Processing Distortion with Peter B. Collins: Insider View of First Look- the Billionaire Omidyar’s Intercept

Peter B. Collins Presents Journalist Ken Silverstein

After 14 months at billionaire Pierre Omidyar’s media startup, First Look, Ken Silverstein bailed out, pulling the ripcord at the end of February. Admittedly disgruntled and angry, Silverstein offers a stark, insider’s perspective, describing Omidyar as a “pathetic clown” who did not interfere in the journalism because “he’s not smart enough”. Promised the resources and freedom to practice “fearless journalism”, Silverstein reveals micromanaging over bar receipts by the billionaire, and massive dysfunction that prevented his stories from being published. Taking swipes at former colleagues Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, Silverstein also slams Pando for its reporting on his departure, and gets pretty testy when asked if he should’ve researched Omidyar before he went to work for him.

*Ken Silverstein founded Counterpunch, and reported for the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s. His most recent book is The Secret World of Oil. You can read his recent article @ Politico.

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  1. jpcarson says:

    Journalists who believe in first amendment should “grow up” and take more control of their profession, as someone described in the wikipedia article on “profession.” No, obviosly journalists cannot be regulated by a state board, as MDs, dentists, engineers, etc. are. But they can create national consensus boards to self-certify and self-regulate practictioners of the journalism profession. Then they could insist that their corporate employers or “sugar-daddy” employers accept, as a condition of their employment, that they have the autonomy and resources to comply with the “rules of professional conduct” of their professional certifying Board.

    Joe Carson, PE

    • softmachine72 says:

      This whole project sounds like a “honey trap” , Omidyar, lured all these journalists with these, “write your own job description” deals, as a result their collective talents are squandered for the period they put up with the dysfunction at First Look. There are only so many journalists out there doing the type of deep investigative reporting that the public is in deep need of. It seems, for a time, First Look Managed to keep a stable of them unproductive, for a fat pay check . I do not know who’s interest that serves but, it is not the public. BTW This Silberstein guy seems like a real prick, although it is fascinating to watch a train wreck sometimes. Peter, you handled it all with grace keep up the good work.
      L

      • Softmachine,

        “This Silberstein guy seems like a real prick…”- My past experience (2006-2007) confirms this observation as well.

        I also happen to like some of the investigative work done by two guys at Pando.com.

        Yes, peter is always graceful.

        • He sounds a bit like the typical snooty american jewish person but that’s okay, every american strata of population has their own stereotypes. But his voice kinds sounds like Artie Ziff from the Simpsons.

          • Silberstein pissed me off so much that I almost had to stop listening. “Jewish people like to argue?” Speak for yourself pal… “Arguing” requires an exchange to take place and he wasn’t even letting Peter ask any questions to begin with! What a schmuck.

  2. kdellacioppa says:

    You are a very gracious and skilled interviewer Peter. I get that guy needs to feed his kids. (Dont we all?) but thats no excuse for being so blind as to who is paying your bills and then getting all angry about being treated the way others were treated. BTW, speaking of NAZIs what about the fact that Omidyar gave a ton of money to NED friendly NGOs in the Ukraine that helped bring neonazis to power!, since KS said several times that he would never support NAZIs but he was working for a fellow traveler! Also what about the conversation that this is the sad tragic state of journalism where you have to worry about the politics of those who hire you. This was an enlightening interview. Thanks, Kara

    • “…speaking of NAZIs what about the fact that Omidyar gave a ton of money to NED friendly NGOs in the Ukraine that helped bring neonazis to power!”- Glad you brought this up.

      • kdellacioppa says:

        Doug Valentine has a bunch of info on the NGOs and names and specifics.. but yeah its funny how he said several times he would draw the line at the Nazis, and be so incredulous that he was probably being paid by one!

        • kdellacioppa,

          Welcome to our forum!

          See, Valentine is one of those rare journalists, thus, completely pushed out of the mainstream and pseudo-alternative circle. The guy has had integrity; consistently. Thank you for bringing him up and the relevancy.

        • Ronald Orovitz says:

          His annoying manners aside, Silverstein’s characterization is probably right and Omidyar is… shall we say, if not a complete dim-wit, he is just incurious, and doesn’t know who his “civil society” support money is really supporting. I imagine that the deep state actors who do know must be guffaw to each other when they think about how they’re able to get well-meaning Western liberals to support Nazis in Ukraine and al Qaeda in Libya/Syria, etc…. All in the name of Freedom and Democracy!

          I believe it is Peter Thiel who is the money bags behind Pando… He is somewhat in the same club as Omidyar: nouveau riche, perhaps a bit Pollyannish about how they can better the world with their money and good intentions, as opposed to the old money… your Rockefellers, Rothschilds, etc., who are seasoned Malthusian cynics and really wouldn’t bat an eye in lending support to Nazis and ISIS…

  3. This conversation was like listening to a train wreck in slow motion! I’m very impressed by Peter’s ability to stay focused and calm even when his guest is going borderline haywire. I don’t feel like I can judge Silverstein based on this — he could be a great guy — but testy, testy, testy! wow! I think he would have spent the whole hour bitching about his petty reimbursement issues if Peter had let him. But some interesting glimpses into life in Omidyar’s world. I’d have liked to hear more about *why* he found it so hard to get things published there. He said incompetence, but…details, details, details….

    • John,

      My long-time-ago past experience with Silverstein has been anything but positive.

      Peter, as always, was professional, gracious, classy … all the qualities has made him shine for 3 decades (and this is why I’d never be an interviewer; I am not that gracious, professional or classy).

      For me, the positive side: Silverstein is the second guy leaving Omidyar-Greenwald-Scahill charlatan network. Tabibi left before him. With each one of them the general public (not us, since we’ve long known about this fakery)will get to wake up a little but more. As far as I know, I was the first person to come out publicly and question/criticize/ the billionaire and his sheep-dipped cabal. Of course, it came with all the attacks, shunning, etc. I’d say give it another year or so, and you will have dozens of people out there with info on this deep-state designed plot. Tabibi, Silverstein … and there will be more. When that time comes (it is coming), we will be watching/listening to all those people who refused to see all the facts/signs that were very obvious to us, coming out and marveling at ‘new revelations’ on their past heroes.

      • CuChulainn says:

        Marcy Wheeler has also left, no?

        • CuChu,

          Yes. She did so very quietly. Ax far as I know she has never provided any explanation or information. I also know that Omidyar has made all his sheep-dipped/soul-sellers sign dynamite-filled confidentiality agreement; filled with so many booby-traps that apply long after one leaves his kingdom. That brings another important point: No one with integrity would ever sign such agreements; especially ‘journalists.’

          Call me too rigid, anal … whatever. But I am who I am. I could have milked my whistleblowing/exposure in 100 different ways: utilize it for particular NGO (publicity), utilize it for one of the two corrupt parties (join the D or R camp), join the mainstream propaganda circuit …. Believe me, all those opportunities, ‘Traps,’ came with significant dollar number attached and other perks. I said ‘no’ to all. In the end that may have left me alone, among a minute irate minority group, but I rather live with integrity and be true to myself (and others) rather than the pursuit of $$$$/fame/perks (opportunisms.

          • steven hobbs says:

            Hi Sibel & Peter,
            Yep, a Faustian offer is well identified early. As you proclaim Sibel, “Peter, as always, was professional, gracious, classy.” My ears were breathing and jumping off my head in rhythm, & sync. How difficult to interview sans defensiveness?

            Peter, inviting disclosure via query with “sensitive guests” is unpredictable. You surely didn’t know this. I would like to have your tonal range and control. Thank you Peter. Thank you Sibel

  4. doublek321 says:

    I think it is a legitimate criticism of Ken to say that he should have (but didn’t) look into who he was working for (Omidyar). It was very interesting to me that Ken emphasized that he was paid very well and that he needed the money for his family yet still had the integrity to quit that job. I give him a lot of credit for that. If I was told that he was well-paid, needed the money, and didn’t do a background check on who he was working for, I would’ve assumed he would’ve just stayed for the money. The fact that he didn’t makes him an interesting interviewee to me. It’s part of why I enjoyed this interview and I hope Peter is serious about bringing him back. Fwiw, I also have reservations about Scahill and Giuliani so it was interesting to hear him talk about them as well.

    Btw, Peter, Bill Maher’s name (as far as I know) is pronounced as if it was spelled “Marr”. I always kind of “internal chuckle” when you pronounce it “maah-her”.

    Lastly, as far as the question of “would you take money from (some person or group that you think of in a negative light)?” I don’t necessarily see why that specifically is an issue. Ron Paul received donations from a group that I think was a neo-nazi type group. He gave an outstanding answer when asked about it, saying he’d rather those people NOT have the money anyway. I’m in agreement w/ him there. That being said, I wouldn’t want to work for a group like that (e.g. be a journalist for) because I’m sure people would view me in a negative way for that (rightfully so if one were to go into a gig like that knowing the details beforehand).

    • doublek,

      ‘I give him a lot of credit for that.”- That’s a valid point. I certainly give the credit where it is due: he did the right thing with quitting (rather than staying, silently, for the money). On the other hand, he claims he is an investigative journalist. With Omidyar he didn’t even have to do much research or digging. So obvious, open, with established track record out there for everyone to see.

      “It’s part of why I enjoyed this interview and I hope Peter is serious about bringing him back …”- Peter is always serious, and he always means what he says (I’ve known him for 12+ years; pure integrity). It will depend on whether Silverstein will be willing to return.

      “Maa-her”- I have been pronouncing it that way as well. See, this is what we get when we don’t ever watch TV. I have never watched a single thing with Maher or Stewart, Matthews … or … Since 2003 I’ve been completely unplugged.

      “… don’t necessarily see why that specifically is an issue…”- For 90+% of the cases I see a ‘huge’ issue with that. Because the general rule says: ‘There is no free lunch’- Money, especially, large sums, always come with strings attached. I don’t know if I have seen any real life cases where that has not been the case. It applies doubly or more so to journalists.

      • doublek321 says:

        “For 90+% of the cases I see a ‘huge’ issue with that”

        I totally understand (and agree with) your point. I guess I always try to reconcile where the same types of criticisms might be levied at someone who I like (Ron Paul) and try to pinpoint what the difference is. I think it’s very important that we always check ourselves this way to try to be as logically consistent as possible.

        In Ken’s defense, I think a lot of good/decent people work for companies that are, on the whole, bad. Not everyone who works for government/banking/legal/education is a bad person (though the institutions they work for might well be). But I admit it is – at the very least – “curious” that an investigative reporter would do no research on who they’re working for. But hey – if it turned out that Omidyar actually was willing to let Ken post articles that would shed light on stuff then it would be all the better. We’re probably more likely to see a unicorn (and Ken probably should’ve known that) but again, I’ll give him credit for leaving.

        A couple more points :

        I meant to mention this in my original post but I want to give Peter a lot of credit for being extremely classy in the interview. Ken acted like a petulant child at times but Peter never took it personally and consistently brought the interview back to what was relevant. Peter – even though I disagree w/ you at times (e.g. I think you believe Snowden is the real deal and I’ve also heard you praise Nancy Pelosi once or twice), I don’t question your sincerity (which is why I’m a subscriber).

        Sibel, in the age of YouTube, I don’t think it’s necessary to be “plugged in” to see clips of Bill Maher’s show. I barely watch TV and I’m absolutely no fan of Maher but I do think it’s important to see what type of propaganda the MSM is spewing to the public (which is part of the reason I’ll, on occasion, watch clips of his).

        One example of propaganda is below (a clip of an episode of Barney Miller someone posted on DailyPaul.com). It’s eye-opening to me to see how long this stuff has been going on.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fv6w_ys5sJo

        Lastly, thank you both to Sibel and Peter for the work you do. I have great respect for you both.

  5. kdellacioppa says:

    Ken Silverstein seemed to me to be criticizing Scahill and Greenwald more out of an indignant sense of professional jealously rather than out of some journalistic principle.. I mean he mentioned how GG lives in brazil and makes more money than him (KS) and how Scahill is always on Bill Maher.
    BTW, the Manson comment about Scahill was really funny and dark and has some deep connotations about American culture..

  6. wallace gromit says:

    ken is quite the character, haha

  7. He is one of the most petty humans, this interview is a very revealing listen. The new snowjob cabal seems to be creating the narrative.
    The train has derailed.
    Life is either ENTERTAINING or DULL.. Like, … why bother? NSA is soooooo dull!! NBA is SO much more entertaining..
    Peter survived one mans angry gossip filled rant with very little value, It makes one wonder if he isn’t a DISTRACTION. (my wife thinks he is just an alcoholic and drunk during the interview)

    • “(my wife thinks he is just an alcoholic and drunk during the interview)”

      Me thinks your wife is on to something.

      On one level this all comes off as pettiness and gossip, but it’s also quite a commentary on the difficulties inherent in modern civilization that by its design has all but eliminated independent livelihoods. I’m not excusing Ken’s choices, but achieving some semblance of independence is a trick and requires trade offs.

  8. Straight out , its a listen worth the ride for one reason and another. A real look, rather than a first look (;) Gossip? Maybe. Disgruntled ..a little..maybe/probably, .but Insightful too. the conversation around number of SNOWDEN files so far published argues for them never seeing light of day. a probability I first read at BFP. they never will and never were supposed to.

  9. PeterB, I normally love listening to your interviews but I had to turn this one off. This guy pissed me off. And I know I’ve made an emotional decision in dismissing him but comments like, ‘I try to never write anything of value’ just made me lose all respect for him.

  10. Castillonis says:

    I am surprised that I listened to the entire interview. It was ironical that Silverstein spent so much time during the interview complaining about reimbursement of his expenses. Especially when his chief complaint was that The Intercept was too incompetent and dysfunctional to publish articles on a regular basis. Silverstein was grossly interfering with Peter’s attempt to ask meaningful questions. Ken was petty and seemed very unprofessional. Though, I hope that we can now move on and not allow this to distract us from much more important issues. I am suspicious that Omidyar is cognizantly coopting these investigative journalist. Removing them from the market. Delaying and distracting them. He does not need to be the sharpest person to carry out a plan suggested by others. I am only surprised that their is no distance and plausable deniability by Omidyar playing such an involved day to day role in the organization.

  11. As others mentioned, I can’t make a comment here without acknowledging Peter B’s impenetrable fortress of composure. Which is key with this particular interviewee, who seemingly and near constantly attempted to derail the interview into a frothy mess. With that said, there is some interesting distortion coming from Silverstein here, and although distortion no less, here is what I heard from this man:

    I really want my $5000.
    The only thing wrong with First Look is that it is incompetent.
    Omidyar is a ‘pathetic clown’ who is merely ‘lucky’.
    I don’t know anything about the Snowden docs or Prism slides.
    I really admire Snowden. Snowden is a hero.
    I am a disgruntled former employee of First Look.
    I am way more bitter about the Super Bowl than I am about First Look.
    I’m not interested in the NSA, I am really interested in the NBA.
    Peter, by following the NSA instead of the NBA, you are following the wrong thing.
    The NBA is satisfying and positive.
    I censor my own communications because of the NSA… but I don’t worry about it… I email what I want to email.
    Glenn Greenwarld is an iconoclast and a good endorsement.

    When pressed on the subject of researching Omidyar prior to First Look employment, he responds “Look. This is journalism, Peter. I’m trying not to be upset and you’re just upsetting me… Are you telling me that I have to look at [where the money comes from]… it’s ridiculous. It’s a preposterous assertion… You have to make a living one way or another… It’s just not a really useful conversation… Is there something else you want to talk about?” After listening and reading through 14 solid episodes of Sibel’s new Probable Cause series, this is a no brainer and really speaks for itself.

    On the whole, he has responded to Peter with infantile answers, which plays perfectly on the mindset of the masses. There was almost nothing of substance, almost pure distortion, or like someone mentioned, distraction. My lasting thought on Silverstein is that although he won’t do anything for money, he will take money directly from almost anybody… except Nazis.

  12. 344thBrother says:

    hmmmmmmm…
    Re Silverstein:
    “Methinks thou doth protesteth too much feels right.”

    Really tough interview handled with grace and aplomb. Good job, I enjoy your work.
    p
    d

  13. 344thBrother says:

    I thought that Silverstein said that he’s a huge NBA fan and doesn’t bother to read about the NSA says a lot about where his priorities and mine diverge.

    I’m not going to be looking for his articles with anything like baited breath.
    : )
    d

  14. contextofnocontext says:

    this guy is a shining example of the preening self-regard that blinds guild members from the deeper truths of their endeavors.

  15. Mr. Silverstein (shudder, sorry, i hope he’s not related to Lucky Larry) seems to be describing a dot com bubble company where everyday is casual friday and there isn’t rules at all and the money just rakes in anyway…until it doesn’t, unless you’re ebay…so yeah Omidyar seems stuck there.

  16. I’m going to buck the trend and I say I really enjoyed this interview. Peter’s wonderful ability to stay on point and not get drawn into a squabble is quite impressive.

    That said, this guest is a spineless idiot. If you don’t care who pays your wages and don’t care what you’re writing about or who you’re writing for then don’t, whatever you do, become a journalist. Becomes someone who writes advertising copy for Adidas or something. You can still get paid, and the people who actually have a brain and a spine can get on with the difficult job of trying to do journalism well. Because bad journalism is worse than no journalism.

    I also don’t like Pando but quite like the odd thing that people point me to on there. I could say that about a lot of publications – I’m not a fan of the overall publication but the right writer and you get some good articles out of them.

    I’m glad this interview sparked a lot of discussion, even if it wasn’t particularly enlightening on the question of The Intercept. I’m also still quite entertained by how people talk about the cache of Snowden documents as though it’s full of earth-shattering secrets when no one outside of a small circle has seen these documents and so far the ones we’ve seen have been a load of irrelevant crap that we knew 5-10 years ago. This messianic image that much of the media have managed to attach to Snowden has been very effective…

  17. “The Intercept”… an appropriate name for a sugar daddy funded media venture.

  18. Cathleen McGuire says:

    That Silverstein is a clueless dolt. He was in the heart of the trap and had no idea it consisted of thick honey. The biggest story of the year is right inside First Look/Intercept — how Omidyar purloined the Snowden docs out from under Greenwald/Poitras who thought they were oh so smart, as if they snared the billionaire to fund them instead of the other way around. He’s got them right where he wants them — and the docs. Money, fame and the convenience of having an overlord keeps them securely under his thumb.

    I was at a panel Greenwald spoke at in December 2014. Afterwards offline a colleague asked him about Omidyar. He got huffy as usual when his sore spot is rubbed and quote unquote said “What billionaire do you suggest I go with?” Silverstein is of the same mindset.

    It’s like the old joke of a guy asking a woman to go to bed with him and he’ll give her $5million. She says ok and he says well, how about we make it $50 instead. Indignant, she says what do you think I am? A whore? He goes, we’ve already established that. Now we’re just trying to determine the price.

    PeterB was superb. Such an unflappable pro. I do lament, however, that he didn’t put forth the probability that (once again) it’s not the “incompetence theory” at work. That they know exactly what they’re doing and Omidyar served — and is continuing to serve — his paymasters quite well, be he a true incompetent dummy or is taking the hit as one.

    • Great comment, Cathleen. It’s occurred to me, in part based on statements about Omidyar’s apparent lack of intellectual prowess, that the idea of First Look and the obtaining of whatever this alleged treasure trove of Snowden documents consisted of could have come by way of a proposal from someone else, an insider with a better grasp of the intelligence and political theatre implications of the scenario made. Not necessarily without Omidyar’s knowledge that this was the case, but with the understanding that he would be left to handle the financial commodification; a wise investment, and other people, such as those who likely helped craft the original Snowden theatrics, could continue to release selective Snowden “revelations” for political purposes. “According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden” is the new “According to an unnamed high ranking intelligence official”.

      Indeed, Greenwald is a whore on the highest magnitude, masquerading as a noble truth teller, galloping into battle on his white horse in shining armor. Silverstein, tempted by the rousing call of fame, good fortune, and fruitful land, fell off of his donkey and has only himself to blame for being left to sweat it out in the desert, a jackass himself.

  19. Cathleen McGuire says:

    “According to documents leaked by Edward Snowden” is the new “According to an unnamed high ranking intelligence official”. Astute comment, BennyB. As is the analogy about Greenwald on a white horse, Silverstein on a donkey. LOL.

    Here’s what I don’t get about GG et al. How is it that the FBI goes after every Tsarnaev friend in the book, harassing them beyond belief – even outright murdering one of them. Yet, GG and friends waltz in and out of the US at will, even grandstanding on an Academy Award stage and not a single Homeland Security goon whisks them away for questioning, if not detention. In the eyes of the government, aren’t they accomplices to the act of treason for stealing state secrets? Snowden is theoretically in exile for state crimes, yet not only do GG et al get off scot free, but they’re are making a mint off the booty and subsequent fame. What’s up with that?!? Nothing like a sugar daddy with deep NSA ties.

    • The whole thing has been some phony made for TV business. Snowden should be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor 😉

      • Raymond Kitchen says:

        “Snowjob” is the meme I think BFP uses which is very fitting in my opinion. He has never stated or released anything that wasn’t already known about the NSA.

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