The Corner

Media

No Newsroom Is Safe If The Intercept Can Fall Victim to Media Groupthink

Glenn Greenwald attends a meeting of the human rights committee of the Chamber of Deputies in Brasilia, Brazil, June 25, 2019. (Adriano Machado/Reuters)

Glenn Greenwald founded The Intercept in 2013 with the explicit goal of creating a news outlet that would be insulated from the partisan and financial pressures inherent to corporate media.

As he acknowledges in a resignation letter published Thursday, that project has ultimately failed.

The Intercept’s editors, who Greenwald notes repeatedly are almost all based in New York, forbade him from publishing a column airing well-documented allegations of Biden family corruption. They told him that he couldn’t publish the piece as written at The Intercept, supposedly in violation of his contract, and discouraged him from publishing it elsewhere, as doing so would be “unfortunate and detrimental to The Intercept.”

“The final, precipitating cause [of resignation] is that The Intercept’s editors, in violation of my contractual right of editorial freedom, censored an article I wrote this week, refusing to publish it unless I remove all sections critical of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden,” Greenwald wrote. 

In so doing, the editors were following in the footsteps of their media betters at the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC, all of which have either ignored the documents and first-hand accounts of corruption proffered by the former CEO of a Biden family business, or woven them into some meta-narrative about the importance of media gatekeeping in protecting credulous readers from foreign disinformation.

As Greenwald puts it, his editors were taking their lead from the very corporate media properties that The Intercept was founded to “oppose, critique and subvert.”

But we should turn to a less obviously noteworthy section of Greenwald’s resignation letter for an insight into the causes of media groupthink and censorship. Towards the end of the letter, Greenwald thanks The Intercept’s benefactor, Pierre Omidyar, who funds the publication through his non-profit First Look media, for honoring “his personal commitment never to interfere in our editorial process.”

When he founded The Intercept, Greenwald — a committed leftist who made his bones criticizing the excesses of the Bush-era surveillance state — identified corporate power as the source of much of the partisanship that pervades mainstream political reporting. Because corporate media outlets depend on advertising dollars, they inevitably toe a neoliberal, capitalist line in order to keep their advertisers happy, or so the argument goes. On the flip side, they also pander to their readership, indulging their political superstitions in order to keep them basking in self-affirmation.

If it hasn’t quite proven false, Greenwald’s departure exposes this diagnosis of media bias as lacking.

That The Intercept’s New York-based editors succumbed to groupthink and quickly fell into lockstep on the Biden-corruption story exposes the true source of the bias and partisanship that pervades so much of our media class: cultural affinity. It’s been said hundreds of times before, but it can be said with more confidence now that Greenwald has made his exit: Most of the people who inhabit our elite newsrooms have the same partisan interests and cater to them in ways explicit and subconscious — and that fact, not nefarious corporate power, is the true source of our media monoculture. These reporters and editors don’t require some bottom-line obsessed boss to come downstairs and put the squeeze on when they risk jeopardizing corporate interests; they do it themselves, but to preserve their social status, not to protect the bottom line. 

The Intercept’s editor-in-chief Betsy Reed issued a response to Greenwald’s resignation Thursday afternoon in which she claimed that he was simply throwing a “tantrum” after refusing to assent to the typical editing process required of any journalist. 

“Glenn demands the absolute right to publish whatever he wants. He believes that anyone who disagrees with him is corrupt, and anyone who presumes to disagree with him is a censor,” Reed wrote.

It wouldn’t be the first time a reporter raised hell over what he considered to be heavy-handed editing. But given that the publication forced a reporter to apologize on threat of firing for quoting a black interview subject who departed from woke racial orthodoxy, I’m willing to take Greenwald’s word for it. And Greenwald’s email correspondence with his editors, which he released shortly after resigning, show that while they disagreed with him on matters of interpretation, his editors failed to identify a single factual inaccuracy in his column, which he subsequently published independently.

That this propagandistic mentality has taken hold within a non-profit newsroom that was founded explicitly to counter it does not bode well for the future of journalism. It has confirmed that however a media outlet might be structured — if it’s staffed by people who share the same zip code, attended the same colleges, shop at the same stores, and vote for the same candidates — it is destined to fail.

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