The Matt Taibbi Story, Part II
Howdy folks, Ryan here. The last several days have produced an absolute wealth of material for a Matt Taibbi watcher like myself. Check out my previous video for the background on how he went from being a crusading Wall Street critic to a lickspittle toady for the richest person in the world. But we've got some incredibly juicy updates now, and I've just gotta weigh in.
It all started when Taibbi was invited to testify before Congress by Republicans. Oh here he's hanging out with his new good pal Ted Cruz. Wonder if it was awkward, given that Matt wrote this about Cruz back in 2016 in his book Insane Clown President:
Cruz in person is almost physically repellent. Psychology Today even ran an article by a neurology professor named Dr. Richard Cytowic about the peculiarly off-putting qualities of Cruz’s face.
He used a German term, backpfeifengesicht, literally “a face in need of a good punch,” to describe Cruz. This may be overstating things a little. Cruz certainly has an odd face—it looks like someone sewed pieces of a waterlogged Reagan mask together at gunpoint—but it’s his tone more than anything that gets you. He speaks slowly and loudly and in the most histrionic language possible, as if he’s certain you’re too stupid to grasp that he is for freedom.
Taibbi also compared Cruz to an "incurable skin condition" on Twitter. I guess bygones are bygones!
Anyway, testifying before Congress Taibbi went through his Twitter Files material I mentioned in my previous video. I'm not going to go through the whole mess step by step, but I'll link to some Techdirt articles by Mike Masnick if you want full details. What's interesting to me is that, as Marcy Wheeler pointed out, Matt made a big fat error testifying under oath. He said, and cited evidence on Twitter, that the Election Integrity Partnership, an academic effort to study election misinformation, had worked with CISA, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Except this was completely wrong. Taibbi's comments here referenced one of his tweets which contains a screenshot referencing CIS, which stands for the Center for Internet Security, a private nonprofit that works in this area. These are two entirely different entities.
Fast-forward to a couple weeks later, when MSNBC anchor Medhi Hasan was needling Taibbi online and he offered to come on. Hasan accepted the offer, and came prepared with some tough questions. It's a long interview but I want to point out just three things. First, Hasan pointed out that Taibbi had mixed up the number of tweets studied by the Election Integrity Partnership after the election, which was about 22 million, with the number flagged for removal, which was less than 3,000. Twitter also left the vast majority of even those tweets up:
Hey, what's missing the correct number by a factor of 7,600 between friends? Then Hasan brought up the CIS/CISA mixup. Taibbi had to admit fault on this one, and later corrected it online.
Third and most amazingly, Hasan brought up the fact that Mr. Free Speech Defender Elon Musk is working hand-in-glove with the government of Narendra Modi in India to censor a documentary critical of him. Despite the fact that this story was what Hasan was needling him about on Twitter in the first place with the tweet that sparked the entire interaction, Taibbi was caught totally flat-footed. Even when prompted to preserve some shred of credibility, he had nothing but groveling praise for Musk.
One minor side note here. After getting owned by Hasan, Taibbi wrote an article complaining about it on Substack. "I last appeared on MSNBC six years ago, on January 13, 2017, to talk with Chris Hayes and of all people Malcolm Nance, about the then-burgeoning Trump-Russia scandal," he wrote. He also said the same thing on Twitter. This is a lie. Taibbi was invited on MSNBC in October 2017 to talk about his book on Eric Garner. I know he knows about this because I've mentioned it to him several times now, and an excerpt of that segment was in the intro to his interview on Medhi Hasan's show, but he hasn't acknowledged it. Presumably Taibbi has chosen to lie because doing so strengthens his argument that he's been shut down by liberals over Russia stuff. (He also might not want to remind his new right-wing audience that he used to be a lib who wrote about police brutality.) If I could change anything about my previous video on him, I'd emphasize more that just like his pal Glenn Greenwald, Taibbi also drove himself nuts denying the bleeding obvious about Trump and Russia.
But let's set that aside and get to the really good part. After all Taibbi had done for Musk and his horseshit Twitter Files narrative, including abasing himself on national television, Musk threw him right under the bus. Substack, where Taibbi has been getting most of his income these days, has apparently been working on a Twitter-style app thing. In response, Musk temporarily blocked people from posting links to Substack, blocked engagement on tweets from Substack itself, and redirected searches about it to "newsletter" instead.
Once again, this was exactly the kind of politically motivated speech suppression that Musk, and his spear-carriers like Taibbi, claimed to be super worried about, except a thousand times more blatant and effective. Instead of some random academics timidly asking Twitter to maybe think about deleting some specific tweets that lie about election details (which can be an actual crime, by the way), a right-wing billionaire just bans all traffic to a competitor.
Back when Musk bought Twitter, journalist Adam Johnson pressed Taibbi on the danger that Musk's purchase posed to independent reporters who had come to rely on the platform. Taibbi blithely refused to understand the argument, insisting if "you collapse because you lose a free distribution tool, that's not you being put out of business by a billionaire. That's sucking". And now not only is Musk openly carrying out the exact worst case scenario that his critics feared, he's specifically doing it to the platform where his most loyal servant Matt Taibbi makes his money. Oh, we do so love to see it.
So Taibbi dug deep, found one last tiny tattered scrap of self-respect, and announced that he was giving up Twitter and moving over to Substack full time. Musk unsurprisingly retaliated by unfollowing him and blocking all search queries on his handle. At time of recording, the only way you can see his tweets is by going directly to his page, or using an external search engine. Musk also accused Taibbi of being a Substack employee, which is not true according to the Substack CEO.
This has to be one of the most humiliating things I've ever seen in my life. I almost feel sorry for Matt. Almost. But it's a lesson at least about right-wing narcissist oligarchs like Elon Musk or Donald Trump: no matter how much of a groveling sycophant you are towards them, they will turn on you the very instant it's convenient for them, or even just for fun. It's just a matter of time. As David J. Roth once wrote about Trump, with words that could apply equally well to Musk: "The rest of the world is an abstraction to him, a market to exploit; there is no other person in it who is real to him."
Anyway, that's it, just a quick one for today. Smash the usual buttons, and check out my book and newsletter if you want. I'll be back soon.