Journalism and Corporate Ownership: Beholden to a Vision?

Below are links to stories on a connection between First Look Media, the United States government and combined influence over Ukrainian opposition groups (specifically as sources of funding for these groups). These stories also point to the problematic situation of when journalists engage in self-censorship, beholden to the ownership of the outlet they report through.

Mark Ames at Pando.com investigates speculation from Marcy Wheeler, senior policy analyst with Omidyar-owned blog The Intercept, that the rebellion in Ukraine was a coup funded by “Pax Americana.” Ames finds out who’s behind the money and calls them out.

Wheeler is partly correct. Pando has confirmed that the American government – in the form of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) – played a major role in funding opposition groups prior to the revolution. Moreover, a large percentage of the rest of the funding to those same groups came from a US billionaire who has previously worked closely with US government agencies to further his own business interests. This was by no means a US-backed “coup,” but clear evidence shows that US investment was a force multiplier for many of the groups involved in overthrowing Yanukovych.

But that’s not the shocking part.

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

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

Read the story here: http://pando.com/2014/02/28/pierre-omidyar-co-funded-ukraine-revolution-groups-with-us-government-documents-show/

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Glen Greenwald at The Intercept responds to Ames’ story, saying the article uncovers nothing that wasn’t already public knowledge and  https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/03/01/journalistic-independence/

I think it’s perfectly valid for journalists to investigate the financial dealings of corporations and billionaires who fund media outlets, whether it be those who fund or own Pando, First Look, MSNBC, Fox News, The Washington Post or any other. And it’s certainly reasonable to have concerns and objections about the funding of organizations that are devoted to regime change in other countries: I certainly have those myself. But the Omidyar Network doesn’t exactly seem ashamed of these donations, and they definitely don’t seem to be hiding them, given that they trumpeted them in their own press releases and web pages.

Greenwald admits he was unaware of Omidyar’s connection to the Ukrainian revolution group. At the same time, he says he’s never cared about the political views of publications he’s written for including Salon.com and The Guardian.

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 Jeremy 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.

There’s a very simple reason for that: they have no effect whatsoever on my journalism or the journalism of The Intercept. That’s because we are guaranteed full editorial freedom and journalistic independence. The Omidyar Network’s political views or activities – or those of anyone else – have no effect whatsoever on what we report, how we report it, or what we say.

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Paul Carr at Pando.com rips into Greenwald’s response to Ames’ investigation. http://pando.com/2014/03/01/on-the-importance-of-keeping-investors-out-of-the-newsroom-and-not-treating-your-readers-like-fools/

The point of the piece, aside from to convey facts to our readers, is that Omidyar and First Look have made statement after statement about how they aim to be a thorn in the side of the US government, and yet in several cases Omidyar has co-invested with that same US government to shape foreign policy to suit his own worldview. (A wag might point out that it’s far easier to put a thorn in someone’s side if you’re sitting next to him at an investment meeting.)

Whether Greenwald likes it or not, this is an important story and one we will continue to report.

Carr also rebukes Greenwald’s dismissal of the influence of Omidyar as publisher of First Look Media.

Pierre Omidyar, First Look’s sole backer, has a vision. A vision he spends his day sharing with First Look’s reporters via their internal messaging. By Scahill’s own admission, Omidyar’s voice is heard more frequently than any editorial staffer at the company. And yet, by Greenwald’s admission, he has spent precisely no time investigating the business deals or conflicts of interest which might shape that vision, or might lead Omidyar to try to influence the reporting by the staff whose paychecks he alone signs.

If that’s how Omidyar believes the business of media should be transacted, that’s his choice. And if Greenwald is convinced that he remains entirely incorruptible, despite the constant muzak of his master’s voice playing in the newsroom, that’s fine too. But it’s not how most media companies do things, and it’s not how we do things at Pando. By claiming otherwise, Greenwald is treating his readers as fools.

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Rem Rieder at USA Today writes that Greenwald’s response puts Ames’ investigation to rest. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/columnist/rieder/2014/03/02/flap-over-omidyar-support-for-ukrainian-group/5948821/

For years, potential or actual conflicts of interest were off-limits in American journalism. Former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. went to the extreme of refusing to vote, on the grounds that that very act might compromise his independence.

Two things have made a dent in the traditional approach: the rise of the freewheeling Internet, and the huge financial challenge facing traditional news outlets in the digital age. The latter has brought nonprofit journalism to the fore, and with it funders with social agendas.

So a new approach is achieving grudging acceptance: It’s OK if funders, news outlets and journalists have a point of view, as long as it is fully disclosed, and as long as their factual reporting sticks to the truth.

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