Progressive journalists Chris Hedges & Matt Taibbi discuss the extreme censorship of alleged Biden corruption… The Intercept censors founder Glenn Greenwald’s attempt to report it…
This is reminiscent of media omission on Palestine, and the previous cancelling of one of the most famous journalists of the twentieth century, who was erased from history when she began to tell Americans about Palestinians… And the efforts to suppress Grace Halsell’s 1970s exposé on Israeli torture…
By Alison Weir
It’s valuable that two highly respected progressive journalists, Chris Hedges and Matt Taibbi, recently discussed the censorship by mainstream media and social media platforms of the explosive information showing alleged corruption by Joe Biden and his family.
The latest casualty of the censorship has been Glenn Greenwald, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who resigned from the news organization he founded, when its editors insisted on censoring his article on Biden. (See the details here and here. These are must-reads, so if you’re not yet subscribers to these channels, I’ll also post the texts at the end of this article. I recommend that everyone subscribe to both authors’ substack feeds.)
I was impressed that Hedges dared to focus on the anti-Trump censorship by liberal media, a taboo subject for many, by interviewing Taibbi on the subject, and by the strong statements Hedges himself made in the course of the interview. At the end, Hedges and Taibbi also briefly allude to the New York Times‘ highly problematic 1619 project (see also this and this.)
The only thing I would add to their strong interview would be to note that the New York Times and other media – including “alternative media” (e.g. see this and this) – have a long long record of failing to cover important information about Israel-Palestine.
Especially relevant to the Greenwald censorship is the fact that numerous journalists through the years have suffered career damage and cancellation when they tried to provide factual information about Israel-Palestine to Americans.
I’ll focus here on one of the first journalists to experience this and then briefly touch on another, similar case.
Dorothy Thompson ‘erased from history’
According to the Britannica encyclopedia, Dorothy Thompson was “one of the most famous journalists of the twentieth century.” And yet, well before the end of the 20th century, she was “erased from history,” in the words of her biographer, because of her reporting on Palestine. Today she is virtually unknown.
Thompson was a truly fearless reporter, powerful writer, acclaimed columnist, and hugely popular public speaker.
She had a column that was syndicated worldwide, reaching 9 million readers through 170 newspapers, and was the highest paid lecturer in the United States. Time magazine put her on the cover in 1939 and said that apart from Eleanor Roosevelt she was the most influential woman in the United States.
A movie starring Katharine Hepburn and a Broadway play featuring Lauren Bacall were based on Thompson.
She was also the first journalist of note to be expelled by Hitler, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has an entry on Thompson that states: “Dorothy Thompson was one of America’s most urgent, eloquent voices against Nazism. Her writing and radio broadcasts alerted millions of people to Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews as well as the threat it posed to democracy and international peace.”
The article doesn’t mention Thompson’s reporting on what some call the “Palestinian holocaust,” and the fact that Israel partisans then worked to destroy her livelihood because of it. As Thompson wrote, there was a ruthless campaign against her of “career assassination and character assassination.”
Despite her unprecedented renown, after Thompson traveled to Palestine and began to write and speak about that issue, Israel advocates turned on her, using their power to end her career. One by one, major media outlets canceled her. Today, when there are women’s studies departments around the country and frequent focus on women’s rights, very few have heard about the journalist who for many years was the most famous woman journalist in America.
A media watchdog organization, Alternate Focus, has been working on a documentary about Thompson. Below is one of their videos. (Their work has been temporarily suspended as they desperately seek donations so they can finish the project.)
Grace Halsell’s book almost wasn’t published
A preeminent journalist who had authored several acclaimed books on diverse social issues, Halsell travelled to Israel in 1980 and wrote a powerful and moving book about what she found there – including Israel’s torture of Palestinians.
She later reported about the media censorship she encountered when she tried to get the information to the American public:
“On a trip to Washington, DC, I hand-delivered a letter to Frank Mankiewicz, then head of the public radio station WETA. I explained I had taped interviews with Palestinians who had been brutally tortured. And I’d make them available to him. I got no reply. I made several phone calls. Eventually I was put through to a public relations person, a Ms. Cohen, who said my letter had been lost. I wrote again. In time I began to realize what I hadn’t known: had it been Jews who were strung up and tortured, it would be news. But interviews with tortured Arabs were “lost” at WETA.”
Halsell described the difficulty in getting her book published:
The day the book was scheduled to be published, I went to visit MacMillan’s. Checking in at a reception desk, I spotted Griffin across a room, cleaning out his desk. His secretary Margie came to greet me. In tears, she whispered for me to meet her in the ladies room. When we were alone, she confided, “He’s been fired.” She indicated it was because he had signed a contract for a book that was sympathetic to Palestinians. Griffin, she said, had no time to see me.
Later, I met with another MacMillan official, William Curry. “I was told to take your manuscript to the Israeli Embassy, to let them read it for mistakes,” he told me. “They were not pleased. They asked me, ‘You are not going to publish this book, are you?’ I asked, ‘Were there mistakes?’ ‘Not mistakes as such. But it shouldn’t be published. It’s anti-Israel.’”
Halsell’s book was eventually published, but it largely ended her writing for the New York Times. In 1996 an Israeli journalist told her:
“We believe with absolute certitude that right now, with the White House in our hands, the Senate in our hands and The New York Times in our hands, the lives of others do not count the same way as our own.”
Below is a 1982 interview with Halsell that was broadcast on the KXAS-TV-NBC station in Fort Worth, Texas, to accompany a news story.
I feel it’s long past time for this censorship on Palestine to end and for these journalists to be remembered and honored.
Now the media censors are coming for others…
Alison Weir first stumbled across Thompson a number of years ago and included information about Thompson in her 2014 book, Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel (ironically, the book was a factor in Weir’s own cancel culture experience). She also frequently mentions Thompson in her speeches (e.g. this one at the National Press Club, and this one that Israel partisans had tried to block). Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest.
Greenwald and Taibbi articles
It’s important to be aware that Hedges and Taibbi were not similarly censoring israel-Palestine. Hedges often writes and speaks eloquently on the Palestinian situation, and Taibbi has also covered the issue, including discussing flawed news coverage of Palestinians. They didn’t discuss the censorship on Palestine here since you can only address so many things in an interview, and this was on a very specific, unrelated topic. Greenwald has reported often on Israel-Palestine, e.g. this.
Below are four articles by Greenwald and Taibbi about the recent pro-Biden censorship:
By Glenn Greenwald, October 29
An attempt to assess the importance of the known evidence, and a critique of media lies to protect their favored candidate, could not be published at The Intercept
I am posting here the most recent draft of my article about Joe and Hunter Biden — the last one seen by Intercept editors before telling me that they refuse to publish it absent major structural changes involving the removal of all sections critical of Joe Biden, leaving only a narrow article critiquing media outlets. I will also, in a separate post, publish all communications I had with Intercept editors surrounding this article so you can see the censorship in action and, given the Intercept’s denials, decide for yourselves (this is the kind of transparency responsible journalists provide, and which the Intercept refuses to this day to provide regarding their conduct in the Reality Winner story). This draft obviously would have gone through one more round of proof-reading and editing by me — to shorten it, fix typos, etc — but it’s important for the integrity of the claims to publish the draft in unchanged form that Intercept editors last saw, and announced that they would not “edit” but completely gut as a condition to publication:
TITLE: THE REAL SCANDAL: U.S. MEDIA USES FALSEHOODS TO DEFEND JOE BIDEN FROM HUNTER’S EMAILS
Publication by the New York Post two weeks ago of emails from Hunter Biden’s laptop, relating to Vice President Joe Biden’s work in Ukraine, and subsequent articles from other outlets concerning the Biden family’s pursuit of business opportunities in China, provoked extraordinary efforts by a de facto union of media outlets, Silicon Valley giants and the intelligence community to suppress these stories.
One outcome is that the Biden campaign concluded, rationally, that there is no need for the front-running presidential candidate to address even the most basic and relevant questions raised by these materials. Rather than condemn Biden for ignoring these questions — the natural instinct of a healthy press when it comes to a presidential election — journalists have instead led the way in concocting excuses to justify his silence.
After the Post’s first article, both that newspaper and other news outlets have published numerous other emails and texts purportedly written to and from Hunter reflecting his efforts to induce his father to take actions as Vice President beneficial to the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, on whose board of directors Hunter sat for a monthly payment of $50,000, as well as proposals for lucrative business deals in China that traded on his influence with his father.
Individuals included in some of the email chains have confirmed the contents’ authenticity. One of Hunter’s former business partners, Tony Bubolinski, has stepped forward on the record to confirm the authenticity of many of the emails and to insist that Hunter along with Joe Biden’s brother Jim were planning on including the former Vice President in at least one deal in China. And GOP pollster Frank Luntz, who appeared in one of the published email chains, appeared to confirm the authenticity as well, though he refused to answer follow-up questions about it.
Thus far, no proof has been offered by Bubolinski that Biden ever consummated his participation in any of those discussed deals. The Wall Street Journal says that it found no corporate records reflecting that a deal was finalized and that “text messages and emails related to the venture that were provided to the Journal by Mr. Bobulinski, mainly from the spring and summer of 2017, don’t show either Hunter Biden or James Biden discussing a role for Joe Biden in the venture.”
But nobody claimed that any such deals had been consummated — so the conclusion that one had not been does not negate the story. Moreover, some texts and emails whose authenticity has not been disputed state that Hunter was adamant that any discussions about the involvement of the Vice President be held only verbally and never put in writing.
Beyond that, the Journal’s columnist Kimberly Strassel reviewed a stash of documents and “found correspondence corroborates and expands on emails recently published by the New York Post,” including ones where Hunter was insisting that it was his connection to his father that was the greatest asset sought by the Chinese conglomerate with whom they were negotiating. The New York Times on Sunday reached a similar conclusion: while no documents prove that such a deal was consummated, “records produced by Mr. Bobulinski show that in 2017, Hunter Biden and James Biden were involved in negotiations about a joint venture with a Chinese energy and finance company called CEFC China Energy,” and “make clear that Hunter Biden saw the family name as a valuable asset, angrily citing his ‘family’s brand’ as a reason he is valuable to the proposed venture.”
These documents also demonstrate, reported the Times, “that the countries that Hunter Biden, James Biden and their associates planned to target for deals overlapped with nations where Joe Biden had previously been involved as vice president.” Strassel noted that “a May 2017 ‘expectations’ document shows Hunter receiving 20% of the equity in the venture and holding another 10% for ‘the big guy’—who Mr. Bobulinski attests is Joe Biden.” And the independent journalist Matt Taibbi published an article on Sunday with ample documentation suggesting that Biden’s attempt to replace a Ukranian prosecutor in 2015 benefited Burisma.
All of these new materials, the authenticity of which has never been disputed by Hunter Biden or the Biden campaign, raise important questions about whether the former Vice President and current front-running presidential candidate was aware of efforts by his son to peddle influence with the Vice President for profit, and also whether the Vice President ever took actions in his official capacity with the intention, at least in part, of benefitting his son’s business associates. But in the two weeks since the Post published its initial story, a union of the nation’s most powerful entities, including its news media, have taken extraordinary steps to obscure and bury these questions rather than try to provide answers to them.
The initial documents, claimed the New York Post, were obtained when the laptops containing them were left at a Delaware repair shop with water damage and never picked up, allowing the owner to access its contents and then turn them over to both the FBI and a lawyer for Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani. The repair store owner confirmed this narrative in interviews with news outlets and then (under penalty of prosecution) to a Senate Committee; he also provided the receipt purportedly signed by Hunter. Neither Hunter nor the Biden campaign has denied these claims.
Publication of that initial New York Post story provoked a highly unusual censorship campaign by Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, through a long-time former Democratic Party operative, vowed to suppress the story pending its “fact-check,” one that has as of yet produced no public conclusions. And while Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey apologized for Twitter’s handling of the censorship and reversed the policy that led to the blocking of all links the story, the New York Post, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper, continues to be locked out of its Twitter account, unable to post as the election approaches, for almost two weeks.
After that initial censorship burst from Silicon Valley, whose workforce and oligarchs have donated almost entirely to the Biden campaign, it was the nation’s media outlets and former CIA and other intelligence officials who took the lead in constructing reasons why the story should be dismissed, or at least treated with scorn. As usual for the Trump era, the theme that took center stage to accomplish this goal was an unsubstantiated claim about the Kremlin responsibility for the story.
Numerous news outlets, including the Intercept, quickly cited a public letter signed by former CIA officials and other agents of the security state claiming that the documents have the “classic trademarks” of a “Russian disinformation” plot. But, as media outlets and even intelligence agencies are now slowly admitting, no evidence has ever been presented to corroborate this assertion. On Friday, the New York Times reported that “no concrete evidence has emerged that the laptop contains Russian disinformation” and the paper said even the FBI has “acknowledged that it had not found any Russian disinformation on the laptop.”
The Washington Post on Sunday published an op-ed — by Thomas Rid, one of those centrists establishmentarian professors whom media outlets routinely use to provide the facade of expert approval for deranged conspiracy theories — that contained this extraordinary proclamation: “We must treat the Hunter Biden leaks as if they were a foreign intelligence operation — even if they probably aren’t.”
Even the letter from the former intelligence officials cited by The Intercept and other outlets to insinuate that this was all part of some “Russian disinformation” scheme explicitly admitted that “we do not have evidence of Russian involvement,” though many media outlets omitted that crucial acknowledgement when citing the letter in order to disparage the story as a Kremlin plot:
Despite this complete lack of evidence, the Biden campaign adopted this phrase used by intelligence officials and media outlets as its mantra for why the materials should not be discussed and why they would not answer basic questions about them. “I think we need to be very, very clear that what he’s doing here is amplifying Russian misinformation,” said Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield about the possibility that Trump would raise the Biden emails at Thursday night’s debate. Biden’s senior advisor Symone Sanders similarly warned on MSNBC: “if the president decides to amplify these latest smears against the vice president and his only living son, that is Russian disinformation.”
The few mainstream journalists who tried merely to discuss these materials have been vilified. For the crime of simply noting it on Twitter that first day, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman had her name trend all morning along with the derogatory nickname “MAGA Haberman.” CBS News’ Bo Erickson was widely attacked even by his some in the media simply for asking Biden what his response to the story was. And Biden himself refused to answer, accusing Erickson of spreading a “smear.”
That it is irresponsible and even unethical to mention these documents became a pervasive view in mainstream journalism. The NPR Public Editor, in an anazing statement representative of much of the prevailing media mentality, explicitly justified NPR’s refusal to cover the story on the ground that “we do not want to waste our time on stories that are not really stories . . . [or] waste the readers’ and listeners’ time on stories that are just pure distractions.”
To justify her own show’s failure to cover the story, 60 Minutes’ Leslie Stahl resorted to an entirely different justification. “It can’t be verified,” the CBS reporter claimed when confronted by President Trump in an interview about her program’s failure to cover the Hunter Biden documents. When Trump insisted there were multiple ways to verify the materials on the laptop, Stahl simply repeated the same phrase: “it can’t be verified.”
After the final presidential debate on Thursday night, a CNN panel mocked the story as too complex and obscure for anyone to follow — a self-fulfilling prophecy given that, as the network’s media reporter Brian Stelter noted with pride, the story has barely been mentioned either on CNN or MSNBC. As the New York Times noted on Friday: “most viewers of CNN and MSNBC would not have heard much about the unconfirmed Hunter Biden emails…. CNN’s mentions of “Hunter” peaked at 20 seconds and MSNBC’s at 24 seconds one day last week.”
On Sunday, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour barely pretended to be interested in any journalism surrounding the story, scoffing during an interview at requests from the RNC’s Elizabeth Harrington to cover the story and verify the documents by telling her: “We’re not going to do your work for you.” Watch how the U.S.’s most mainstream journalists are openly announcing their refusal to even consider what these documents might reflect about the Democratic front-runner:
These journalists are desperate not to know. As Taibbi wrote on Sunday about this tawdry press spectacle: ” The least curious people in the country right now appear to be the credentialed news media, a situation normally unique to tinpot authoritarian societies.”
All of those excuses and pretexts — emanating largely from a national media that is all but explicit in their eagerness for Biden to win — served for the first week or more after the Post story to create a cone of silence around this story and, to this very day, a protective shield for Biden. As a result, the front-running presidential candidate knows that he does not have to answer even the most basic questions about these documents because most of the national press has already signaled that they will not press him to do so; to the contrary, they will concoct defenses on his behalf to avoid discussing it.
The relevant questions for Biden raised by this new reporting are as glaring as they are important. Yet Biden has had to answer very few of them yet because he has not been asked and, when he has, media outlets have justified his refusal to answer rather than demand that he do so. We submitted nine questions to his campaign about these documents that the public has the absolute right to know, including:
- whether he claims any the emails or texts are fabricated (and, if so, which specific ones);
- whether he knows if Hunter did indeed drop off laptops at the Delaware repair store;
- whether Hunter ever asked him to meet with Burisma executives or whether he in fact did so;
- whether Biden ever knew about business proposals in Ukraine or China being pursued by his son and brother in which Biden was a proposed participant and,
- how Biden could justify expending so much energy as Vice President demanding that the Ukrainian General Prosecutor be fired, and why the replacement — Yuriy Lutsenko, someone who had no experience in law; was a crony of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko; and himself had a history of corruption allegations — was acceptable if Biden’s goal really was to fight corruption in Ukraine rather than benefit Burisma or control Ukrainian internal affairs for some other objective.
Though the Biden campaign indicated that they would respond to the Intercept’s questions, they have not done so. A statement they released to other outlets contains no answers to any of these questions except to claim that Biden “has never even considered being involved in business with his family, nor in any business overseas.” To date, even as the Biden campaign echoes the baseless claims of media outlets that anyone discussing this story is “amplifying Russian disinformation,” neither Hunter Biden nor the Biden campaign have even said whether they claim the emails and other documents — which they and the press continue to label “Russian disinformation” — are forgeries or whether they are authentic.
The Biden campaign clearly believes it has no need to answer any of these questions by virtue of a panoply of media excuses offered on its behalf that collapse upon the most minimal scrutiny:
First, the claim that the material is of suspect authenticity or cannot be verified — the excuse used on behalf of Biden by Leslie Stahl and Christiane Amanpour, among others — is blatantly false for numerous reasons. As someone who has reported similar large archives in partnership with numerous media outlets around the world (including the Snowden archive in 2014 and the Intercept’s Brazil Archive over the last year showing corruption by high-level Bolsonaro officials), and who also covered the reporting of similar archives by other outlets (the Panama Papers, the WikiLeaks war logs of 2010 and DNC/Podesta emails of 2016), it is clear to me that the trove of documents from Hunter Biden’s emails has been verified in ways quite similar to those.
With an archive of this size, one can never independently authenticate every word in every last document unless the subject of the reporting voluntarily confirms it in advance, which they rarely do. What has been done with similar archives is journalists obtain enough verification to create high levels of journalistic confidence in the materials. Some of the materials provided by the source can be independently confirmed, proving genuine access by the source to a hard drive, a telephone, or a database. Other parties in email chains can confirm the authenticity of the email or text conversations in which they participated. One investigates non-public facts contained in the documents to determine that they conform to what the documents reflect. Technology specialists can examine the materials to ensure no signs of forgeries are detected.
This is the process that enabled the largest and most established media outlets around the world to report similar large archives obtained without authorization. In those other cases, no media outlet was able to verify every word of every document prior to publication. There was no way to prove the negative that the source or someone else had not altered or forged some of the material. That level of verification is both unattainable and unnecessary. What is needed is substantial evidence to create high confidence in the authentication process.
The Hunter Biden documents have at least as much verification as those other archives that were widely reported. There are sources in the email chains who have verified that the published emails are accurate. The archive contains private photos and videos of Hunter whose authenticity is not in doubt. A former business partner of Hunter has stated, unequivocally and on the record, that not only are the emails authentic but they describe events accurately, including proposed participation by the former Vice President in at least one deal Hunter and Jim Biden were pursuing in China. And, most importantly of all, neither Hunter Biden nor the Biden campaign has even suggested, let alone claimed, that a single email or text is fake.
Why is the failure of the Bidens to claim that these emails are forged so significant? Because when journalists report on a massive archive, they know that the most important event in the reporting’s authentication process comes when the subjects of the reporting have an opportunity to deny that the materials are genuine. Of course that is what someone would do if major media outlets were preparing to publish, or in fact were publishing, fabricated or forged materials in their names; they would say so in order to sow doubt about the materials if not kill the credibility of the reporting.
The silence of the Bidens may not be dispositive on the question of the material’s authenticity, but when added to the mountain of other authentication evidence, it is quite convincing: at least equal to the authentication evidence in other reporting on similarly large archives.
Second, the oft-repeated claim from news outlets and CIA operatives that the published emails and texts were “Russian disinformation” was, from the start, obviously baseless and reckless. No evidence — literally none — has been presented to suggest involvement by any Russians in the dissemination of these materials, let alone that it was part of some official plot by Moscow. As always, anything is possible — when one does not know for certain what the provenance of materials is, nothing can be ruled out — but in journalism, evidence is required before news outlets can validly start blaming some foreign government for the release of information. And none has ever been presented. Yet the claim that this was “Russian disinformation” was published in countless news outlets, television broadcasts, and the social media accounts of journalists, typically by pointing to the evidence-free claims of ex-CIA officials.
Worse is the “disinformation” part of the media’s equation. How can these materials constitute “disinformation” if they are authentic emails and texts actually sent to and from Hunter Biden? The ease with which news outlets that are supposed to be skeptical of evidence-free pronouncements by the intelligence community instead printed their assertions about “Russian disinformation” is alarming in the extreme. But they did it because they instinctively wanted to find a reason to justify ignoring the contents of these emails, so claiming that Russia was behind it, and that the materials were “disinformation,” became their placeholder until they could figure out what else they should say to justify ignoring these documents.
Third, the media rush to exonerate Biden on the question of whether he engaged in corruption vis-a-vis Ukraine and Burisma rested on what are, at best, factually dubious defenses of the former Vice President. Much of this controversy centers on Biden’s aggressive efforts while Vice President in late 2015 to force the Ukrainian government to fire its Chief Prosecutor, Viktor Shokhin, and replace him with someone acceptable to the U.S., which turned out to be Yuriy Lutsenko. These events are undisputed by virtue of a video of Biden boasting in front of an audience of how he flew to Kiev and forced the Ukrainians to fire Shokhin, upon pain of losing $1 billion in aid.
But two towering questions have long been prompted by these events, and the recently published emails make them more urgent than ever: 1) was the firing of the Ukrainian General Prosecutor such a high priority for Biden as Vice President of the U.S. because of his son’s highly lucrative role on the board of Burisma, and 2) if that was not the motive, why was it so important for Biden to dictate who the chief prosecutor of Ukraine was?
The standard answer to the question about Biden’s motive — offered both by Biden and his media defenders — is that he, along with the IMF and EU, wanted Shokhin fired because the U.S. and its allies were eager to clean up Ukraine, and they viewed Shokhin as insufficiently vigilant in fighting corruption.
“Biden’s brief was to sweet-talk and jawbone Poroshenko into making reforms that Ukraine’s Western benefactors wanted to see as,” wrote the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler in what the Post calls a “fact-check.” Kessler also endorsed the key defense of Biden: that the firing of Shokhin was bad for Burima, not good for it. “The United States viewed [Shokhin] as ineffective and beholden to Poroshenko and Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs. In particular, Shokin had failed to pursue an investigation of the founder of Burisma, Mykola Zlochevsky,” Kessler claims.
But that claim does not even pass the laugh test. The U.S. and its European allies are not opposed to corruption by their puppet regimes. They are allies with the most corrupt regimes on the planet, from Riyadh to Cairo, and always have been. Since when does the U.S. devote itself to ensuring good government in the nations it is trying to control? If anything, allowing corruption to flourish has been a key tool in enabling the U.S. to exert power in other countries and to open up their markets to U.S. companies.
Beyond that, if increasing prosecutorial independence and strengthening anti-corruption vigilance were really Biden’s goal in working to demand the firing of the Ukrainian chief prosecutor, why would the successor to Shokhin, Yuriy Lutsenko, possibly be acceptable? Lutsenko, after all, had “no legal background as general prosecutor,” was principally known only as a lackey of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, was forced in 2009 to “resign as interior minister after being detained by police at Frankfurt airport for being drunk and disorderly,” and “was subsequently jailed for embezzlement and abuse of office, though his defenders said the sentence was politically motivated.”
Is it remotely convincing to you that Biden would have accepted someone like Lutsenko if his motive really were to fortify anti-corruption prosecutions in Ukraine? Yet that’s exactly what Biden did: he personally told Poroshenko that Lutsenko was an acceptable alternative and promptly released the $1 billion after his appointment was announced. Whatever Biden’s motive was in using his power as U.S. Vice President to change the prosecutor in Ukraine, his acceptance of someone like Lutsenko strongly suggests that combatting Ukrainian corruption was not it.
As for the other claim on which Biden and his media allies have heavily relied — that firing Shokhin was not a favor for Burisma because Shokhin was not pursuing any investigations against Burisma — the evidence does not justify that assertion.
It is true that no evidence, including these new emails, constitute proof that Biden’s motive in demanding Shokhin’s termination was to benefit Burisma. But nothing demonstrates that Shokhin was impeding investigations into Burisma. Indeed, the New York Times in 2019 published one of the most comprehensive investigations to date of the claims made in defense of Biden when it comes to Ukraine and the firing of this prosecutor, and, while noting that “no evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal,” this is what its reporters concluded about Shokhin and Burisma:
[Biden’s] pressure campaign eventually worked. The prosecutor general, long a target of criticism from other Western nations and international lenders, was voted out months later by the Ukrainian Parliament.
Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s younger son, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general.
The Times added: “Mr. Shokhin’s office had oversight of investigations into [Burisma’s billionaire founder] Zlochevsky and his businesses, including Burisma.” By contrast, they said, Lutsenko, the replacement approved by Vice President Biden, “initially continued investigating Mr. Zlochevsky and Burisma, but cleared him of all charges within 10 months of taking office.”
So whether or not it was Biden’s intention to confer benefits on Burisma by demanding Shokhin’s firing, it ended up quite favorable for Burisma given that the utterly inexperienced Lutesenko “cleared [Burisma’s founder] of all charges within 10 months of taking office.”
The new comprehensive report from journalist Taibbi on Sunday also strongly supports the view that there were clear antagonisms between Shokhin and Burisma, such that firing the Ukrainian prosecutor would have been beneficial for Burisma. Taibbi, who reported for many years while based in Russia and remains very well-sourced in the region, detailed:
For all the negative press about Shokhin, there’s no doubt that there were multiple active cases involving Zlochevsky/Burisma during his short tenure. This was even once admitted by American reporters, before it became taboo to describe such cases untethered to words like “dormant.” Here’s how Ken Vogel at the New York Times put it in May of 2019:
“When Mr. Shokhin became prosecutor general in February 2015, he inherited several investigations into the company and Mr. Zlochevsky, including for suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering. Mr. Shokin also opened an investigation into the granting of lucrative gas licenses to companies owned by Mr. Zlochevsky when he was the head of the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.”
Ukrainian officials I reached this week confirmed that multiple cases were active during that time.
“There were different numbers, but from 7 to 14,” says Serhii Horbatiuk, former head of the special investigations department for the Prosecutor General’s Office, when asked how many Burisma cases there were.
“There may have been two to three episodes combined, and some have already been closed, so I don’t know the exact amount.” But, Horbatiuk insists, there were many cases, most of them technically started under Yarema, but at least active under Shokin.
The numbers quoted by Horbatiuk gibe with those offered by more recent General Prosecutor Rulsan Ryaboshapka, who last year said there were at one time or another “13 or 14” cases in existence involving Burisma or Zlochevsky.
Taibbi reviews real-time reporting in both Ukraine and the U.S. to document several other pending investigations against Burisma and Zlochevsky that was overseen by the prosecutor whose firing Biden demanded. He notes that Shokhin himself has repeatedly said he was pursuing several investigations against Zlochevsky at the time Biden demanded his firing. In sum, Taibbi concludes, “one can’t say there’s no evidence of active Burisma cases even during the last days of Shokin, who says that it was the February, 2016 seizure order [against Zlochevsky’s assets] that got him fired.”
And, Taibbi notes, “the story looks even odder when one wonders why the United States would exercise so much foreign policy muscle to get Shokin fired, only to allow in a replacement — Yuri Lutsenko — who by all accounts was a spectacularly bigger failure in the battle against corruption in general, and Zlochevsky in particular.” In sum: “it’s unquestionable that the cases against Burisma were all closed by Shokin’s successor, chosen in consultation with Joe Biden, whose son remained on the board of said company for three more years, earning upwards of $50,000 per month.”
The publicly known facts, augmented by the recent emails, texts and on-the-record accounts, suggest serious sleaze by Joe Biden’s son Hunter in trying to peddle his influence with the Vice President for profit. But they also raise real questions about whether Joe Biden knew about and even himself engaged in a form of legalized corruption. Specifically, these newly revealed information suggest Biden was using his power to benefit his son’s business Ukrainian associates, and allowing his name to be traded on while Vice President for his son and brother to pursue business opportunities in China. These are questions which a minimally healthy press would want answered, not buried — regardless of how many similar or worse scandals the Trump family has.
But the real scandal that has been proven is not the former Vice President’s misconduct but that of his supporters and allies in the U.S. media. As Taibbi’s headline put it: “With the Hunter Biden Exposé, Suppression is a Bigger Scandal Than the Actual Story.”
The reality is the U.S. press has been planning for this moment for four years — cooking up justifications for refusing to report on newsworthy material that might help Donald Trump get re-elected. One major factor is the undeniable truth that journalists with national outlets based in New York, Washington and West Coast cities overwhelmingly not just favor Joe Biden but are desperate to see Donald Trump defeated.
It takes an enormous amount of gullibility to believe that any humans are capable of separating such an intense partisan preference from their journalistic judgment. Many barely even bother to pretend: critiques of Joe Biden are often attacked first not by Biden campaign operatives but by political reporters at national news outlets who make little secret of their eagerness to help Biden win.
But much of this has to do with the fallout from the 2016 election. During that campaign, news outlets, including The Intercept, did their jobs as journalists by reporting on the contents of newsworthy, authentic documents: namely, the emails published by WikiLeaks from the John Podesta and DNC inboxes which, among other things, revealed corruption so severe that it forced the resignation of the top five officials of the DNC. That the materials were hacked, and that intelligence agencies were suggesting Russia was responsible, not negate the newsworthiness of the documents, which is why media outlets across the country repeatedly reported on their contents.
Nonetheless, journalists have spent four years being attacked as Trump enablers in their overwhelmingly Democratic and liberal cultural circles: the cities in which they live are overwhelmingly Democratic, and their demographic — large-city, college-educated professionals — has vanishingly little Trump support. A New York Times survey of campaign data from Monday tells just a part of this story of cultural insularity and homogeniety:
Joe Biden has outraised President Trump on the strength of some of the wealthiest and most educated ZIP codes in the United States, running up the fund-raising score in cities and suburbs so resoundingly that he collected more money than Mr. Trump on all but two days in the last two months….It is not just that much of Mr. Biden’s strongest support comes overwhelmingly from the two coasts, which it does…. [U]nder Mr. Trump, Republicans have hemorrhaged support from white voters with college degrees. In ZIP codes with a median household income of at least $100,000, Mr. Biden smashed Mr. Trump in fund-raising, $486 million to only $167 million — accounting for almost his entire financial edge….One Upper West Side ZIP code — 10024 — accounted for more than $8 million for Mr. Biden, and New York City in total delivered $85.6 million for him — more than he raised in every state other than California….
The median household in the United States was $68,703 in 2019. In ZIP codes above that level, Mr. Biden outraised Mr. Trump by $389.1 million. Below that level, Mr. Trump was actually ahead by $53.4 million.
Wanting to avoid a repeat of feeling scorn and shunning in their own extremely pro-Democratic, anti-Trump circles, national media outlets have spent four years inventing standards for election-year reporting on hacked materials that never previously existed and that are utterly anathema to the core journalistic function. The Washington Post’s Executive Editor Marty Baron, for instance, issued a memo full of cautions about how Post reporters should, or should not, discuss hacked materials even if their authenticity is not in doubt.
That a media outlet should even consider refraining from reporting on materials they know to be authentic and in the public interest because of questions about their provenance is the opposite of how journalism has been practiced. In the days before the 2016 election, for instance, the New York Times received by mail one year of Donald Trump’s tax returns and — despite having no idea who sent it to them or how that person obtained it: was is stolen or hacked by a foreign power? — the Times reported on its contents.
When asked by NPR why they would report on documents when they do not know the source let alone the source’s motives in providing them, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Barstow compellingly explained what had always been the core principle of journalism: namely, a journalist only cares about two questions — (1) are documents authentic and (2) are they in the public interest? — but does not care about what motives a source has in providing the documents or how they were obtained when deciding whether to reporting them:
The U.S. media often laments that people have lost faith in its pronouncements, that they are increasingly viewed as untrustworthy and that many people view Fake News sites are more reliable than established news outlets. They are good at complaining about this, but very bad at asking whether any of their own conduct is responsible for it.
A media outlet that renounces its core function — pursuing answers to relevant questions about powerful people — is one that deserves to lose the public’s faith and confidence. And that is exactly what the U.S. media, with some exceptions, attempted to do with this story: they took the lead not in investigating these documents but in concocting excuses for why they should be ignored.
As my colleague Lee Fang put it on Sunday: “The partisan double standards in the media are mind boggling this year, and much of the supposedly left independent media is just as cowardly and conformist as the mainstream corporate media. Everyone is reading the room and acting out of fear.” Discussing his story from Sunday, Taibbi summed up the most important point this way: “The whole point is that the press loses its way when it cares more about who benefits from information than whether it’s true.”
By Glenn Greenwald, October 29
The same trends of repression, censorship and ideological homogeneity plaguing the national press generally have engulfed the media outlet I co-founded, culminating in censorship of my own articles.
Today I sent my intention to resign from The Intercept, the news outlet I co-founded in 2013 with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, as well as from its parent company First Look Media.
The final, precipitating cause 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, the candidate vehemently supported by all New-York-based Intercept editors involved in this effort at suppression.
The censored article, based on recently revealed emails and witness testimony, raised critical questions about Biden’s conduct. Not content to simply prevent publication of this article at the media outlet I co-founded, these Intercept editors also demanded that I refrain from exercising a separate contractual right to publish this article with any other publication.
I had no objection to their disagreement with my views of what this Biden evidence shows: as a last-ditch attempt to avoid being censored, I encouraged them to air their disagreements with me by writing their own articles that critique my perspectives and letting readers decide who is right, the way any confident and healthy media outlet would. But modern media outlets do not air dissent; they quash it. So censorship of my article, rather than engagement with it, was the path these Biden-supporting editors chose.
The censored article will be published on this page shortly (it is now published here, and the emails with Intercept editors showing the censorship are here). My letter of intent to resign, which I sent this morning to First Look Media’s President Michael Bloom, is published below.
As of now, I will be publishing my journalism here on Substack, where numerous other journalists, including my good friend, the great intrepid reporter Matt Taibbi, have come in order to practice journalism free of the increasingly repressive climate that is engulfing national mainstream media outlets across the country.
This was not an easy choice: I am voluntarily sacrificing the support of a large institution and guaranteed salary in exchange for nothing other than a belief that there are enough people who believe in the virtues of independent journalism and the need for free discourse who will be willing to support my work by subscribing.
Like anyone with young children, a family and numerous obligations, I do this with some trepidation, but also with the conviction that there is no other choice. I could not sleep at night knowing that I allowed any institution to censor what I want to say and believe — least of all a media outlet I co-founded with the explicit goal of ensuring this never happens to other journalists, let alone to me, let alone because I have written an article critical of a powerful Democratic politician vehemently supported by the editors in the imminent national election.
But the pathologies, illiberalism, and repressive mentality that led to the bizarre spectacle of my being censored by my own media outlet are ones that are by no means unique to The Intercept. These are the viruses that have contaminated virtually every mainstream center-left political organization, academic institution, and newsroom. I began writing about politics fifteen years ago with the goal of combatting media propaganda and repression, and — regardless of the risks involved — simply cannot accept any situation, no matter how secure or lucrative, that forces me to submit my journalism and right of free expression to its suffocating constraints and dogmatic dictates.
From the time I began writing about politics in 2005, journalistic freedom and editorial independence have been sacrosanct to me. Fifteen years ago, I created a blog on the free Blogspot software when I was still working as a lawyer: not with any hopes or plans of starting a new career as a journalist, but just as a citizen concerned about what I was seeing with the War on Terror and civil liberties, and wanting to express what I believed needed to be heard. It was a labor of love, based in an ethos of cause and conviction, dependent upon a guarantee of complete editorial freedom.
It thrived because the readership I built knew that, even when they disagreed with particular views I was expressing, I was a free and independent voice, unwedded to any faction, controlled by nobody, endeavoring to be as honest as possible about what I was seeing, and always curious about the wisdom of seeing things differently. The title I chose for that blog, “Unclaimed Territory,” reflected that spirit of liberation from captivity to any fixed political or intellectual dogma or institutional constraints.
When Salon offered me a job as a columnist in 2007, and then again when the Guardian did the same in 2012, I accepted their offers on the condition that I would have the right, except in narrowly defined situations (such as articles that could create legal liability for the news outlet), to publish my articles and columns directly to the internet without censorship, advanced editorial interference, or any other intervention permitted or approval needed. Both outlets revamped their publication system to accommodate this condition, and over the many years I worked with them, they always honored those commitments.
When I left the Guardian at the height of the Snowden reporting in 2013 in order to create a new media outlet, I did not do so, needless to say, in order to impose upon myself more constraints and restrictions on my journalistic independence. The exact opposite was true: the intended core innovation of The Intercept, above all else, was to create a new media outlets where all talented, responsible journalists would enjoy the same right of editorial freedom I had always insisted upon for myself. As I told former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller in a 2013 exchange we had in The New York Times about my critiques of mainstream journalism and the idea behind The Intercept: “editors should be there to empower and enable strong, highly factual, aggressive adversarial journalism, not to serve as roadblocks to neuter or suppress the journalism.”
When the three of us as co-founders made the decision early on that we would not attempt to manage the day-to-day operations of the new outlet, so that we could instead focus on our journalism, we negotiated the right of approval for senior editors and, especially the editor-in-chief. The central responsibility of the person holding that title was to implement, in close consultation with us, the unique journalistic vision and journalistic values on which we founded this new media outlet.
Chief among those values was editorial freedom, the protection of a journalist’s right to speak in an honest voice, and the airing rather than suppression of dissent from mainstream orthodoxies and even collegial disagreements with one another. That would be accomplished, above all else, by ensuring that journalists, once they fulfilled the first duty of factual accuracy and journalistic ethics, would be not just permitted but encouraged to express political and ideological views that deviated from mainstream orthodoxy and those of their own editors; to express themselves in their own voice of passion and conviction rather stuffed into the corporatized, contrived tone of artificial objectivity, above-it-all omnipotence; and to be completely free of anyone else’s dogmatic beliefs or ideological agenda — including those of the three co-founders.
The current iteration of The Intercept is completely unrecognizable when compared to that original vision. Rather than offering a venue for airing dissent, marginalized voices and unheard perspectives, it is rapidly becoming just another media outlet with mandated ideological and partisan loyalties, a rigid and narrow range of permitted viewpoints (ranging from establishment liberalism to soft leftism, but always anchored in ultimate support for the Democratic Party), a deep fear of offending hegemonic cultural liberalism and center-left Twitter luminaries, and an overarching need to secure the approval and admiration of the very mainstream media outlets we created The Intercept to oppose, critique and subvert.
As a result, it is a rare event indeed when a radical freelance voice unwelcome in mainstream precincts is published in The Intercept. Outside reporters or writers with no claim to mainstream acceptability — exactly the people we set out to amplify — have almost no chance of being published. It is even rarer for The Intercept to publish content that would not fit very comfortably in at least a dozen or more center-left publications of similar size which pre-dated its founding, from Mother Jones to Vox and even MSNBC.
Courage is required to step out of line, to question and poke at those pieties most sacred in one’s own milieu, but fear of alienating the guardians of liberal orthodoxy, especially on Twitter, is the predominant attribute of The Intercept’s New-York based editorial leadership team. As a result, The Intercept has all but abandoned its core mission of challenging and poking at, rather than appeasing and comforting, the institutions and guardians most powerful in its cultural and political circles.
Making all of this worse, The Intercept — while gradually excluding the co-founders from any role in its editorial mission or direction, and making one choice after the next to which I vocally objected as a betrayal of our core mission — continued publicly to trade on my name in order to raise funds for journalism it knew I did not support. It purposely allowed the perception to fester that I was the person responsible for its journalistic mistakes in order to ensure that blame for those mistakes was heaped on me rather than the editors who were consolidating control and were responsible for them.
The most egregious, but by no means only, example of exploiting my name to evade responsibility was the Reality Winner debacle. As The New York Times recently reported, that was a story in which I had no involvement whatsoever. While based in Brazil, I was never asked to work on the documents which Winner sent to our New York newsroom with no request that any specific journalist work on them. I did not even learn of the existence of that document until very shortly prior to its publication. The person who oversaw, edited and controlled that story was Betsy Reed, which was how it should be given the magnitude and complexity of that reporting and her position as editor-in-chief.
It was Intercept editors who pressured the story’s reporters to quickly send those documents for authentication to the government — because they was eager to prove to mainstream media outlets and prominent liberals that The Intercept was willing to get on board the Russiagate train. They wanted to counter-act the perception, created by my articles expressing skepticism about the central claims of that scandal, that The Intercept had stepped out of line on a story of high importance to U.S. liberalism and even the left. That craving — to secure the approval of the very mainstream media outlets we set out to counteract — was the root cause for the speed and recklessness with which that document from Winner was handled.
But The Intercept, to this very day, has refused to provide any public accounting of what happened in the Reality Winner story: to explain who the editors were who made mistakes and why any of it happened. As the New York Times article makes clear, that refusal persists to this very day notwithstanding vocal demands from myself, Scahill, Laura Poitras and others that The Intercept, as an institution that demands transparency from others, has the obligation to provide it for itself.
The reason for this silence and this cover-up is obvious: accounting to the public about what happened with the Reality Winner story would reveal who the actual editors are who are responsible for that deeply embarrassing newsroom failure, and that would negate their ability to continue to hide behind me and let the public continue to assume that I was the person at fault for a reporting process from which I was completely excluded from the start. That is just one example illustrating the frustrating dilemma of having a newsroom exploit my name, work and credibility when it is convenient to do so, while increasingly denying me any opportunity to influence its journalistic mission and editorial direction, all while pursuing an editorial mission completely anathema to what I believe.
Despite all of this, I did not want to leave The Intercept. As it deteriorated and abandoned its original mission, I reasoned to myself — perhaps rationalized — that as long as The Intercept at least continued to provide me the resources to personally do the journalism I believe in, and never to interfere in or impede my editorial freedom, I could swallow everything else.
But the brute censorship this week of my article — about the Hunter Biden materials and Joe Biden’s conduct regarding Ukraine and China, as well my critique of the media’s rank-closing attempt, in a deeply unholy union with Silicon Valley and the “intelligence community,” to suppress its revelations — eroded the last justification I could cling to for staying. It meant that not only does this media outlet not provide the editorial freedom to other journalists, as I had so hopefully envisioned seven years ago, but now no longer even provides it to me. In the days heading into a presidential election, I am somehow silenced from expressing any views that random editors in New York find disagreeable, and now somehow have to conform my writing and reporting to cater to their partisan desires and eagerness to elect specific candidates.
To say that such censorship is a red line for me, a situation I would never accept no matter the cost, is an understatement. It is astonishing to me, but also a reflection of our current discourse and illiberal media environment, that I have been silenced about Joe Biden by my own media outlet.
Numerous other episodes were also contributing causes to my decision to leave: the Reality Winner cover-up; the decision to hang Lee Fang out to dry and even force him to apologize when a colleague tried to destroy his reputation by publicly, baselessly and repeatedly branding him a racist; its refusal to report on the daily proceedings of the Assange extradition hearing because the freelance reporter doing an outstanding job was politically distasteful; its utter lack of editorial standards when it comes to viewpoints or reporting that flatter the beliefs of its liberal base (The Intercept published some of the most credulous and false affirmations of maximalist Russiagate madness, and, horrifyingly, took the lead in falsely branding the Hunter Biden archive as “Russian disinformation” by mindlessly and uncritically citing — of all things — a letter by former CIA officials that contained this baseless insinuation).
I know it sounds banal to say, but — even with all of these frustrations and failures — I am leaving, and writing this, with genuine sadness, not fury. That news outlet is something I and numerous close friends and colleagues poured an enormous amount of our time, energy, passion and love into building.
The Intercept has done great work. Its editorial leaders and First Look’s managers steadfastly supported the difficult and dangerous reporting I did last year with my brave young colleagues at The Intercept Brasil to expose corruption at the highest levels of the Bolsonaro government, and stood behind us as we endured threats of death and imprisonment.
It continues to employ some of my closest friends, outstanding journalists whose work — when it overcomes editorial resistance — produces nothing but the highest admiration from me: Jeremy Scahill, Lee Fang, Murtaza Hussain, Naomi Klein, Ryan Grim and others. And I have no personal animus for anyone there, nor any desire to hurt it as an institution. Betsy Reed is an exceptionally smart editor and a very good human being with whom I developed a close and valuable friendship. And Pierre Omidyar, the original funder and publisher of First Look, always honored his personal commitment never to interfere in our editorial process even when I was publishing articles directly at odds with his strongly held views and even when I was attacking other institutions he was funding. I’m not leaving out of vengeance or personal conflict but out of conviction and cause.
And none of the critiques I have voiced about The Intercept are unique to it. To the contrary: these are the raging battles over free expression and the right of dissent raging within every major cultural, political and journalistic institution. That’s the crisis that journalism, and more broadly values of liberalism, faces. Our discourse is becoming increasingly intolerant of dissenting views, and our culture is demanding more and more submission to prevailing orthodoxies imposed by self-anointed monopolists of Truth and Righteousness, backed up by armies of online enforcement mobs.
And nothing is crippled by that trend more severely than journalism, which, above all else, requires the ability of journalists to offend and anger power centers, question or reject sacred pieties, unearth facts that reflect negatively even on (especially on) the most beloved and powerful figures, and highlight corruption no matter where it is found and regardless of who is benefited or injured by its exposure.
Prior to the extraordinary experience of being censored this week by my own news outlet, I had already been exploring the possibility of creating a new media outlet. I have spent a couple of months in active discussions with some of the most interesting, independent and vibrant journalists, writers and commentators across the political spectrum about the feasibility of securing financing for a new outlet that would be designed to combat these trends. The first two paragraphs of our working document reads as follows:
American media is gripped in a polarized culture war that is forcing journalism to conform to tribal, groupthink narratives that are often divorced from the truth and cater to perspectives that are not reflective of the broader public but instead a minority of hyper-partisan elites. The need to conform to highly restrictive, artificial cultural narratives and partisan identities has created a repressive and illiberal environment in which vast swaths of news and reporting either do not happen or are presented through the most skewed and reality-detached lens.
With nearly all major media institutions captured to some degree by this dynamic, a deep need exists for media that is untethered and free to transgress the boundaries of this polarized culture war and address a demand from a public that is starved for media that doesn’t play for a side but instead pursues lines of reporting, thought, and inquiry wherever they lead, without fear of violating cultural pieties or elite orthodoxies.
I have definitely not relinquished hope that this ambitious project can be accomplished. And I theoretically could have stayed at The Intercept until then, guaranteeing a stable and secure income for my family by swallowing the dictates of my new censors.
But I would be deeply ashamed if I did that, and believe I would be betraying my own principles and convictions that I urge others to follow. So in the meantime, I have decided to follow in the footsteps of numerous other writers and journalists who have been expelled from increasingly repressive journalistic precincts for various forms of heresy and dissent and who have sought refuge here.
I hope to exploit the freedom this new platform offers not only to continue to publish the independent and hard-hitting investigative journalism and candid analysis and opinion writing that my readers have come to expect, but also to develop a podcast, and continue the YouTube program, “System Update,” I launched earlier this year in partnership with The Intercept.
To do that, to make this viable, I will need your support: people who are able to subscribe and sign up for the newsletter attached to this platform will enable my work to thrive and still be heard, perhaps even more so than before. I began my journalism career by depending on my readers’ willingness to support independent journalism which they believe is necessary to sustain. It is somewhat daunting at this point in my life, but also very exciting, to return to that model where one answers only to the public a journalist should be serving.
* * * * * * * *
LETTER OF INTENT TO RESIGN
——– Forwarded Message ——–
Subject: ResignationDate: Thu, 29 Oct 2020 10:20:54 -0300From: Glenn Greenwald <firstname.lastname@example.org>To: Michael Bloom <email@example.com>, Betsy Reed <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I am writing to advise you that I have decided that I will be resigning from First Look Media (FLM) and The Intercept.
The precipitating (but by no means only) cause is that The Intercept is attempting to censor my articles in violation of both my contract and fundamental principles of editorial freedom. The latest and perhaps most egregious example is an opinion column I wrote this week which, five days before the presidential election, is critical of Joe Biden, the candidate who happens to be vigorously supported by all of the Intercept editors in New York who are imposing the censorship and refusing to publish the article unless I agree to remove all of the sections critical of the candidate they want to win. All of that violates the right in my contract with FLM to publish articles without editorial interference except in very narrow circumstances that plainly do not apply here.
Worse, The Intercept editors in New York, not content to censor publication of my article at the Intercept, are also demanding that I not exercise my separate contractual right with FLM regarding articles I have written but which FLM does not want to publish itself. Under my contract, I have the right to publish any articles FLM rejects with another publication. But Intercept editors in New York are demanding I not only accept their censorship of my article at The Intercept, but also refrain from publishing it with any other journalistic outlet, and are using thinly disguised lawyer-crafted threats to coerce me not to do so (proclaiming it would be “detrimental” to The Intercept if I published it elsewhere).
I have been extremely disenchanted and saddened by the editorial direction of The Intercept under its New York leadership for quite some time. The publication we founded without those editors back in 2014 now bears absolutely no resemblance to what we set out to build — not in content, structure, editorial mission or purpose. I have grown embarrassed to have my name used as a fund-raising tool to support what it is doing and for editors to use me as a shield to hide behind to avoid taking responsibility for their mistakes (including, but not only, with the Reality Winner debacle, for which I was publicly blamed despite having no role in it, while the editors who actually were responsible for those mistakes stood by silently, allowing me to be blamed for their errors and then covering-up any public accounting of what happened, knowing that such transparency would expose their own culpability).
But all this time, as things worsened, I reasoned that as long as The Intercept remained a place where my own right of journalistic independence was not being infringed, I could live with all of its other flaws. But now, not even that minimal but foundational right is being honored for my own journalism, suppressed by an increasingly authoritarian, fear-driven, repressive editorial team in New York bent on imposing their own ideological and partisan preferences on all writers while ensuring that nothing is published at The Intercept that contradicts their own narrow, homogenous ideological and partisan views: exactly what The Intercept, more than any other goal, was created to prevent.
I have asked my lawyer to get in touch with FLM to discuss how best to terminate my contract. Thank you –
By Matt Taibbi, Oct. 29
The Pulitzer winner founded the Intercept to challenge official narratives and protect editorial freedom. When editors abandoned those principles, spiking a controversial story, he was forced to quit
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald quit his job this morning. In a bizarre, ironic, and disturbing commentary on trends in modern media, the celebrated reporter was forced to resign after writing a story criticizing both the Biden campaign and intelligence community — only to have it spiked by the editors of The Intercept, the news outlet he co-founded six years ago with the aim of preventing pretty much this exact situation.
“The irony,” Greenwald says, “is that a media outlet I co-founded, and which was built on my name and my accomplishments, with the purpose of guaranteeing editorial independence, is now censoring me in the most egregious way — about the leading presidential candidate, a week before the election.”
Greenwald becomes the latest high-profile journalist to leave a well-known legacy media organization to join Substack. You’ll be able to read the piece rebuffed by The Intercept at his new site here.
In a nutshell, the fatal sequence of events went as follows:
Greenwald, after commenting pointedly about the reaction by press and Democratic Party officials to the New York Post story, reached out to Intercept editor Betsy Reed to float the idea of writing on the subject.
The first hint of trouble came when Reed suggested that yes, it might be a story, if proven correct, but “even if it did represent something untoward about Biden,” that would “represent a tiny fraction of the sleaze and lies Trump and his cronies are oozing in every day.”
When Greenwald retorted that deciding not to report on one politician’s scandals because those of another politician are deemed worse is a “corrupt calculus” for reporters, Reed expressed concern. Based on this, on his comments on Twitter, and other factors, she worried that “we are headed for a conflict over the editing of this piece.”
Greenwald insisted he wasn’t planning an overwhelming amount of coverage but wanted to do a single article, reviewing the available facts and perhaps asking the Biden campaign to comment on the veracity of the Post story. Reed agreed that he should write a draft, then they could “see where we are.”
An aside: when reporters and editors interact, they speak between the lines. If an editor only ever suggests or assigns stories from a certain angle, you’re being told they don’t particularly want the other angle. If your editor has lots of hypothetical concerns at the start, he or she probably won’t be upset if you choose a different topic. Finally, when an editor lays out “suggestions” about things that might “help” a piece “be even stronger,” it’s a signal both parties understand about what elements have to be put in before the editor will send the thing through.
Reed explained that any piece Greenwald wrote on the Biden/Burisma subject would have to go through “the editorial process and fact-checking that we do with any story with this kind of high profile.” Peter Maass would edit, but Reed also noted that there was a lot of “in-house knowledge” they could all “tap into.”
By “in-house knowledge,” she meant the work of Robert Mackey and Jim Risen, two Intercept reporters with whom Greenwald clashed in the past. Risen had already loudly denounced the Post story not only as conspiracy theory, but foreign disinformation. Essentially, Reed was telling Greenwald his piece would be quasi-edited by people with whom he’d had major public disagreements about Russia-related issues going back years.
To this, Greenwald responded that this was a double-standard: when Risen wrote an article credulously quoting intelligence officials like James Clapper, John Brennan, and Michael Hayden (more on the extreme irony of this later) describing the Post story as having “the classic earmarks of Russian misinformation,” he could do so willy-nilly. But when Greenwald wanted to write an op-ed piece questioning the “prevailing wisdom on Biden and Burisma,” a team of people would would be summoned.
“The only reason people are getting interested in and ready to scrutinize what I write is because everyone is afraid of being accused of having published something harmful to Biden,” Greenwald told them. “That’s the reality.”
Then Greenwald wrote the piece — essentially an opinion piece, drawing upon publicly available information. In it, he criticized the media response to the Post story and noted, among other things, that the history of the Hunter Biden/Burisma story did not reflect well on any of the Bidens. Reed and Maass refused to publish it. Maass wrote:
Betsy agrees with me that the draft’s core problem is the connection it often asserts or assumes between the Hunter Biden emails and corruption by Joe Biden. There are many places in which the explicit or implied position is a) the emails expose corruption by Joe Biden and b) news organizations are suppressing their reporting on it. Those positions strike me as foundations to this draft, and they also strike me as inaccurate.
Maass added that he didn’t believe Greenwald had done enough to address the “complexity” of the “disinformation issue”:
Lastly, I think the disinformation issue should be handled with greater complexity. I think it’s totally right to point out the haste with which some journalists and experts are talking about Russia’s hand. But the argument that some people make about disinformation, and that I think you should address, is the way the materials are being used by Giuliani, the rightwing media, and Trump, to support an exaggerated and false narrative – a narrative that is not supported by the materials themselves…
Maass suggested Greenwald cut the piece and stick to a narrower essay about whether or not the press was directly asking Biden enough questions. Another irony: Greenwald was trying to criticize the rush to describe the Post story as disinformation, and Maass was essentially asking that he address the “disinformation issue,” even though the material’s veracity had not been denied, and the editors themselves didn’t seem to believe the laptop material was fake. Reed at one point wrote to Greenwald, “I agree with you that [the emails] appear to be mostly or entirely genuine, though authentication has been difficult in part because of the Biden camp’s refusal to address questions about authenticity.”
Greenwald, by then furious, noted that neither Maass nor Reed had identified a factual inaccuracy in the article, but rather disagreed with its conclusions and his assessments of the facts — his “positions,” rather than his information.
What a healthy and confident news organization would do — as the New York Times recently did with its own Pulitzer-winning 1619 Project — is air the different views that journalists have about the evidence and let readers decide what they find convincing, not force everyone to adhere to a top-down editorial line and explicitly declare that any story that raises questions about Biden’s conduct is barred from being published now that he’s the Democratic nominee.
In the end, Maass and Reed would not budge, and Greenwald resigned rather than accept what he described as being censored. The Intercept quickly put out an icy statement describing him as a “grown person throwing a tantrum,” adding that Greenwald was laboring under the assumption that “anyone who presumes to edit him is a censor.”
Anticipating the obvious criticism that the Intercept had betrayed its founding mission, they wrote, “It is Glenn who has strayed from his original journalistic roots, not the Intercept.” Mourning the reporter he “used to be,” the Intercept editors defined the value that Glenn supposedly lost sight of as “an investigative mission… that involved a collaborative process.” In other words, absolute editorial freedom — but by group consent.
They then pulled out the go-to rhetorical device of media hall monitors in the Trump era, accusing him of being a secret Trump partisan, trying to “recycle… the Trump campaign’s… dubious claims, and launder them as journalism.”
I reached out to both Reed and Maass for comment this afternoon. Neither has responded.
In the last few weeks I’ve heard from multiple well-known journalists going through struggles in their newsrooms, with pressure to avoid certain themes in campaign coverage often central to their worries. There are many reporters out there — most of them quite personally hostile to Donald Trump — who are grating under what they perceive as relentless pressure to publish material favorable to the Democratic Party cause. Greenwald’s story mirrors some of these stories, but his is more striking than some others on a few levels.
Many outside the media world will miss the subtleties of what makes this tale so crazy. Some may even think it’s unreasonable for a reporter to quit rather than “accept editing.” To understand why that’s not what’s going on here, one has to know the unique history of The Intercept.
On February 10th, 2014, Greenwald, documentarian Laura Poitras, and fellow reporter Jeremy Scahill announced the creation of an aggressive new investigative outlet, backed by the deep pockets of eBay founder and billionaire Pierre Omidyar.
It was big news in the media world. Greenwald and Poitras had been working on one of the great scoops in recent times, helping former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden come forward about a secret, illegal mass surveillance program conducted by the U.S. government. After bringing the story to light, Snowden was forced into exile, and Greenwald in particular became the subject of denunciations by colleagues and politicians alike, with some prominent officials openly calling for his prosecution and jailing.
The Intercept was designed specifically to be a place where journalists would be protected from such intimidation and editorial interference. As they wrote in their introduction:
Over the past seven months the journalists who have reported on these documents from the National Security Agency have been repeatedly threatened by a wide range of government officials… None of this will deter the journalism we are doing. A primary function of The Intercept is to insist upon and defend our press freedoms from those who wish to infringe them.
Greenwald recalls today: “We saw in the media, reporters were quoting CIA officials about Snowden and about me. They were essentially stenographers. The Intercept was created to avoid that.”
Again as noted in the announcement six years ago, Intercept writers were to be encouraged at all times to speak their minds, no matter who might take offense. This, they said, was another core part of the organization’s mission:
The editorial independence of our journalists will be guaranteed… Our journalists will be not only permitted, but encouraged, to pursue stories without regard to whom they might alienate.
The whole idea of The Intercept was to create a hands-off, journalist-run enterprise where mistakes like the WMD fiasco could never happen. If the journalists themselves were put in charge, the thinking went, there could be no pressure from above to conform to clearly flawed official narratives like the WMD case, or to back off stories like the Snowden affair.
The traditional method of controlling the press — as described by legendary independent journalists like I.F. Stone — was the quiet aside by the boss, “a little private talk,” where a “hint that the reporter seems irresponsible, a little bit radical” would be dropped. Getting the message, and fearing for his or her job, the reporter would back off. Or, in cases like the Iraq war runup, the strategic dismissal of a big name with the wrong views — Phil Donahue, Jesse Ventura — makes sure the rest of the employees get the message.
Greenwald co-founded the Intercept with this exact scenario in mind, building a structure where “little private talks” with bosses would never happen, and there couldn’t be high-profile dismissals for ideological reasons.
What he didn’t guess at was that even in an atmosphere where managerial interference is near zero, a collective of independent journalists can themselves become censors and enforcers of official orthodoxies. In some cases, free journalists will become more aggressive propagandists and suppressors of speech than the officials from whom they supposedly need to be protected. This Lord of the Flies effect is what happened with The Intercept.
It’s a long story, but the punchline is that the self-editing journalists at the Intercept somewhere along the line began to fall for what will look, years from now, like a comically transparent bait-and-switch operation. They were suckered into becoming parodies of their original incarnation.
In the Obama years, progressive journalists were infuriated by the disclosures of whistleblowers like Snowden and Chelsea Manning, and aimed their professional ire at the federal government for war crimes, drone assassination, and mass abuse of surveillance authority. The bugbears of the day were intelligence officials who ran these programs and deceived the public about them: people like CIA directors Hayden and Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence Clapper.
These intelligence community leaders only a few short years ago served an administration that sought a “reset” with the systematic human rights violator that was Vladimir Putin’s Russia, a country then-President Obama dismissed throughout his tenure as a “regional power” that acts “not out of strength, but out of weakness.” The consistent posture of the Obama administration — the Obama-Biden administration — was that Russia ranked far below terrorists as a potential threat to the United States.
After 2016, however, these officials presented themselves as norms-defending heroes protecting America against the twin “existential” threats of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Russia, just a few years ago described by Rachel Maddow as a harmless “gnat on the butt of an elephant,” was now reinvented as an all-powerful foe mounting an influence campaign of unprecedented reach, with everyone from Trump to the Green Party to blogs like Truthdig and Naked Capitalism, to congresswoman and war veteran Tulsi Gabbard, to Bernie Sanders, all potentially doing the bidding of a Cold War foe bent on “sowing discord” on our shores.
A key part of this propaganda campaign was the continual insistence that any criticism of the Democratic Party was, in essence, aid and comfort to our Red Enemy. Would-be progressive journalists horrified by Donald Trump accepted this logic with enthusiasm. Over the course of four years they abandoned their traditional mistrust of the security state to transform themselves into a squad of little Pavik Morozovs, anxious to stamp out traitors to the cause and keep the news business clean of “Russian” misinformation that might help Donald Trump get re-elected.
Greenwald never bought this line. In July of 2017, he reported on the creation of new organizations like the Alliance For Securing Democracy, that united Bush-era neoconservatives like Jamie Fly with Democrats like Hillary Clinton foreign policy advisor Laura Rosenberger. Groups like this, and the Atlantic Council, advocated for more aggressive foreign policy aims and tighter controls over Internet content, using new paranoia about Russia as the glue for the expanding alliance.
As press enthusiasm for the Trump-Russia story widened, progressives began to invite old enemies back into the fold. People like “Axis of Evil” speechwriter David Frum and Weekly Standard editor and key Iraq War proponent Bill Kristol became regular guests on CNN and MSNBC, while ex-spooks like Brennan, Clapper, Hayden, and a long list of others were given TV contributor deals, now serving as the press instead of facing criticism from it.
“The prevailing power center is Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the Democratic Party,” Greenwald says. “In the Trump era, they managed to convince everyone to view anyone who opposes Trump as allies.”
Greenwald’s opinions on these issues attracted indignation from former friends and colleagues alike, who denounced his criticism of Democrats as unpatriotic and unacceptably immoral behavior for an ethical reporter in the Trump era. He began to be criticized, by journalists, for refusing to take the word of secret services.
When the New Yorker wrote an astonishingly vicious profile of Greenwald, describing his refusal to accept theories of Russian subversion as a pathology inspired by a difficult childhood and confusion over his sexuality, his nominal boss and co-worker, Reed, was happy to chime in about things Greenwald does that are “not helpful to the left.”
She talked about Greenwald having inspired social media followers “who are so convinced that they are being lied to all the time that anything that the intelligence community says can’t possibly be true.” She added that “it’s not helpful to the left and to all the candidates and causes we favor to continue to doubt the existence of some kind of relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign.”
Meanwhile, Greenwald’s former editor at Salon, Joan Walsh, said Greenwald’s refusal to buy the Russia story was “motivated by real disdain for what the Democratic Party has become,” which she explained meant:
The ascendance of women and people of color in the Party, and the fact that that coalition defeated Bernie Sanders.
All agreed that Greenwald couldn’t possibly just have a different opinion, or be insisting on seeing evidence before believing a collusion story that, by the way, turned out to be wrong. His ideas came from being sexually confused, misogynistic, racist, and financially desperate.
Or was it even worse? Glenn more than anyone got the treatment other reporters like myself, Aaron Mate, and Ken Vogel of the New York Times got, for crossing established narratives on Russia or Ukraine: he was accused of being a Russian stooge, even a literal spy. His favorite critics on that score have been those same old, once-disgraced neoconservatives, as well as officials in the Democratic hierarchy, and, of course, other reporters:
The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 @ColumbiaBugle
Tucker Carlson & @ggreenwald Discuss Assange & Snowden T: “@POTUS could pardon Julian Assange right now & end this. Is that correct?” G: “He could pardon him & Edward Snowden…the only people who would be angry would be Susan Rice, John Brennan, Jim Comey, and James Clapper.” https://t.co/vM9k4lDYjN
Throughout the last four years, Greenwald has been one of the only people in the media world to speak out about some of the more preposterous claims made by Democratic Party partisans, from the pee tape to charges that Tulsi Gabbard is a Russian asset to walked-back bombshell stories like the Afghan bounty story. One of his consistent themes is that only a person like him, with fame and financial security, is able to safely challenge orthodoxies in this business.
The significance of what’s happened with the Intercept is that even journalists working in companies they founded can’t get away from these pressures. For every public story like Greenwald’s, there are dozens more you don’t hear about, involving media members who can’t speak out. Not all of them are dealing with the same issues, but dynamics are often similar.
The Intercept and many media outlets have gotten turned around by the Trump phenomenon. It’s a difficult time for reporters, with an unstable and potentially dangerous president. Some have been convinced to change the way they used to do business, to make sure they are not accused of having helped such a person get elected.
Many in the press have therefore talked themselves into the proposition that questioning things like the Trump-Russia collusion theory, or the reflexive dismissal of adverse information about politicians like Biden as foreign disinformation, can have no purpose beyond pro-Trump partisanship. In service of this, they’ve surrendered their own traditional roles as questioners and arbiters of fact, giving that power over to the same people and institutions whose poor performance, record of deception, and corruption helped inspire voters to make such a desperate choice in Trump in the first place. They’ve not only allowed intelligence community narratives to drive the press, they’ve invited it.
When the likes of Brennan, Clapper, and Hayden wrote a joint letter decrying the recent Post story as a seeming Russian mischief, they were very careful in what they said. They used the term “information operation” instead of “misinformation,” and prominently included the line, “We do not have evidence of Russian involvement.”
However, in the recent Intercept story quoting that letter, describing the Post story has having “the classic earmarks of Russian misinformation,” the the line about not having evidence was left out.
“The CIA letter was more honest than The Intercept,” is how Greenwald puts it.
A few years ago, reporters had the intelligence community on the defensive. Now, reporters are ratting each other out on their behalf, with the aim of creating an absolute political monoculture. Having pushed out one of journalism’s most accomplished members, they’ve nearly succeeded.
By Matt Taibbi, Oct. 24
Unprecedented efforts to squelch information about a New York Post story may prove to be more dangerous corruption than whatever Hunter Biden did with a crooked Ukrainian energy company
The incredible decision by Twitter and Facebook to block access to a New York Post story about a cache of emails reportedly belonging to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s son Hunter, with Twitter going so far as to lock the 200 year-old newspaper out of its own account for over a week, continues to be a major underreported scandal.
The hypocrisy is mind-boggling. Imagine the reaction if that same set of facts involved the New York Times and any of its multitudinous unverifiable “exposes” from the last half-decade: from the similarly-leaked “black ledger” story implicating Paul Manafort, to its later-debunked “repeated contacts with Russian intelligence” story, to its mountain of articles about the far more dubious Steele dossier. Internet platforms for years have balked at intervening at many other sensational “unverified” stories, including ones called into question in very short order:
The flow of information in the United States has become so politicized – bottlenecked by an increasingly brazen union of corporate press and tech platforms – that it’s become impossible for American audiences to see news about certain topics absent thickets of propagandistic contextualizing. Try to look up anything about Burisma, Joe Biden, or Hunter Biden in English, and you’re likely to be shown a pile of “fact-checks” and explainers ahead of the raw information:
Other true information has been scrubbed or de-ranked, either by platforms or by a confederation of press outlets whose loyalty to the Democratic Party far now overshadows its obligations to inform.
Obviously, Fox is not much better, in terms of its willingness to report negative information about Trump and Republicans, but Fox doesn’t have the reach that this emerging partnership between mass media, law enforcement, and tech platforms does. That group’s reaction to the New York Post story is formalizing a decision to abandon the media’s old true/untrue standard for a different test that involves other, more politicized questions, like provenance and editorial intent.
Take the example of the taped conversations between Joe Biden and former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, which Ukrainian parliamentarian Andrei Derkach has been rolling out in press conferences for some time now.
Derkach is a highly suspicious character to say the least, a man even Rudy Giuliani assessed as having a “50/50” chance of being a Russian agent. He has for some time now been disseminating information that is clearly beneficial to Russian interests.
Nonetheless, the Biden/Poroshenko recordings he’s released appear to be real. Still, Atlantic columnist Edward-Isaac Dovere this summer bragged about how media members learned their lesson after the experience of 2016, when (real) emails from the DNC suspected of being hacked by Russians were released by Wikileaks. The correct path instead is for a priesthood of “mainstream” outlets to assess whether or not the material has enough news value to publish:
It’s hard not to feel some déjà vu here. In 2016, Russian intelligence agents hacked the emails of Democratic National Committee staffers and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and delivered them to WikiLeaks, as a way to get them into the American media. Some outlets learned a lesson from that episode, and have treated new Biden recordings out of Ukraine with care…
Most mainstream-media outlets have decided that the recordings that have emerged so far offer “little new insight into Biden’s actions in Ukraine,” as The Washington Post’s Carol Morello wrote after the recordings were first released.
However they came to reach the public, the Biden-Poroshenko tapes are a newsworthy window into how America leverages its power to impact the lives of every single person in countries like Ukraine. One amazing exchange came on May 16, 2016, when Poroshenko pleaded with Biden to approve an aid package:
Poroshenko: I think that within the last three weeks, we demonstrate real great progress in the sphere of reforms. We voted in the parliament for 100% tariffs despite the fact that the IMF expected only 75%… We are launching reform for the prices for medicine, removing all the obstacles.
Biden: I agree.
Poroshenko was telling Joe Biden that in order to get an American aid package, he’d gone beyond even what the I.M.F. asked for and raised energy prices for ordinary Ukrainians not by 75%, but by 100%, as well as taking steps to curtail subsidized medicine prices.
This is clearly newsworthy, but the few outlets like the Washington Post that even bothered to report on these tapes only did so to convey their distaste for the source, and to relay news that the Biden camp believed it all to be “a continuation of a long-standing Russian effort to hurt the former vice president.”
Press outlets began some time ago to describe such material as “misinformation” or “disinformation,” even though items like the Derkach tapes (or the leaked calls between State Department officials Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt discussing who should be Ukraine’s interim leader after the Euromaidan revolution) are neither. Both terms normally require an element of “false information.”
In one recent AP story, reporters spent more time asking Twitter and Facebook why they’d allowed material from the Derkach tapes to be spread than they did weighing the truth of the information in the tapes. Their conclusion was a warning from “disinformation fellow” Nina Jankowicz from the “non-partisan Wilson Center,” about Twitter and Facebook rules that allowed some of this information through:
That’s a loophole foreign and domestic troublemakers are inclined to continue exploiting before Election Day, Jankowicz said.
“If you get a piece of information in the hands of the right American, it can absolutely spin out of control and make the national news in a couple of days,” she said.
Connecticut Senator Senator Chris Murphy, racing past Adam Schiff in his candidacy to become this era’s more odorless and colorless version of McCarthy, went even further this week, telling CNN that Russian disinformation efforts are “more problematic” than in 2016. He said this was because “this time around, the Russians have decided to cultivate U.S. citizens as assets. They are attempting to try to spread their propaganda in the mainstream media.”
Note that unlike the Derkach tapes, where the foreign interference issue is obvious, the New York Post material hasn’t been conclusively tied to Russia (it has also been denied by the Director of National Intelligence, not that blue-state audiences care). Nonetheless, politicians and pundits alike freely make such accusations.
In an interview with Yahoo!’s “On the Move” program, anchor Adam Shapiro became one of the only members of the press — think of how shameful that is — to ask a prominent Democrat to make a statement about the veracity of the New York Post story. Shapiro asked Murphy:
Even if it’s an outright lie, or Russian… some kind of interference… We haven’t heard the Bidens say it’s absolutely not true. We haven’t heard Hunter Biden say that or the Senator say that. Do they need to say that?
To which Murphy replied, “I mean, what a victory for Russian propaganda, that we’re talking about this right now.” He went on to non-answer the question, which has essentially been declared illegitimate, by the press first of all. The least curious people in the country right now appear to be the credentialed news media, a situation normally unique to tinpot authoritarian societies.
If the problem is “American citizens” being cultivated as “assets” trying to put “interference” in the mainstream media, the logical next step is to start asking Internet platforms to shut down accounts belonging to any American journalist with the temerity to report material leaked by foreigners (the wrong foreigners, of course – it will continue to be okay to report things like the “black ledger”). From Fox or the Daily Caller on the right, to left-leaning outlets like Consortium or the World Socialist Web Site, to writers like me even – we’re all now clearly in range of new speech restrictions, even if we stick to long-ago-established factual standards.
As has been hinted at by several prominent journalists, controversies erupted within newsrooms across New York and Washington in the last week. Editors have been telling charges that any effort to determine whether or not the Biden laptop material is true, or to ask the Biden campaign to confirm or deny the story, will either not be allowed or put through heightened fact-checking procedures.
On the other hand, if you want to assert without any evidence at all that the New York Post story is Russian interference, you can essentially go straight into print.
Many people on the liberal side of the political aisle don’t have a problem with this, focused as they are on the upcoming Trump-Biden election. But this same press corps might be weeks away from assuming responsibility for challenging a Biden administration. If they’ve already calculated once that a true story may be buried for political reasons because the other “side” is worse, they will surely make that same calculation again.
What happens a month from now when an ambitious Republican like Tom Cotton leaks a document damaging to a President-Elect Biden? Or two years from now, if in the weeks before midterm elections, we get bad economic news, or a Biden/Harris administration foreign policy initiative takes a turn for the worse? Are we sure those stories will be run?
The Republican version of Burisma story – essentially, that former General Prosecutor Viktor Shokin was Elliott Ness, and Joe Biden intervened to fire him specifically to aid his son’s company – is also not supported by evidence. What Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his cohorts have done to date is take a few unreported or under-reported facts and leap straight to a maximalist interpretation of corruption on Joe Biden’s part.
This isn’t right, but the room to make that argument has been created by the ongoing squelching of information coming from Ukraine. The suppression story is almost certainly a bigger scandal than the Hunter Biden affair itself, but it’s all become part of the same picture.
As I learned from sources in Ukraine this week, the biggest misconception has to do with the question of whether or not investigations of Burisma were ongoing at the time of Joe Biden’s intervention in 2015.
As noted last week, the term “dormant” has been an all-but-mandatory element of Western news coverage, when describing the status of investigations into the company on whose board Hunter Biden sat during the tenure of Viktor Shokin. The slippery term “dormant” recognizes that cases existed, but suggests they weren’t really being worked on in earnest, a near-impossible thing to disprove.
After the “Euromaidan” revolution in February, 2014 deposed president Viktor Yanukovich, American officials essentially hand-picked the country’s next leader, Arseniy Yatsenuk. As then-Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said in that leaked conversation in early 2014, “We want to try to get somebody with an international personality to come out here and help to midwife this thing.” Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland put it like this, “Yats is the guy who has the economic experience.”
“Yats” did indeed have “economic experience.” A former Central Banker, he was the Western choice for an obvious reason: he planned to implement the austerity measures the West wanted all along. This earned him comparisons to Mario Monti, former Prime Minister of Italy. That former Goldman, Sachs advisor and Italian “technocrat” pushed through “pension reform,” increased taxes, and other measures designed to reassure European Central Bankers and foreign investment banks alike that Italy would control social spending. The West wanted the same neoliberal package passed in Ukraine.
This pattern of not-always-welcome American interference in Ukrainian affairs may have ended up indirectly impacting the Burisma investigations. After “Euromaidan,” American officials stressed the need to investigate and prosecute oligarchs loyal to the previous administration, with Mykola Zlochevsky and Burisma being a major example. There were real reasons to go after many of these targets, as well as other individuals (like the 17 riot police officers responsible for gunning down 100 protesters during the Maidan protests), but there was a political component to this as well: Western interests wanted to make sure powerful oligarchs with ties to Russia were not left in place to exert influence.
After the revolution, career police and anti-corruption official named Vitaly Yarema was brought in with expectations he would make sweeping arrests. He didn’t, and ended up being dismissed in February, 2015. One of the main reasons he had to step down was because of an incident in which the British Serious Fraud office asked for documents related to a case involving Zlochevsky in order to seize $23 million in funds belonging to him. The General Prosecutor’s Office stalled the case for two weeks by transferring it to the Internal Affairs Ministry — just long enough to muddy the British seizure efforts.
American press reports frequently and (at least somewhat) erroneously lay this episode at the feet of Shokin – witness New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg saying it was “Shokin’s office” that “[subverted] a British case.” The affair took actually place under Yarema’s watch, although Shokin briefly had responsibility for the case at one point.
Shokin was appointed Prosecutor General on February 10th, 2015, and got positive reviews initially. Within the first few days of his tenure, he reorganized the Prosecutor General’s office, had a well-known oligarch named Oleksandr Yeferemov arrested, and replaced the prosecutor who had failed to bring charges against police who’d shot Maidan protesters, among other things.
There was criticism during Shokin’s tenure that he was a good “company man,” who allowed politically sensitive cases to be steered to special sectors, like his Department of Particularly Important Economic Cases, perhaps at the behest of superiors like Poroshenko. In one instance, Poroshenko was accused in the summer of 2015 of using the special department to try to wrest control of the energy giant NaftoGaz from oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
If Shokin’s sloth on fighting corruption or passivity in allowing Poroshenko to use the office for political ends bothered Americans, it didn’t show right away. Exhibits in a Senate report show an email from American George Kent to fellow diplomat William Taylor in August of 2015, explaining that three-time Ukrainian Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun met with the Americans in the hope of getting his old job back — and was rebuffed.
“This spring, we had former PG Piskun trying to meet/spin us with an eye toward replacing Shokin,” Kent wrote. “Points for chutzpah if nothing else.”
For all the negative press about Shokin, there’s no doubt that there were multiple active cases involving Zlochevsky/Burisma during his short tenure. This was even once admitted by American reporters, before it became taboo to describe such cases untethered to words like “dormant.” Here’s how Ken Vogel at the New York Times put it in May of 2019:
When Mr. Shokin became prosecutor general in February 2015, he inherited several investigations into the company and Mr. Zlochevsky, including for suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering. Mr. Shokin also opened an investigation into the granting of lucrative gas licenses to companies owned by Mr. Zlochevsky when he was the head of the Ukrainian Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources.
Ukrainian officials I reached this week confirmed that multiple cases were active during that time.
“There were different numbers, but from 7 to 14,” says Serhii Horbatiuk, former head of the special investigations department for the Prosecutor General’s Office, when asked how many Burisma cases there were.
“There may have been two to three episodes combined, and some have already been closed, so I don’t know the exact amount.” But, Horbatiuk insists, there were many cases, most of them technically started under Yarema, but at least active under Shokin.
The numbers quoted by Horbatiuk gibe with those offered by more recent General Prosecutor Rulsan Ryaboshapka, who last year said there were at one time or another “13 or 14” cases in existence involving Burisma or Zlochevsky.
Shokin, Horbatiuk says, was a typical Ukrainian prosecutor, who slow-walked sensitive cases unless otherwise instructed.
“In our law enforcement agencies, there’s an idea that’s driven into the heads of prosecutors and investigators: ‘If there’s no mandate from the leadership that this needs to be investigated quickly, then I don’t have to bother.’” In that capacity, he says, “we definitely struggled with the influence of Shokin.”
One of the Burisma-related cases that appears to have been active under Shokin involved Sergei Kurchenko, a Russian racketeer who was accused of seizing property by force in the disputed Donbass territories and using those assets to fund deals with Zlochevsky and Burisma. The money in the London branch of BNP-Paribas that the British Serious Fraud Office attempted to seize contained funds from Kurchenko, according to British court documents.
As I mentioned last week, this case was described by the Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta last fall, after the beginning of the Trump-Zelensky phone call scandal. In the Novaya Gazeta piece, reporter Yulia Latynina printed a photograph of what appeared to be a Ukrainian official investigatory document, suggesting that funds had traveled from Kurchenko to Burisma to Hunter Biden’s company, Rosemont-Seneca:
Asked about the Novaya Gazeta story involving Kurchenko, Horbatiuk says, “Yes, I heard something like that.” He recalled the case involved “the sale of liquefied gas at low prices. This was connected with the Ministry of Ecology, where Zlochevsky was.”
Another document suggesting the presence of an open case against Burisma is a February 4, 2016 order requesting the seizure of Zlochevsky’s property. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler has already written an article attempting to explain away this document by saying it was “largely a technical reinstatement of a court order that already had been in place for at least a year.”
Kessler focused on the fact that Republican Devin Nunes claimed that Joe Biden called Poroshenko three times after the “raid” on Zlochevsky’s property. He gave the Nunes claim four of his famous Pinocchios because “there would have been no reason for Biden to raise the supposed raid of Zlochevsky’s home in his phone calls.”
The first order was technically issued before Shokin took office, and appears not to have been acted on for the better part of a year, at which point Shokin transferred the case to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which also did nothing. NABU’s excuse, according to one Ukrainian anti-corruption official contacted this week, was that it overwhelmed with “thousands” of such anti-corruption cases tied to the previous Yanukovich regime.
“They said, we can’t handle this trash, we can’t take all these old cases,” the source said. “We want to concentrate on new material.”
While the case was being “footballed” between NABU and the Prosecutor’s office, Zlochevsky’s lawyers succeeded in going to court and getting the action lifted. Right around this same time, Joe Biden came to Kiev and made his famous demand that Shokin be fired within six hours, or else Ukraine would not receive a billion dollars in foreign aid.
In Shokin’s telling, when he heard the story of Biden’s visit, he immediately went to see Poroshenko. “The conversation was like this, ‘Well, did Biden bring kompromat on me?’
“‘Vitya, he didn’t bring shit on you,’” Shokin claims Poroshenko answered. To this, Shokin asked what he would do, and Poroshenko told him, “To hell with [Biden].”
This does fit a timeline of sorts. Shokin wasn’t fired in December of 2015, even though Biden demanded it. But the writing was on the wall. There were “regular discussions and ultimatums about me,” Shokin has said.
A little over a month after Biden’s famous visit, on February 2nd, 2016, it was indeed Shokin’s office that asked to reinstate the seizure order against Zlochevsky.
Was he doing this because he actually wanted to investigate Burisma, or because he knew what was coming and wanted to piss off the Americans? (Shokin had a difficult relationship with American officials from the start, among other things because American pressure reportedly forced him to hire Georgian prosecutor Davit Sakvareledze as a deputy). Or was it for some other reason, like for instance that he was seeking a bribe or sticking it to some other official? It’s the same question that has to be asked about the tax evasion and gas license cases opened against Burisma by Shokin at the start of his tenure.
It’s not clear, but one can’t say there’s no evidence of active Burisma cases even during the last days of Shokin, who says that it was the February, 2016 seizure order that got him fired. In his telling, Poroshenko called him and told him it was over. Shokin asked “under what sauce” he’d be dismissed. “Maybe you have health problems?” a bemused Poroshenko is said to have replied.
Bullshit or not, the fact that an official accusing Americans of corruption was dismissed at the behest of American politicians is not a great look. The story looks even odder when one wonders why the United States would exercise so much foreign policy muscle to get Shokin fired, only to allow in a replacement — Yuri Lutsenko — who by all accounts was a spectacularly bigger failure in the battle against corruption in general, and Zlochevsky in particular.
In the “misinformation” tapes released by Derkach, we learned two things pertinent to this. In one exchange on February 18th, 2016, Poroshenko made sure to point out to Biden that he has done as he’s told, and fired Shokin despite an absence of evidence of corruption:
Poroshenko: Despite the fact that we don’t have any corruption charge, we don’t have any information about him doing something wrong… I specially asked him to resign… Despite the fact that he has the support of parliament… One hour ago he gave me the written statement of his resignation.
Poroshenko: This is the second step of my keeping my promise.
Biden: I agree.
In another moment on March 22, 2016, Poroshenko asked Biden if he was okay with his chosen replacement for Shokin:
Poroshenko: If you think that the politically motivated figure is not very good from your point of view, I will recall this proposal. Because nobody knows that I want to nominate Lutsenko.
Biden: Alright, well, look, let me… huddle with my team, talk over what you and I just talked about. I agree with you there is a sense of urgency here.
This shows that Biden was personally asked if he wanted to veto Lutsenko. It appears he did not. It may or may not have been the Americans’ intention for it to work out this way, but the fact is, all proceedings against Burisma were closed within a year or so of those conversations.
In September, 2016, Ukrainian court officials asked the Prosecutor’s office to terminate the fugitive status of Zlochevsky. Less than a month later, Lutsenko closed a tax-evasion case involving the company, and within a year, there were no more cases left in the hopper against Burisma. “All cases against Burisma were closed,” is how Lutsenko put it.
Horbatiuk and others say that none of Yarema, Shokin, and Lutsenko showed resolve in prosecuting Burisma. One analyst went so far as to say, “I think Zlochevsky paid Yarema, then paid Shokin, then paid Lutsenko to close his case.”
However, Horbatiuk was quick to point out, this was nothing compared to the difficulties his office dealt with under Shokin’s successor, Yuri Lutsenko.
“Compared to Lutsenko,” Horbatiuk says, “Shokin was an angel.”
None of this fits what the New York Post described as “smoking gun” evidence of corruption by Joe Biden. But it does show several things that have been quietly non-reported on our side of the Atlantic.
One is that Shokin, at least early in his short tenure, opened several cases against Burisma (including a tax evasion matter), while inheriting several others. Two, even after most American newspapers were describing Burisma cases as “dormant,” there was evidence of open investigations, including one that specifically mentioned Hunter Biden’s company Rosemont-Seneca, and another involving the seizure order of February 2016 for which Shokin does appear to have responsibility.
Lastly, it’s unquestionable that the cases against Burisma were all closed by Shokin’s successor, chosen in consultation with Joe Biden, whose son remained on the board of said company for three more years, earning upwards of $50,000 per month.
This is all information that the press should want to ask more about, even before the issue of the emails in the New York Post story. They may not be world-shaking matters. But if such stories become off-limits just because they make the wrong people look bad, we do have a serious problem, no matter who wins the presidency.