The Intercept is truly brazen in its fundraising practices. They ask readers to donate to them nonstop all over social media and their own site. Perhaps you like The Intercept and respect its commitment to ‘fearless journalism.’ Perhaps you respect Glenn Greenwald and his stated commitment to transparency and holding the powerful accountable. Well, let’s take a closer look at that. Let’s get transparent.
The Intercept is owned by First Look Media. First Look Media was established in 2013 by Glenn Greenwald and Pierre Omidyar. In case you don’t know who Pierre Omidyar is, he is the founder of eBay and, as of this writing, worth an estimated $10.2 billion. Right away, I’m skeptical.
I am not the first person to take note of the absurdity of a media establishment founded by a billionaire asking for donations from the likes of you and me. I am not the first who realized that a $35 donation (the minimum to be an ‘ally’ in their donator status rankings) from someone from a household with a median wealth level in the United States of about $90,000 is equivalent, in terms of wealth percentage, to a $4 million donation from Omidyar. What the hell is going on over there that they need my donation to stay afloat?
The Intercept is staffed by 45 people according to its about page. Let’s assume Omidyar is really generous to his own staff and pays them an average of $100,000 each. That’s $4.5 million. That is barely above the threshold of the $4 million donation that would be equivalent to $35 for a member of a household with median wealth. In other words, and remember we’re being generous here with this $100,000 salary estimate, Omidyar could staff his entire media outlet with what is the equivalent to him of a little more than $35. I realize there are more expenses to running a media outlet than just paying the staff, but you get my point. Whatever they total out to, he can easily cover that figure with a tiny fraction of his wealth.
But, as I said before, I am not the first to have noticed this. It is addressed in their FAQ:
WHY IS THE INTERCEPT AND INTERCEPTED ASKING FOR READER DONATIONS? ISN’T IT FUNDED BY A BILLIONAIRE?
EBay founder and philanthropist Pierre Omidyar funded our launch in 2014 with the belief that independent perspectives are vital to a vibrant culture and thriving democracy. He created a nonprofit to house The Intercept in order to insulate our mission from commercial pressures and ensure that we could operate with full editorial independence. To foster our independence and sustainability over the long term, we decided to launch a membership program. We believe that relying on diverse sources of support — including reader contributions — is a healthy financial model for journalism.
Let’s unpack this bullshit. First, Omidyar was already funded by diverse sources because he got rich taking a tiny fee off of every eBay transaction. How, exactly, is sucking up yet more wealth from diverse sources going to improve things for us? Second, and this is the important part, what does Omidyar get out of this arrangement that we do not? Agency. It’s literally his news agency. He and his staff determine what does and does not get published; he runs First Look Media and he participates in the so-called ‘full editorial independence.’ You and I have no say. Our $35 is tossed into the machine, and all we get is the good feelings that come from knowing that, collectively, we eased a little of Omidyar’s financial burden from funding his own propaganda department off of his shoulders.
There is little more odious to me than a billionaire’s pet news agency asking me for money and trying to pass it off as me participating in a healthy financial model for journalism. No healthy model for journalism involves me contributing to a billionaire in any way, shape, or form. This is exactly what’s wrong with journalism. I’ll take this stuff seriously right after Omidyar donates to me to help me keep my Medium articles free from commercial pressures.
And since we’re talking about households, here’s a picture of Omidyar’s 50,000 square foot house with 33 bedrooms: