The rapidly unfolding saga of Matt Taibbi continued on Friday, with the fiery journalist turning up at his old employer after leaving his most recent one.
A spokeswoman for Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone, told The Guardian that Taibbi will have a “big piece” in the forthcoming issue of the magazine where he worked for more than 15 years.
Taibbi left Rolling Stone for First Look Media earlier this year to spearhead a digital magazine, which was going to be called Racket. But he didn’t last long at the startup.
Pierre Omidyar, the billionaire eBay founder who launched First Look, announced late Tuesday that Taibbi was leaving the company a mere seven months after joining.
Omidyar’s announcement came only hours after New York Magazine’s Andrew Rice first reported that Taibbi had taken a leave of absence from First Look “after disagreements with higher-ups.” In a riveting article published Thursday on First Look’s only established magazine, The Intercept, Taibbi’s former colleagues detailed some of the problems that led to his exit.
“His departure—which he describes as a refusal to accept a work reassignment, and the company describes as a resignation—was the culmination of months of contentious disputes with First Look founder Pierre Omidyar, chief operating officer Randy Ching, and president John Temple over the structure and management of Racket, the digital magazine Taibbi was hired to create,” wrote Glenn Greenwald, Lara Poitras, Jeremy Scahill and John Cook.
They wrote that Taibbi and other journalists clashed with Omidyar and First Look management over “a confounding array of rules, structures, and systems,” which included a “computer program to use to internally communicate, mandatory regular company-wide meetings, mandated use of a ‘responsibility assignment matrix’ called a ‘RASCI,’ popular in business-school circles for managing projects—as well as more substantive issues.”
Those “simmering problems,” they wrote, reached a boiling point earlier this month when a female staffer complained to management that “Taibbi had been verbally abusive and unprofessionally hostile, and that she felt the conduct may have been motivated, at least in part, by her gender.”
The complaint may have given First Look managers an opening to demote Taibbi.
From The Intercept’s article:
Temple conducted an investigation, and First Look determined that while none of the alleged conduct rose to the level of legal liability, the grievance bolstered their case that Taibbi should not be the manager of Racket. Among their concerns were the staffer’s claims that Taibbi had been privately criticizing First Look managers, particularly Ching, that Taibbi’s abrasive demeanor was alienating some on his staff, and that Taibbi instructed Racket staff to resolve any grievances directly with him rather than going to upper management.
On October 10, according to Taibbi’s account, Temple and Ching told Taibbi that he would be immediately stripped of all managerial responsibilities pending their investigation. (First Look managers dispute this account, claiming that Taibbi was never stripped of any duties.)
Taibbi was adamant that the complaint had no merit, and rejected any demotion or change in his responsibilities. On the day he was confronted by Temple and Ching, Taibbi left the office and—aside from one staff meeting he attended, after which he was instructed by Omidyar not to come back until they reached agreement on his role—did not return. He repeatedly told First Look that he would resign if it did not reverse the decision to reduce his managerial duties, and was insistent that he would accept no changes that could be construed as an acceptance on his part of the validity of the employee complaint.
Joining Taibbi in disputing the complaint was Alex Pareene, the former Salon writer hired to be Racket’s executive editor. In a statement provided to The Intercept, Pareene rejected “the allegation that there was a gendered component to [Taibbi’s] managerial issues” and defended Taibbi’s treatment of subordinates. Pareene also blamed managers at First Look for exacerbating the situation.
“From my perspective, the management of First Look Media repeatedly took incidents that should’ve been minor hiccups of the sort experienced at any media company or startup and, through incompetence, escalated them into full-blown crises…We were successfully working to address those issues when First Look once again stepped in to fuck things up,” Pareene said.
Taibbi did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on Friday.