries is regarded as uniquely evil in relation to such good corporate citizens as BP and Bank of America. While it’s certainly always useful to expose the mess that toxic inequality makes all over the world, for our present purposes, everything you really need to know is encapsulated in this line from the Ames/Levine piece —
…the fabled “civic-minded billionaire”—you’ll find him two doors down from the tooth fairy.
— a line they probably owe to Arthur Silber, who elaborated on the point here. More crucially, Silber discussed how state power and corporate power (in the form of PayPal, owned by Omidyar’s eBay) colluded to undermine independent journalism. Collusion is what state power and corporate power tend to specialize in, and it’s high time people scrutinized both. Insisting that the two are entirely separate and, foolishly, that the two are mostly at odds with each other, is the disease, not the cure.
See, left journalists lending their credibility to toxic wealth is objectionable on its face — whether the billionaire is a closet libertarian or not — especially when you factor in the trove of secrets that leveraged the deal. That this is actually subject to debate — though barely — just two years after Occupy surely suggests a new low in vapid left careerism, celebrity worship and the erasure of class inequality from left concerns.
As the careerist left now bends over backwards convincing itself of the inevitable necessity of toxic wealth accumulation to better-than-average journalism, it’s wise to recall that prior to Omidyar’s intervention, Greenwald, Scahill and Poitras were planning to strike out on their own, and there couldn’t have been a better time for each of them to parlay their high profiles — and the proceeds from Greenwald’s vulgar monetizing of the leaks — into a new, mogul-free venture. But they opted not to and we are not obliged to applaud any more than we would applaud a deal between Matt Taibbi and Jamie Dimon. Nor do we need to ‘wait and see’ on NewCo, because everything wrong with it is already in plain sight.
Greenwald, who habitually responded to reasonable criticism of his leak custodianship with fallacies and verbal abuse is now putting these methods to work for Omidyar in relation to PayPal’s Wikileaks blockade. Liliana Segura’s and Jeremy Scahill’s response to reasonable concerns about their patron is evasion and snark worthy of establishment hacks. The self-satisfied insistence on their own incorruptibility is a grim spectacle, not simply because their evasions on Omidyar’s behalf already contradict it, but because of their complete ignorance of how subservience works. Do these people think that most hacks are literally told what to write? Perhaps they should recall the conversation Glenn had with Chris Hayes about ‘cognitive capture’.
Considering that the ink is barely dry on their contracts, this situation is not likely to improve when at last they get to work. Meanwhile every vaguely left journalist is spit-shining Omidyar and Co’s shoes, instead of calling them all to account, dreaming of one day working for the billionaire themselves. Enough of this degrading farce. The world will turn with or without an upmarket HuffPost, bankrolled with filthy lucre and fashionably scented with Greenwald and Co’s muddled, reformist dissent. Fuck these people.
This post was written before anything was known about Omidyar’s involvement in Ukraine and India. I had also misdiagnosed the co-option features of the Snowden Spectacle as liberal, when in fact they now look more like a mutant strain of libertarianism. While I still don’t think Omidyar wants to de-legitimize government, and still think The Great Libertarian Conspiracy misapprehends the relationship of the State to the private sector, I believe I went overboard in discounting the suspicions of some of the people mentioned in this post. This reply to Chris Floyd’s excellent post on Omidyar’s connection to ultra-nationalists in India is a better reflection of my current misgivings.
Oh damn, I took down update 2 (below, now restored) after being guilt-tripped by a friend of Charlie and this is the thanks I get.
I’d ignore this except it’s emblematic of the way alleged anti-authoritarians now carry water for Greenwald’s top-down self-enriching and how he makes everything and everyone dumber and shittier. This tweet has it all: the anon in Park Slope nonsense, thoroughly cheap tainting by association, a little pathologizing and a hashtag to rival Greenwald’s #ChickenPseudoRadicals. It’s so classy I’m almost sorry I took the first swing.
Charlie, I never said you lacked courage, because, sadly, there’s little evidence you find any of this GG/Omidyar stuff troublesome. But people who do, yet say nothing, are chickenshit. Mark Ames’ alleged predations don’t change this, any more than they cancel Omidyar’s havoc-wreaking, but Glenn and his billionaire no doubt appreciate your repeated, and deeply stupid, implications to the contrary.
As to courage, anons have friends and social capital too, and beatdowns and smears are hardly more pleasant for us than they are for people who use their real names, and while the risks are more contained, heresies are never without consequence. For instance, it’s not at all pleasant to watch people I once respected stoop as low as you just did. Which is why I’ll concede that my focus shouldn’t be on people who don’t speak up. It should be on people like you, who make it hard for them to do so, by reducing legitimate questions about Omidyar and Greenwald to some half-baked hypocrisy gotcha, ‘a grudge’, a ‘peculiar obsession’, or an endorsement of misogyny. That’s not cowardice, certainly. It’s far worse, even putting aside how teeth-gnashingly stupid it is.
Which brings us to that ‘peculiar obsession’ of mine: I won’t linger on how arbitrary, trifling and even offensive I find some of your own preoccupations and simply admit that yes, I am very seriously disquieted by this rich, white liberal opportunist who by some bizarre alchemy remakes incrementalist gatekeeping; intellectual property; profiteering; negating Manning; suppressing state secrets; ridiculing radicals; flagrant lying; partnerships with billionaires and shitty, subservient journalism as dissidence and then inspires people like you to run errands for him. You’ve just run another one, by suggesting that there is something to my concerns beyond principle and curiosity — a ‘peculiar obsession’, just like that ‘sex tourist with a grudge’ — despite their consistency with everything else I’ve written on this blog and the enormous social significance of the Snowden spectacle. I’ve been attributing this nonsense to careerism, but, sadly, it seems any proximity to status will do. That self-described radicals debase themselves like this for a creep like Greenwald, who reviles anyone to his left that won’t applaud and whose insipid Constitutionalist reformism barely even qualifies as liberal, goes way beyond depressing.
We are no less surveilled than ever before but somehow, since June, a lot of people — including you — have gotten a whole lot less analytical and a whole lot more bullying, smeary and reactionary — that is, more like their much-enriched hero — such that an insufficiently deferential critique of The Beloved incites months-long harassment, smears and Twitter parody accounts and very few seem to mind. But ostensible anti-authoritarians telling people to shut up and listen to the white guy is the perfect complement to Greenwald’s non-leaking leak style and the opacity of his transparency. Perhaps I’d be less ‘obsessed’ as you call it, if fewer of your friends and ilk were obsessed with me, but I don’t think a reactionary culture shift of this kind is a small thing, regardless. To each anti-authoritarian their own anti-authoritarianism, I guess. Yours is certainly more practical, though its underlying principles elude me. Whatever it is you’re doing, I’m content to do without it.
Hey, I paid good money for those secrets, thinks Pierre as he endorses Obama’s plan to tighten security around them. See, I told ya he’s cool with state power. Props to Jameel Jaffer for not kissing his ass — it’s the little things nowadays — though I’d change that 300 million Americans to 7 billion people and that didn’t to don’t. But I’m a ‘vile impure purist’ as a troll once mused.
NewCo just looks better all the time.
Oh look, a member of Anarchists for Liberal Journalism And Predatory Lending has weighed in.
It’s disappointing that Charlie obviously thinks this revelation of NSFW’s beholdenness to their own funders does something other than validate concerns about “left” journos working for moguls. But the peerlessly self-unaware Greenwald loves this kind of hamfisted, fallacious gotcha — or ‘argument’ as it’s called on the Twitter Left — and awarded it his coveted RT along with 60 others who don’t know what a logical fallacy is.
On a happier, much smarter note, haptic, who commented provocatively on ridding the world of
journalists this bullshit, returned.
Actually what pisses me off most of all about this whole thing is a bit more basic than the billionaire thing, or the banality of it all, or the organized sterilization of criticism, etc.
It’s that I just feel, not another one! Not another pestilent media organisation! Not another little gang of entitled jerks who see themselves as smarter than everyone else and perceive that the rest of us need them to make sense of the world for us because we just wouldn’t understand what is going on without them to fucking explain it to us.
This resonates with me but not sure I’m ready to go as far as haptic who later on writes:
[News] is not a useful synonym for “information.” “News” is a historically contingent genre, a product of information commerce in a bygone historical moment. It’s going obsolete. There are other, more efficient, more democratic ways for a society to understand itself than this.
Haptic and I are in sync on paternalistic operators like Omidyar, Greenwald and pals. But I’m not sure I’m ready to give up on journalism entirely, though I think that from the standpoint of making things better, we get diminishing returns from information to wring our hands over. Unfortunately, haptic didn’t stick around for additional probing about alternatives. Would be great if others took the matter up.
Update to this update: Haptic has returned to elaborate. Well worth reading.