Why I Left The Intercept: The Surveillance Story They Let Go Untold for 15 Months
The Intercept has a long, must-read story from James Risen about the government’s targeting of him for his reporting on the war on terror. It’s self-serving in many ways — there are parts of his telling of the Wen Ho Lee, the Valerie Plame, and the Jeffrey Sterling stories he leaves out, which I may return to. But it provides a critical narrative of DOJ’s pursuit of him. He describes how DOJ tracked even his financial transactions with his kids (which I wrote about here).
The government eventually disclosed that they had not subpoenaed my phone records, but had subpoenaed the records of people with whom I was in contact. The government obtained my credit reports, along with my credit card and bank records, and hotel and flight records from my travel. They also monitored my financial transactions with my children, including cash I wired to one of my sons while he was studying in Europe.
He also reveals that DOJ sent him a letter suggesting he might be a subject of the investigation into Stellar Wind.
But in August 2007, I found out that the government hadn’t forgotten about me. Penny called to tell me that a FedEx envelope had arrived from the Justice Department. It was a letter saying the DOJ was conducting a criminal investigation into “the unauthorized disclosure of classified information” in “State of War.” The letter was apparently sent to satisfy the requirements of the Justice Department’s internal guidelines that lay out how prosecutors should proceed before issuing subpoenas to journalists to testify in criminal cases.
When my lawyers called the Justice Department about the letter I had received, prosecutors refused to assure them that I was not a “subject” of their investigation. That was bad news. If I were considered a “subject,” rather than simply a witness, it meant the government hadn’t ruled out prosecuting me for publishing classified information or other alleged offenses.
But a key part of the story lays out the NYT’s refusals to report Risen’s Merlin story and its reluctance — until Risen threatened to scoop him with his book — to publish the Stellar Wind one.
Glenn Greenwald is rightly touting the piece, suggesting that the NYT was corrupt for acceding to the government’s wishes to hold the Stellar Wind story. But in doing so he suggests The Intercept would never do the same.
That’s not correct.
One of two reasons I left The Intercept is because John Cook did not want to publish a story I had written — it was drafted in the content management system — about how the government uses Section 702 to track cyberattacks. Given that The Intercept thinks such stories are newsworthy, I’m breaking my silence now to explain why I left The Intercept.
I was recruited to work with First Look before it was publicly announced. The initial discussions pertained to a full time job, with a generous salary. But along the way — after Glenn and Jeremy Scahill had already gotten a number of other people hired and as Pierre Omidyar started hearing from friends that the effort was out of control — the outlet decided that they were going to go in a different direction. They’d have journalists — Glenn and Jeremy counted as that. And they’d have bloggers, who would get paid less.
At that point, the discussion of hiring me turned into a discussion of a temporary part time hire. I should have balked at that point. What distinguishes my reporting from other journalists — that I’m document rather than source-focused (though by no means exclusively), to say nothing of the fact that I was the only journalist who had read both the released Snowden documents and the official government releases — should have been an asset to The Intercept. But I wanted to work on the Snowden documents, and so I agreed to those terms.
There were a lot of other reasons why, at that chaotic time, working at The Intercept was a pain in the ass. But nevertheless I set out to write stories I knew the Snowden documents would support. The most important one, I believed, was to document how the government was using upstream Section 702 for cybersecurity — something it had admitted in its very first releases, but something that it tried to hide as time went on. With Ryan Gallagher’s help, I soon had the proof of that.
The initial hook I wanted to use for the story was how, in testimony to PCLOB, government officials misleadingly suggested it only used upstream to collect on things like email addresses.
We then target selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses that will produce foreign intelligence falling within the scope of the certifications.
It is targeted collection based on selectors such as telephone numbers or email addresses where there’s reason to believe that the selector is relevant to a foreign intelligence purpose.
It is also however selector-based, i.e. based on particular phone numbers or emails, things like phone numbers or emails.
Selectors are things like phone numbers and email addresses.
A term like selector is just an operational term to refer to something like an email or phone number, directive being the legal process by which that’s effectuated, and tasking being the sort of internal government term for how you start the collection on a particular selector.
So all collection under 702 is based on specific selectors, things like phone numbers or email addresses.
A selector would typically be an email account or a phone number that you are targeting.
So that’s when we say selector it’s really an arcane term that people wouldn’t understand, but it’s really phone numbers, email addresses, things like that.
So putting those cases aside, in cases where we just kind of get it wrong, we think the email account or the phone is located overseas but it turns out that that’s wrong, or it turns out that we think it’s a non-U.S. person but it is a U.S. person, we do review every single one to see if that’s the case.
That PCLOB’s witnesses so carefully obscured the fact that 702 is used to collect cybersecurity and other IP-based or other code collection is important for several reasons. First, because collection on a chat room or an encryption key, rather than an email thread, has very different First Amendment implications than collecting on the email of a target. But particularly within the cybersecurity function, identifying foreignness is going to be far more difficult to do because cyberattacks virtually by definition obscure their location, and you risk collecting on victims (whether they are hijacked websites or emails, or actual theft victims) as well as the perpetrator.
Moreover, the distinction was particularly critical because most of the privacy community did not know — many still don’t — how NSA interpreted the word “facility,” and therefore was missing this entire privacy-impacting aspect of the program (though Jameel Jaffer did raise the collection on IP addresses in the hearing).
I had, before writing up the piece, done the same kind of iterative work (one, two, three) I always do; the last of these would have been a worthy story for The Intercept, and did get covered elsewhere. That meant I had put in close to 25 hours working on the hearing before I did other work tied to the story at The Intercept.
I wrote up the story and started talking to John Cook, who had only recently been brought in, about publishing it. He told me that the use of 702 with cyber sounded like a good application (it is!), so why would we want to expose it. I laid out why it would be questionably legal under the 2011 John Bates opinion, but in any case would have very different privacy implications than the terrorism function that the government liked to harp on.
In the end, Cook softened his stance against spiking the story. He told me to keep reporting on it. But in the same conversation, I told him I was no longer willing to work in a part time capacity for the outlet, because it meant The Intercept benefitted from the iterative work that was as much a part of my method as meetings with sources that reveal no big scoop. I told him I was no longer willing to work for The Intercept for free.
Cook’s response to that was to exclude me from the first meeting at which all Intercept reporters would be meeting. The two things together — the refusal to pay me for work and expertise that would be critical to Intercept stories, as well as the reluctance to report what was an important surveillance story, not to mention Cook’s apparent opinion I was not a worthy journalist — are why I left.
And so, in addition to losing the person who could report on both the substance and the policy of the spying that was so central to the Snowden archives, the story didn’t get told until 15 months later, by two journalists with whom I had previously discussed 702’s cybersecurity function specifically with regards to the Snowden archive. In the interim period, the government got approval for the Tor exception (which I remain the only reporter to have covered), an application that might have been scrutinized more closely had the privacy community been discussing the privacy implications of collecting location-obscured data in the interim.
As recently as November, The Intercept asked me questions about how 702 is actually implemented because I am, after all, the expert.
So by all means, read The Intercept’s story about how the NYT refused to report on certain stories. But know that The Intercept has not always been above such things itself. In 2014 it was reluctant to publish a story the NYT thought was newsworthy by the time they got around to publishing it 15 months later.
Wow. That really really sucks – both at the intellectual level (Bloggers < Journalists) and in terms of how disrespectful and unfair it is to you personally. Thanks for telling the story.
Based on this article, it doesn’t sound like your experience was unique.
Ken Silverstein Explains Why He Left First Look: There Was No Freedom, Just ‘Epic Managerial Incompetence’
No. We’re saying different things. Yes, it was a pain in the ass place to work. But Ken was getting paid and being treated as a journalist.
I don’t know him or his work to really advocate one way or another, but he does mention people being hired en masse, and then collectively fired, after an enormous investment in salaries. Perhaps you were treated with disrespect via lack of appropriate consideration or sheer incompetence (in budgeting money/time), or a combination of both. The meetings, according to the article, amounted to a perpetual waste of time. At any rate, none of that is good and being treated as if you were not a journalist demonstrates hypocrisy and unfairness. No argument there.
Ken is hilarious, and seems a little unhinged. I like him a lot. Even when I disagree with him, which is often.
Ken seems to be enjoying going over the top, perhaps in mixed relief and frustration. His argument about returning his corporate computer is a case in point.
Wanting it back is hardly hypocritical on the part of his former employer. Agreeing to pay for it doesn’t solve the problem. Apart from Silverstein’s work, which he could copy and then delete, using standard, DoD-grade software, it would ordinarily contain employer specific software and protocols that should not be left in the wild. On that point, Ken is just being pissy in public.
So you’re saying that doing thesis work at the feet of Profs. Greenwald and Scahill isn’t enough?
I have no problem with Glenn and Jeremy. This was entirely about John Cook.
So I guess wrap that comment in quotes and make it from Dean Cook. The hierarchial attitude strikes me as patronizing, galling, and somehow familiar. In particular, the weighting of different types of research is problematic.
I have a lot of respect for those who appear in Democracy Now regularly, and among them are these three … GG, JS and EW. When I read your account I was reminded of Matt Taibbi, and started having second thoughts about the Intercept, but this comment gives me hope. Now that Cook is gone why can’t they get you back in, your voice is something that will add value to the site.
Bad analogy. emptywheel is not anybody’s grad student.
Dude. That. Is. The. Point. Of. My. Comment.
The larger point I’m taking from EW’s post relates to a deeply imbedded culture I see in media, deriving as it quite often does from old-school academic journalism, that holds document-based research as a terrain of bloggy grad students and other various underlings. True Journalists like Greenwald and Scahill are seen as the Luminaries for whom the various readers, wonks, calculators, sock-darners, code-scratchers, quants, grammarians, and packet-sniffers pay fealty. I take her point that GG and JS themselves need not be active participants or holders of such views, and her word that they aren’t.
In case I’m not being clear, I find this revolting and familiar. So there.
I realize that billionaires can be stingy. Warren Buffett is famous for saying he would stop anywhere to pick up a bent dime. But the Intercept chose to be conservative by preserving the outmoded distinction between “journalists” and “bloggers”. It opted for the new “gig” economy model – really, a reversion to ancient practices – of paying for piece work when what was needed were the institutional foundations – and secure employment practices – of a more progressive, American version of the Guardian newspaper
The Intercept institutionalized its less aggressive choice through compensation and status barriers, and maintained the lower status of “bloggers” and their work. That’s not a priority driven by money – except incidentally – but could always be presented as if it were.
The choice to maintain the false distinction between bloggers and journalists was a choice to rock the boat gently. It was not the Intercept’s potentially swift sloop, though, that was likely to founder in rough seas, but the coal-fired ironclad ships of the MSM.
With all due respect to Glenn and his colleagues, the Intercept has suffered from that priority and that choice ever since.
I agree with all of that. I think what happened is Omidyar at first gave Glenn et al too much, and then too little, say in things. I also think he didn’t know who to turn to for expertise on how to reinvent journalism.
The bungled deal with Matt Taibbi comes to mind.
Earl, you’re gonna have to start posting in dactylic hexameter to top the nautical section of that.
I wish I could still trust Glenn’s writing. It is too bad – he has done great work. But too many things he touches turn out to be deceitful, and worse, his responses show an inability or unwillingness to honestly engage with critics.
@Issle: “But too many things he touches turn out to be deceitful…”
Wonderful. An ad hominem attack without any specifics for the criticisms. Perhaps you should try the Fox News blog instead?
There’s enough documentation & discussion on Greenwald’s descent into buffoonery elsewhere. Let’s keep it on Marcy’s experience, being her blog and all.
You should have stopped before you hit “post comment”.
Now you just look like a jelly roll.
I’m sorry about the treatment you got, Marcy. It’s probably inherent in startups, especially given the degree of narcissism prevalent in much of journalism.
I think including Glenn Greenwald in the management of First Look was a mistake. While he has done a lot of good work, my impression is that he lacks people skills, particularly a willingness to listen to others. That was exemplified in the Snowden case, for which Laura Poitras deserves almost all of the credit, while Greenwald could have destroyed it. So, while I certainly don’t know the office dynamics of First Look at the time you were there, I can guess: lots of (mostly male) ego and not very much consideration of the larger picture.
I listened to Greenwald on DemocracyNow yesterday. Some of it was pretty good. And then he started lecturing the audience about the Russia investigation and how we shouldn’t beatify intelligence agencies that do a lot of very bad things, because they’re engaged in a “soft coup” against Trump. It started to sound like Alex Jones. Sure, the intelligence/military side manipulates and intimidates presidents. They have done some really, really bad and stupid things. But if they had had it in for Trump, they clearly had the information to do so by mid-summer 2016. What occurred may or may not rise to Manchurian Candidate levels. It might even have been mostly legal. But to blame the CIA for the fact that Trump finds himself in legal peril is purely weird, the result, I think, of ego metastatic.
You probably know better than I about the dynamics of that shop. But I think that his weird has damaged First Look/The Intercept from the beginning. A shame, because there is a lot of real talent and real promise in that organization.
I, for one, hope they will right the ship and offer you the job they ought to have in the beginning.
I read and like the Intercept, but it feels as if it will run only a nose ahead of the pack, when what’s needed is a clear front runner. It starts with first-rate employment practices. As Dick Cheney was reported to say, personnel is policy. There are many top-flight writers and investigators that can work only when they know they’ll have enough to pay the rent for several months without moonlighting at Wal-Mart.
It continues with who is hired and made secure enough to write investigative pieces, which take more time than daily, source-based journalism. That’s especially true when one is challenging the powers that be: documents are hard to come by, to analyze and to verify; sources are reluctant to talk and need to be made comfortable; those in power tend to fight back, often mercilessly. It is also essential, in that hundreds of other newspapers are being bought up and shut up, their staff put on the dole, and who are laundering cheap news bought elsewhere.
The Intercept is a needed step in the right direction. But it makes one think about its hesitancy, “If not us, then who? If not now, when?”
I have long wondered why you left The Intercept, and for that reason alone I would have been glad that you wrote this. Beyond that, I am sorry you were treated so shabbily, and particularly sorry to learn that John Cook behaved badly here, since I’ve generally been an admirer of his work as a reporter and an editor.
Thank you for persisting despite all, and for your continued diligent and focused work on these issues that are so important but so often lack that certain “Wow!” factor that light up an editor’s dark soul with visions of massive numbers of clicks and views. Document analysis matters hugely – for all of its flaws, at least the Washington Post recognizes its importance in their continued employment of David Fahrenthold. Best wishes for a bright(er) future for you, professionally and financially.
I think this is the way I. F. Stone conducted journalism. It’s clearly superior.
BTW what’s this BS about you moving to Paris? You’re needed here!!1!
There is this thing called the internets, ask Al Gore, which is supposed to make distance disappear. And sometimes being far away makes things much clearer than being up close.
I’m a big fan of history — of learning from history.
However, sometimes history prevents an understanding of the present. Or rather, insufficient analogs deceive us. With this as a caveat …
The Internet Age — including computers — is as momentous as the invention of the printing press which led directly to the Reformation and demolishing the central space — authority — occupied by the Catholic Church at the time.
I suspect a similar dynamic accompanies the internet. That is, slower, more authoritarian structures — (newspapers here, but equally applicable to, say. the Arab Spring States or the US witnessing the political ascension of Trump with Russia assistance) — cannot adapt to the new reality. Where pre-internet, “news” (information) was like a slow moving Mississippi River, the new structures are similar to Niagara Falls. A riverboat is not a barrel. Nor can a riverboat be retrofitted.
Historical analogs can be applied specifically — a bazaar becomes EBay, a shopping mall becomes Amazon, a movie theater becomes Netflix. But it cannot be applied generally. That is, existing social structures cannot be so easily commercialized (not that Google isn’t trying).
This is the Intercept’s mistake. An online magazine cannot function as a newspaper — as journalism — because there’s absolutely no story that remains static. Each and every story must be constantly monitored, revised, supplemented, and corrected. It is a collaborative effort. Risen’s retrospective today in TI (1/3/18) is a good example. I found my way here with a link in the comments section because I’m dissatisfied with the single-narrative style of journalism the NYTimes has followed for at least 150 years..
Collaborative journalism is the future. For instance, a story on — say — Iran’s street protests will supplement a headline about Iranian claims of US interference. (Russia has already figured this out as evidenced — perhaps decisively — by their participation in the US election.)
I don’t know how this should be monetized, but clearly any well-capitalized authoritarian entity — like Russia or the NYTimes — doesn’t need to deal with individual issues/employees. Almost by definition, authoritarian entities (all corporations, all States) have a single, self-reinforcing goal of more control for itself.
Not recognizing this dynamic is The Intercept’s founding mistake.
If history teaches us anything, it is that we refuse to learn from it.
What should we learn? Does Caesar teach us that history favors the bold or that history punishes the bold?
It seems to me the current paradigm shift isn’t from paper to ipads, but from static to dynamic. History is not linear, it is iterative; it is not written, it is constructed.
The best journalism today isn’t in spectacular events, brilliant writing or towering personalities, it’s found in wikipedia.
Rather than the NYTimes or CNN, Wikipedia should be the model.
Crowd sourcing and demonetizing intellectual property works. However Wikipedia is just as baked as the Intercept, NYTimes, WaPo and others with the downside of sock puppet actors involved. Not so odd that the disinformation protects the oligarchs.
Isn’t the point of collaboration — crowdsourcing — finding what works better than in the past?
Negativity slams doors shut. It seems to me the way to open those doors is to offer better alternatives.
So far, despite the ability of those with an agenda to impose that agenda in various media, Wikipedia is a quick and reliable resource. It is not the NYTimes, CNN, FoxNews or WSJ.
One reason Trump is president is because wikipedia and the rest of media not only gave the oligarch/mob/wall street a free pass they put out stories paid for by the same. To call wikipedia “reliable” is a lie. The victory of crowd sourcing is the ability to call out wikipedia as bought as any other channel.
The parasite entity Wikileaks had much more to do with Trump’s ascension from dumbshit grifter to POTUS than Wikipedia. Also Russians and Republicans had their filthy hands in this toxic stew.
Yet you blame Wikipedia for doing exactly what it promises to do?? Imagine Wikipedia refuses to accept contributions from “the oligarchy/mod/wallstreet”. How would it implement a policy that pre-censors bad actors? How would it enforce this pre-censorship? How would Wikipedia then explain to its users why the information it provides can be trusted?
You might as well blame oxygen for Trump. After all, without it, he wouldn’t be who he is.
Ultimately it comes down to what Omidyar,Sulzberger, Bezos, Murdoch, or Jimbo Wales wants to see in their media. http://www.deepcapture.com/tag/wikipedia/
An advantage of document based journalism is that you don’t get a fake source like those bloggers did.
Despite having helped expose oligarchs/mob, Sater and Trump they have been silent on the subject for 8 years or so. Meanwhile their nemesis twitter dances on the one’s mugshot after counter investigators had been all over their lives, their family’s lives and health records. https://twitter.com/gary_weiss/status/936023270738071552
I’m sure exactly what you have in mind but Wikipedia is hardly a fount of reliable information. For one thing, Wikipedia’s policy limiting so-called “reliable sources” to Anglo-American/European MSM outlets reduces its articles on contentious geopolitical issues, e.g. the war in Syria, to propaganda pieces that present as “reliable” whatever line the establishment is pushing at the moment.
How is this in any way a model for truthful journalism ?
Because of your comment, I looked at Wikipedia’s “reliable sources” page.
Here it is.
I don’t find it intentionally restrictive.
Wikipedia, like Arianna Huffington’s Post, from which she made millions, relied on freebies. That’s also the model of Ueber and the entire so-called gig economy. It doesn’t produce journalism; it produces free riding on the work of others. It’s profitable for those doing the free riding.
Personally, I’m happier that we have an independent Emptywheel.
Wow, thank you Marcy. The issue of what happened with you and the Intercept has been in my closet of unanswered questions, but I was sure it could not have been good on the part of The Intercept.
First look and The intercept have appeared to be management cluster fucks of the first order. If my recollection is correct, the job ad for Cook’s position was bizarre in the extreme. Spouse and I read it to each other, laughed, pondered what alternate universe they inhabited, and if it was spelled “California”. On a more practical level, we wondered if they would share some of the really good shit they were apparently smoking. Their descent into incompetence and misfeasance with the Reality Winner debacle was a head scratcher, but consistent with the Cook job ad and/or smoking lots of really good dope.
In addition to your departure and Taibbi’s, what has The Intercept done with Dan Froomkin? He has pretty much disappeared from print, but for years was a delightfully hard headed observer.
The Intercept lost the opportunity to benefit from your skills. But, running your own show here does have advantages, among them editorial control. FWIW, I look at The Intercept once a week or so, and visit emptywheel pretty much daily. Thanks for all you do.
Froomkin is no longer with the Intercept in any capacity.
Thank you bmaz.
Matt Taibbi was supposed to join The Intercept and launch a new publication. He bailed out and went back to Rolling Stone. Lesson: all your gods have feet of clay.
And yours don’t?
Marcy, I am very sorry to read that. Your work is good and deserves to be treated on par or higher than Greenwald in my opinion precisely because of your methodological approach.
In many ways it sounds a lot like what happened with Matt Taibbi’s publication as well. From what he said and what was published in the Intercept an initial excitement and splurge of salaries was followed by people from other parts of the Odmeyer organization being air-dropped in to provide micromanagement. That said I was not entirely surprised that they put the brakes on Taibbi. His reporting should scare anyone as dependent on the stock market as Odmeyer.
Any time one publication (the Intercept) has to run a story defending a reporter (Taibbi) from their own publisher you know it is bad.
To answer the question about Dan Froomkin upthread: in a May 2017 tweet, Froomkin announced his departure from The Intercept. He didn’t provide an explanation at the time.
Thank you sharl.
thanks for sharing this marcy.. i am sorry to hear how you were treated. they lost a real asset not including you.. however, i don’t have high regard for the intercept.. greenwald used to be someone i enjoyed reading.. there is something wrong about the intercept and pierre omidyar.. maybe controlling the storyline a particular way is what it is about.. at any rate, i don’t read gg or the intercept..there’s something wrong in the picture..
Grateful that you broke the silence about leaving the Intercept. My trust in your journalistic ethics commenced when Glenn described how you had inspired him to transition into journalism from his career as a lawyer. I need to visit with emptywheel before my day gets on rolling before the “headline aggregators” fog everything up.
GG and I had a convo about this nearly decade ago.
I argued it was pure retro-cover (post-facto immunity).
He did not get it or was in denial that the illegality of it had been already happening for many years. Telcos paid to keep quiet.
Mainway. NSA wanted data from Qwest *BEFORE* 9-11. Nacchio got railroaded for wanting FISA approval.
The measure, approved by a vote of 69 to 28, is the biggest revamping of federal surveillance law in 30 years. It includes a divisive element that Mr. Bush had deemed essential: legal immunity for the phone companies that cooperated in the National Security Agency wiretapping program he approved after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Joseph P. Nacchio was the only head of a communications company to demand a court order, or approval under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in order to turn over communications records to the NSA.
According to a Washington Post report, Nacchio claimed that the National Security Agency had asked Qwest in February 2001 to participate in a surveillance program; Nacchio said that after he declined, the NSA punished Qwest by dropping a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
The “legend” of Nacchio is one of the larger piles of crap ever. He had been cooking the books at Qwest and desperately needed money to cover. He used the demand for legal compliance as a stick to try to extort more lucrative contracts. They called his bluff. You will not see me shed a tear for Joe Nacchio.
Nacchio has maintained his innocence. Do you have any proof to back up your accusation of extortion?
To quote Mandy Rice-Davies, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Nacchio is dirt. He was Anshutz’s point man on the raid and destruction of US West. The best leadership in times of change accelerates the good and decelerates the destructive. Nacchio was the opposite, just another corporate raider leaving empty shells and abandoned jobless ex employees.
On the difference between bloggers and journalists, see this by Jay Rosen http://pressthink.org/2017/12/show-work-new-terms-trust-journalism/
Rosen says the way bloggers do news, with lots of links to source documents, explanations of method, as well as discussions of how the activity is financed and involvement of commenters is the best journalism. And we figured it out without going to journalism school or even attending one of Atrios’ blogger ethics panels.
Recently I’m starting to see more of this kind of linking to source docs at The Guardian, which I don’t recall seeing there in the past.
The academic in me looks at links as electronic footnotes — and I’ve always been a sucker for footnotes, as well as a skeptic when I don’t find any footnotes to back things up.
Thanks for your post. It does come off a little bit as a disgruntled employee in the areas you speak about the monetary reasons for why you left. I get the fact that you are/were upset at being categorized as something lower than “journalist”, and perhaps that’s the mistake of The Intercept and Cook. But trying to define the business model in a manner that tiers cost and tries to make the most cost effective structure isn’t unique to The Intercept. It’s not surprising that The Intercept would place less value on a segment of contributors in order to reduce costs. This same misconception about containing costs was the same reason for Tabibi leaving. He thought he had a blank check on his travel and story support costs.
I do enjoy your analysis and posts which is why I’ve sent money on more than one occasion. Thanks again!
Is it your opinion that what I do is not journalism? Or that only some of my labor should be compensated?
No, I believe everything you do is journalism and should be compensated fairly, especially at levels that your male counterparts get. I merely point out that The Intercept (along with all other businesses) attempt to downplay or stratify labor in order to cut costs. And that seems to be what happened with you’re leaving them. In the middle of negotiations, they had some change of strategy regarding their business model and you ended up getting caught up in it. ie…too many people on the payroll being a new company and unsure where revenue was going to come from or how much.
They will negotiate. If you can’t get full employment from them, so what. Get what you can and do specific work for them and at a cost you feel is fair and best represents your work. Be a paid contributor on a case by case basis if need be. Too many good opportunities are generally thrown down the drain when two parties can’t come to an agreement. And as your following grows, you will be able to command more compensation.
I work in Finance/Accounting so I see these sorts of situations quite frequently. I’m sure HR people see it more than I do, but I think for The Intercept, it was, or is, merely a matter of cost containment especially since they don’t know what revenues will be coming and how soon.
In any case, I do really love your writing and I do personally value your work. ie..I put my money where my mouth is. ;) Best wishes and happy new year.
If I could tell you how many times I saw employees of companies were let go and then the company turns around and makes them a paid consultant at a rate higher than when they were a full employee, I’d have a tidy sum by now. Companies don’t like having headcount on the books.
They’re also offloading employer FICA taxes, healthcare costs, and pension expenses, which may make the “higher rate” paid to the consultant actually lower than the full cost they were paying in the past.
On the other hand . . .
I’ve also seen cases where a company offers a retirement/resignation buyout to a whole category of employees, then are surprised when too many of them accept it and they have to lure at least a couple back as consultants, just to keep things running.
Yeah, just accept that your employer is screwing you over and make the best of it! If everyone just put up and shut up and never stood for themselves that would be…terrible and give even more power to bloated capitalists who already have a god complex and much more money than sense.
There is more than 1 way to get “What You Want” without being an employee.
2. Paid for Article (either single article or a series on 1 topic)
3. Writing a book
I think people who feel that being someone else’s employee is the ONLY way to get what you want are severely limiting themselves….especially JOURNALISTS.
Now you are just being a complete asshole. Where in the world is it your prerogative to tell Marcy her “options”, or judge them? You need to take a step back.
And, by the way, maybe now would be a good time for you to disclose your biases that led you to enter this commentary on “this” contradictory track. What’s up with you?
How is recognizing other options “being an assh*le”?
Really? All’s I’ve ever said is that if Marcy cannot get a full employment deal from First Look Media, then explore other ways of negotiating that leads to income and contribution.
I’m sorry if you feel that compromise is ‘being an assh*le”, but I think you’re off base.
My bias as you call it, is that I work in Finance/Accounting and take a practical approach to resolving problems and trying to find alternate solutions.
I think you and others are too locked into the notion that being an employee is the only way to make a decent living. There are literally millions of Americans who are self-employed that would beg to differ.
My spouse is a consultant and makes more money doing that than being an employee. All’s I’m saying is that there are always alternatives and options.
So things, and parameters, you have no clue in the world about, ought to be reduced to what you and your spouse contemplate?
Thanks for revealing where you are at.
I think as a lawyer and a journalist who’s been published in various well known publications & on various TV, Marcy likely knows quite well how to work as an independent consultant and a per-piece journalist.
I think the point was she started off being invited to this new promising gig as 1 of upcoming talent – not running after it herself – and then it turned into a bunch of douchery that left her as a factory second rather than a respected professional. Yeah, we can all work for free or go get a dayrate job. With all the fanfare of a billionaire funding next gen liberal journalism, that hardly seems like an impressive or expected outcome, though in the end I guess it does fit with the Uber suck-em-till-they’re-dry contractor model. Bait-and-switch. Disappointing.
We’ve probably all taken or acquired the equivalent of Econ. 101 and read What Colour is Your Parachute. The point of Marcy’s article was that the Intercept began with an incomplete business model and changed tack in the middle of its launch in a very traditional corporate way – cut staff and staff comp, move people to piece work pay.
As others who have left the Intercept have noted, it’s not a way to run a battleship, or to obtain and retain the skills of high quality journalists, many of whom do investigative reporting. What could have been an egalitarian business model reverted to type. More demoralizing, given its aspirations, it created tiers or classes of “employee”. That’s the sort of thing failing manufacturers do to cut union costs and lower their influence. It’s not a well-worn path for novel start-up enterprises funded by well-meaning billionaires.
The Intercept is a vanity piece. I’m glad it exists. We need it. It is doing essential work done by few others. It can do more, but it is stumbling, as are others (the SFChronicle comes to mind).
The Intercept once talked about following the “endowed” model of the Guardian, rather than the overtly commercial – sponsored news – model of a paper run by Rupert Murdoch. I hope they get back on track. We’d all be the better for it.
Yes, every bit of this. And I mean that sincerely; I have many friends at the Intercept that I truly love and want to succeed. And they do great work.
I agree with everything you stated here. But just because management over there behaves this way doesn’t mean that it’s All or Nothing on getting something out of it. From my point of view, there are other options in order to make the relationship work. That’s all, IMHO.
I’m not sure about the timeframe of when Marcy was over there, but people also seem to forget that they are a startup and generally, startups don’t have their ducks in a row and aren’t perfectly organized on how they are going to run their business.
It seems to me that instead of spending time on creating some new business model, they fell into what they knew because they were comfortable doing that.
Anyways, thanks for being the civil one around here unlike other unnamed commenters. Cheers!
For Christ’s sake, this is an eBay founder/billionaire we’re talking about who cut his teeth on successful startups and put a billion dollars into his innovation group that “invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic, social, and political change. ” Plus had experience with publishing outlets in Hawaii. (the Vanity Fair piece does seem to state that Omidyar was trying to develop on new journalism best practices – such as use of Asana – & business practices, and no one else was going to play ball).
It seems more like they tried to create a Blind Faith supergroup rather than recruiting towards those who would work together, and worse, it was like last days of the Talking Heads where everyone’s doing their solo projects rather than finding time to show up to the shop to help build the org. A lot of strange tunnel vision at work there.
[baseball teams another useful analogy]
The Intercept had an opportunity to be a model employer for a new form of journalism. It seems to have chosen the “gig economy” model instead, which it paired with an inability to hire managers who can manage.
Greenwald, Poitras and Scahill and others should investigate and report. From all the newspapers who’ve drastically cut back, from LA to Boulder and Boston to NYT and Austin, there must be good editors who’ve lost their jobs who could improve the work at the Intercept.
At the end of the day, the costs of paying employees and overhead has to come from somewhere. If it’s not philanthropy, then a revenue stream of either a parent company or on your own or from advertisers.
Lots of websites are using the Not For Profit model and simply requesting donations. Ultimately, the print media market has to come up with a sustainable way of paying for the costs it incurs whether it’s salaries, rent, utilities, computers, servers, etc.
People eyeball the internet and think just because they can surf it easily that it’s free. There are real costs on every webpage they visit. There’s a person like Marcy at the other end and either people can pony up and pay through subscriptions/donations or have advertisers pay her for services
I’ve never read a single article on “The Intercept” but I read EW regularly (often twice over in order to get the full content). Quality beats ego everyday.
The story confirms that Marcy is not a team player. Maybe even confirming it to herself. It’s the reason the work is so good. It is an almost monumental achievement to be noticed if your not on a team. Attached to an institution, be it government, party, corporation or NGO.
I beg to differ – I think Marcy’s work is very good, but could be better with the right team and resources – the new model journalism might have worked with intent to provide proper management and marshalling synergies between the heavy hitters. Why Cook backed by a billionaire had to start off with cheapskating on what was a rather small team to start with, Idunno. I can’t imagine Marcy being worth less than the others at the time due to 1) her street cred after pursuing the Bradley/Chelsea Manning case, along with 2) displayed expertise in then trendy government surveillance issues (appealing among other audiences to some key gov insiders), and 3) her ability to read, parse & provide understandable analysis of massive amounts of legal & related documents (and organizing crowd analysis as well) – maybe some of this can be handled with AI, but there’s a human touch that’s hard to beat, especially in drawing a crowd.
It’s funny how many times we neglect basic project management and office organization and task definitions and other fundamentals, and instead throw all resources & attention at a few superstars expecting that to gel better than a coordinated team with an aligned mission to make a coherent news organization & publication(s). The big boys are supposed to be too set in their ways for this; the more shoestring, ad hoc “citizen journaliss” and similar are supposed to have the flexibility & the new chops to run circles around the dinosaurs. Excepting they can’t defy gravity.
I meant this as the highest possible praise but I guess it didn’t turn out that way, for some. Then too my ‘team player’ thing is a bit too meta to fit in a tiny space. Let me put it this way.
The company man is an inferior man. At least in so far as the American ideal of the primacy of the individual. An idea now dying, for better or for worse.
I see. Unfortunately electronic communication such as this wrings the wry out of intended context. As you deduce, your meta hit a Sore Point. And if you’ve ever had a Sore Point you know what I’m talkin’ about. I sense you’re converging towards a form of apology here.
To be clear, your praise of Marcy came across fine, and my defense efforts weren’t to disparage her solo work either. I just think that teams scale better, produce more output, can offer more cross-checking & pollination of ideas, etc., though obviously have their downsides to. Anyway, pls don’t go apologizing as posited below, not required.
Having worked with Marcy myself, I beg to differ as well. Strenuously, vigorously, and unapologetically.
If this story confirms anyone not being a team player, it’s John Cook. “You’re on the team as long as you’ll work for free” is not exactly the language of a good team captain, nor is excluding a teammate from the team meeting.
Team player is a corporate-speak term used to promote unquestioning submission and conformity to the corporation. Unhappy about your recent pay cut? Nobody else on the team seems to mind and neither should you. After all you are still privileged enough to work here, right? There’s a good team player, I knew you would understand!
Yeah. In my experience, it’s the ladies that are disproportionately expected to be “team players”. And that are disproportionately made to pay a social price for “not” being a “team player”. Just sayin’.
Precisement. Standard HR model in today’s employee-friendly work environment.
I suggested to my VP at a blue chip semiconductor company that an engineer could be a team player or an innovator, not both. Ok, so a very black and white statement, but he didn’t argue. Team players are certainly needed for the diligent cranking work very large projects, but there you’re looking for execution not innovation. Innovation is often against mainstream thinking, so those ideas gets stopped in teams due to risk.
Also, within a team, a team player can be simply someone who isn’t a prima donna to work with.
Maybe I missed it, but was there a substantive, journalism-based reason that Cook gave for not running with Section 702 / Cybersecurity story?
Just that he believed the application was not one that was newsworthy because it was valuable.
Compliments from Don Rickles. Being a team player is useful in rowing, lest you go round and round. Investigative journalism, in the manner of Izzy Stone or Sy Hersh, is about something else entirely.
Re: milton wiltmellow @1:45 PM on Jan 3
Arrived here via the TI’s Risen article comment section reference as well, and will return again soon to this motley company.(:-}
The question did come to mind as to rather or not a similar administrative malfunction befell Matt Taibbi’s association with First Look.
My own experience with reporters is negative in that they have their own agendas and do not get the ‘story’
right since they want to ‘prove’ their own case. And I liked them all.
This started for me at Columbia in 1968 with the NY Times, and then at Stuyvesant HS with the Times, the WSJ,
It is almost ‘if you do not see it with your own eyes (ears, etc.), do not believe it’…
Best, Neal H. Hurwitz, NY NY
I am leaving out what might be the ‘ugly’ details: how the Times in ’68 did the bidding of Sulzberger, a Columbia
Trustee… how DH lied to me when he did the Stuyvesant story in ’03; how KT got info wrong (even after I told her several
times the ‘facts’) recently in the Times; LF was very young when she did the Stuyvesant story for the WSJ (I think it was ’08…); and Vernon is a Stuyvesant grad with his own axe to grind when he did the Bloomberg story recently. As I say, I liked them all, but very disappointed with their work.
Thank you, Neal
What I really value in your analysis work (and I think you are a first-rate government analyst) is your ability to decipher the turgid, vague and intentionally misleading statements from the government agencies, and compare them with omissions, language similarities and other subtle hints present in previously published documents and court filings (that are for a uninitiated person nearly impossible to dig out, read and comprehend, not mentioning to remember) and come up with a plausible guess what kind bureaucratic game is going on in the background and how it is being sold to the Congress.
I have never powers of deduction in a journalist that comes close to EW. Also it takes a boatload of integrity to stay on the career course EW has kept to; actually I think Marcy kind of invented something I cant put my finger on. Its very very lame that thisis thread is getting Hijacked by an angry accountant/comptroller making first year MBA efficiency arguments. Dude, absolutely everyone has heard from your type soo many times before.
I agree. There is no one who can find and sort the weeds of fact, and analyze, and make such intelligent, fine-grained deduction. From so many vectors of information. And with instant recall. The high-level sorting system in EW’s brain is unique. This is the place I go each morning to find the truth . . . and what it means. She is a national treasure of the highest order.
Nice heads up from Lambert Strether at nakedcapitalism.com’s “Links” comment for today.
Now who is being the assh*le?
The answer to that is easy, it is you:
Jesus, you wander in and make your only real significant presence here chafing on how the proprietor of this blog, Marcy, gets compensated in life, and substitute your judgement for hers?
Seriously?? That is your play? Get out.
Another issue with Intercept model of journalism, or whatever they do, is that they have made it so easy to piggyback on the work of investigators they have lead along with promises of publishing x or y, paying for x or y. It’s inevitable that a writer gives them the story they are working on, even before they are really done with the story. If the head office of some blog aggregator says no thanks to a freelancer, what can the freelancer do to actually protect the info they let out of the bag simply by approaching the outlet in the first place. These new economy shops can always just take crux of a story and go confirm it on their own, even make it look like they were the first on the scent – all while saying no thanks to the person that first got the idea and did the spade work. That would infuriate me, In a losely analogous way, this has happened to me in the legal sector, its infuriating and you cannot read the persons work without thinking of the past for a long time afterwards.
I felt like there was a hint of being pissed off about that in the EW post here, but that is up to her to spell out if she wants to.
Anyways, I will be paypaling money for membership here, I have freeloaded long enough.
EW simply rocks.
Thanks EW for the story on the NSA and theIntercept. You lead by example. For anyone else I try to explain that each person controls their own worth. Don’t let your enemies, friends, employers or tides of reality define you. It is a mugs game to value one’s self by a job that can become obsolete.
It is common ploy to hire, promote or bonus in order to fire or run off someone(s), or reorganize and so forth. A given manager could be the message not the policy setter.
Given the discussion of First Look Media’s business model, and the fact that I had already dug up a couple links yesterday to jog my memory about the circumstances of Matt Taibbi’s departure from FLM, here is that stuff for anyone who might be interested…
The heavy hitters over on the editorial side at The Intercept – Greenwald, Poitras, Scahill, and editor John Cook – wrote a lengthy ‘insider account’ of what happened with Taibbi on 30-Oct-2014. Gawker’s J.K. (Keenan) Trotter wrote a bit more on this on the same day. Both pieces tacked on a late statement from Alex Pareene, who was originally slated to be the executive editor for Taibbi’s ultimately doomed Racket vertical at FLM.
It’s speculation on my part – YMMV and all that – but I found Pareene’s bit the most informative, and it suggested to me that Omidyar and his business management team thought they wanted an outside-the-box, no-holes-barred aggressive reporting team, but got cold feet when they got a closer look at who and what they would be dealing with, to the extent that they decided their business SOP was more important to them than whatever promise Racket might have offered. So RIP to Racket, which never came to be. [I still miss the goofy and hilarious Racket Teen tumblr, which is what the soon-to-be-unemployed Racket staff “busied themselves with” after Taibbi’s departure, while waiting for their inevitable axing. The Hot Take Boards were great!]
A billionaire libertarian kleptocrat was never going to fund or allow a real progressive alternative to the main stream media. So after the initial PR hoopla Omidyar put the brakes on. I remember writing at the time that the enterprise lacked everything that might be expected from a serious business or a progressive project. No clear structure or mission. Personally, I have never forgiven Greenwald and Poitras for not releasing the Snowden files to the public. Sure a few names and such might need to be removed and that is where the effort should have been focused. As it is, they have held on to them for so long that they have become obsolete and irrelevant.
Hi Hugh, long time.
Release the entire Snowden material? THAT was your wish, and plan??
That is just stunning. Must be nice to so play with the lives of Snowden, Greenwald, Laura Poitras and MacAskill.
What other lives in the breech are you willing to play with from your comfy chair?
You think nobody dies as long as the papers don’t go out?
Oh wait, tribal. My bad.
Can you put that into a coherent sentence and/or paragraph, por favor?
Ah bmaz, of course, what was I thinking? All pertinent information should be passed through gatekeepers like you, Greenwald, and Poitras so that you can tell us what we are supposed to think and know. This form of kneejerk anti-populist elitism is the very hallmark of classical liberalism/neoliberalism and the antithesis of real progressivism. Apparently Greenwald and Poitras were under no danger as long as they turned the Snowden files into their very own cottage industry, cherrypicking stories from the trove, turning access in part or in whole to radical organizations like the Post and NYT, but release it to a bunch of deplorables? and the heavens would open up. And you make it sound like Greenwald and Poitras are leading very uncomfy lives, but the last I heard Greenwald was living a super comfy life in Brazil and Poitras ditto from her loft in the trendiest city in Europe, Berlin.
But thank you, you remind me why I almost never come to sites like this one anymore. dk has it right. It is about the tribalism. Critical thought and analysis do not have a universal application. Rather they are only to be used against those not in the tribe. So if Greenwald and Poitras were conservatives hoarding this info and dribbling it out when and to whom they saw fit, they would be judged harshly, but as they are members of your liberal tribe, they are given a pass.
My response to Risen:
Risen, how can you present yourself as an authority on CIA and the “war on terror” and never acknowledge that CIA knew Al Qaeda terrorists were in the country for 16 months prior to 9/11? This is confirmed in the 2005 CIA Inspector General Report (you should know) as well as by Richard Clarke, the “Counter-Terrorism Czar” on 9/11. CIA did absolutely nothing to stop the attacks and conversely obstructed the FBI efforts to do so, as we learned from numerous FBI agents who complained about it.
How can you present the CIA with a straight face and never tell readers about the arguable HIGH TREASON that allowed the attacks to happen? There is a significant movement fighting against your brand of limited hangout, the suppression of vital facts surrounding 9/11. You, of course, make no mention of other aspects of the cover up, such as the suppression of FBI surveillance in Sarasota, and the ongoing legal battle to expose what the FBI counter-terrorism (intelligence) section also knew before the attacks.
What you present is journalistic malfeasance in order to sell books. If you called out CIA for its apparent HIGH TREASON in aiding and abetting Al Qaeda prior to 9/11, you wouldn’t be so welcome across the media to promote your wares.
I’m disgusted utterly that you don’t even bother mentioning the revelations about the Saudis, those 28 pages which you apparently couldn’t be bothered to read. The word “Saudi” appears zero times above, and that should tell readers how much stock to place in your insider expose…
Welp, that is quite the amazing statement. Anything else you want to get off your chest?
My condolences. Save some energy for after the indictments come down.
The Whack-a-Mole game is getting tiring.
At least it says they’re running scared.