When Ken Silverstein was hired by the Greenwald/Omidyar project First Look Media, he thought it would be his dream job; complete freedom to cover the stories he wanted to cover.
But the dream turned into a nightmare almost immediately, with editorial incompetence, bureaucratic infighting, and an extreme libertarian/left ideological agenda that militated against telling the truth. The title of Silverstein’s article says it all: Where Journalism Goes to Die.
Probably the most damning part of this inside look at First Look is Silverstein’s description of what happened when their coverage of the popular podcast Serial ran afoul of the dogmatic attitudes of Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald:
Given the viral success of the show, our follow-up stories were a huge success—possibly the biggest thing The Intercept has ever published. They were, though, hugely controversial inside our organization. Why wouldn’t a huge editorial success be celebrated inside The Intercept? Because we were siding with The Man.
Now I believe the American justice system is badly flawed and often racist, but in this instance, I firmly believe, the system worked. I believe Adnan Syed murdered Hae Min Lee and was rightly prosecuted for it.
But I came to realize that the system working correctly—and the right people going to jail—isn’t a good narrative to tell at The Intercept.
Publishing the Serial stories was a huge headache: There were constant delays and frustrations getting them out, even after it became clear they were drawing huge traffic. Our internal critics believed that Natasha and I had taken the side of the prosecutors—and hence the state. That support was unacceptable at a publication that claimed it was entirely independent and would be relentlessly adversarial towards The Man. That held true even in this case, when The Man successfully prosecuted a killer and sent him to jail.
Some colleagues, like Jeremy Scahill, were upset by the first installment of Natasha’s interviews with Jay, the state’s flawed-but-convincing key witness, and our co-bylined two-part interview with the lead prosecutor, Kevin Urick, both of whom had refused to speak to Sarah Koenig for her Serial podcast. Jeremy even threatened to quit over the second installment, according to two of my colleagues who witnessed what they described as his “temper tantrum” in the New York office. He told them he couldn’t believe that we’d so uncritically accepted the state’s view of the murder—even though our stories were backed up by our own research, our unique reporting and our reading of court documents. One day at the office, frustrated, Natasha wrote “Team Adnan” on a sign on Jeremy’s office door.