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Pulitzer winner Laura Poitras says she was fired from First Look Media

The Hill logo The Hill 1/14/2021 Zack Budryk
Laura Poitras posing for the camera: Pulitzer winner Laura Poitras says she was fired from First Look Media © Getty Images Pulitzer winner Laura Poitras says she was fired from First Look Media

First Look Media co-founder Laura Poitras alleged in an open letter Thursday that she was fired from the media organization for raising concerns in the press about whistleblower protections, with the company later pushing back.

First Look, owner of The Intercept, said in a statement that it decided not to renew Poitras's contract after she "decided to step away from her role at the company to pursue her own projects."

However, in the letter, Poitras claims she was fired in retaliation for discussing The Intercept's handling of the whistleblower leak from Reality Winner with The New York Times.

"CEO Michael Bloom and Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed have demonstrated repeatedly that they consider the whistleblowers and journalists who risk their lives on behalf of the organization as disposable. They demonstrated this by their lack of effort to protect Reality Winner. And again when they didn't bother to inform Edward Snowden of their decision to defund the NSA archive," Poitras, a Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote.

"And now by firing me on a day's notice from an organization built upon my work and reputation without even informing the staff or the public of their decision," she added.

The Intercept later denied that Poitras's termination was due to comments she made to the press.

"We did not renew Laura Poitras' independent contractor agreement because despite our financial arrangement, she has not been active in any capacity with our company for more than two years," a spokesperson for The Intercept told The Hill in a statement.

"This is simply not a tenable situation for us or any company. For this and only this reason, her contract was not renewed in 2021. Any implication that our decision was based on her speaking to the press is false. Our team is grateful for the early contributions Laura made to our company and wish her well in the next chapter of her career."

Winner was a former Air Force linguist and intelligence contractor who leaked top-secret government information on Russian hacking. She was sentenced in 2018 to five years in prison. She was initially arrested in 2017 while prosecutors built a case, according to the Times.

Poitras's open letter blames the publication's own "negligence" for Winner's arrest and imprisonment.

The National Security Agency identified Winner as The Intercept's source after the publication's journalists reached out to the agency to confirm the veracity of documents she leaked. Winner mailed the documents to the publication and the FBI was then able to trace the leak back to Winner based on printer tracking dots.

"The Biden administration should pardon Reality Winner on their first day in office," she wrote. "But this does not excuse journalists and news organizations from doing their job to project sources."

Poitras is the second co-founder of the media organization to depart in recent months. Glenn Greenwald announced his own exit from The Intercept, claiming he was pressured to remove reporting critical of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden.

The publication disputed Greenwald's account, telling The Hill in a statement that he chafed at his writing undergoing any editing and "demands the absolute right to determine what he will publish." Jeremy Scahill is the only original co-founder who remains with the company.

Updated: 6:05 p.m.

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