Greenwald-Omidyar Joint Venture: The Blurring Lines Between Being A Source & Being A Journalist

What Do Ethic Guidelines Say about Paying Sources for Information?

I guess they are right when they say we live in an information age. Information is money. It is true. So much can be done with information that would make it worth paying for. Also, so much can be achieved by blocking and withholding information, which also would make it worth paying for. Can you imagine what a major corporation could do with information gathered on its competitor? Think about what the government could do (or, is doing) with information it gathers on its court judges, congressional representatives, and dissenters. Yes, indeed. This is an age where information rules, and having information makes rulers.

In the past, up until very recently, the field of journalism was viewed as having to remain outside and above the commoditization of high-value information and sources. Please don’t get me wrong. Journalists have been far from being independent or neutral, and their motives have always been in line and in harmony with the ruling class: government and major corporations. Whether for good or very bad, things are changing even further with the corporate media, and some unfortunately, for worse. Ethical guidelines for journalists and journalism appear to have lost all relevancy and application. Further, the lines that were once drawn separating journalists from sources-information have been blurring to a point where all you see is sand and no line. Nowhere is this more obvious than the recent business venture struck between billionaire corporate-ist mogul Pierre Omidyar and self-proclaimed journalist Glenn Greenwald.

This past summer NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden entrusted his 50,000+ documents with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. He was a source who made a decision, good or bad, to provide the obtained documents, his incriminating information, to the duo. At that point, he removed himself as the primary source. At that point, Greenwald and Poitras became the information source.

To date, more than six months since the duo obtained the 50,000+ documents, only one percent (1%) has been released to the public. By choice, the duo decided to withhold the rest of the cache-99+% of their documents.

In October 2013 the billionaire owner of e-Bay and PayPal Corporation set up a brand new news corporation, and offered Greenwald and Poitras $250 million for these documents and information. And they accepted.

Is Glenn Greenwald A Journalist or A Source in This Case?

A major conflict of interest and convoluted fact in this case stems from the presence of a blurry line between being a source (information source) and a journalist.

A broad definition of a journalist is summed up below:

A journalist is someone employed to regularly engage in gathering, processing, and disseminating (activities) news and information (output) to serve the public interest (social role).

And here is a broad definition of a source in journalism:

In journalism, a source is a person, publication, or other document that gives timely information. Examples of sources include official records, publications or broadcasts, officials in government or business, organizations or corporations, witnesses of crime, accidents or other events, and people involved with or affected by a news event or issue.

Up until this stage, Glenn Greenwald had been known and worked as a commentator and a columnist. At no point in time was he hired or represented as a journalist. That is a fact, and it is recorded as such.

He was a columnist for Guardian US from August 2012 to October 2013.[1][2][3] He was a columnist for from 2007-2012, and an occasional contributor to The Guardian.[4][5][6] Greenwald worked as a constitutional and civil rights litigator. At Salon he contributed as a columnist and blogger, focusing on political and legal topics.[7] 

He did a decent job as a commentator and author. However, there is no record ever identifying him as a journalist. He was a paid columnist for Salon and Guardian until he came into possession of Edward Snowden’s 50,000-page document cache. Therefore, what did he become once he received the whistleblower’s evidence (documents), and was told to become the source to provide the documents to the public?

As far as the media was concerned, Greenwald then became the source to whom they went to gather information. The newspaper went to him to inquire of documents (information obtained by Edward Snowden), not as an Intelligence expert or a reporter. The networks brought him on as a witness, and of course, as a source.

Most importantly, the corporate mogul, Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire who owns e-Bay and PayPal, set up another corporation to acquire Glenn Greenwald as an exclusive source to be owned by his $250 million corporation.

Greenwald had been around for a decade as a pundit, columnist, writer. Yet, during these years, billionaires such as PayPal’s Omidyar had never expressed any interest in him. Same went for other corporate media outlets. Sure, Greenwald was a good author and a pundit, but to them he was not worthy of hiring with millions of dollars and employing as a journalist. So what gave? What did change in Greenwald’s value as a commodity?

There is only one thing that changed: he became a source. Once Snowden gave him the entire cache, he became the primary source. He became the man who possessed documented evidence that could expose not only the monstrous government and its illegal activities, but also monstrous corporations in cahoots with the government and its criminal activities.

Now, if you add to that PayPal Corporation’s stakes in this- its cooperation and partnership with the NSA in providing millions of people’s financial information and transaction data, then you are looking at Greenwald becoming a valuable commodity, someone worth spending $250 million for, for PayPal’s owner, the billionaire Pierre Omidyar.

This makes Greenwald a source, a valuable commodity, when it comes to his position and worth to PayPal Corporation’s Omidyar. Not a journalist. Not a columnist. But a source who possesses some extremely valuable and crucial information.

Now, let’s see how the journalistic ethics guide views sources that are paid and bought out. Shall we?

When it comes to payments to information sources in journalism Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee (SPJ) states the following:

Checkbook journalism, the practice of obtaining exclusive interviews by the roundabout method of licensing photos and videos, violates the SPJ Code of Ethics, which advises journalists to “act independently.” That includes being “wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.”

The following statement puts forth the unethical practice of paying sources bluntly and appropriately:

After all, it's one of the Commandments of Good Journalism: Thou shalt not pay for information. Only the tabloids, of both the supermarket and TV variety, regard news as a tradable commodity.

The standard line is news organizations don't pay for information," says Bob Steele, director of the ethics program at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. "The public perceives that the information is tainted by financial motives.... They will discount the value of the information."

SPJ’s guideline for the journalistic code of ethics makes it very clear that journalists must::

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

And why must we take checkbook journalism and its implications very seriously? Again, SPJ says it loud and clear:

The practice of checkbook journalism threatens to corrupt the newsgathering and reporting functions of the media. Because journalism — accurate and credible news — is so essential to the maintenance of a democracy, checkbook journalism is not only unethical, it threatens to undermine journalism and damage democracy.

The publication, the news company, owns the journalist’s information and writings under an employment contract between the news corporation and the journalist and or author:

Work for Hire is similar to "All Rights," except that in this case, you have no claim to copyright at all. Most "work for hire" is done within the scope of employment, or when working for a commission. However, many publications also expect freelance writers to sign work-for-hire agreements. When you do this, you are transferring not just your rights but your actual copyright to the publication (or employer). You have no rights to the material, which can be altered, resold, published under another name, or used in any other fashion the publication desires, without additional compensation to you.

In this case it is not Greenwald’s work or writing that is of any value to Billionaire Pierre Omidyar. As we have established, billionaires like him had never spent a penny on commentators and pundits like Greenwald. Omidyar’s corporation bought out Greenwald as a source, and established ownership and directorship of Snowden’s documents entrusted with Greenwald. Now, both remain as exclusive properties of PayPal Corporation’s owner.

I started this commentary with the information age and what information can be worth and be used for. I want to finalize this commentary with a few comments on what Snowden’s information is worth to gigantic corporations such as Omidyar’s PayPal and e-Bay.

On December 11, 2013, at 4:16 pm, after the publication of our report on NSA-PayPal partnership and long-going cooperation, Glenn Greenwald responded via twitter, and here is what he said-verbatim:

“I don't doubt PayPal cooperates with NSA - that this is in the docs that we've been paid to withhold are total lies.”

Even Greenwald does not deny the fact that the billionaire’s PayPal Corporation is a major stakeholder in the release of the 50,000-page NSA cache. He stands to lose billions of dollars if the details of his corporation’s partnership and cooperation with the NSA were to be made public. What is $250 million spent to buy out the source and information compared to billions of dollars? How about gaining advantageous information that could help Omidyar and his corporations blackmail or marginalize their competitors such as Amazon? How about owning information that would allow Omidyar and his corporations to blackmail and or bribe the US Congress and government regulatory agencies for favors and special treatment in return?

You see, this is what I have been trying to accomplish despite all the vicious and ugly attacks from Glenn Greenwald and his supporters: to highlight the incredible conflict of interest, unethical practices, and grave consequences to transparency, whistleblowers, and the public’s right to know. I believe you must do the same: take them on: Greenwald, Billionaire Omidyar, and all others who have been conspiring to profit from yet censoring information that was obtained for you, the public, and your right to know.

# # # #

Related articles in this series:

Greenwald Goes on Record: “I Don’t Doubt PayPal Cooperates with NSA!”

BFP Report- Omidyar’s PayPal Corporation Said To Be Implicated in Withheld NSA Documents

Checkbook Journalism & Leaking to the Highest Bidder

Sibel Edmonds is the Publisher & Editor of Boiling Frogs Post and the author of the Memoir Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story. She is the recipient of the 2006 PEN Newman's Own First Amendment Award for her “commitment to preserving the free flow of information in the United States in a time of growing international isolation and increasing government secrecy” Ms. Edmonds has a MA in Public Policy and International Commerce from George Mason University, a BA in Criminal Justice and Psychology from George Washington University.

FB Like

Share This

This site depends….

This site depends exclusively on readers’ support. Please help us continue by SUBSCRIBING and/or DONATING.


  1. Joshua Roberts says:

    “What is $250 million spent to buy out the source and information compared to billions of dollars?”
    Ethics went out the window a long time ago for GGe and behind such duplicity and avarice I suspect, is an operation using them like the tools they appear to be.

  2. Excellent analysis, Sibel. If Snowden could go back in time it would have behooved him to get Greenwald or any journalist to sign a “no profit” disclosure agreement regarding the information. This would have made transparency of motive a vital interest on behalf of the public. Yes, a utopian perspective in a world full of greed.

  3. Well, this is a bit frustrating. I can’t agree with everything in this piece although I’m strongly supportive of Sibel’s efforts to highlight this very real conflict of interest. So, while 90% of me says hooray Sibel, let me take a moment to express the bits that are troubling me here.

    From GG’s PayPal-NSA comment on Twitter, Sibel concludes: “Even Greenwald does not deny the fact that the billionaire’s PayPal Corporation is a major stakeholder in the release of the 50,000-page NSA cache.”

    See, this is just not exactly true. Greenwald *strongly* and *repeatedly* denies that PayPal is implicated in the Snowden documents. I think we need to step clearly and carefully here. There are two issues: 1) cooperation between NSA and PayPal; and 2) what’s in the Snowden documents. The cooperation can be real, AND it might not happen to be in the 50,000 Snowden docs.

    Your source says it is; Greenwald says it isn’t. Since even the head of the NSA has said he doesn’t know what Greenwald has, one anonymous source — who’s *retired* — who says he does know is really not that convincing all by itself.

    There’s a conflict of interest ANYWAY, but it’s an important distinction. Accuracy counts.

    Your analysis of why Omidyar is interested in Greenwald all of a sudden is worth considering deeply, but it is weakened by not considering another plausible explanation. It’s not accurate to say that the ONLY thing that has changed about Greenwald is his status as a source of the Snowden documents. The other thing that has changed massively is Greenwald’s celebrity status. If you want to start an exciting (and profitable) new business venture based on (supposedly) hard-hitting independent news, who better to recruit than the world’s suddenly most famous poster child for bad boy news?

    The guy’s famous. It guarantees public interest. That’s a plausible explanation.

    Far be it from me to tell Sibel Edmonds how to spin her stories (I *am* that crazy but I’m *not* that stupid), but I think there’s a sometimes-fine but always-important line between raising great questions and making insufficiently supported allegations.

    And while I’m busy putting myself on the persona non grata list (hopefully not!), I seem pathologically unable to refrain from saying that I don’t see how name-calling does anybody any favors. It really angers me to see Greenwald insult Sibel Edmonds, and I’d smack him right in the kisser if he did it in the same room I was in. But it also strikes me as a bit unnecessary for Sibel to call him a “self-proclaimed” journalist or any of the uglier terms that have been employed. Is it really the point, whether he’s a journalist or a columnist? And if he isn’t, then if anything doesn’t that release him from the code of journalistic ethics? I don’t know. I ain’t trying to be Miss Manners here but I just don’t think it moves us forward.

  4. OK John – This is far from over. I tend to see Mrs Edmonds points as valid as do many. If there’s a little “Bite” in the blog, so be it. I could care less about any definition of journalism. Did the material really go on the block for bid? I don’t see the answer yet, but some people with long experience in these matters are ready to “Call The Ball” and land this on the deck.

    “Hang on while I write a book and make a movie and then you’ll see more” Really? It that it?

  5. Mgrdichian says:

    Nice work. Stay on it. Your efforts are truly appreciated in this era of spineless media. I don’t always agree with all of your points, but the conversations you instigate are worth more than money can buy.

    • Once again I find myself thinking and agreeing with John.
      I guess we have similarly wired brains. 🙂

      I praise Sibel for being suspicious of the connections between Greenwald and Omidyar. I think they are healthy suspicions.

      I would like to go over some points Sibel made.

      She believes that Snowden is no longer the source of the 50,000 documents; that Greenwald and Poitras became the information source when the documents were handed over to them.

      I disagree. I believe Snowden is the source and will always be the source. I view Greenwald and Poitras as intermediaries or current caretakers of the information.

      Sibel also repeats in this article that only 1% of the 50,000+ documents have been released to the public.
      That Greenwald and Poitras decided to withhold the remaining 99% documents.

      How do we know that Greenwald and Poitras decided this?

      At this point in time we have no way of knowing what the details were in the agreement reached by Snowden and Greenwald.

      Snowden may have said/written something along the lines of “If you accept these records I authorize you to release to the public only the 1-2% that I have specifically referenced for release between the following dates …- …
      The rest are to remain undisclosed and used for your personal reading or until I give you further instructions.”

      We simply don’t know.

      If Snowden was forward thinking, it’s possible that he and Greenwald may have formed a business partnership. Perhaps Snowden negotiated a cut in Greenwald ‘s current dealings.
      Again, we simply don’t know.

      Sibel also stated:
      “In October 2013 the billionaire owner of e-Bay and PayPal Corporation set up a brand new news corporation, and offered Greenwald and Poitras $250 million for these documents and information. And they accepted.”

      It is my understanding that Greenwald, Poitras, Scahill and friends are starting up the new media venture. That Omidyar will be funding the venture to the tune of $250 million.

      I haven’t seen or heard any evidence that Greenwald and Poitras were offered $250 million for the 50,000 Snowden documents.
      Nor I have I seen or heard any evidence that they accepted the money for the documents.

  6. “I doubt Paypal cooperates with the NSA”

    I think that proves Sibel right. He’s already covering (up) for them, imo.

    That said, Guillermo had some good points on a recent TOR show, worth a listen.

  7. tonywicher says:

    Greenwald and Scahill were not offered 250 million, what they were offered is a deal to become highly paid media stars and celebrities in a 250 million dollar venture in “alternative news” owned by a corporate mogul, and immunity from government prosecution, in return for giving up control over the Snowden documents. The information source has been compromised. .

    Somehow I don’t think it likely that Greenwald and Poitras have the “only” copy of the documents. I suspect that Russia and China have them too.

    • BennyB-DoubleD says:


      If Glenn Greenwald and those who still support him after reading that article truly believe he’s making the move he’s making in good faith I think they’re in some sort of state of psychosis. Trusting someone like Pierre Omidyar to support unfettered “independent, adversarial journalism” is like trusting someone who’s confident that Vladimir Putin would be supportive in financing a studio recording for Pussy Riot.

      • Benny, this is the best analogy, and the best response I’ve read so far. I’m still chuckling.

        Watch this video: The people in the audience are those who chanted “Change” and still refuse to believe they were chanting it for the wrong guy. This same video clip applies to “Those” who see this charlatan as a ‘real deal’, and they would not see the bitter realities/facts even if you brought the lord itself to tell them;-) Look at the audience, this is the psychology of those idiots with Messiah syndrome who believe in stupid blind and unquestioning faith-exactly the same people

      • :-))))) I have watched this movie at least 10 times, and I can watch it ten more times. It is all about psychology: the psychology of the masses. I had the rabid Obama supporters screaming and calling me names when I came out a few months within his election (first round) and said: He is a charlatan- watch, he is going to be one of the worst (if not the) presidents we’ve had.

        Now, they have bought into this new Messiah: an establishment puppet show.

        • BennyB-DoubleD says:

          Love that clip and I can’t help but seeing a bit of you up in the booth with the headset;)

          This is definitely an Obama 2.0 paperback edition and I think you’re BS detector is just far more sensitive than most people’s, including mine. I think we all needed a bit of a splash in the face with cold water to make the correlation between “wait and see” and “hope and change”, so I think you were right to do so. Thanks =]

          There’s really no way to look at the situation without realizing how much it stinks – and no matter how much he sprays it with febreeze it’s just not enough to mask the odor.

          Money like that doesn’t come without strings attached… the stage has been set;)

          • “and I can’t help but seeing a bit of you up in the booth with the headset;)”

            Benny, one of the things I truly appreciate in life: people with good sense of humor; I love the comment, and being able to chuckle with you:-)))

  8. The Raw Story article is a little fuzzy. The entire center portion goes on about the security relationships that sound much like the basics of protecting customers. Much of it sounds familiar.

    This – Quote “And made all the more so, coming from the billionaire who just promised $250 million to secure the rights to secrets leaked by America’s most wanted whistleblower”

    What is the source of this statement? Secure The Rights! You know what they say about Assumption (that’s a movie joke BTW – search Samuel Jackson)

    Is this is just a simple practice of spanking the water to make fresh water fish jump? I hope not. I’d love to see the noise raising something a little larger out of the water 😉

  9. Living Under Ground…

    DIRECTOR: Emir Kusturica.

  10. Sibel, I just listened to the video of you, James Corbett, Guillermo… during which you mentioned Daniel Ellsberg, the fact that he actively campaigned for Obama in 2012 and that after Obama was elected began immediately to campaign for his impeachment… I couldn’t help but wonder if this seeming act of inexplicable, hypocritical behavior had to do with the need to make sure that Mitt was completely knocked out of the picture. I believe Obama is a traitor but I also believe the entire government is stocked with traitors. Michael Chertoff is a dual Israeli-American citizen. (And there are a good many others who are now serving and/or have served previously in the US government. Personally, I think this should be absolutely forbidden.) Explain, please, how we let Chertoff become head of the Homeland Security apparatus? At the very least, Chertoff should be deported after he is shaken down for all the money he has stolen from the American people, having devised some of the more obscene tricks to force his fascist ideology–and phony terrorist objectives–upon the American citizenry. My point to you is that I don’t think Ellsberg’s actions are that difficult to understand. May I ask you to think again on this?

  11. Bradley Fuller says:

    If I am understanding this correctly, Greenwald as his part in signing a contract with Omidyar has given exclusive rights to the Snowden files to Omidyar. However, this does not mean Snowden can’t release these same files through another outlet, assuming he still has the originals. Omidyar must know this, unless of course Snowden is also part of the deal. If Snowden is not part of the deal Omidyar may have spent 1/4 of a billion for nothing, which is highly unlikely. The permutations on this scenario are many, including threats against life, discrediting future releases of files ad infinitum. There is something very rotten going on here besides Greenwald’s sellout for nine figures. This is all akin to a den of vipers making deals with one another, and someone is going to get bitten.

    I’m happy to have found Edmonds site and come aboard. You can feel it when you’re dealing with someone of high intelligence as in Ms Edmonds being. I’m just glad she’s on the people’s side now!

Speak Your Mind