The Absorption of Matt Taibbi by First Look

As most of my readers probably know, Rolling Stone reporter, Matt Taibbi is the latest trophy taken in Pierre Omidyar’s conquest of the fashionably leftish. He is the first of Omidyar’s First Look employees that I actually read for pleasure, something I have done for several years. With his work on Wall Street, he teaches me things I don’t already know, in a style that frequently makes me laugh out loud. Reading Greenwald, by contrast, has always been a religious ritual of sorts: a glide over tedious, tone-deaf prolixity, in search of a few kernals to affirm that, yes, some small part of my politics has a public proxy, if only an insipid friend o’ Digby’s.

Taibbi is much smarter, has a sense of humor that goes well beyond the pointed use of scare quotes, and a much lower eyeroll quotient overall. So while I am not thrilled to see Taibbi scooped up by the eBay Ministry of Truth, I will at least enjoy the spectacle of watching him be vastly better than Greenwald, putting out a halfway decent magazine on an interesting topic, while Greenwald and his newsletter staff continue their comic journey up Glenn’s ass.

One of the things that is most grimly amusing about Greenwald and Omidyar parlaying a whistleblowing event into cash and power, are the lengths Greenwald’s besotted fans go to see it as something else. Greenwald’s custodianship of the leaks has been equal parts self-serving, reactionary, and subservient, and, since cutting the deal with Omidyar he has tirelessly covered for his boss’s past adventures in free-speech killing and predatory lending. However, there will be no recognizing this among his besotted fans, for whom a sweet deal between Greenwald and Goldman Sachs would surely foretell the imminent decimation of Wall Street.

Since Omidyar has purchased any reporter who might offer an opposing opinion at a bargain bin price — that is, the slim chance of a dream job — there is no one of consequence to talk any sense about this. Even media watchdogs like Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and the UK’s Media Lens have shamefully stood down entirely. The British independent journalist Jonathan Cook recently got a grim and revealing lesson in how this renaissance in fearless, adversarial journalism now works:

  1. Here he is politely expressing some misgivings about comments Greenwald made in an interview.
  2. Here he is a day later remarking upon the inevitable beatdown to which even polite critics of Greenwald are now routinely subject, and tempering his original position.
  3. Here’s Greenwald giving him a stern talking to, beginning with an objection to the impertinent title of his post.
  4. Here’s Cook capitulating completely, as if he’s just had a visit from the mob.

It bears mentioning that Cook one time believed himself hacked by the Israeli Secret Service, yet nonetheless continues to write critically about Israel.  But one brush with the Omidyar/Greenwald syndicate and he’s down for the count. It is amazing that the people who contemplate an extraordinary spectacle of this kind with indifference, or worse, delight, don’t consider themselves, or Greenwald, authoritarian, but rather, very much the opposite.  But then, as I have said before, Greenwald is an alchemist of sorts, who makes things the very opposite of what they actually are: not leaking becomes leaking; opacity becomes transparency; lying becomes truth-telling; subservience becomes defiance; beatdowns become ‘debates’.

There is no winning with the rubes self-destructively signing on for this bullshit; there is only finding the odd laugh at their expense. Me, I like to watch them twist themselves in knots attempting to reconcile actual facts with their childish Batman/Robin view that something radical and ‘game-changing’ is actually taking place. To that end I offer the following facts about Taibbi, which aren’t likely to cause any dissonance for Greenwald’s myriad libertarian fans, but might create a little heartburn for the disaffected liberals and those to their left. It will be fun to see Glenn’s and Pierre’s Marxists, easily the most idiotically deluded of all their clowns, talk their way around this:

1. He crossed picket lines during a Writer’s Guild strike in 2008 to appear on The Colbert Report and The Bill Maher Show. (source)

2. He thinks Roe v. Wade, the Supreme court decision upholding a woman’s right to an abortion, should be overturned. (source)

3. He doesn’t feel there should be a Federal ban on anti-LGBQT discrimination.

4.  He considers himself “more of a libertarian than anything else”  and believes in “capitalism, small government, etc.” (source)

My buddy Walter Glass did an excellent job reading between the lines of a recent piece by Taibbi which Glass described as “a police ridealong through the apparently apocalyptic wasteland that is 2013 Camden, New Jersey.” Glass writes:

…Taibbi glosses over the pernicious effect of the corporate sector on this area of the country in favor of a half-baked partisan attack on Chris Christie. …he downplays the inherent horror of the “Baghdad-style security technology” police state currently being erected in Camden, commenting plaintively that “it looks like it’s working — only the whole thing might be rendered moot in the end by the collapse of the rest of America.”

…in an article in which he speaks to a small handful of people who aren’t cops, he refers to the majority of them as “junkies.”

…Taibbi is always great when he’s fragging his rich-white-dude peer group …but he’s completely lost trying to explain how the oligarchs’ bad behavior impacts everybody else.

You can find the rest here.

For me, the biggest problem with Taibbi is the problem that afflicts all of the more marginal lefts. Behind all the ‘gonzo’-scented smoke and fire is just one more incrementalist, a rich dude telling tales on the worst-behaved members of his class, while pleading the case for their reformability. Yes, you guessed it regular RH readers, Taibbi is a classic heat vampire, a particularly seductive one, in fact, reconciling some of the harshest critiques of people in power with deftly timed bouts of starry-eyed faith. (Reader Lorenzo explains how Taibbi put this to work for Obama in 2008 and 2012)

There’s a lot of loose talk about sellouts these days, but I think that word is usually mis-applied. People rise because they are already what the person/institution paying them requires. By the time most of us are even aware of them, the crucial filtering is a fait accompli. The necessary shaping happened at home and in school. For Taibbi, that was a wealthy home and private schools. A so-called sellout is, more often than not, just a smart buy. Taibbi, like all the new First Lookers, is fit for an oligarch, just as he is.

Hat tips to: Glenn Greenbacks, Michael StephensonWalter Glass, Lorenzo

UPDATE 1 (link to this update)

Above I said that UK ‘watchdogs’ Media Lens ‘have shamefully stood down entirely’ on the questions raised by First Look Media.  A source close to Glenn Greenbacks told me that this morning Media Lens RT’d the tweet below, and then undid it, no doubt upon realizing it was parody. It’s an understandable mistake since the tweet perfectly reproduces GG’s smeary non-responsiveness, which Media Lens clearly endorses. Way to prove my point, guys! (more comments below tweet)

This is not the first time Media Lens has attempted to ‘engage’ with the questions I’ve raised here in relation to Greenwald’s leak custodianship. In September, after Greenwald’s disgustingly fallacious reply here on my blog, Media Lens extracted a particularly pathologizing passage for their readers’ forum, under the title: ‘Superb response from Greenwald’. Some Media Lens readers complained and they walked it back. The exchange has dropped off of their board, but here’s the tweet where they recanted.

There is no question that bulk buying of left journalists by a tech billionaire implicated in the Wikileaks blockade should be a natural object of concern for groups such as Media Lens, particularly when going alongside the reactionary hectoring Greenwald has been unleashing on anyone who objects. Yet as far as I can tell, they have not seriously addressed it, nor any of the other questions raised by the Snowden Spectacle, at all. But then, as I’ve said, Greenwald makes things into their opposites, and clearly Media Lens is in thrall to the magic.


Omidyar’s First Look Introduces The Intercept

No, Pierre Omidyar Does Not Want to Topple The Government

A Harbinger of Journalism Saved

Greenwald Still Covering for Omidyar on PayPal


Arthur Silber Needs Your Support

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34 Responses to The Absorption of Matt Taibbi by First Look

  1. Lorenzo says:

    For me, Taibbi’s coverage of the Obama campaign in 2008 remains one of the most stark examples of effective Heat Vampirism. By 2008, Taibbi had earned all those comparisons to Hunter S. Thompson based on his persona as a shrewd outsider, calling bullshit on the foibles of the US electoral process every two years. “Why Obama’s message resonates with millions” (9/8/08) purported to apply his trademark perspicacity to the much-loved Senator from Illinois, with the with the twist of wholeheartedly embracing Brand Obama by the end of it. Taibbi begins the piece by positioning himself as a cynic, pointing out how Obama’s campaign narratives are 20-year-old DNC pablum, but uses this insight to conclude that Obama actually believes what until that point had been hackneyed American exceptionalism.

    There was enough information available in 2008–Obama’s Wall Street money, his FISA flip, his war policies–that anyone with an ounce of skepticism could see beyond the vacuous Hope and Change propaganda. Rather than simply regurgitating the vacuous campaign slogans, though, Taibbi walked the reader through his conversion from cynic to true believer. Taibbi was a great Heat Vampire, steering people into the Democratic fold lest they ask any questions about who Obama really was. After all, if gonzo journalist Matt Taibbi vouched for Obama…

    Taibbi has been a really funny and incisive reporter in covering Wall Street crimes, but the Heat Vampire part of him still comes out. In a blog post called “Is Obama’s economic populism for real?” (1/26/2012), Taibbi tentatively answers in the affirmative. A couple of months after the Occupy crackdown, Taibbi was telling his readers that the administration was “clearly listening to Occupy.”

  2. Ché Pasa says:

    There was a time, nearly a decade or so ago, when Scahill, Greenwald, and Taibbi constituted something of a Triumvirate of Media Balls, but as their leftish stars ascended, their balls, as it were, seemed to shrivel.

    They’re not “leftists” of course, never were. Each was and is much more libertarian, mildly to intensely contemptuous of the political and social left, generally ignorant of the economic left. But they were speaking out about and against injustice and the mis-use of Power, sometimes forcefully and passionately, at a time when passivity and submission to Power was the principal attribute of nearly all American media. The contrast between their outspokenness and the media rule of passivity and submission made them stars.

    We’ve seen enough of the initial efforts under Pierre’s wing to recognize that they will not be returning to their earlier models of outspokenness. If “The Intercept” is the new, transformative media model Pierre is after, then their output will be minimal or nonexistent, viz: the complete silence of the few women involved in the project so far. They will be treading ever so carefully and quietly on well-plowed ground, recycling much that’s already been heavily reported by others, making few waves, ruffling few feathers.

    And they will celebrate themselves endlessly as they “transform” media.

    • Goldfish Training Institute says:

      You’re right, they were never leftists to begin with. I think what happened with the ascendancy of the conservative faction of the capitalist class in the early 2000s was that the media became saturated with conservative and reactionary commentary, so these libertarian types gravitated to the more liberal sphere to pick up the disgruntled cruise missile liberals. There’s no question the readership of Greenwald et al talk up anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, but when push comes to shove, they are the last people who want radical change.

      Just perusing the comments sections for Greenwald, no matter where he works, should make leftists sick. He’s a capitalist defending the status quo, and the sooner more people realize that, the better. That goes for the rest of them too, Scahill, etc. There’s an interesting take-down review of Scahill’s Dirty War movie (can’t remember if that’s the name), but a couple reviewers handed Scahill’s ass to him on that documentary.

      • Tarzie says:

        There’s an interesting take-down review of Scahill’s Dirty War movie (can’t remember if that’s the name), but a couple reviewers handed Scahill’s ass to him on that documentary.

        Here’s one by Douglas Valentine who claims it whitewashes the long history of covert wars.

    • wolfess says:

      “They will be treading ever so carefully and quietly on well-plowed ground, recycling much that’s already been heavily reported by others,”
      Sounds far too much like my early classes in college — the profs set up their teaching plan in the first year or two and never again wavered from it; cookie-cutter education at its best. And as with those myriad professors all over this country, these ‘cutting edge’ reporters will employ the same ‘tricks’ in their reporting of all the really important ‘crap’.

  3. Ever centralizing. What a shame about Matt. Alexa O’Brien last “man” standing?

  4. Goldfish Training Institute says:

    No loss on Taibbi jumping ship from RS. He’s a reformist capitalist. If only we had more regs, these Wall Street dudes wouldn’t be causing so many problems. I finally gave up after reading one too many of his pieces about the street when he droned on about more and more regulations being the “solution.”

    I really can’t get a reading on what this Omidyar guy is doing. Does he seriously believe that these people were a threat to institutional and corporate power and bringing them on board would somehow “kneecap” their work? Because if this is what’s threatening the ruling class, wait until the shit really goes down, like waves of strikes, large scale protests on wages, or whatever. I doubt that kind of large scale mass shit is going to go down any time soon in the U.S., it has and will start in other countries, but if they are trying to prevent this by sucking up Greenwald, Taibbi and other hangers-on to power, good luck with that. These people aren’t part of the solution, they’re part of the problem. The people organizing, working in communities, and attempting to educate workers about understanding and absorbing radicalization don’t give two shits about these mainstream hacks.

    • Tarzie says:

      Does he seriously believe that these people were a threat to institutional and corporate power and bringing them on board would somehow “kneecap” their work?

      There are bunches of things going on, but that’s not the main point. In the short term, though, there is some kneecapping going on, in that the prospect of a First Look job has kept even marginal lefties compliant on the questions raised both by First Look and by the custodianship of the Snowden Leaks. But I agree, there is no selling out here. Omidyar is buying journalists who are mostly fine for his uses just as they are, whether they work for him or not.

      The people organizing, working in communities, and attempting to educate workers about understanding and absorbing radicalization don’t give two shits about these mainstream hacks.

      While it may be true that ‘the people’ you mean ‘don’t give two shits’, the two groups implied by your comparison (spectators and organizers) are not fixed. How large or small these groups are in relation to each other, and also the ways in which they are in harmony or at odds, are variable. If this weren’t the case, oligarchy would not work so hard at controlling media. I do agree, however, that people should move from the first group into the second, and part of that is realizing what a dead end Omidyar and Co truly are.

      • Goldfish Training Institute says:

        No, you’re right of course, people are fluid and not fixed and their allegiances will change depending on material conditions. I was referring mostly to those with already flushed out radical views and many of whom are doing the actual work of inspiring and educating others who are fence-sitters or not yet with a clear understanding of these political processes.

        And yes if there is one thing you can say about the ruling class, they have a more nuanced understanding of class divisions and politics compared to workers.

        The next logical person up for grabs will be somebody like Pollitt from the Nation. Still white, though.

    • Ché Pasa says:

      Not that Taibbi’s ethnicity is all that germane, but his father, Mike Taibbi, wrote a long think-piece during the Obama campaign describing his search for his own ethnic identity. He was adopted, and he never knew his natural parents.

      What he found in the Hawaiian archives is that his mother was Filipina/Hawaiian, his father may have been an Anglo serviceman stationed in Hawaii but more likely he was a married Chinese-American.

      Mike Taibbi was adopted out of a foster home in Hawaii by an Italian American couple, thus his last name is Italian. But his ethnicity is (most likely) Chinese/Hawaiian/Filipino.

      Mike Taibbi is married to Siobhan Walsh; presumptively she is Matt Taibbi’s mother.

      Is Matt Taibbi “white”? Part, sure.

      So is Obama.

      • Tarzie says:

        This is all fascinating and meaningful if you think whiteness is all about what you carry in your genes as opposed to what people take you for in the world. Matt Taibbi looks every bit as white as I do and grew up rich. His father looks white as well. I suspect they have both enjoyed all the perks of white privilege and more. Therefore adding Taibbi to the roster of First Look does not seem to make their overwhelmingly white male staff more diverse in any meaningful way.

        Comparing Obama and Taibbi in this context, as if it proves some point, seems like a bit of a stretch. Being part African-American, and looking African-American is a world away from being 1/4 Filipino (possibly) and looking white.

      • Ché Pasa says:

        I get your point about Matt Taibbi’s appearance and upbringing. After all, his father didn’t know about his own parentage until Matt was grown.

        Nevertheless, I don’t doubt that First Look will market Taibbi as an “ethnic” male if there continue to be complaints about the overwhelmingly white male staff so far.

        Mike Taibbi’s story will be cited endlessly as proof that Matt is only part white. “Actually” no more white than Obama is.

        Even now, Omidyar is being touted as “brown” by some of the First Look apologists.

        It’s silly, but as you know, it’s what they do.

  5. Fiamma says:

    Lorenzo, I think you are too hard on the public but not unfair to Matt. The Obama candidacy was a fairly sophisticated mind-fuck. Also, McCain’s behavior was unnerving.

    As for Matt, I once saw a show where he was asked what he would do to fix Wall Street. I recall thinking that his response was lame. At any point did Matt call for nationalization, temporary at least, of the failing banks?

    • Lorenzo says:

      Fiamma, I don’t think it’s too hard on anyone to point out that there was information to indicate Obama’s future governing style present in 2008. The Obama marketing machine was sophisticated, sure, but the razzle-dazzle didn’t render invisible what he was actually saying.

      The public perception of Obama as an “anti-war” candidate is a useful object lesson in how this worked. Obama made one speech against the war in Iraq, in contrast to the dozens of speeches made by a few Democrats like Kucinich or Feingold. The refrain of this speech, repeated throughout, was “I don’t oppose all wars,” making for an incredibly bellicose “anti-war” speech. When asked in 2007 about possible impeachment proceedings for Bush, Obama said that impeachment was only “reserved for grave breaches,” broadcasting that the then-Senator didn’t consider illegal wars of aggression a serious crime. However, vague pronouncements about change and conducting “smarter” wars allowed people enough leeway to see an anti-war candidate where none existed.

      I don’t say this to be cruel to people who voted for Obama in 2008. I also understand the desire to believe, after eight years of Bush/Cheney, that voting one man into office would make the Empire a shining City-on-a-Hill again. It doesn’t do any good, though, to act like the Obama snow-job was so effective that it hid reality–this handicaps our ability to see through bullshit in the future.

      • Steve says:

        Having lived and worked outside the US for a good part of my life and having just returned towards the end of Bush’s second term, I was curious to know a bit about how this one term senator just kind of popped up out of nowhere (granted, it was Chicago) to run for the presidency. And a rather cursory search turned up his connections with the Pritzkers, and a little digging into that family told me all I needed to know about what was going down.

        And as Lorenzo pointed out, it was difficult to pop that “hope” bubble in the aftermath of Bush’s eight years (even though as he points out, the evidence was there), although I tried, and was called a closet racist for my pains.

        I guess I just didn’t make it clear enough that the fix was in and still perfectly functioning.

        And while Taibbi’s plinking away at the banks was a little more colorful than say, Ellen Brown’s or Pam Martens’, it was all fringe activity, kind of like being on the lee side of island during a storm.

        Love your blog, Tarzie. Gives my old fart cynicism a sly smile.

  6. Jeff Nguyen says:

    I think one thing to keep in mind is that, like Wayne Gretzky used to say…great players skate to the where the puck is going not to where it’s at. Of course, Steve Jobs co-opted this statement but that’s a separate rant.

    My point is that, like Tarzie, most of the readers and commenters here are politically savvy and are able to see the Frankenstein of journalism being built before our very eyes. However, the majority of mainstream America, including the ones newly suspicious of the mass surveillance state, are not as hip to the game. When the state allowed the Snowden leaks to be widely disseminated in the Guardian and WaPo, they no doubt weighed the risk-benefit ratio very carefully. The conclusion they must have come to was that any potential, harmful side effects were worth the impact the “leaks” would have in further normalizing the surveillance state and sending a message to future whistleblowers that you best be ready to give up everything for the cause…family, friends, citizenship.

    My unscientific hypothesis is that Omidyar and whoever else is behind the curtain know that, as a consequence of the Snowden leaks, more people are waking up and some will eventually ask uncomfortable questions while most will just roll over and go back to sleep. For those who start to think a bit critically, the new and improved gatekeepers with progressive creds will be in place to make sure those seekers go no further. Taibbi may have not have been serious opposition but he did get in some good zingers especially the ones aimed at Dimon, Blankfein, etc. Any potential loose cannons are being gathered up. Thus, the illusion of dissent is preserved while a serious threat to the status quo is subverted.

    My two cents (adjusted for inflation)…

  7. wolfess says:

    Reblogged this on Wolfessblog — Guillotine mediocrity in all its forms! and commented:
    With thanks to Jeff Nguyen for leading me to this article on Taibbi, and how my trust and respect for him as a reporter was misplaced.

  8. Without any knowledge of Matt Taibbi’s reasons for moving, or the intercept’s ultimate aims, is it possible that he deserves some credit for speaking in July at a Public Banking Institute conference with Ellen Brown, Bill Still and other speakers. To be honest his lack of knowledge on public banking at the time was surprising, but at least he was open-minded enough to attend.

    • Tarzie says:

      I never said he was entirely without merit. I said quite the opposite. In the end, however, he’s running inference for his class.

      • Tarzie,
        Nice to meet you. My comment wasn’t directed or critical of anyone else’s, but simply my own unbiased observation. My reason for entering the discussion is about truth. I have never met Mr. Taibbi so obviously it is impossible to read his heart. I’m sure others feel like I do – a certain amount of anger upon learning that someone who you thought had integrity as a good source for information turns out to not. Perhaps you or anyone else here could recommend journalist(s) on the financial sector/banks who has a higher degree of integrity than Taibbi. Just searching for the best/truthful information and appreciate it any time myths are dispelled.

      • Tarzie says:

        I like a lot of Taibbi’s writing. I think Griftopia is a great read. Probably lots of useful journalists in the business press who are far less celebrated.

        My point isn’t about good/bad people, it’s about how these people shape discourse as a whole and define/constrain dissent.

  9. I think MT has done some great work, and made seemingly “complex” structures easy for the average guy to grasp. that said where does MT go from here? how many more times can he say the financial system is corrupt, the politicians are part of the problem, it is basically a ponzi scheme designed to suck the common man dry and so on. I do think MT. has helped wake a few people up to how things really work. what he does now, i guess time will tell.

    i agree with one of the commentators here. change is afoot, and it is happening at local grassroots levels. other countries are further along the path, but we are all heading there. And, GG and his merry band can not stop or keep a lid on what is coming.

    someone asked about good financial reporting. zerohedge has some great articles, martin armstrong (read with eyes wide open).

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  11. Mardy says:

    “Since I am ultimately warning people off ‘alternative’ media, one of these days we should crowdsource a resource list and I’ll publish it in a post.”

    This would go a long way. Greenwald’s behavior would have passed right over me had I not stumbled upon your blog. His deceit when asked about his intent to monetize the leaks has me fucking furious. I trusted this dude for 4 years. If you want to make money at the expense of the public, it’s capitalism, go ahead. But don’t be a fucking bitch about it when we call you out on you shit and to *try to stop you.*

    I’d have more respect (not much more) for him if he had at least been honest about it. The fact that he actually LIED about his decision to horde the leaks for his own gain lets me know he fully understands how completely, irrevocably FUCKED UP that is.

    And he’s a journalist? He a fucking disgrace to IF Stone.

    I’m done.

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