Matt Taibbi Leaving First Look

Matt Taibbi has been missed. He went into a writing black hole when he decamped from Rolling Stone to Pierre Omidyar’s wannabe media empire, First Look in February. But when the billionaire’s news venture was launched, the press was sloppy in reporting on Omidyar’s financial commitment. It was widely depicted as a $250 million venture, when the tech titan never committed anywhere near that amount of funding. Admittedly, it takes time to get a new publication going, but the lack of any apparent progress was becoming noteworthy. From the outside, it looked like the project might be going pear-shaped, and it appears it did.

I had heard, second hand, that Taibbi had envisioned a publication that would mix satire and serious reporting, and would have a strong focus on skewering plutocrats. That may have struck too close to home. The official announcement of Taibbi’s departure is clumsy:

Important Announcement

Pierre Omidyar October 28, 2014

I regret to announce that after several weeks of discussions, Matt Taibbi has left First Look. We wish him well.

Our differences were never about editorial independence. We have never wavered from our pledge that journalistic content is for the journalists to decide, period.

We’re disappointed by how things have turned out. I was excited by Matt’s editorial vision and hoped to help him bring it to fruition. Now we turn our focus to exploring next steps for the talented team that has worked to create Matt’s publication.

I remain an enthusiastic supporter of the kind of independent journalism found at The Intercept and the site we were preparing to launch. As a startup, we’ll take what we’ve learned in the last several months and apply it to our efforts in the future.

Above all, we remain committed to our team and to the First Look mission.

Yves here. Notice the tacky grousing by Omidyar that he’s been left with some Taibbi hires and now he has to figure out what to do with them.

The denial about “editorial independence” is so defensive that is it pretty much a given that it was about that. The beef was unlikely to have been on the story level, which is what Omidyar is defining as journalistic freedom, since it appears Taibbi never got far along with putting a first issue out (otherwise you’d expect to see a reference to it, that the staff was finishing it up despite his departure). So the differences could have been over the formats Taibbi wanted to use, as in the types of stories and regular features he had envisioned, or who he wanted to bring on board, or the level of resources he wanted versus what Omidyar was prepared to provide. Given that Omidyar is reportedly controlling (he’s been cited as being the most active person on First Look internal e-mails), the most likely sources of friction was over what the overall shape of the publication or a bad personality fit. This suspicion is confirmed by New York Magazine:

Over the last year, however, the center of gravity of the organization has shifted, as Omidyar and his Silicon Valley braintrust have exerted control over budgets and vacillated over the journalistic mission. Over the summer, Omidyar appointed a longtime confidante, John Temple — a former newspaper editor who previously led an Omidyar-financed civic journalism venture in Hawaii — to be the president for audience and products, putting him in a position above Eric Bates, the former Rolling Stone editor who was brought on as a First Look editorial director, who is close to Taibbi. The confrontational approach that made Taibbi’s name at Rolling Stone — and before that, as the founding editor of the gonzo Moscow expatriate magazine The eXile — appears to have contributed to internal trouble at First Look.

As reader CEA pointed out:

Looks like Omidyar really changed tune, and now is playing off First Look as if it’s just a “startup venture” and treating it not like a non-profit-type public service he’s willing to fund regardless of profitability, but just a stupid little VC project.

I had said privately it was unwise to join Omidyar’s venture when he hasn’t yet hired the person who would run Fist Look. Any journalist who joined was destined to have a boss different than Omidyar (or worse, two bosses).

I assume that this change will work out for the best for Taibbi and am looking forward to seeing his hard-hitting articles again soon.

Update: Pando flagged the probable basis for the outtrade months ago, that Omidyar discovered journalism is hard and costs money, and appeared to want to steer Taibbi towards doing satire, which to him may have meant fluff. This is pretty much what we surmised. Hat tip CEA:

Omidyar is both sole investor and publisher. And apparently he’s just realized that, even with a $250 million dollar budget and a big pile of NSA leaked documents acquired along with Glenn Greenwald, creating a serious journalistic enterprise is hard.  A platform, on the other hand, is something Omidyar has built before and clearly believes he can build again. Someone else can take care of actually fixing American journalism and delivering on all the promises he made in his weirdly Pierre-centric launch video.

But while others discuss Pierre’s pivot, and what it means for Greenwald’s future at the project, there’s another pivot tucked away in the announcement that most people seem to have missed. Here’s the line (emphasis mine):

“[W]e’ve partnered with the talented Matt Taibbi to plan and launch this fall a new digital magazine with a satirical approach to American politics and culture.”

“A satirical approach to American politics and culture.”

Now compare that with Taibbi’s original plan on joining First Look, as reported in the New York Times back in February… (again, emphasis mine)

Mr. Taibbi will start his own publication focusing on financial and political corruption, he said in an interview on Wednesday. First Look is financed by the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who is worth $8.5 billion, according to Forbes. Mr. Omidyar has pledged $250 million to the project.

Even the Times couldn’t resist pointing out the juxtaposition. Were we really supposed to believe that Taibbi would be allowed to investigate financial corruption, and Wall Street hi-jinx, when his boss is one of the richest men in America?

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  1. Clive

    Overall I’m “saddened but not surprised” by the First Look debacle (and it is now legitimately label-able as a debacle).

    Saddened because something like it promised to be is sorely needed.

    Not surprised because you don’t get to acquire the sort of cash pile Mr. Omidyar has at his disposal without a certain amount of control freak-ery. He maybe could have avoided this trap by setting up a charitable trust with broad aims set into its constitution but day-to-day management left to the board of trustees. But he didn’t. Expecting him to resist grabbing hold of the levers of power from time to time is like expecting me to resist tea and biscuits — neither of which are likely to be happening events any time soon.

  2. No one in particular

    Sad to see Matt’s voice of reason removed from the ether – one wonders whether it was an unintended side effect or the purpose of the entire exercise…..

    Is Rolling Stones willing (and allowed?) to take him back?

    1. wbgonne

      Rolling Stone is a neoliberal rag that still swoons for Obama (seriously!?) even after all this time. The publisher Wenn is the embodiment of the rot inside the Democratic Party. Jack White has (correctly) mocked RS as tbe “Us Magazine” of rock music. Taibbi should steer clear of tbat pathetic publication.

      1. weinerdog43

        Evidence? Yes, there are the occasional garbage article like the recent one with Krugman, but by and large it is the best all around liberal magazine in print. And, no I’m not interested in the New Republic(an) or the American Spectator. I’ll take a second rate RS over anything you have to offer. (And no, I’m not a big fan of Barry Obama either.)

        Also too, what’s the point in another ‘satirical approach to American politics and culture’ when you already have The Onion?

        1. wbgonne

          I go to lots of music shows and since neoliberalism has swallowed popular music, Comcast/Ticketmaster sends me free copies of Rolling Stone and has done for years. I read Taibbi when he was there. I also read the other RS writers and saw they were uniformly worthless Democratic toadies. That includes supposed Progressives like Tim Dickinson raging bravely against the Koch Brothers while turning a blind eye to Obama’s multi-year, ongoing environmental and energy predations. Why is that? Because Wenn is a Democratic Party hack, I suspect. I still get RS automatically but I rarely waste time reading the so-called news articles anymore because they are uniformly bag-jobs for the Democrats and Obama. The same goes for the pathetic readers letters RS publishes.

          And even RS’ coverage of music has become pathetic (a Taylor Swift cover and photo display? seriously? Hunter Thompson rolls in his grave). That was Jack White’s primary complaint but tbe source of the problem is the same for both the horrible music and the horrible politics: a neoliberal corporate infestation.

          Beyond that, you can do your own work and post RS articles that contradict my view if you care to. I am on an iPad and presenting multiple links is a real PITA. If you do attempt to back your assertion with evidence, I may be motivated to respond and if so, trust me, I will present the evidence. Otherwise, I’m not interested in homework assignments.

          1. weinerdog43

            OK, here are 5 randomly selected (every 5th article) found on the politics section of their website:

            Not one of those articles could be considered “neoliberal”. I could have cherry picked a number of others that would tend to demonstrate the inaccuracy of a blanket slur like “neoliberal rag”, but since you freely admit you don’t read the stories anyway, that would just be piling on.

            I will concede that Jann Wenner is probably a neoliberal douchenozzle. I don’t know for certain, but given some of his past statements, I don’t think it’s a stretch. But to slam an entire magazine, especially given the easily debunked hyperbole, is unfair and plainly inaccurate.

            1. wbgonne

              Well, when I went to the Rolling Stone homepage and clicked on “politics,” these are the first five articles posted:

              1. “The Great Kansas Tea Party Disaster”

              2. “In Defense of Obama”

              3. “Five Signs We’ve Reached the Marriage Equality Tipping Point”

              4. “Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire”

              5. “Where the Tea Party Rules”


              No wonder you went skipping around for articles that don’t even prove your point anyway. Just where is the criticism of Obama? Of the Democratic Party? No, it’s all the sainted Democrats fighting against the crazy Tea Partiers and the evil GOP. IOW, complete neoliberal BS. But enjoy your subscription. And, if it expires let me know: I’ll send you the copies they won’t stop mailing to me.

    2. PeonInChief

      I read RS because of Taibbi. When he left, I suggested to my husband that we drop the subscription, but he wanted to keep it. I hope that the editors realize that a lot of us only read the mag for the Taibbi.

      1. djrichard

        Agreed. Taibbi is a brand unto himself. He just needs a channel to market. He can use Fox News for all I care.

  3. bob

    How much money will they have to burn before you realize that they are your betters?

    Zuckerburg et al in Baltimore schools, Pierre in “public incest” media.

    They have money to burn. But hell no, they won’t pay taxes on it. They’d rather burn it, hoping to draw in some good PR with the flames.

    1. pierre

      Technically, they are not allowed to write about the flames. They can view, through a very special and high tech instrument, the general glow of the flames and see some shadows. But, they cannot, under any circumstance, report on the flames directly, as per our NDA.

  4. rusti

    What a terrible waste of Taibbi’s unique talents to have almost a whole calendar year squandered. The Intercept seems to be churning out content at a more reasonable clip now, but hardly anything groundbreaking and warranting the long quiet period in Greenwald’s writing after receiving the most important source material in recent history.

    If I were more cynical I’d venture that Omidyar was intentionally stifling two of the most vocal voices against the oligarchy, but I suspect Yves is right in speculating that he slowly discovered a publication skewering the plutocracy would put him and his social circle directly in the cross hairs before long. Best to move on to other pet projects that can provide an inflated sense of self worth without actually ruffling any feathers.

    1. art guerrilla

      well, here, allow me to be more cynical for you:
      there are -of course- ALL kinds of potential reasons for the split, some of which may be innocent (parents are ill and want to be around them, whatever), BUT *i* wonder if it wasn’t that maybe he was digging into boss-man’s donations ‘to the cause’ of the ukraine coup d’etat, and maybe that didn’t sit too well with daddy warbucks…

    2. different clue

      Taibbi can unstifle himself anytime he wants to, by leaving. And now he has.

      Greenwald will stay with Omidyar regardless. And what will that say about Greenwald?

      I wonder if Omidyar is/was on a Citizen Kane trip, wanting to fund his own Trophy MediaLetter to brag about it at all those Silicon Parties with all his Silicon Buddies. And Taibbi got tired of being treated as a prize show-dog.

  5. bob

    Out of order, from NY mag link-

    “We have a target date but I wouldn’t make a launch date public,” said Temple, who is based in San Francisco, when reached by phone this morning. “I don’t comment about internal matters and I don’t comment on personnel matters. … I mean we’re a private company, so why would we … no.”

    ” John Temple — a former newspaper editor who previously led an Omidyar-financed civic journalism venture in Hawaii”

    Wasn’t this supposed to be a non-profit? Now they’re a “private company”? Was his civic journalism also “private”? If so, how is it civic? Sounds more like a PR mill to me.

    Could be a good story on pubic-private “journalism”, and non-profit fraud/abuse in there somewhere. If only there were another billionaire…

    1. FunknJunk

      Yeha, I thought originally they intended to have a bifurcated company, part of which was non-profit authentic, hard-hitting journalism, and the other part the revenue creating machine. The latter being some kind of tech platform or innovative tool creation system. At work, don’t have a link ….

  6. proximity1

    Meanwhile– a war on the poor is real, is deliberate and is going on right in front of our eyes:

    there is, plain common sense tells us there must be, a genuine, sure ‘nough, honest-to-God war going on against Britain’s poorest and most vulnerable. These people constitute, for Britain at least (and, I believe, in other places, too) the socio-economic analogue to the millions of desperate displaced refugees now seen so often on television news reports from various war zones in Africa and the Near and Middle East.

    While this catastrophe festers, awaiting its Snowden-like whistle-blower, I’m convinced that the truth still unrevealed in stark terms is that the war is a deeply cynical and entirely deliberate one–the measures being practiced are entirely designed and intended to savage and destroy as many of society’s poorest and most defensless as it is possible to destroy before enough people of influence raise effective objections and take the matters seriously enough to shut them down.

    Getting there is precisely why those rare courageous people like Snowden are essential. In this case, there are probably few things actually written down and saved in documents–though I remain convinced that there must be at least private diary notes and personal memos which have been noted and exchanged between certain key people.

    What have to be exposed are serial conversations with precise verbatim citations by people who were eye-and-ear witnesses to the conversations which ran, “This must never get out, must not be written down, but we must strike off as many of these people from the state benefits rolls as possible–get rid of them.” Words to that effect must have been uttered and repeated; at the very least that message must have been effectively communicated because the observable facts on the ground, open to our view, suggest that this is the all but certain reasoned prerequisite to the policies being applied. They cannot seriously be explained as simple coincidences of unrelated policy goals of “saving money”–of course that goal is common to the policies. It’s where and how the money is to be saved that is impossible to explain away as mere coincidences. The privileges of the rich are being spared again and again even as the weakest and the neediest are being savaged and destroyed. This simply cannot be a coincidence.

    Who shall investigate and discover and report the facts as yet unrevealed from inside the corridors of power in a systematic manner on this matter? The Guardian? First Look?

  7. proximity1

    Just from the rhetoric of the announcement itself we have evidence of how thoroughly coporatist is the attitude which Omidyar brings to his work. This announcement rings exactly as do innumerable press-releases drafted by communciations and public-relations professionals.

    regret to announce…, after … weeks of discussions…, We wish him well, Our differences were never about…, We have never wavered…, We’re disappointed…, we turn our focus to exploring next steps…, I remain an enthusiastic supporter of …, Above all, we remain committed to our team ….

    Oh, well.

    “Were we really supposed to believe that Taibbi would be allowed to investigate financial corruption, and Wall Street hi-jinx, when his boss is one of the richest men in America?”

    That’s the very question which occurred to me, too, at the time.

    Alors, raison de plus pour déclarer ‘Vive, donc, “Yves” et “Le Capitalisme-Nu” !’ [lire “Sauvage”]

    1. Danb

      I like reading Matt but this move to Omidyar was from a “world systems” point of view naive. But the lure of promises is an aphrodisiac. Is Greenwald the next shoe to drop?

  8. AQ

    For the what it’s worth column, I always wondered if the ventured wasn’t meant to keep Taibbi on the sidelines for the last 6 months or so. I used to seek out his articles but he’s done nothing really. Not even great tweets on much of anything. Apparently I’m more cynical than the average bear because I liked to believe his work at Rolling Stone was getting somewhere.

    1. Jess

      Been a really long time since I heard anyone use the “average bear”. Thanks. Brings back memories of better times long ago.

  9. Dino Reno

    This was all about O trying to acquire some intellectual gravitas by association, then it got a little too personal.
    No one would be listening to a word he says without his 8 billion friends sitting beside him.

    Let’s not give Matt a total free pass here either. He got suckered in with the lure of endless riches. Given his body of work, he should know better.

    1. rusti

      Let’s not give Matt a total free pass here either. He got suckered in with the lure of endless riches. Given his body of work, he should know better.

      Are you saying that Taibbi was enticed by the possibility of getting personally wealthy from the endeavor? I haven’t seen anything that even remotely supports that. Or are you saying that he should have realized from the beginning that the numbers Omidyar was floating around originally were going to come with a bunch of strings attached? The fact that Greenwald was sufficiently convinced to hop ship before him must have made that decision a lot less obvious earlier this year, even if it seems like the logical conclusion to us now.

  10. Ulysses

    I think that Matt will draw the proper lesson from all this– having done serious, hard-hitting work that embarrasses the powerful won’t prompt a billionaire to help you continue that work. What it will do is prompt a billionaire to dilute the power of your work through trying to turn it into “satire,” making serious investigations nothing more than another fake “edgy” pop-culture brand. “Jon Stewartization,” if you will.

    The sad truth is that it is a very risky business to do real investigative journalism in a fascist country. The excellent movie about Gary Webb’s experience, Kill the Messenger, is a sobering reminder of that stark reality:

  11. steviefinn

    A setback yes – but It does look like he hasn’t sold out – I have missed his go for the jugular articles.

    Rave on Matt Taibbi.

  12. Xelcho

    So, lets review this for a moment.

    Matt has been developing his own beat for sometime and outside of this site (Naked Cap) he is/was the biggest figure, known to me and those I meet at least. He was wooed to this misadventure… VS. Glenn Greenwald and Co. who have been slow-cooking the Snowden docs for so long that it is oh so over-done. They seemed to have levered this well to secure a “place” at the billionaire’s table, book deals, film deals, speaking engagements etc…. How long do these guys think they have before O has lost enough money? Tyranny is tyranny, and the expiration date is nearing fast, who will be next on the exodus calendar?

    What stinks is that I am sure that Matt has passed on several stories that we have heard very little or nothing about in this time vacuum.

  13. Vatch

    Since we’re on the subject of Matt Taibbi, I have a complaint about his book The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap. There’s no index! Why was the publisher, Spiegel and Grau, so cheap? This is very annoying, and I refuse to buy the book.

    I’ve bought books by Yves Smith, Eileen Appelbaum & Rosemary Batt, Ha-Joon Chang, and other authors which all have indices. Why doesn’t Matt Taibbi’s The Divide have an index?

    Does anyone know whether there is an index for this book anywhere on the web?

    1. TheraP

      Buy it again as a Kindle edition. Then use the search function for any word you want. I did check and there is a Kindle edition. This works for any book in Kindle form. You don’t have to buy a Kindle. Just download the app. And then you can instantly download the book!

    2. Sierra7

      Had same complaint……and if I remember correctly, no “notes”……(Matt’s latest book)
      Refused to read because of that and probable editorial license……..too much…….probably.
      Really like Matt’s writing/commentary whenever I can find it………
      I think “politically correct writing” must end…….
      Time to get out the pitchforks and clean out the political stables…….
      We are in B I G deep doo-doo!

  14. Pelham

    A) Journalism and the Internet are a bad mix. Excellent reporting, of course, can be done in any medium. But online, it’s hard for a broad public to find it — being mixed in with all manner of garbage and propaganda — and it’s difficult to gauge credibility. Journalism also needs a wide but concentrated and common audience to really count, and the Internet tends to provide a wide but thinly engaged diverse audience or a teensy audience that’s really engaged — seldom both at the same time. Sadly, old media in print and broadcast are much better platforms, although journalism there is deeply compromised due to its commercial nature.

    B) We just should never, ever, ever depend on billionaires to deliver anything of importance to society, even if they appear to have tender hearts and progressive ideas. If we do, we’re no better than the right-wing nuts who believe these mega-rich masters are our legitimate lords and saviors.

    C) The solution may be something like what Robert McChesney has recommended, a $200 federal tax credit that would allow anyone to subscribe to any publication or publications they like. McChesney would include online publications, but I think he’d be better advised to double the amount and restrict the subscription option to print, with a focus on new types of regional and ideologically diverse newspapers with no advertising.

  15. McWatt

    Matt Taibbi is not one to put up with shennanigans. Whether it is in government, politics or his employer.

    It just shows his total commitment ethics that he is leaving . Good on ya Matt!!!!

    “Catch-22 says they can do anything we can’t stop them from doing.” Heller

  16. Seamus Padraig

    I do miss Matt Taibbi, so I hope he finds a new (journalistic) home soon. I loved his scathing indictments of Wall Street!

    As for Omidyar, I was a little bit suspicious of his motives at first, but since he was taking on Greenwald and Taibbi, I was willing to withhold judgement for a time. But this event leaves me wondering about Omidyar again. What’s his angle here? It is a known fact, for example, that his ‘charitable’ foundations promote neo-liberalism abroad, so I’m thinking his real motives here were questionable.

  17. Kim Kaufman

    Paul Carr’s moves the story along here:

    The discussion over at Doug Henwood’s facebook page yesterday was that people didn’t think Carr should have published these [redacated] emails. I don’t feel strongly either way – but I sure enjoyed reading them.

    I think Taibbi wanted to believe things he shouldn’t have. But at least he has the integrity to move along instead of compromising to keep a job. I suspect he’ll find places that will publish him. and, of course, will look forward to reading whatever he does. On the other hand, he could wind up like Olberman – doing sports again just to have a job. :(

  18. Paul Niemi

    And so the word came down from the boss to Big Yellow, the robot mid-level manager: “Hire Matt Taibbi, give him a generous salary, and give him an office in the sub-basement without a phone line. The election is in eight months, and we don’t want him writing anything that could upset our plans.” “Yes, sir,” said Big Yellow, “Shall I give him pen and paper?” “Yes, but tell him he can only write his memoirs, and we’ll privately make sure they are never published, period.” “Very good, sir, will you be having calamari for luncheon?”

  19. flora

    Per Omidyar’s announcement :
    “We’re disappointed by how things have turned out. I was excited by Matt’s editorial vision and hoped to help him bring it to fruition. Now we turn our focus to exploring next steps for the talented team that has worked to create Matt’s publication.”
    “ …Matt’s publication.” Hmmm….
    So the real management is blaming an employee for management’s failure.

    I’ve missed Matt’s excellent reporting. Hope he’ll be publishing again soon

  20. Nomas

    Omidyar The oligarch must’ve finally realized that Taibbi’s journalistic specialties – oligarchy, economic corruption and political malfeasance were not going to spin in a way he (Omidyar) was comfortable with. Taiibbi is not as compliant as Glen Greenwald or narrowly focused on “libertarian” friendly MIC stories as Scahill..Maybe Taibbi wanted to do a story on the US/German/oligarch sponsored coup d’état in Ukraine, something Omidyar was up to his eyeballs involved in. Whatever the specific beef we can be sure it was over “editorial control” on a fundamental level.

  21. greensachs

    We (im)patiently pray that men and egos understand that there is something more, something greater, in which during their brief span, they can have a positive meaningful impact on existence beyond augmenting their oodles.

  22. ltr

    I dearly respect and admire Glenn Greenwald and if Mr. Greenwald is at First Look then I am satisfied with the quality of the publication. (I should add this extends to Laura Poitras as well.)

    1. bob

      GG may be publishing at FL, but his heart, and pocketbook are at sony pictures.

      Signing a movie deal shut him up better than putting him in Guantanamo. There might have been some press on that. Movie deal? Two lines a few months ago.

  23. JamesW

    Re: Taibbi had envisioned a publication that would mix satire and serious reporting, and would have a strong focus on skewering plutocrats. That may have struck too close to home.

    “May” have hit too close to home? Well, of course! What was Taibbi thinking? Why would a multi-billionaire known to be in cahoots with the NSA be interested in “skewering plutocrats?”

    As for Greenwald, he has released practically nothing. Looks to me that he had a price and Omidyar met it. And Snowden has not a word of complaint…..

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